Aaronic priesthood (Latter Day Saints)
The Aaronic priesthood (// air-RON-ik; also called the Priesthood of Aaron or the Levitical priesthood) is the lesser of the two (or sometimes three) orders of priesthood recognized in the Latter Day Saint movement. The others are the Melchizedek priesthood and the rarely recognized Patriarchal priesthood. Unlike the Melchizedek priesthood, which is modeled after the authority of Jesus and the Apostles, or the Patriarchal priesthood, which is modeled after the authority of Abraham, the Aaronic priesthood is modeled after the priesthood of Aaron the Levite, the first high priest of the Hebrews, and his descendents. The Aaronic priesthood is thought to be a lesser or preparatory priesthood and an "appendage" of the more powerful Melchizedek priesthood. Practically, the leadership of the Aaronic priesthood, such as the Presiding Bishop, are administrative and financial agents of the church.[nb 1] Aaronic priesthood holders ages 12–18 prepare, bless, and administer the sacrament, collect fast offerings, assist in home teaching, and occasionally perform baptisms.
||This section contains close paraphrasing of a non-free copyrighted source, http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=mormonhistory (Duplicate Detector report). Ideas in this article should be expressed in an original manner. (February 2014)|
Latter Day Saints believe that ancient prophets and apostles conferred the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods directly upon Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829. The conferral of the Aaronic priesthood on Smith and Cowdery is recorded in Joseph Smith—History as follows:
"[W]e ... went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates [The Book of Mormon].... While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying:
"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.
"He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; and he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me.
"Accordingly we went and were baptized. ...
"The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second. ..."Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation."
Over the next 180 years, the administration of the priesthood has changed with the needs of the church. Between 1829 and 1846 only adults held the Aaronic Priesthood. Then from 1847 until 1877, righteous Melchizedek Priesthood holders were tasked with the roles of the teachers and priests as "acting members" of the Aaronic Priesthood. From 1877 to 1908, the men of the church continued to "act" as priests and teachers with the tasks of teaching in the homes and the administration of the sacrament, while worthy boys age 12 to 20 were ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood and given typically the office of deacon. From 1908 to 1922, the evolution sped up as now the youth were assigned one of the three offices based on age similar to the current style. They were then tasked with the administration of the sacrament and also teaching within the wards. Through the 1950s this use of the younger males became institutionalized. Finally from the 1960s through the present, ward teaching changed to home teaching and the youth became the junior companions of the older Melchizedek Priesthood holders.
From the start of the church, the first members of the Aaronic Priesthood were mostly adults. Priests were Joseph Smith, Sr. (59), Martin Harris (47), and two 30 year old members: Hyrum Smith and Newell Knight. Teachers were Hezekiah Peck (49), Christian Whitmer (32), Hiram Page (30), and the young William Smith at age 20. Finally among the early deacons in the church were Titus Billings (38). There were in the early years of the church some worthy youth that were ordained to this priesthood, such as William F. Cahoon at age 17, Don Carlos Smith at age 14 and Erastus and James Snow teachers at age 15 and 17. In these early years, the holders of the priesthood had adult duties thrust upon them. For instance, in the Missouri Stake, the teachers quorum dealt with helping a brother quit tobacco, working with a married couple in a dispute, settling neighborly disputes over cattle, and dealing with "lying and extortion." Adult deacons assisted priests and teachers in maintaining the houses of worship, seating people, making wine for the sacrament and even getting a license so that they could preach in their home. In 1833, plans for the temple included four rows for the presidencies of the Aaronic Priesthood. This clearly was intended for adults and not youth. In Nauvoo between 1839 and 1846, the average age of the 21 priests was 29; however there were four teenagers between 17 and 19. This practice continued on when the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Change was on the horizon precipitated by two happenings. First the creation of the ward, and second, the temple endowment for which the Melchizedek Priesthood was a requirement. Because the ward became the primary unit, as opposed to the stake, Aaronic Priesthood holders no longer presided.
Between the years 1846 and 1877, changes started to occur, as the saints moved west to Salt Lake City. Wards remained as the primary organizational piece; however the deacons, teachers, and priests were still a stake-level position. Accordingly, men were still the major source for priests and teachers, as their duties entailed visiting ward members to check on spiritual well-being, settling disputes, collecting contributions, and helping those in need. Teachers occasionally would sit and judge in cases of wrongdoing, a job normally reserved for the Bishop. The church leadership would hold drives to ensure that positions were filled not as a need of the members to hold the priesthood, but as a need of the church to have the necessary worthy males to accomplish the needed tasks. By 1855, the endowment house in Salt Lake was completed and the church leaders called for it to remain busy. Each ward had quotas to fill in getting endowments completed and the men that were sent needed to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. The average of these men was 22 and some were as young as 14. At this point, so many young men were receiving their endowments and thusly the senior priesthood, that there were few to fill the ranks of th junior priesthood. Brigham Young commented that perhaps men should receive the endowment ordinances pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood first before their missions as a way to prove that they would honor the priesthood that they would soon hold. This would have allowed the Aaronic Priesthood to have returned missionaries as members; however it was never implemented. Also during this period, Melchizedek quorums actively recruited members from the Aaronic members, which depleted their ranks further. As if this was not enough, during this period, it was not a requirement to hold the Aaronic Priesthood first, so the recruiting included the unordained as well. Edward Hunter, the Presiding Bishop, and Brigham Young both lamented over the rush to be ordained a High Priest or Seventy and the subsequent difficulty in keeping the Aaronic ranks filled. However without a policy to change this from occurring, the young continued to be ordained into the senior priesthood. In 1857, Francis M. Lyman and Rudger Clawson were both ordained as elders at 16 and Clarence Merrill a Seventy at 16.
In 1849, as the Salt Lake area was being organized, Brigham Young specified three areas that the Aaronic Priesthood was responsible for. First, their primary duty, was priesthood home visits and watchcare. Second, he specified that the members of the Melchizedek Priesthood also held the lower priesthood and that the most substantial High Priests were to be the teachers of the wards. Finally, he initiated the apprenticeship program in that the members of the Aaronic Priesthood would take young men with them to teach and give them experience. No age limits were specified. This solved the problem arising from the dearth of worth males to be called to the lower priesthood to accomplish the necessary tasks, as by 1852, Newell K. Whitney was directing the bishops to set apart members of the Melchizedek Priesthood as "acting" teachers, priests, and deacons. Some Bishops, at this time, would ordain a few mature youth as teachers to accompany the "acting" teachers and learn the tasks. Whitney's successor, Edward Hunter continued this practice of ordaining Seventies and High Priests as "acting" teachers, deacons, and priests. The Aaronic Priesthood was called "the laborers", the "acting priesthood", and the "regulars" as they were called upon in their Aaronic duties regularly and the need for their Melchizedek duties were not as common. Apostle Matthias Cowley stated, "I was an elder, before I was a deacon" and this statement was understood and common during this period. During the pioneer era, home visits, which remained the paramount task, entailed visiting from 8 to 20 families monthly, quarterly, or whenever possible. They also continued to be peacemaker and occasionally would judge wrongdoers. Bishop Hunter is quoted as saying, "The order of the church is to call in the labors of the teachers & if they cannot reconcile the parties it cannot be done." Youth were called to the Aaronic Priesthood and one ward reported, in 1854, that "the principle portion of the young men had been ordained to the lesser priesthood." Possibly the youngest holders of the lesser priesthood were George J. Hunt ordained at age 9 as a priest and Solomon W. Harris, baptized and then ordained as a deacon at age 8. However, by the mid 1850s leaders were warning against ordaining unmarried men, and Brigham Young in an October 1856 General Conference expressed disapproval over inexperienced "young men" from being ordained.
When you have got your Bishop, he needs assistants, and he ordains Counsellors, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons, and calls them to help him; and he wishes men of his own heart and hand to do this. Says he, "I dare not even call a man to be a Deacon, to assist me in my calling, unless he has a family." It is not the business of an ignorant young man, of no experience in family matters, to inquire into the circumstances of families, and know the wants of every person. Some may want medicine and nourishment, and be looked after, and it is not the business of boys to do this, but select a man who has got a family to be a Deacon.
The 1870s saw a reversal of the trend of less youth being ordained. Circumstances at the time dictated a change. First, the youth of the Salt Lake, Provo, and St. George areas were misbehaving in ever-increasing numbers with ever-worsening acts. Some complaints from the era were "rowdyism is rampant", "crowds of uncouth boys loitering around the stores halloing in the streets, and breaking horses on the Sabbath", "uncouth and ill manners in refusing half the road on meeting teams" "using pencils on walls and nails on the rails of the bannisters", "strip[ping] of his clothes" in reference to a mentally handicapped boy, "intoxicated and using the vilest language", "a gang" spitting "tobacco juice on the floor". The church felt that it could help with such behavior, first by creating the auxiliary organizations for young women in 1869 and young men in 1875 and Primary in 1878 for the even younger children. This also led to a modest effort to recruit the young men into the Aaronic Priesthood. Salt Lake Stake President Angus M. Cannon directed Bishops "to draw the young men into positions in the Priesthood and thus an excellent experience, and, at the same time, preserve them from evil associations." However, there was a more pressing issue that accelerated the conscription of young men into the priesthood. Brigham Young instructed Edward Hunter in 1873, that each stake should have a full quorum of Priests, Teachers, and Deacons; however, Hunter would complain that he could not find willing men to fill these positions. One Bishop noted, "It is a difficult task to find a sufficient quantity of efficient teachers. I have thought of calling upon some of the boys." Another stated, "It is very hard to get the older men to act as Teachers, but the young men come forward and are willing to take their parts and therefore we have to appoint young men where older ones should be." Some Bishops and other leaders resisted this trend like Samuel G. Ladd, who asked the bishops to fill his quorum with "good responsible men and not boys." He continued, stating that Priests should be "experienced men." The trend had started and it was not going to reverse. Most of the deacons were 14 or older; however the acting Bishop of the Salt Lake 2nd ward requested that "Boys from 10 years of age and upwards should come and be ordained deacons; they can assist to clean up the house." The tasks for these new younger deacons entailed preparing the meeting houses, ushering, hauling food, fuel, and goods to those in need, and assisting with the sacrament. By the time of Brigham Young's death, he had taken the position that all boys needed some priesthood experience.
Role within the LDS Church
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Aaronic priesthood has taken on a role as a source of training, leadership and service for adolescent boys and new converts. It is often called a "preparatory priesthood." Holders of the Aaronic priesthood whom the church considers worthy are advanced to an office in the Melchizedek priesthood as a matter of course around the age of 18, or in the case of adult converts, after approximately a year of active church membership.
The Aaronic priesthood is open only to men and boys, twelve years old or older, who are considered worthy after a personal interview with their bishop. Requirements for worthiness include abstaining from all extra-marital sexual practices, following the Word of Wisdom (a code requiring abstinence from drinking alcohol, smoking, and consumption of coffee and tea), and attending church services, among other requirements.
With the exception of bishop, the offices of the Aaronic priesthood are organized primarily by age, and an adolescent boy will automatically be ordained to the next office if found worthy upon reaching the appropriate age. Seldom do those who are old enough stall their advancement in the priesthood though this has occurred before. The conferral and ordination to an office in the Aaronic priesthood is performed by the "laying on of hands" by a Priest or by those holding the Melchizedek priesthood.
With the exception of bishop Aaronic priesthood holders of the same office are organized into a quorum led by a president and counselors within each quorum. The president of the Priests Quorum is the bishop or branch president of the congregation. Each ward has one or more quorums of each office of the priesthood, if there are young men in that age group among the membership.
The church-wide titular head of the Aaronic priesthood is the Presiding Bishop. However, because the Aaronic priesthood is composed primarily of the youth of the church, the presidency of the Young Men organization supervises much of the church-wide organization involving the Aaronic priesthood.
Offices and quorums of the Aaronic priesthood in the LDS Church
|Office||Minimum requirements to be ordained||Rights and responsibilities||Name of quorum organization||Maximum number in quorum|
|Bishop||Adult male; high priest in Melchizedek priesthood||See Bishop (Latter Day Saints)||No quorum of bishops; bishop is president of the Priests Quorum and a member of the stake High Priests Quorum|
|Priest||Baptized 16-year-old male[nb 2]||Bless the sacrament; baptize; give others the Aaronic priesthood and ordain others to the offices of priest, teacher and deacon; all rights of a teacher||Priests Quorum||48|
|Teacher||Baptized 14-year-old male||Prepare the sacrament; home teaching; all rights of a deacon||Teachers Quorum||24|
|Deacon||Baptized 12-year-old male||Keys of the ministering of angels; pass the sacrament to the congregation; collect fast offerings; other duties as assigned by bishop||Deacons Quorum||12|
- Brandt 1992, p. 1
- Doctrine and Covenants 107: 14 (LDS Church edition).
- Hoiberg 2010, p. [page needed]
- Porter 1992, pp. 3-4
- Joseph Smith—History 1:68 (Pearl of Great Price).
- Hartley 1996, p. 83
- Hartley 1996, p. 85
- Hartley 1996, p. 87
- Hartley 1996, p. 88
- Hartley 1996, p. 89
- Hartley 1996, p. 90
- Hartley 1996, p. 91
- Hartley 1996, p. 92
- Hartley 1996, p. 93
- Hartley 1996, p. 94
- Hartley 1996, p. 95
- Hartley 1996, p. 96
- Hartley 1996, p. 97
- Hartley 1996, p. 99
- Hartley 1996, p. 100
- Hartley 1996, p. 102
- Hartley 1996, p. 103
- Hartley 1996, p. 104
- Hartley 1996, p. 105
- Ballantyne 1992, pp. 1-3
- Pearson 1992, pp. 117-118
- Hollist 1992, pp. 1132-1133
- Christianson 1992, p. 1441
- Bramble 1992, p. 361
- Hartley, William G. (Spring 1996). "From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offices, 1829–1996". Journal of Mormon History 22 (1): 78–134. JSTOR 23287418.
- Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Aaronic Priesthood". Encyclopedia Britannica. 1: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. p. 5. ISBN 0-85229-961-3.
- Ludlow, Daniel H, ed. (1992), Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140.
- Ballantyne, Verdon W. (1992), "Aaronic Priesthood: Powers and Offices", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 1–3.
- Bramble, Ronald L. (1992), "Deacon, Aaronic Priesthood", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 361.
- Brandt, Edward J. (1992), "Aaron, Brother of Moses", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1.
- Christianson, Jack R. (1992), "Teacher, Aaronic Priesthood", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1441.
- Hollist, W. Ladd (1992), "Priest, Aaronic Priesthood", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 1132–1133.
- Pearson, Don M. (1992), "Bishop", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 117–118.
- Porter, Larry C. (1992), "Aaronic Priesthood: Restoration", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 3–4.
- Callings: Aaronic Priesthood at LDS.org (LDS Church)
- Aaronic Priesthood, The Joseph Smith Papers (accessed May 14, 2012)