My father enjoys restoring classic vehicles, and he is very good at it. When I was in middle school, he bought a beat up old 1965 stepside Chevy pickup. Over the next few years, he restored it to its former glory. He smoothed dents, mended holes (and there were a LOT of holes…), replaced the tired old engine with a new one designed for racing, and gave it a shiny new coat of paint.
I inherited that love of classic vehicles from him, and while I don’t know nearly enough to restore one myself, I do have a deep and abiding appreciation for a perfectly restored Shelby, GTO, or Corvette. Especially the Corvette.
The concept of Restoration has special meaning in the hearts of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like my earthly father worked to restore his truck, our Heavenly Father has restored the Gospel and returned the power of the Priesthood to the earth.
A dear friend of mine who is not of our faith recently had questions about our belief in the Priesthood and why it is so important to us. By way of an answer, please indulge me a little as I share the Parable of the Pickup Truck.
A pickup truck is made up of many parts that serve varied purposes, but all would be rendered pointless without a working engine. Through a rather ingenious process, fuel and fire combine to create the power needed to operate the vehicle. One way or another, every part of the truck owes its ability to function to the engine. Without an engine, all you have is a shiny metal box with comfy seats. It looks good, might make you comfortable for a while, but ultimately serves no purpose.
Like the engine in our spiritual pickup truck, God is the source of Priesthood Power. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “The Power by which the heavens and earth were and are created is the priesthood. Those of us who are members of the Church know that the source of this priesthood power is God Almighty and His Son, Jesus Christ. Not only is the priesthood the power by which the heavens and the earth were created, but it is also the power the Savior used in His mortal ministry to perform miracles, to bless and heal the sick, to bring the dead to life, and, as our Father’s Only Begotten Son, to endure the unbearable pain of Gethsemane and Calvary—thus fulfilling the laws of justice with mercy and providing an infinite Atonement and overcoming physical death through the Resurrection… The same priesthood power that created worlds, galaxies, and the universe can and should be part of our lives to succor, strengthen and bless our families, our friends, and our neighbors—in other words, to do the things the Savior would do if He were ministering among us today. And the primary purpose of this priesthood power is to bless, sanctify, and purify us so we can live together with our families in the presence of our heavenly parents, bound by priesthood sealings, participating in the marvelous work of God and Jesus Christ in forever expanding Their light and glory.” (”This is My Work and Glory”, M. Russell Ballard, General Conference April 2013)
If it weren’t for the Power of God manifested by the Priesthood, the Church would just be a pretty building with comfy chairs. It looks nice, it might make you comfortable for a little while, but ultimately, it serves no purpose. Isn’t it marvelous that we do have access to the power of God through the Priesthood?
Now that we have a working engine, we will need wheels if we actually want to get anywhere. And like the wheels of our pickup truck, the Priesthood moves us from where we are now to our final destination in the kingdom of God. The Third Article of Faith states, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” In other words, in order to return home to our Father in Heaven, we must participate in the saving ordinances of baptism, confirmation, Priesthood ordination for males, endowment, and sealing. These covenants were had in ancient times, as we know from the writings of ancient Prophets and Apostles. In 1 Corinthians 11:2, Paul says, “Now I praise you, bretheren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
Even Christ Himself, He who was without sin, was baptized. Nephi, a prophet of the Book of Mormon, taught, “And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water! And now, I would ask of you, my beloved bretheren, wherin the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water? Know ye not that He was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesses unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments… And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straightness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them. And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved bretheren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the father?” (2 Nephi 31: 4-7, 9-10) I would add that, if it were essential for Christ to participate in the ordinance of baptism to fulfill all righteousness, it suggests that he also participated in the other saving ordinances for the same reason.
The Priesthood behind those ordinances makes it possible for us to make covenants with the Lord that will help us follow Him in this life and lead us back to His presence in the next.
The Steering Wheel
Now imagine for a moment that you are in a vehicle that has an engine and wheels, but no way to steer? How would you keep yourself on the road? If you were to drift, you would have no way to correct your trajectory, and you would very likely find yourself in a dangerous situation.
Sometimes in life, we make mistakes that take us off the straight and narrow path. Left to our own devices, we cannot steer ourselves back, but thankfully, Christ has redeemed us all. By partaking of the Priesthood ordinance of the Sacrament each week, we gain access to the Atonement of Christ, which redirects our course back to the only true and safe path.
Light the Way
At times, we are required to drive our pickup trucks down dark roads. Now that we have a steering wheel, we can confidently navigate our winding course through life, but it sure would be nice if we could see. Headlights illuminate our path and help us avoid potential dangers in the road.
A blessing administered by the laying on of hands by worthy Priesthood holders can provide clarity, foretell of coming blessings, warn about coming challenges, offer comfort, and open the doors to personal revelation and inspiration. When we face the dark roads of adversity or uncertainty, a Priesthood blessing can give us the confidence we need to continue our spiritual journey.
Check Your Mirrors
As our headlights illuminate our future, our mirrors help us reflect on our past. When the Angel Moroni visited the boy Joseph Smith, he echoed Malachi’s promise of a time when the hearts of the children would turn to their fathers. The ancient prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, and he committed to them the priesthood keys for sealing families in this dispensation. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught us that, “The family… is a divine institution, the most important both in mortality and in eternity. Much of the work that goes on within temples is concerned with the family. Basic to an understanding of its meaning is recognition of the fact that even as we existed as children of God before we were born into this world, so also shall we continue to live after death and the treasured and satisfying relationships of mortality, the most beautiful and meaningful of which are found in the family, may continue in the world to come.” (”Why These Temples”, Gordon B. Hinckley, Temples, pp. 23-24.)
The sealing power binds families together on earth and throughout all eternity. With the proper Priesthood authority, family relations formed on earth can be perpetuated beyond the grave, and we can perform the saving ordinances via proxy for our loved ones who have passed away without receiving the blessings of the Gospel. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “If a person is for any cause denied the privilege of complying with any of the covenants, the Lord will judge him or her by the intent of the heart… Many of these have passed away, and their blessings are given them vicariously. The gospel is a vicarious work. Jesus vicariously performed a labor for us all because we could not do it for ourselves. Likewise, he has granted to the living members of the Church that they make act as proxies for the dead who died without the opportunity of acting in their own behalf.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 198)
President Hinckley continued, “Was there ever a man who truly loved a woman, or a woman who truly loved a man, who did not pray that their relationship might continue beyond the grave? Has a child ever been buried by parents who did not long for the assurance that their loved one would again be theirs in a world to come? Can anyone believing in eternal life doubt that the God of Heaven would grant His sons and daughters the most precious attribute of life, the love that finds its most meaningful expression in family relationships? No, reason demands that the family relationship shall continue after death. The human heart longs for it, and the God of heaven has revealed a way whereby it may be secured. The sacred ordinances of the house of the Lord provide for it.”
The Keys to Freedom
Now that we have all the parts of our pickup truck in place, we just need one more thing: KEYS. Without those keys, we cannot enjoy the power and freedom offered by our vehicle.
So where do we get those keys? Can we just conjure them up out of thin air? Can we steal them from someone? Can we buy them? A man named Simon tried to do that once, back when Peter and John were teaching the gospel in Samaria. In Acts 8:18-21, we read, “And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.”
Furthermore, Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander explained, “The sacred ordinances of the gospel as requirements for salvation and exaltation were ‘instituted from before the foundation of the world.’ They have always been an immutable part of the gospel. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: ‘Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.’ … Through time and apostasy following Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, however, the divine authority of the priesthood and the sacred ordinances were changed or lost, and the associated covenants were broken. The Lord revealed His displeasure over this situation in these words: ‘For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god.’ (D&C 1:15-16)”…
“The Lord [also] asks this question: ‘Will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?’ The appointed authority in performing a sacred gospel ordinance is as essential to the validity of the ordinance as the ordinance itself is to the covenant that accompanies it. The Savior told Joseph in the initial visitation, ‘They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’
“The “form of godliness” may have reference to ordinances common to many Christian churches, such as baptism, the sacrament, and marriage. These all may share similarity in their performance, but without the priesthood authority and the accompanying covenant, the power of the ordinance is denied. If we eliminate priesthood authority and the covenant portion of an ordinance, we are left only with the “form of godliness.”…
“This situation required a restoration of knowledge pertaining to the importance, significance, and appointed administration of sacred gospel ordinances, both live and vicarious, as well as the divine authority of the priesthood and priesthood keys to administer them. (Source: “Ordinances and Covenenants”)
In short, no, we cannot buy, steal, or create our own keys. The only way to receive the keys of the Priesthood is to 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). Elder Ballard said, “During the glorious days of the Restoration and the reestablishment of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world today, John the Baptist; Peter, James, and John; Moses; Elias; and Elijah came to the earth and restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith all of the keys and authority of the priesthood for the work of God in these latter days. It is by these keys, this authority, and this power that the Church of Jesus Christ is organized today, with Christ at the head directing His living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, and assisted by duly called and ordained Apostles.” Joseph Smith received all the keys and authority of the Priesthood from those who had been given authority from God. He was then authorized to ordain others to the Priesthood and to give them the keys and authority to ordain others still. Because of this organization, when a worthy male member of the church is ordained to the Priesthood, he can literally trace his Priesthood back to Christ Himself.
Now, had I asked my father to borrow the keys to his truck, I’m sure he would have been quite happy to deny me that privilege. I was just a middle schooler after all. I was neither prepared nor worthy of the keys to something so precious.
Likewise, our Heavenly Father does not give the keys of the Priesthood to anyone who is unworthy or ill prepared.
Elder Ballard said, “Perhaps [this] can be explained by example. I hold a set of keys to an automobile…. If I give keys to you… you have certain obligations. You must know applicable laws and obey them. Loyalty is expected. And you should understand the power of your instrument… Obedience to law first and foremost means keeping the commandments of God. By so doing, one becomes worthy to receive personal revelation!… [Furthermore,] If an automobile is used recklessly, future permission from parents is likely to be denied. So, if priesthood power be abused, ‘the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37).
And like a Father who gives very specific instructions regarding how and when we are allowed to use the pickup truck, Heavenly Father has given us very specific instructions regarding the use of the Priesthood. In D&C 81:3-6, he tells us, “inasmuch as thou art faithful in counsel, in the office which I have appointed unto you, in prayer always, vocally and in thy heart, in public and in private, also in thy ministry in proclaiming the gospel in the land of the living, and among thy bretheren. And in doing these things thou wilt do the greatest good unto thy fellow beings, and wilt promote the glory of him who is your Lord. Wherefore, be faithful, stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees. And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.”
I am so grateful that I belong to the only Church on earth that has the power and authority of the Priesthood. The Priesthood has been a great blessing throughout my entire life and in so many ways. But the greatest blessings I have received through the Priesthood have come from attending the Temple.
Given as a talk in Sacrament Meeting on summer 2014.
Featured image by Jane Byam. Used with permission.