The Powers of Heaven
Elder David A. Bednar
Of the Quorum of the Twelve
The priesthood is the authority of God delegated to men on the earth to act in all things for the salvation of mankind. Priesthood is the means whereby the Lord acts through men to save souls. One of the defining features of the Church of Jesus Christ, both anciently and today, is His authority. There can be no true Church without divine authority.
Ordinary men are given the authority of the priesthood. Worthiness and willingness—not experience, expertise, or education—are the qualifications for priesthood ordination.
The pattern for obtaining priesthood authority is described in the fifth Article of Faith: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof” (Articles of Faith 1:5). Thus, a boy or a man receives the authority of the priesthood and is ordained to a specific office by one who already holds the priesthood and has been authorized by a leader with the necessary priesthood keys.
A priesthood holder is expected to exercise this sacred authority in accordance with God’s holy mind, will, and purposes. Nothing about the priesthood is self-centered. The priesthood always is used to serve, to bless, and to strengthen other people.
The higher priesthood is received by a solemn covenant that includes the obligation to act in the authority (see D&C 68:8) and the office (see D&C 107:99) that have been received. As bearers of God’s holy authority, we are agents to act and not objects to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The priesthood is inherently active rather than passive.
President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “It is not enough to receive the priesthood and then sit back passively and wait until someone prods us into activity. When we receive the priesthood, we have the obligation of becoming actively and anxiously engaged in promoting the cause of righteousness in the earth, because the Lord says: ‘He that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned’ (D&C 58:29)” (Ezra Taft Benson, So Shall Ye Reap, 1960, 21).
President Spencer W. Kimball also pointedly emphasized the active nature of the priesthood. “One breaks the priesthood covenant by transgressing commandments—but also by leaving undone his duties. Accordingly, to break this covenant one needs only to do nothing” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 1969, 96).
As we do our best to fulfill our priesthood responsibilities, we can be blessed with priesthood power. The power of the priesthood is God’s power operating through men and boys like us and is the result of faithfulness, obedience, diligence, and personal righteousness. A boy or a man may receive priesthood authority by the laying on of hands but will have no priesthood power if he is disobedient, unworthy, or unwilling to serve.
“The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and. . .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; emphasis added).
Brethren, for a boy or a man to receive priesthood authority but neglect to do what is necessary to qualify for priesthood power is unacceptable to the Lord. Priesthood holders young and old need both authority and power—the necessary permission and the spiritual capacity to represent God in the work of salvation.
A Lesson from my Father
I was reared in a home with a faithful mother and a wonderful father. My mom was a descendent of pioneers who sacrificed everything for the Church and kingdom of God. My dad was not a member of our Church and, as a young man, had desired to become a Catholic priest. Ultimately, he elected not to attend theological seminary and instead pursued a career as a tool and dye maker.
For much of his married life, my father attended meetings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with our family. In fact, most of the people in our ward had no idea that my dad was not a member of the Church. He played on and coached our ward softball team, helped with Scout activities, and supported my mother in her various callings and responsibilities. I want to tell you about one of the great lessons I learned from my father about priesthood authority and power.
As a boy I asked my dad many times each week when he was going to be baptized. He responded lovingly but firmly each time I pestered him: “David, I am not going to join the Church for your mother, for you, or for anyone else. I will join the Church when I know it is the right thing to do.”
I believe I was in my early teenage years when the following conversation occurred with my father. We had just returned home from attending our Sunday meetings together, and I asked my dad when he was going to be baptized. He smiled and said, “You are the one always asking me about being baptized. Today I have a question for you.” I quickly and excitedly concluded that now we were making progress!
My dad continued, “David, your church teaches that the priesthood was taken from the earth anciently and has been restored by heavenly messengers to the Prophet Joseph Smith, right?” I replied that his statement was correct. Then he said, “Here is my question. Each week in priesthood meeting I listen to the bishop and the other priesthood leaders remind, beg, and plead for the men to do their home teaching and to perform their priesthood duties. If your church truly has the restored priesthood of God, why are so many of the men in your church no different about doing their religious duty than the men in my church?” My young mind immediately went completely blank. I had no answer for my dad.
I believe my father was wrong to judge the validity of our church’s claim to divine authority by the shortcomings of the men with whom he associated in our ward. But embedded in his question to me was a correct assumption that men who bear God’s holy priesthood should be different from other men. Men who hold the priesthood are not inherently better than other men, but they should act differently. Men who hold the priesthood should not only receive priesthood authority but also become worthy and faithful conduits of God’s power.“Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (D&C 38:42).