In the Priesthood Session of this weekend’s General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Twelve Apostles gave an in-depth discourse on the doctrine of the Priesthood and Priesthood Keys.
While the concept of priesthood keys is well established in the church, there are members of the church who do not seem very familiar with it and some who do not seem to believe it. Elder Oaks has provided one of the most thorough discussions on the topic that I can remember.
It is a central doctrine to the entire notion of the Restoration, the truth claims of the church, it’s organization, and its day-to-day operation at every level.
One consequence of Elder Oaks’ clarifying sermon is that it should have an immediate, personal application to every member who applies for a temple recommend.
As part of the interview to obtain a temple recommend members are asked a series of questions in which they assert their faith and worthiness to participate in temple ordinances. Sometimes these interviews go fast and it can be easy to gloss over some of the details of the questions. But the details are very important.
Members are not just asked about whether they sustain the President of the Church. The question asks specifically about priesthood keys and the President’s exclusive possession of and authority to exercise them.
Elder Oaks’ discourse establishes a clearer context and definition for what such an assertion entails. Every member who applies for a temple recommend must remember that they are not merely being asked if they support the prophet in the good he does or says, they are making a very specific assertion of belief in the doctrine of priesthood keys and the authority of the church as taught by its authorities.
And they should be able to answer that question honestly and with a plain understanding of what it means.
Nearly ten years ago, in a sermon that has long been fundamental to my own understanding of prophets and apostles, President Eyring discussed the importance of exercising faith in those possessing priesthood keys: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2004/10/faith-and-keys . He said:
“We have to know by inspiration that the priesthood keys are held by those who lead and serve us. That requires the witness of the Spirit.
And that depends upon our testimony that Jesus is the Christ and that He lives and leads His Church. We must also know for ourselves that the Lord restored His Church and the priesthood keys through the Prophet Joseph Smith. And we must have an assurance through the Holy Ghost, refreshed often, that those keys have been passed without interruption to the living prophet and that the Lord blesses and directs His people through the line of priesthood keys which reaches down through presidents of stakes and of districts and through bishops and branch presidents to us, wherever we are and no matter how far from the prophet and the apostles.
That is not easy today. It was not easy in the days of Paul. It has always been hard to recognize in fallible human beings the authorized servants of God. Paul must have seemed an ordinary man to many. Joseph Smith’s cheerful disposition was seen by some as not fitting their expectations for a prophet of God.
Satan will always work on the Saints of God to undermine their faith in priesthood keys. One way he does it is to point out the humanity of those who hold them. He can in that way weaken our testimony and so cut us loose from the line of keys by which the Lord ties us to Him and can take us and our families home to Him and to our Heavenly Father.
The warning for us is plain. If we look for human frailty in humans, we will always find it. When we focus on finding the frailties of those who hold priesthood keys, we run risks for ourselves. When we speak or write to others of such frailties, we put them at risk.”
I believe in the doctrine of priesthood keys. I know that Jesus Christ leads the church. I know that the President of the Church has in fact been given the keys of authority by Christ and is the only person on earth who both possesses all of the keys that have been given and is authorized to use them.
As President Eyring teaches, I know this is true by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. And you can know it too.
It is this knowledge that motivates me to oppose those who undermine faith in priesthood keys by focusing on the human frailties of those who possess them.