25. “Priesthood: ‘The Power of Godliness'”

After the priesthood was restored in 1829, Joseph Smith received instruction about how the priesthood would operate through various later revelations. Brigham Young organized priesthood leadership and quorums across the Church, most dramatically in 1877, just before his death. Later Church Presidents made refinements in the structure of priesthood leadership.

“The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (D&C 84),” S. Brent Farley, Sperry Symposium Classics: The Doctrine and Covenants
A verse-by-verse discussion of D&C 84:33-48. The author writes of 84:48: “This is the apex, the grandest key in understanding the oath and covenant of the priesthood: a man who holds and honors the Melchizedek Priesthood will be taught of that holy covenant by revelation from God.”

“A Culmination of Learning: D&C and the Doctrine of the Priesthood,” Matthew C. Godfrey, You Shall Have My Word: Exploring the Text of the Doctrine and Covenants
“Because of the significance [of D&C 84], one might expect that Joseph and other Church leaders had kept a careful record of the circumstances surrounding its reception. Although they may have done so, no such explanation is extant today. A manuscript history of Joseph begun in 1838 devotes only one small paragraph to the context behind the revelation. However, a careful examination of early documents provides clues into the revelation’s background. Using conference minutes, other revelations, journal entries, Joseph’s work on his inspired translation of the Bible, and personal histories, this paper will show that section 84 did not just spring into being in September 1832 but rather that many of the concepts revealed therein were taught to Joseph prior to that time.”

“Restoring the Ancient Order,” Joseph F. Darowski, James Goldberg, Revelations in Context
D&C 107 helped the Saints understand how to harness the power of shared inspiration while dividing up the complex demands of Church administration.

“Historical Introduction to D&C 84,” “Revelation, 22-23 September 1832 [D&C 84],” Joseph Smith Papers
The history of receiving D&C 84, “explaining the two priesthoods and commissioning the Apostles to preach the gospel.”

“Priesthood Councils,” J. Bonner Ritchie, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
“Councils … serve as vehicles for family, ward, stake, region, area, or general Church teaching and development. As members participate in councils, they learn about larger organizational issues. They see leadership in action, learning how to plan, analyze problems, make decisions, and coordinate across subunit boundaries. Participation in councils helps prepare members for future leadership responsibilities.”

“Priesthood Offices,” Bruce T. Harper, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
“Priesthood offices are appointments or callings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve in specified areas of priesthood responsibility.”

“Priesthood Quorums,” Sherman N. Tingey, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
“Shortly after being chosen and ordained, the Twelve Apostles gathered in Kirtland, Ohio, on March 28, 1835, before departing to the eastern states on missions. They asked the Prophet Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord concerning their duties. In response, the Lord gave an important revelation on the priesthood and the relationship of the respective quorums to each other and to the Church (see Doctrine and Covenants: Section 107). As years passed and circumstances changed, the need arose for a reorganization of the priesthood. In 1877, Brigham Young effected such a reorganization.”

“The Priesthood Reorganization of 1877: Brigham Young’s Last Achievement,” William G. Hartley, BYU Studies, Vol. 20, no. 1
Practical application of revelations about the priesthood required creativity and innovation because the revelations did not always say how. By 1877, Brigham Young knew he had to act to reorder the organization of the priesthood quorums. This reorganization involved every stake, 241 wards, hundreds of quorums, and more than a thousand leadership positions. He had already reordered the seniority of the Apostles and saw them released from stake presidency positions. He set in order that each stake president would have two counselors, and high councils, which had been missing from some stakes, were standardized. The 1877 changes revolutionized Aaronic Priesthood work by stipulating that all youth receive some priesthood instead of just a few youth having that privilege.

“The Priesthood Reform Movement, 1908-1922,” William G. Hartley, BYU Studies, Vol. 13, no. 2
Since the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood, the various quorums have been alive and functioning to a greater or lesser degree. But organized and systematic priesthood work as we know it today actually dates from the period of 1908–1922, when a specially called General Priesthood Committee instituted a Church-wide priesthood reform and reorganization movement under the direction of President Joseph F. Smith.

Additional reading

My Fellow Servants: Essays on the History of the Priesthood, William G. Hartley (BYU Studies, 2010). Print, softcover, 492 pages, $24.95
The restoration of priesthood authority was a key event in the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Joseph Smith in 1830, as is well known. Much less familiar is the fascinating process of continuing revelation and administrative brilliance that has unfolded over the last two centuries as priesthood offices and quorums have gone into action. This book makes available William G. Hartley’s lifetime of research about that powerful story.

Interesting questions include: How were local congregations organized before there were wards and ward bishops? Do bishopric counselors need to be high priests? When did leaders begin to expect all boys to receive the Aaronic priesthood at age 12 in preparation for becoming elders? What is a quorum? Who defines the work of an elders quorum? What is the relationship between the Presiding Bishop and Aaronic Priesthood quorums? When and why did the Seventies become General Authorities? These, and many others, are answered on the pages of this unique and very significant book.