Summary: In many Protestant churches there is no “priesthood” per se, while is some Protestant churches there is a definite hierarchy of different priesthood positions. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is a very defined priesthood hierarchy, from deacon all the way up to apostle and prophet. In the past, it was the accepted practice in all churches that only men held the priesthood, but in today’s era of feminine equality, more and more churches are ordaining women to priesthood-like positions. This article looks at why the Restored Church of Jesus Christ has not done the same.
On May 15, 1829, John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and, after laying his hands on their head, said, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13:1).
In many Protestant churches, there is no “priesthood” per sea. Even their pastors or ministers don’t claim to hold a priesthood. In other Protestant churches, there are varying kinds of priesthood, with some having deacons, some having elders, and some also considering their pastor as holding a type of priesthood. In yet other Protestant churches, as well as in the Catholic church, there is a definite hierarchy of different priesthood positions.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is a very defined hierarchy of priesthoods, from deacons all the way up to apostles and prophets. However, in this church, only men hold the priesthood. In the past, this was the accepted practice in all churches but in today’s era of feminine equality, more and more churches are ordaining women to priesthood-like positions. For this reason, many have questioned why the Restored Church of Jesus Christ denies women the same right as men to be ordained as priesthood holders and be able to exercise authority in the church?
The first, and most important reason, is that Jesus Christ himself guides and directs his church. What that means is that the leaders of Christ’s church are guided by revelation from Christ himself in all the decisions they make. Therefore, it is God, not man, who has determined who is to hold what priesthood position, and he has not given any commandment or directive permitting women to hold the priesthood.
The question has been asked why God would treat women differently from men if he is no respecter of people and loves everyone equally? The answer can be found in D&C 25. In a revelation given in July 1830, the Lord said this about Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen, for they are withheld from thee and from the world, which is wisdom in me in a time to come. And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness… And thou needest not fear, for thy husband shall support thee in the church; for unto them is his calling, that all things might be revealed unto them, whatsoever I will, according to their faith” (verses 4,5,9).
There are several important things we learn from these verses. The first is that the Lord counsels Emma not to murmur because she hasn’t been allowed to see something she wants to see. What this is referring to is that Emma wanted to see the gold plates that her husband had in his possession but murmured because God wouldn’t allow her to see them. To “murmur” means to complain, grumble, whine, object, or protest. God’s word to Emma was not to complain about what she didn’t have or want, but rather to be content with what she had. The Bible gives this same counsel (Hebrews 13:5; Philippians 4:11), and this would also apply to murmuring about not being allowed to hold the priesthood.
Emma was told that Joseph’s calling was to attend to the things of the church and that her calling was to “be for a comfort unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun,.. in his afflictions with consoling words.” To some, this seems that Emma’s role was of minor significance, while her husband was given a greater and more important position, thereby relegating her to a secondary or lower status, but this is a false idea.
To understand why we can ask ourselves which tool is greater: a hammer or an adjustable wrench? The correct answer is that neither one is greater than another. A hammer is designed to do a job that a wrench cannot do and a wrench is designed to do a job that a hammer s not able to do, therefore, it all depends on what needs to be done as to which tool is better than the other.
We could also ask which is the more important job, someone who toils in the field to grow food or the person who toils in the kitchen to cook and prepare the food? The correct answer is that both positions are just as important. In the same way, we can ask which is more important, the person who is tasked with handling the many challenges of governing the church, or the person who comforts a leader in the church when they are feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, or too weary to go on? The correct answer is that both roles are just as important in their own sphere.
Those who do not believe that man evolved from a single cell organism are left to acknowledge that it is God who created both men and women, and he did not create them to be the same. A woman’s body is specifically made to conceive and carry a growing baby. She not only has a uterus, which a man doesn’t have, but her pelvic bone structure is different from that of a man so it can accommodate a developing fetus. God created women to have breasts that develop milk to feed a baby when it’s born, which is a feature men don’t have. A Woman’s body has a hormone called estrogen while a man’s body produces a hormone called testosterone, and each of these hormones produces different results within the body.
It is a biological fact, that men and women are built differently, including the way their brains are wired. Obviously, God had a reason for creating men and women with different bodies, and that reason has to do with the role that God designed for each of them to fulfill. Therefore, even though men and women are created differently from one another, they are still equal in importance, and in the eyes of God.
Men are like hammers, who are built for brute strength, while women are like adjustable wrenches who are better adapted to handling multiple situations at the same time, and the same is true in the area of spirituality. Men have been created with spiritual strengths that women don’t possess and women have spiritual insights that men often lack. Although God hasn’t told us exactly why only men are to hold the priesthood, it’s obvious that men were designed to fulfill the duties associated with the priesthood, while women were designed to fulfill a different but just as important role.
But this wasn’t the only thing the Lord told Emma. He also said, “Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made… Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come” (verses 13,15).
Emma didn’t hold the priesthood yet she was told that if she would cleave unto the covenants she had made with God, and kept his commandments that she would receive a crown of righteousness and be received by the Lord. To be accepted by the Lord and receive a crown of righteousness is what eternal life is all about and this is the same promise made to those who hold the priesthood, which means that holding the priesthood has nothing to do with being saved in the kingdom of God.
Someone can be a bishop, stake president, General Authority, apostle, or even the president of the Church, but their salvation has nothing to do with what office they hold in the priesthood, and neither do they receive a greater reward because of their position in the church. Women can receive every reward and blessing in the hereafter that any man is entitled to because the requirements to inherit eternal life are exactly the same for everyone. Therefore, it is foolish to murmur about not holding the priesthood when it has absolutely nothing to do with our salvation. Wanting something merely because someone else has it is the definition of jealousy and greed, which are both unrighteous attitudes.
But this doesn’t mean that women are totally excluded from the priesthood. In fact, the priesthood is just as important and vital to them as it is to men. To understand why we have to understand what the priesthood is all about.
The common definition of the priesthood is: The authority to act for God, delegated to man, in things pertaining to the salvation of mankind. What this means is that the priesthood is what authorizes someone to act in the name of God to help bring about his purposes. In order for this to happen there are three specific aspects to the priesthood we must understand. They are its authority, its power, and its blessings.
Authority is defined as “the right to act in a specific way; being given official permission.” As with most authority, someone is given such permission by someone who has the authority to confer that right to others. For example, when someone is promoted within a company, they are given the right to do things they once weren’t allowed to do, and that right was given them by someone who had the right to grant that authority.
When someone is made a police officer, they are given the authority to arrest people, give speeding tickets, direct traffic, etc. But they don’t give themselves this right. Instead, such authority is conferred upon them by someone who has the right to give it. And the same is true of someone who wants to practice law, be a doctor or sell insurance.
In the same way, the priesthood is God’s authority or right to act for him in certain situations, and it is God who delegates that authority to certain people whom he chooses. Those who hold certain positions within the priesthood have been given the authority to confer part of God’s priesthood to others, but it’s important to realize that this authority is delegated, meaning that the holder of the priesthood is acting as a representative of God, having temporary authority to do only that which God authorizes them to accomplish.
But simply having authority isn’t always enough. A person must also have the power to exercise their authority. Someone may have the right to do something, but if they don’t have the means or the power to do it or to get others to do what they want, then their authority is fairly useless. Therefore, it takes having both authority and power to get something accomplished.
When it comes to the authority and power of the priesthood, the Lord has explained “that the rights (i.e., authority) of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:36,37).
The rights or authority of the priesthood is conferred upon us by someone who has the authority to do so, but that right cannot be separated from the powers of heaven. The two have to go together. One without the other is useless. What gives the priesthood its power is the righteousness of the person exercising it. The greater their righteousness, the more power their authority has, and the less righteous someone is the less access they have to the powers of heaven.
The third aspect of the priesthood is its blessings, and there are numerous ways that the priesthood blesses the lives of people. It takes the priesthood to baptize someone, to give them the gift of the Holy Ghost, and to confirm them a member of Christ’s church. The blessings that come as a result of just these three priesthood ordinances alone is invaluable. Added to this are the priesthood ordinances performed in the temple. Then there is the blessing of the sick, the blessing of children, the blessing of comfort, receiving personal revelation, and the list could go on and one.
And these blessings are not just for the members of the church. Wherever a temple is built, it blesses the neighborhood and community in which it is located. Missionaries not only preach the gospel and convert people who are not members of Christ’s true church, but they also perform countless acts of service and kindness to non-members. In these and countless other ways, God blesses the lives of people everywhere through his priesthood.
With this understanding, let’s look at how the priesthood affects women in the church.
First of all, they are the recipients of innumerable blessings that come only through the priesthood. It needs to be understood that the priesthood of God exists only within the Church of Christ, therefore, as members of Christ’s church women, as well as men, have access to all the same blessings. Each person who takes the sacrament worthily is promised to have God’s Spirit to be with them. Those who make and keep sacred temple covenants are entitled to all the same promised blessings. Women are entitled to be given blessings of health, comfort, guidance, and strength the same as men. But without the priesthood, none of these blessings are available to anyone. Therefore, women have access to every blessing provided by the priesthood as do men.
The question has been asked why women can’t hold the same authority in the church as do men, but in certain regards, they do, even without actually holding the priesthood. The Lord told Emma, “And thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit” (D&C 25:7). Whenever anyone – male or female – is set apart for any calling in the church, they are being given authority to act for God within the scope of what they’ve been called to do. This is especially true of young women who have been called to serve as missionaries.
This is not much different from when a man is called and given authority to be a bishop or stake president or to be one of their counselors. A woman who has been called to be a teacher in the Sunday School, or primary, or the Young Woman’s program, has had delegated to her the same priesthood authority to perform their calling as does the bishop. To say that her situation is different because she doesn’t “hold” the priesthood is really a moot point, because if she has all the authority necessary to fulfill her calling as does someone who holds the priesthood, then there’s no advantage to her having the priesthood.
The fact is, she still has authority conferred upon her by someone who has the priesthood, therefore, she is acting under delegated priesthood authority, which is the same as someone who is a bishop or stake president who is also acting under delegated priesthood authority. The only real difference is in the duties of their calling. And when a bishop or stake president is released from their calling, they also lose the authority to act in that position, and the same is true of a woman who is released from her calling.
It should be kept in mind that every calling in the church is necessary for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth and the church has been established for the purpose of saving mankind. Whenever we accept and fulfill a calling int the church we are assisting our Father in heaven in saving his children, and perfecting the saints is part of that process. Therefore, when women serve in the church as called upon through revelation to appointed priesthood holders, they’re acting as agents or representatives of the Lord in doing his work of salvation.
But the greatest way that women benefit from the priesthood is by having access to its power.
As stated earlier, the power of the priesthood comes from a person’s level of righteousness. The more righteous a person is the greater access they have to the powers of heaven. If that is so, then it becomes important that we understand what those powers are.
The scriptures, especially those in the Book of Mormon, speaks of God’s power to fulfill his word, to bring about the salvation of man, to deliver us from harm, and to speak for the Lord. Moses parted the Red Sea and brought forth water from a rock by the power of God. Miracles are performed through God’s power. In addition to this, righteousness also is responsible for increasing our faith in Christ, as well as a testimony of Christ, his church and his restored gospel. The same is true concerning the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost along with revelations and visions.
Women have been blessed with the divine power of discernment, persuasion, wisdom, spiritual strength, inspiration, and the ability to bring comfort and peace in time of need. The apostle Paul wrote that he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Philippians 4:13) and that same divine help is available to women who faithfully keep the covenants they’ve made to God.
Someone may argue that such divine assistance is not confined just to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but when both men and women in Christ’s church faithfully keep the covenants they’ve made, especially those made in the temple, the Lord endows them with powers that are not available to anyone else, and that power comes to them as a direct result of God’s priesthood which is only found in his church.
God’s work is all about bringing to pass the salvation of his children, and women are able to fully participate in this effort by having access to the authority, power, and blessings that come from God’s priesthood.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of the Priesthood