Priesthood and Church Organization
The sixth of the Articles of Faith (which state the Mormon basic beliefs) says, “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” The fifth Article of Faith says, “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.”
These two articles describe the organization of the Church, in short. Mormons believe in apostles and prophets and so forth, and also believe that those who have authority in the Church must be set apart by the power of God to be able to act for Him. The power and authority of God on earth is called, by Mormons, the priesthood. All worthy male members of the Church can hold the priesthood – and once they have it, they never give it up, save by sin.
In the Mormon Church, church leaders are not paid. In fact, every leader is called from the general membership of the Church. Except for the highest offices in the priesthood, every leadership role (or “calling”) is held for a certain period of time. This time isn’t set, but it’s generally understood that the member holding the calling will eventually not hold it any more, and it will be given to someone else. Both men and women can hold callings, although only men can hold priesthood callings.
There are two kinds of priesthood. The first is the Aaronic Priesthood – the priesthood of the ministering of angels, the gospel of repentance, and baptism. This is the lower priesthood – and it contains four offices: deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. Young men of the Church are interviewed at age twelve – if they’re worthy, they’re given the Aaronic priesthood and become deacons. Deacons pass the sacrament during Sunday worship. At fourteen, a deacon becomes a teacher, after an interview. Teachers prepare the sacrament, among other duties. When the teacher becomes sixteen, he becomes a priest, if he’s ready and worthy. Priests can bless the sacrament and perform baptisms. He can also ordain others to be deacons, teachers, and priests.
The bishop is the highest calling in the Aaronic Priesthood – there’s only one bishop for each congregation, or ward. The bishop also holds the Melchizedek Priesthood, so he presides over the ward as well as the Aaronic Priesthood.
The other priesthood is the Melchizedek Priesthood. It’s a higher priesthood and anyone who holds it can hold any priesthood calling in the Church. When young men become eighteen or nineteen, they’re usually given the office of elder. An elder can do any Aaronic Priesthood calling, ordain other elders, and give the gift of the Holy Ghost to new members.
There are other priesthood offices in the Church, but we’ll cover the highest last. Mormon apostles are special witnesses of Christ and they proclaim their witness to the world. There are, as in the original Church, twelve of them. When someone is called to be an apostle, he acts as an apostle for the rest of his life.
The President of the Church, or the Prophet, is currently Gordon Hinckley. The President of the Church holds all the keys of the priesthood and is a prophet, seer, and revelator. He has two counselors. He and his two counselors together are called the First Presidency, and the First Presidency acts as the Lord’s mouthpiece to the Church and its ultimate authority.
Not all callings are priesthood callings, however, and not all organizations inside the Church are priesthood ones (although they’re all presided over by the priesthood).
Children under the age of twelve are taught in Primary. For teenagers, twelve to eighteen, the Church has Young Men’s and Young Woman’s organizations for instruction. And adult men and women learn the Gospel together in Sunday School.
The Relief Society, the women’s organization of the Mormon Church, is also the oldest women’s organization in the United States. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church, established it in 1842.
The presidencies of the Primary, Young Women’s, and Relief Society organizations are all made up by women.
Additionally, any member can speak to the congregation in Sacrament meeting, any member can teach in Sunday School, and both men and women speak to the entire Church in General Conference.