Relief Society Lesson 8: The Everlasting Priesthood

by Caroline

Just like most of these lessons, there’s too much to cover. I’m highlighting what I think will serve for the best discussion and be the most inspiring. The second part of the lesson is particularly centered on women’s relationships to the concept of priesthood.

First section:  The priesthood is everlasting and has been held by prophets in every dispensation.

“There has been a chain of authority and power from Adam down to the present time “ is JS’s first line in this section.

Can we use that first line to help develop a common definition of the term priesthood?

I think it’s important to start out trying to define the word, which is used in many complicated ways in our LDS rhetoric. Encourage the class to throw out terms, ideas, words, phrases that they associate with “priesthood” and put those ideas into three columns/categories on the board. (see my 3 definitions below)  Ex: if they throw out “officiate ordinances, I’d put that in column 2. If they throw out power of heaven, I’d put that in column 3. When they are all done, they you can summarize and formulate these three different ways the term “priesthood” is used.

Lead the class to come up with 3 definitions.
1.) It means priesthood holders ( i.e. men). “We’d like to thank the priesthood for passing the sacrament.” “We’d like the priesthood to set up the chairs.”
2.) It means the authority of God to officiate in ordinances and to govern the Church.
3.) It means the power of God in a very broad sense. A universal principle that transcends organization or person. (“Rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven.” D&C 121:36)

Note that the most common definition of priesthood is ‘the power and authority of God’ (this is the definition at lds.org), but that it can be useful to break up those two ideas of power of God (available to anyone) and authority of God (available to men ordained to the priesthood).  I personally like thinking of priesthood in this way, but you may want to ask the class if these categories/definitions work for them.

If I were teaching, I would mention how I dislike the way “priesthood” is often synonymous with “priesthood holder” (Definition 1.) Unfortunately, this usage connotes that men are the power of God.

Throughout this section and the whole lesson, JS speaks of the everlasting and eternal nature of the priesthood. How have you seen the priesthood operate in your life? How has it enhanced your personal relationship with God?

Section 3: The priesthood ordinances have been established from the beginning and must be kept in the way God has appointed.

JS writes ““… [God] set the ordinances to be the same forever and ever, and set Adam to watch over them, to reveal them from heaven to man, or to send angels to reveal them. ‘

This brought up a question in my mind. How does one reconcile this statement –that God’s ordinances are the same forever and ever – with the reality that ordinances have indeed changed over time?Ex: The temple endowment ceremony was changed in the early 90’s, both in wording and in ritual action. A year or two the initiatories were changed. So what could JS mean here?

What ordinances have been particularly meaningful in your life and why? Have you gained any greater insight or perspective through a particular ordinance?

Section 4:The Melchizedek Priesthood is the channel through which God reveals Himself and His purposes.

JS writes ““… The Levitical [Aaronic] Priesthood, consisting of priests to administer in outward ordinance, [is] made without an oath; but the Priesthood of Melchizedek is by an oath and covenant.”8
“The Melchizedek High Priesthood [is] no other than the Priesthood of the Son of God; … there are certain ordinances which belong to the Priesthood, from which flow certain results. … One great privilege of the Priesthood is to obtain revelations of the mind and will of God. It is also the privilege of the Melchizedek Priesthood to reprove, rebuke, and admonish, as well as to receive revelation.”

How do you see yourselves – as women – in relation to these statements about the priesthood?  He says it’s a privilege of priesthood holders to obtain revelations of the mind and will of God. Do you feel you can do that as women too? Do you feel like you also have the right, without holding the priesthood, to admonish and receive revelation? And if not through the ordained priesthood then through what?

-This should elicit a conversation about stewardship. Class members should talk about how they have stewardship within their families to receive revelation, rebuke, admonish and so forth, as well as in their church callings, in which they might preside and receive revelation. This, of course, parallels priesthood holders, who likewise within their stewardship of family and church, are entitled to revelation and the right to reprove.
– Also, point out the difference between gifts of the spirit and priesthood. Gifts of the spirit (prophecy, discernment, healing, etc. are available to both men and women). Joseph Smith told the women at their third meeting on March 30, 1842, … “there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water. . . . If the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues.” Of course, our current policy is that we call in priesthood holders for blessings of healing, but that is a policy not a doctrine.   Quote found in Widtsoe, Priesthood and Church Government.

Could the above ideas help members who are troubled that women aren’t ordained to the priesthood? What else might be helpful to say to them?(other than that bit about receiving the blessings of the priesthood – they’ve heard that too often).   One could mention that our newest apostle, Christofferson, said in an interview that it was conceivable that at some point in the future women might be ordained to the priesthood. This is the gospel of progression, this is the church of progression. Because of our belief in continuing revelation, there is always the chance for a change.

Conclusion:
Often when women talk about their relationship to priesthood, the conversation turns to supporting and sustaining their spouses. This is an important thing for both women and men to do, but I personally like to think of my relationship to the priesthood more directly. I like to think of my personal connection to the powers of heaven , the powers of God. 

Whenever I act as God would have me act, I feel that I have direct access to the power of the priesthood. Whenever I receive inspired revelation for my calling or my family, I see myself using the powers of heaven. When I reach out a hand in loving kindness to someone suffering, I’m allowing the power of the priesthood to flow through me.  When I act with, patience, long suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned – all qualities associated with the priesthood in D&C 121, – the power of God transforms me. My hope and belief is that the powers of heaven operate through all of us, regardless of gender, race, or culture, according to our faith and righteousness.

*Quotes by women about priesthood:
“ Priesthood isn’t a matter of who’s in charge and who gets to give orders. It’s a matter of serving others. Every officer and every member, whether man or woman or child, needs that feeling of being sustained, both by members who hold the priesthood and by those who do not, so that all the members, men and women, can be strengthened.  Chieko Okazaki, Disciples p. 65

 

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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18 Responses

  1. D'Arcy says:

    I am personally having issues with the priesthood to the fact that I haven’t seen many of the promises I have been given over the years come true (although I can attest that I was living very “faithfully and righteously ” as LDS people would define it until a few months ago.

    This always disturbed me, even simple ones about schooling or money and not to mention the continual mention of a spouse in there….does this mean that 14-12 years after the blessing I am still just needing to be faithful here?

    And now that I am not being a “faithful” member are all those promises void?

    And that there are things in my patriarichal blessing that can’t possibly come true? (and likely won’t be the worry in the millenium?) As well as the fact that many people from my same neighborhood have had very similar blessings given them (three-four different people have quoted a few lines from their blessings in various meetings over the past few years and their lines were all the same line that was in mine….and it wasn’t a line of something general, it was pretty specific…and it caused me to worry a little and doubt here.

    Can anyone give suggestions on how to handle these ideas?

  2. Ana says:

    Caroline, your final paragraph before the Chieko Okazaki quote is one of th most powerful passages on priesthood I have read in a long, long time. I was also really pleased with that Reuters interview with Elder Christofferson. Thanks for this lesson.

    D’Arcy, I don’t have answers for you except to say that I was also surprised when I realized that my husband’s patriarchal blessing was very much the same as his younger sister’s (same patriarch, several years apart). The resolution I have come to is that we each have a limited vocabulary for talking about spiritual things, and in many ways our spiritual needs are basically the same. I also discovered that my husband found it inspiring to see the same language applied to his sister’s life – not the opposite. Finally I got the idea to look for the parts that stood out and were different from each other – and there there have been interesting things to learn.

  3. Caroline says:

    D’Arcy, that’s a hard question. I think I probably come at it from this angle: Sometimes people are inspired, sometimes they are not. And I think that certainly includes men who hold the priesthood. Sometimes they are just not as in tune as we generally expect.

    I try to think of it like this. Because human fallibility is so huge, if a blessing is 10% inspired, we’re pretty lucky.

    Ana, glad you like that last paragraph!

  4. EmilyCC says:

    Caroline, an inspiring lesson on a topic that’s always tough for us feminists to teach. Thanks!

    I particularly like your questions around the changing temple ordinances. I think that could lead to some great discussion.

  5. Barbara says:

    As I read the lesson and struggled with how I fit into the Priesthood, it occurred to me that we might be missing a basic point: the fact that all revelation, truth, and blessings come through the Priesthood sounds a lot like the role of the Holy Ghost. Perhaps Joseph Smith is saying that the Holy Ghost has the Priesthood and it is with that power and authority that he passes on revelation and truth to all of us. So it isn’t OUR priesthood that matters, so much as the Holy Ghost’s priesthood.

  6. makakona says:

    caroline, i love this! quite fortuitously, i just (today!) traded lessons with another rs teacher… one who is pretty abysmal (she regularly reads straight through the pages) and we’re in a… weird ward. my last lesson was covering the “raising the bar” talks to the priesthood and a few people complained (one even complained at the close of my lesson!) that i “took a lesson about the priesthood and tried applying it to women.” ooooookay! so, anyway, i’m psyched to have this lesson and even more psyched to brainstorm with all of you here! (btw, caroline, i met you at the snacker in laguna… i’m the one who brought my baby.)

  7. Caroline says:

    hi makakona! I remember you from the snacker. That was a fun evening.

    Glad you liked the lesson. I’m sure it would be too out there for people who like to stick exclusively to the manual, but I think it could work well in some wards.

    Come visit us again here at Exponent!

  8. Sheree' says:

    Caroline: I have been an avid reader of the exponent and am very appreciative of the great insight you have on these lessons. Like many of the others I find teaching the priesthood challenging, but you have really helped me better my lessons. Thank you so much you are a great blessing to me.

  9. Teri says:

    Thank you so very much for your lessons. I was struggling with lesson 8 and with your help, this lesson turned out wonderfully.

  10. Caroline says:

    Sheree, Teri,
    Thanks so much for your kind feedback.

  11. lyn. says:

    Caroline: I find it ironic that you begin your comments by defining the priesthood in three different ways, and then when you quote Joseph Smith you immediately assume that priesthood in that context means priesthood holders:

    “The Melchizedek High Priesthood [is] no other than the Priesthood of the Son of God; … there are certain ordinances which belong to the Priesthood, from which flow certain results. … One great privilege of the Priesthood is to obtain revelations of the mind and will of God. It is also the privilege of the Melchizedek Priesthood to reprove, rebuke, and admonish, as well as to receive revelation.”

    In this case, why can priesthood not mean the power of God in a very broad sense?

    In order for the gospel to have been restored in its fulness, the Melchizedek priesthood had to also be restored to the earth. I believe that having the blessing of the priesthood allows the “powers of heaven to operate through all of us, regardless of gender, race, or culture, according to our faith and righteousness.”

    D’Arcy: The problem may be that you were living faithfully and righteously with the expectation that if you did so, the things that you desire in this life would come to pass. I don’t think that is how it is supposed to work. We need to be faithful and righteous because we choose to, and because we love our Heavenly Father and our Savior as they love us, not because we desire particular blessings in a certain time frame.

  12. Kelli says:

    Elder Christofferson did not say that it was conceivable that at some point in the future women might be ordained to the priesthood. He was asked that question and said he didn’t know, which is pretty much the only answer he can give if revelation comes from God, right? I think that the way you worded that statement in your lesson is misleading.

  13. makakona says:

    keep reading elder christofferson’s reply, kelli. sure, he initially says he doesn’t know… but then he goes on to say, verbatim, “it would be conceivable,” and he cites the priesthood ban as an example of policy changes.

  14. belmomma says:

    makakona,
    so how did your lesson go? That makes me laugh that someone got freaky about applying a RELIEF SOCIETY lesson to women….hmmmm
    Great post, lots of things to think about.

  15. makakona says:

    i was called off earlier in the week and asked not to teach the lesson, that someone else was covering it. i was pretty bummed and figured it was a sort of “political” move to cancel me. come sunday morning, as rs is starting, i am asked if i can pinch-hit. i didn’t bring my notes with me, but had marked up my book and figured i could swing it. buuuut… the counselor specifcally said i couldn’t teach chapter 8, just chapter 9. two other women said we hadn’t had a lesson on chapter 8 (and i don’t remember having it, either), but she insisted… chapter 9 only. it was… interesting. :\

  16. C.J. says:

    I loved this blog, especially the quote from J.S.

  17. Nilda says:

    S writes ““… [God] set the ordinances to be the same forever and ever, and set Adam to watch over them, to reveal them from heaven to man, or to send angels to reveal them. ‘ The Lord Himself has given as the ordinace we paricipate every sunday…but in modern revelations we have a specific prayer; but the ordiance still remains the same…

  1. July 6, 2010

    […] more ideas?  Additional priesthood lessons here at The Exponent: Caroline’s The Everlasting Priesthood Emily’s Women and the Priesthood (based on Pres Julie Beck’s talk, “An Outpouring of […]

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