"[The priesthood] is nothing more nor less than the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and act legitimately; not assuming that authority, nor borrowing it from generations that are dead and gone, but authority that has been given in this day in which we live by ministering angels and spirits from above, direct from the presence of Almighty God."1
After Christ's apostles died the priesthood power was lost and no longer existed upon the earth. But John the Baptist restored the lesser priesthood to the prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery when he appeared to them and said, "Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness." 2
At a later date the higher priesthood was conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by Peter, James, and John, ordaining them "to be apostles and special witnesses of Jesus Christ to bear the keys of the ministry of his kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times and for the fullness of times." 3
It is through the authority of the priesthood that sacred ordinances of the Mormon Church are administered. It is the power by which baptisms, confirmations, priesthood ordinations, and temple sealings are performed. It is also the power by which healing blessings can be given, revelations can be received, and the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley leads the Church.
There are two priesthoods within the church; one lesser and one higher. Bruce R. McConkie teaches that, "The Aaronic Priesthood is a preparatory priesthood, a schooling priesthood, a lesser priesthood, a divine system that prepares men to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood." 4 It is given to all worthy young men at the age of twelve. Those who receive the Aaronic Priesthood promise to serve the Lord, forsake the world, and to live a worthy life.
"The Melchizedek Priesthood is the highest and holiest order ever given to men on earth. It is the power and authority to do all that is necessary to assist God in saving and exalting the children of men. It is the very priesthood held by the Lord Jesus Christ himself and by virtue of which he was able to gain eternal life in the kingdom of his Father." 5 All worthy men in the Church are allowed to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and are ordained at age eighteen preparatory to becoming a missionary. Those who receive this priesthood covenant with God to magnify their callings, keep the commandments, marry in a Mormon temple, and serve as Christ did.
The priesthood is to be used for the blessing of all men, women, and children around the world; both Mormons and nonmembers alike.
1. Gospel Doctrine [Deseret Book Co., 1939 ed.], pp. 139–40.