Packer explained that the church has distributed the authority of the priesthood worldwide, but that they had not distributed the power of the priesthood.
What do church members mean when they say words like "keys," "authority", or "sealing power"?
Let's start with authority. Elder Packer says, "that priesthood is the authority and the power that God has granted to men on earth to act for Him. When priesthood authority is exercised properly, priesthood bearers do what He would do if He were present." He also says that many priesthood holders in the church do not have power, although they do have authority. So we see that while authority can be given by the church, power cannot. Or, as Packer put it, "power in the priesthood comes through faithful and obedient living in honoring covenants." Or, as the Lord put it,
44 For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.
45 For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
46 And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
47 And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
48 And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world. (D&C 84:44-48)
If priesthood power or "God's efficacy" cannot come from the church, where does it come from? As Joseph restored to Genesis 14, the power of the priesthood cannot come from man at all:
25 And Melchizedek lifted up his voice and blessed Abram.
26 Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.
27 And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
28 It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
29 And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name. (JST Gen 14:25-29)
Interestingly, the phrase "neither by beginning of days nor end of years" could refer to the LDS practice since Brigham Young of ordaining men at certain ages.
So, as Elder Packer says, authority means "church permission." It cannot mean "God's permission," because if it did, according to JST Gen 14:25-29, it would come with power. And not just your run of the mill sacrament/blessings on the sick power, either:
30 For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
31 To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world....
33 And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace. (JST Gen 14:30-31,33)
So what does "keys" mean? Well, the church website for that topic quotes the following:
“It is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 136).
So when leaders say "keys" they mean church permission to give church permission. Again, note that this is a process that doesn't necessarily involve the Lord, since if it required God's approval, it would always come with the power of the priesthood, which Packer claims is frequently not the case.
What about "sealing power"? When most members of the church use that phrase, they do so with the exclusive meaning of making a spousal or parental relationship eternally binding. However, any act done in the Lord's name fails to actually come to pass unless recognized by heaven. Thus, to state something on earth and have it come to pass, it must either have originated in heaven and been communicated by God's word prior to occurring, or it must have originated on earth and been ratified by God's word in heaven. This can and does happen on a case-by-case basis. This is limited power in the priesthood. However, from time to time God declares to men that whatever they say, he will do. For example, this is what he said to Nephi:
4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
7 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.
8 And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done.
9 And if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done.
10 And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass. (Helaman 10:4-10)
This past weekend we heard Elder Eyring say, "The prophet sent me to confer the sacred sealing power on a man in a small city far away. Only the prophet of God has the keys to decide who is to receive the sacred power which was given by the Lord to Peter, the senior Apostle. I had received that same sealing power, but only by direction of the President of the Church could I confer it on another." (Here.)
President Eyring, and all the brethren, claim to have the sealing power. After all, if they didn't, none of the ordinances conducted by the church would be recognized by God as more than an earthly witness of effort. No temple ordinances would actually redeem the dead, no endowments would grant access to God, no baptisms would result in a claim to be resurrected into the next life, and priesthood blessings of health would not be honored by virtue of the church permission of the bearer.
If the brethren hold the sealing power, it means that what blessings they invoke will come to pass, and what curses they invoke will come to pass. It may seem highly irregular that a member of the 15 would curse someone, but that is essentially what they do when they consent to the excommunication of a member, for if they hold the power to seal to eternal life, they also have God's power to revoke the efficacy of ordinances performed in the church, even extending to revoking a man's access to the Holy Ghost.
The brethren don't often talk of their use of the priesthood. However, Elder Oaks gave a somewhat candid talk regarding priesthood blessings not too long ago. In it he makes some very interesting points in context of what has been discussed here.
- "the healing power of the priesthood cannot produce a result contrary to the will of Him whose priesthood it is." He cites D&C 42:48, which says that the sick can be healed unless they are appointed unto death.
- "Another part of a priesthood blessing is the words of blessing spoken by the elder after he seals the anointing. These words can be very important, but their content is not essential....Ideally, the elder who officiates will be so in tune with the Spirit of the Lord that he will know and declare the will of the Lord in the words of the blessing.....On some choice occasions I have experienced that certainty of inspiration in a healing blessing and have known that what I was saying was the will of the Lord. However, like most who officiate in healing blessings, I have often struggled with uncertainty on the words I should say. For a variety of causes, every elder experiences increases and decreases in his level of sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit.....Fortunately, the words spoken in a healing blessing are not essential to its healing effect. If faith is sufficient and if the Lord wills it, the afflicted person will be healed or blessed whether the officiator speaks those words or not." (Ibid)
Elder Oaks plainly states that efficacious blessings in the church can only come if one of the following is true:
- God tells the priesthood holder what to say.
- Someone exercises faith so that God heals them.
Interestingly, if someone is healed by faith, no priesthood was necessary in the first place. Even Elder Oaks admits that in the same talk by referencing people who are healed through prayer to God. I would suggest that if the priesthood holder has not received God's word, a blessing ought to be replaced with a prayer asking God to heal the person. All the "authority of the Melchezidek priesthood" in the world will not make that blessing any more efficacious than a prayer if the word of God hasn't appointed it, and the hubris of such a display may make it even less likely than a prayer.
It also seems tremendously convenient to claim that if the priesthood holder's words did not come to pass, "it must not have been God's will." D&C 42:48 only applies when God wants the person dead. If they go on living but afflicted, it is clear that the words were spoken (and the Lord's name was taken) in vain.
A priesthood blessing via the sealing power would require neither of these conditions. It is possible that Elder Oaks was describing his own experience prior to his receipt of the sealing power in conjunction with receiving the second anointing, which would have happen at or before his ordination to be an apostle. However, even supposing such is the case, we would have to believe that every single blessing given by every apostle always comes to pass to the letter.
Either the brethren have the sealing power, or not every blessing they give comes to pass to the letter every time. There is no middle ground. It just takes one counterexample, folks.
As you contemplate the presence or absence of sealing power, it would do good to think about how it is received. It turns out that, as explained in JST Gen 14, the fullness of the priesthood is received directly from God. On the other hand, while the words "the sealing power is only ever received directly from God" do not appear in scripture, the body of examples of individuals receiving it match that pattern. Without fail, every single person in the scriptures who had the sealing power received it directly from God.
One counterexample you might be thinking of is Joseph Smith. The church claims he got it from Elijah in the Kirtland temple on April 3, 1836 (see D&C 110). However, that revelation does not include anything about bestowal of the sealing power. The phrase repeated to Nephi and all others who have ever received it was not recorded. Joseph DID receive the sealing power, but not from Elijah. The bestowal is recorded in D&C 132, which was recorded in 1843 but could have occurred many years before:
45 For I have conferred upon you the keys and power of the priesthood, wherein I restore all things, and make known unto you all things in due time.
46 And verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you remit on earth shall be remitted eternally in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you retain on earth shall be retained in heaven.
47 And again, verily I say, whomsoever you bless I will bless, and whomsoever you curse I will curse, saith the Lord; for I, the Lord, am thy God.
When did God tell Brigham he had sealing power? We have no record of it. Did Brigham claim he did? No. He claimed to have gotten it from Joseph. For many years, his claim was that he got it through his ordination as an apostle. Later, the claim was that they received it during the "last charge." Yet, if true, this would be the first example of a man receiving the sealing power through another man. Of all those in scripture, none received it from a man who already had it. What about later presidents of the church? They all claim to have received it through men since Brigham.
All this being said, we return to the connection between church permission and God's power. The church spends a tremendous amount of resources spreading church permission under the understanding that it is required to make God's power efficacious. To the occasional examples where apostles have admitted that church permission is NOT required (such as Oaks above admitting that the scriptures are right when they say the effectual prayer of the righteous can actually get God to heal without any priesthood involved), let us add another easy to see example.
When Jesus' apostles report to him that individuals without church permission are casting out demons in Christ's name, he tells them to let them (Mark 9:38-40). Oddly, these folks were effectual in a ministry that the apostles themselves weren't quite able to do (Matthew 17:19), and without the church permission the apostles had in abundance.
Moreover, we are told that many miracles shall follow all those who believe (Mark 16:17-18), whether or not they have church permission.
Finally, we see that Paul was ordained an apostle by Christ himself (Galatians 1:1), and wasn't even in contact with the other apostles for years after he started his ministry, which included many priesthood miracles.
So we are left with a few questions:
- Why are at least some of the brethren's blessings ineffectual if they have the sealing power?
- If the brethren have the sealing power, how did they get it?
- Why does the church spend so much time and effort spreading around church permission if God's power is available directly from God (JST Gen 14)?
- If you can can exercise at least as much of God's power in the priesthood without church permission as you can with church permission, what does church permission buy you?