Priesthood Power

by Wendy Ulrich

Doctrine and Covenants Section 84 is designated by Joseph Smith as a revelation on priesthood. Although several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants discuss priesthood administration, offices, organization, and ordinances, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes priesthood, in its fullest sense, is the very power of God, “without beginning of days or end of years” (v. 17).

God authorizes men and women throughout the Church to lead, teach, minister, and perform ordinances in a variety of ways, using priesthood authority that is delegated and extended through callings, assignments, recommends, or ordinances. Men holding priesthood keys oversee the use of priesthood authority in a given area and for a specific purpose that includes administering priesthood ordinances. [1]

As described in Section 84, however, priesthood authority and ordinances have a purpose beyond administration or even salvation. They are intended to make the power of godliness manifest in our lives, to hold the key to the mysteries and knowledge of God, and to make that knowledge available to all God’s covenant people (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-21).

Priesthood authority and ordinances are a means to a glorious end: priesthood power.


Priesthood authority can be conferred upon us by those who hold priesthood keys, but we obtain priesthood power only from God. But what exactly is this power?

We could define power in general as:

1) the ability or resources to do something

2) the ability to influence someone else to do something

3) the synergy created when people unite their abilities, resources, and mutual influence to do something more than the sum of what each of them can do alone.

Each of these kinds of power relates to priesthood power.

Power to Do

The General Handbook teaches that priesthood power includes guidance for our lives, inspiration and revelation to fulfill callings and assignments, strength to endure and overcome challenges, gifts of the Spirit, and help becoming more like Christ. These aspects of power originate with God and He offers them to us. The Handbook further explains, “God’s priesthood power flows to all members of the Church – female and male – as they keep the covenants they have made with Him . . . as they receive[d] priesthood ordinances.”[2]

God wants us to grow in our ability to access and use His power – power He ultimately hopes to entrust to us in full. He wants His guidance to become part of our personal wisdom, His revelations part of our understanding, His strength part of our skillset, and HIs gifts part of our identity. We will never have priesthood power independent of God’s endorsement and gifts, but we can acquire attributes, desires, faith, wisdom, and skills within His priesthood power as He authorizes and empowers us to do so.

When we have priesthood authority to “do something” (like teach a class,  speak in a meeting, serve a mission, or officiate in an ordinance), we need to bring our skills, effort, and faith to the task. We also plead with God to join us, lending His power to all He has asked and authorized us to take on. His power then helps us grow in wisdom, character, faith, and abilities that can become our own. Through the Holy Spirit we gain a greater understanding of how to do God’s work and make needed changes in our lives.

The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s interactions with us is not to simply convey information, improve our skills, or help us through challenges, however; it is to bring us into a relationship with God.[3]

Within this relationship, we begin to see ourselves more clearly and compassionately, acknowledging the differences between who we are and who we want to be more humbly.

Power to Influence

Priesthood is never just about us,. Priesthood, by definition, is to be used to bless others.[4] As Brigham Young University Religion professor Daniel Becerra reminds us, “Coming to Christ is what happens when the disciple is focused on other things. We make progress on the road not by speeding as quickly and efficiently as we can to our destination but by stopping to help others who have broken down along the way and by taking detours to search for those who are lost or stranded . . . . [O]ther-centeredness and outward-orientation invites the disciple to see salvation less as a goal that can be sought out for its own sake and more as a byproduct of trying to love and serve others.”[5]

Priesthood authority defines for us a duty and stewardship of caring; but defining our duty is a meager beginning to genuine influence. Influence mostly happens when those we have a duty to don’t feel like we are acting out of duty at all. Our priesthood authority to minster, teach, parent, counsel, lead, gather, and unite has impact primarily as it is inspired by love and filled with sincerely sought priesthood power.

In the world, we can influence others by physical force, persuasive logic, the strength of our personality, rewards or threats, aligning with goals they care about, or by virtue of their trust or affection for us. God can use these tools of influence as well, but with an important caveat: He does not exercise His power of influence by “control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” (D&C 121:37). He influences primarily by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, unfeigned love, kindness, pure knowledge, ever-increasing love, and lack of hypocrisy or guile (D&C 121:41-43). We too can only exercise priesthood power or influence within these parameters.

We grow in the priesthood power of influence as we learn to emulate the modes of influence of Christ:  joining others as equals more than trying to impress them, asking questions more than telling others our answers, modeling more than preaching, inviting more than either ignoring or compelling, and personalizing more than generalizing.

As we engage the work of righteous influence, we learn to see other people more clearly and compassionately, bridging the differences between us and them with more humility.

Power of Synergy

As even two or three gather in Christ’s name, a synergistic power is evoked that can go far beyond the sum of what each of us can accomplish alone (Matthew 18:20; D&C 29:5). This, too, is a priesthood power.

The Church is governed by councils charged to be unanimous in their decisions – a high standard that requires considerable personal, relational, and spiritual skill to achieve. In the spirit of building Zion, council members strive to become of one heart and one mind as each member lives the gospel, invites others’ contributions and needs to the table, uses differences and manages conflict to improve rather than disrupt decisions, and seeks revelation and confirmation from the Holy Spirit.

Enoch’s people built the first Zion community we know of, a city of people so refined they were taken up to God. After His resurrection, Christ’s followers remained in the world, but the synergy of their Zion-like community helped them spread the essence of His gospel around the globe and across two millennia. Joseph Smith was called by God at the beginning of this last dispensation to restore Christ’s gospel and His Church, and to renew His call to gather Israel to a New-Jerusalem Zion that will usher in the Lord’s  millennial reign.

No one person can accomplish this task, no matter how much individual power he or she has. Organizational synergy is needed to help us take the gospel to every nation, relieve the suffering poor, and create a sociality on earth that can be “coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2). Only in community can we practice the skills and gifts of charity, peace, and equality indispensable to Zion. Upon Christ’s return, His greatest promises are not intended for only a few individuals, but “all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye, and shall lift up their voice, and with the voice together sing” (D&C 84:98).

Within these holy synergies, we can prepare all who will come to see the face of God more fully as He bridges the entire, vast distance between who He is and who we are.

Knowledge of the Lord

As described in Doctrine and Covenants 84, the Melchizedek priesthood holds the key to such holy moments of reunion with God and the “key to the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” (v. 19). “[I]n the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest” (v. 20), and without its ordinances and power “no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live” (v. 22).

This high and holy priesthood which is “after the holiest order of God” (v. 18) has been restored in our day. Fittingly, “the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.” (v. 4) is where the Saints are to be filled with God’s power and glory as “sons of Moses and of Aaron, and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God” (vv. 32-34). While all people are God’s premortal spiritual offspring, in another sense we become God’s “sons and his daughters” only by choice and covenant (Mosiah 5:7). It appears that the title of “son of God” is an identity Christ willingly shares with all men and women who have faith in Him, make and keep covenant with Him, are changed and sanctified through Him, and are led by the Holy Spirt to Him (e.g., John 1:11-12; Romans 8:14-17; 3 Nephi 9:17; Moroni 7:26; D&C 42:52; 45:8).

This is God’s oath and covenant to all who “receive” (v. 40), “obtain” (v. 33), or “come unto” (v. 42) this priesthood – especially to the “fulness of the priesthood” associated with temple ordinances and covenants – and who magnify their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit (v. 33), receive His servants, and “live by every word … of God” (vv. 33-42; see also D&C 124:28-41). Whether men or women, they “all” (v. 35) become, by His decree, heirs as sons – with Christ, The Son – of all the Father has (v. 38; Romans 8:17).

See and Live

How can the ordinances of the priesthood unlock a power that allows us to “see the face of God and live (v. 22)?”

First, priesthood ordinances of baptism and confirmation bring us into a relationship with the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead, whose influence helps us see ourselves. As the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, transforms us, and purifies our hearts, He points us toward the face of Christ (Moroni 7:48; 1 John 3:1-2).

Next, the priesthood ordinances of baptism and confirmation also bring us into a covenant relationship with members of Christ’s Church (Mosiah 18:7-11), and sealing ordinances confirm our relationship within our earthly lineage and the family of God. The Holy Spirit empowers us to see other people, deepening our capacity to love in emulation of the One whose very identity is Love (1 John 4:8). Captured in the climactic words of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Finally, priesthood ordinances and covenants enlist us in becoming the Zion people who will see and greet the Lord when He returns. Our Zion-like homes and wards can be gathering places to which “every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor” can “flee,” for we aspire to be the peace-makers, covenant-keepers, and neighbor-lovers who will “see [Christ] in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power” (D&C 45:68, 44). That Zion synergy will be enhanced as Christ brings with Him Enoch’s Zion from above and all the holy angels to join the Zion we are diligently trying to create here below:

And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other; And there shall be mine abode, and it shall be Zion . . . .  (Moses 7:63-64; italics added)

Jesus Christ is our model for exercising priesthood authority with power. He  proclaims, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). He invites us to share in His power in a limited way here and now, and perfectly and completely in a coming day (Doctrine and Covenants 76:51-59). To that end, He invites us into a relationship with Him by which we can learn personally and deeply the purposes of that power: to accomplish or do His will and to bring us into relationships of influence and synergy by which God empowers us to empower others, who in turn empower others.

By the indescribable gift of Christ’s atoning, redeeming life and resurrection, and with our own faith and repentance, we can die to the natural man, and die to selfishness and sin. We can be “begotten” and ”born” anew of Him, as “His sons and His daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). Our baptism is no longer a mere symbol and becomes instead a mighty reality of a new kind of life. Then the ordinances of His holy house can teach us to “grow up in [Him}” and go forth from His house “armed with [His] power . . . [to] bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth” (D&C 109:15. 22-23).

Whether in this life or the next, when nothing is left in us that needs to die and be born again in Christ, we will be able to see His face, and we will live. This is His covenant promise.

More Come, Follow Me resources here.

[1] While we often describe priesthood as the authority and power to act in the name of God, it is helpful to distinguish keys, authority, and power. Prophets and apostles; temple, mission, and church historic site presidents; stake and district presidents; bishops and branch presidents; and quorum presidents are given priesthood keys to authorize and direct the use of the priesthood. Everyone else receives delegated priesthood authority through ordination, calling, or assignment from one holding keys. This includes all Seventies, counselors in any presidency, patriarchs, quorum members, missionaries, temple workers and patrons, and presidents and members of Church organizations and classes (General Handbook 3.4).

[2] General Handbook 3.5; see also D&C 84:19-20).

[3] I’m grateful to Joseph Grenny for articulating this long-held conviction for me. Private correspondence.

[4] See the General Handbook, sections 3.1, 3.2, and 3.4.4

[5] Daniel Becerra, 3rd, 4th Nephi: A brief theological introduction (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxell Institute, Brigham Young University, 2020), 88-89.

Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D., M.B.A., has been a psychologist in private practice, president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, and a visiting professor at Brigham Young University-Provo. She founded Sixteen Stones Center for Growth, which offers seminar-retreats for Latter-day Saint women and their loved ones (see Her books include Let God Love You; Weakness Is Not Sin; Habits of Happiness; The Temple Experience; Forgiving Ourselves; and national best-seller The Why of Work, coauthored with her husband, Dave Ulrich. Wendy’s newest book is Live Up to our Privileges: Women, Power, and Priesthood, published by Deseret Book.

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