The Priesthood is not a superpower

I ordained my son a deacon a couple of weeks ago.  The first thing he did when we got home was to facetiously wave his hands toward a chair and attempt to move it with the power of his mind and/or Priesthood.  I immediately told him, “The Priesthood is not a superpower.”  It is something that, I suppose, bears repeating.

Consider, if you will, the scriptures.  Are you looking for some power that will let you move mountains, command trees, walk on water, or heal the sick?  Well, the priesthood isn’t what you need.  Faith is.  In scripture, all those attributes are tied to faith, not Priesthood.  It makes me wonder why we insist on tying everything extraordinary to the Priesthood today.

Obviously, part of it has to do with the ordinance of anointing and blessing to heal the sick, which is an ordinance of the priesthood.  But that’s the thing.  That is one ordinance for one thing; the gifts of God are multitude.  Even setting aside that women used to anoint and bless the sick in our church, we have folklore and actual scripture to support the notion of the gifts of God being manifest in women.  We should not have any notion that the gifts of God or the authority to invoke those gifts are limited by either sex or Priesthood.

So, when I hear that women are forbidden from saying the opening prayer in sacrament meeting or from praying with the people they visit teach, it saddens me. Not just because it offends whatever feminist sensibilities that I may have, but because we are actively cutting ourselves off from many of God’s gifts.  I do not believe that Zion will come or that we will be God’s people until we allow all members of our communities the full use of their talents and gifts.  I don’t know if that means ordination of women or not (it ain’t up to me), but surely all of these silly obstacles that we place before ourselves don’t help.

Now, some will argue that the priesthood needs or has a role in church and human life and these prohibitions maintain that role.  But the Priesthood has a role and these prohibitions are irrelevant to it.  The Priesthood exists on earth in order to align God and Humankind, primarily by means of authorized ordinances.  Those necessary ordinances (baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, temple ordinances) must be as binding in heaven as they are on earth.  The Priesthood, which gives a lineage of authorization going back to Jesus Christ, provides the necessary bureaucratic force.  However, I am not certain that it necessarily does anything else.

Sure the Prophets and Apostles receive revelation over the entire church, but the church is their stewardship.  The Nursery Leader has a stewardship as well and we believe that she receives revelation over her stewards as well. As does the bishop, as does the Relief Society President. We are all equally accountable for our callings and we are all equally blessed with revelation when it is sought righteously.

The Priesthood is not magic; it is not the Force. It is the authority to do God’s will on earth, with the caveat that God’s will is for us to be baptized and partake of all necessary ordinances to return to him.  It is, as presently realized, the opportunity to be God’s bookkeeper.  There are worse things.


  1. “Priesthood is the greatest power on earth. Worlds were created by and through the priesthood.” –

    “While the power of the priesthood is unlimited, our individual power in the priesthood is limited by our degree of righteousness or purity. Fellow bearers of the priesthood everywhere: I hope we appreciate the priceless privilege of holding the priesthood of God. Its value is unfathomable.Through its power, worlds—even universes—have, are, and will be created or organized. Through its power, ordinances are performed which, when accompanied by righteousness, allow families to be together forever, sins to be forgiven, the sick to be healed, the blind to see, and even life to be restored.”

    “This then became their authority. Through the keys of the priesthood, they had access to all of the powers of heaven. They were commanded to carry the gospel unto all nations.”

    Sounds pretty superpower-ish to me.

  2. EmJen,
    I’m going to say that one of the things that the Lectures on Faith got right was that it ultimately attributed this sort of thing to faith. We may wish it to be the Priesthood, I suppose, and it may be the Priesthood, but I think there is reason to consider it all faith-based.

  3. Comment #2 deserves to be its own post. But I love the OP as well. I have a comic book lesson with my YM once a year, where we discuss the similarities between comic book mythology and the priesthood. Your post is giving me reason to reconsider/reframe that discussion.

  4. DANG – so much for all those “Yoda is President Kimball” and “The Priesthood is like the Force” lessons I heard in the 80’s

  5. Amen. The Priesthood is not a superpower, in the way that word generally is defined and understood.

    It is defined commonly as the power to act in the name of God – but even that definition is ambiguous enough to allow for all kinds of understandings. After all, everyone ever born is understood to be a child of God and a possible recipient of revelation from God – and, according, has the potential to act in the name of God in a real and important way. Every baptized member covenants to take upon herself/himself the name of God and, therefore, is promised the potential to act in that name.

    I see a huge difference between the Priesthood, being endowed with the Priesthood, being ordained to offices within two specific Priesthoods (or levels within two divisions of the same Priesthood) and having institutional authority to administer ordinances of the Priesthood.

    So, I might say that the Priesthood is the most super power, but it is not a superpower – and it often functions fully only when used in a way that is the antithesis of a classic superpower.

  6. Kyle M, it may be worthwhile to keep sharing that lesson, showing how we sometimes misunderstand the sacred authority God has given us, and then go from there to explain why the priesthood isn’t a superpower. I think that would be a terrific lesson.

    Responding to the OP: I think we have a problem with regularly throwing faith under the bus. We substitute priesthood where faith should be; we substitute knowledge where faith should be. Nephi or whoever didn’t move mountains because he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he could do it, nor because his priesthood qualifications allowed it. He did it through faith.

  7. It might help to separate the concepts of Priesthood power and Priesthood authority. When Priesthood is used in superpowerish way for example to heal the sick, it has lot to do with the Priesthood power, the authority is (important but) a minor detail. And the Priesthood power has much to do with faith.

    And in the context of gospel faith is faith in Jesus Christ and faith in that God is all powerful. It is not faith in myself, that I can move the mountain or do whatever miracle I’m about to do. It is faith in God that he will let the mountain to be moved. My opinion is that the only superpower is the power of the Almighty.

  8. KerBearRN says:

    One of the most powerful lessons I ever saw on the exercise of priesthood power was in the movie God’s Army. A local member was sick (was he unable to walk?). The elders went to bless him, and the senior elder asked, “Do you believe and have faith that Jesus Christ has the power and ability to heal you?” (or along those lines). The young man said, “yes”. He was blessed, and he was healed. Somehow that truth hit me deeply with that scene– that Faith is a necessary (and really the ONLY) vehicle for Priesthood to have any power, both the faith of the priesthood holder and of those being administered to.

    That being said– I can’t help but find it just a little charming when a 12-year-old boy has that tiny hope of magic. A little Harry Potter in them all, I reckon. Accio chair! ;)

  9. JennyP1969 says:

    Yep, and all the little girls would like to have that Harry Potter moment too!

  10. “part of it has to do with the ordinance of anointing and blessing to heal the sick, which is an ordinance of the priesthood.
    Maybe, but the power to heal is not. That is a gift of the spirit that may have nothing at all to do with priesthood.
    Moroni 10:11

    Ray I love you man, but your comment makes no sense at all.

  11. I don’t know, I teach a sort of tongue in check primary lesson telling them that having the gift of the holy ghost is a super power that, if used correctly, gives them the power to tel the difference between right and wrong.

    I think they walk away not with unreasonable expectations, but mindful of the power the holy ghost’s companionship gives them against sin

    erhaps you can still use the fun of the concept in your teaching as long as you frame it properly.

  12. Bruce Bogtrotter says:

    “The Priesthood is not magic; it is not the Force.”

    So if it’s by faith that the scripture-heroes levitated axe heads, called down fire from heaven, summoned bears to rend their detractors, gained matrix-like projectile dodging ability, found super-human strength to break their bonds and so forth, then that makes faith the magic, the Force, the superpower, amirite?

  13. Bruce (whose name sounds like some superhero’s secret identity),

  14. I would have been disappointed if one of my Valiants did that, because it sounds like he was waving his hands towards the chair to bring it to himself. If he was waving his hands toward the chair to bring it to grandma, that sounds better.

    The primary manuals are ~15 years old and I assume are next for an update now the YW/YM have been redone. But I do love that they stress throughout that priesthood is only to be used to serve others, never for one’s own benefit.

    And of course there is the Priesthood Power song in Primary that feeds the superpower thing.

    The bible dictionary entry on miracles is also well worth pointing to. Not sure there is a demonstrated need for most people to move mountains, nor for a healthy young man to move a chair since he can do that himself.

  15. I want to emphasize that my objection to the notion that Priesthood = superpower (as opposed to faith) is not that I want to see the Priesthood deemphasized, because I don’t. I do, however, want all faithful members (and faithful people in general) to believe that they can ask for miracles in their life and receive them. We shouldn’t think that miracles (including gifts of the spirit and powerful godly prayer) is something only the Priesthood does. Cause it ain’t.

  16. Bruce Bogtrotter says:

    So the Faith-Force abilities are so conspicuously underwhelming in modern times, not because faith has diminished but because the need for miracles has declined?

  17. Bruce,
    I dunno. If that works for you, go with it.

  18. J. Stapley says:

    EmJen, that conflation of priesthood and power, I think, shows a lot about what the interlocutors want/hope priesthood to be, and not so much what the scriptures teach the priesthood is. This is one of my favorite proof texts (JST 14:30-32, speaking of the high priesthood):

    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.

    32 And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.

  19. Your points ring true to me. And yes, the nursery leader can receive his own revelation over his stewards.

  20. “I do not believe that Zion will come or that we will be God’s people until we allow all members of our communities the full use of their talents and gifts.”

    Wrong! We won’t become Zion until all God’s people repent of their personal sins and stop trying to find a place at some imagined table.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    John, your son’s attempts to use his new priesthood superpower remind me of that Darth Vader Volkswagen commercial, where the little kid in the Darth Vader helmet keeps trying to use the force on stuff, and finally tries it on the car, and is freaked out when the car actually roars to life. (Pan back to the dad in the kitchen starting the car with his remote starter.)

  22. A Voice from the Dust says:

    Jettboy, we won’t become Zion until you stop being such a dickwad.

  23. Bruce Bogtrotter says:

    John, I’m not so sure that that does work for me.

    The prophets of yore had X-Men powers and used them. Today we learn languages slightly faster in the MTC, or have headaches go away a few hours after a priesthood blessing. This is decidedly less impressive. As far as I’ve seen, explanations for this disparity always eventually boil down to special pleading.

  24. The main criterion we have for building Zion is unity. So, I guess that means A Voice from the Dust is right?

  25. Bogtrotter, it may be that those of us who have witnessed or exercised miraculous gifts tend not to talk about them in forums where we’re likely to be greeted by cynicism, disbelief, and/or mockery.

  26. it's a series of tubes says:

    Bruce, I’d suggest that you might not have all the data. Some have seen, but don’t share what they have seen. The disparity may be smaller than you think. And it may actually be in the other direction.

  27. it's a series of tubes says:

    Blast! Ardis both beat me to it and said it better! Not unusual.

  28. While I do think we’ve milksopped the Priesthood over the years (more authority than power, these days), I think John’s absolutely right about the correlation of faith and miracles, and of stewardship and revelation. One of the coolest things about the last Worldwide Training was the vignette about the primary presidency visiting a less active family. One of the counselors prophesied–yes, prophesied–that if the parents would make it possible for their children to attend, then their own burdens (illness, money problems) would be eased enough for them to also attend. It was a beautiful moment, and fulfilled. Not sure how many of us caught that. That some local leaders are disallowing opening prayers by women and the like suggests we ought to run it again.

  29. 14, I don’t remember a Priesthood Power song. Perhaps you are thinking of Scripture Power?

  30. I have never tried to use my priesthood as a superpower, but I have tired to use my faith to move a penny. It did not work.

  31. Bruce Bogtrotter says:

    Unfortunately, this approach comes across as very similar to the alternative medicine practitioner or psychic medium who claims “my powers don’t work in the presence of a skeptic”.

    Isn’t it rather futile to claim the reality of phenomenon, but then exempt it from all possible testing/verification/falsification – to the point of not even discussing it in the face of possible criticism?

    I would also note that the authors of the scriptures seem unreserved about sharing their miracles.

  32. The Other Clark says:

    #29 I was thinking “scripture power” too, along with the Elder Bednar “raise your scriptures to heaven gesture.”

    This post has given me a lot to think on. I’m waiting for the Church to fully realize and implement the doctrine that “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood.” Think about that. Sec 121 says authority and power cannot be maintained through the priesthood alone.

    Just as miracles are worked by faith (not priesthood), authority/presiding is worked through selfless love.

  33. it's a series of tubes says:

    Isn’t it rather futile to claim the reality of phenomenon

    Bruce, your question presupposes that “proving it” is the goal. Such may be yours. Although from your tone, perhaps “disproving it” is the goal…

    Speaking only for myself, I couldn’t think of a thing I am less interested in than “proving it”.

  34. John, I thought this was a very meaningful post and I agree that these are ideas that need to be considered and addressed. I suspect we have downplayed this role of faith and that we are guilty, to some extent, of fetishizing the Priesthood at the expense of the raw power of the Gift of Faith.

  35. Let’s be honest, this wouldn’t really be a complete post about Zion and the unifying power of faith if Jettboy hadn’t dropped by to remind everyone what a loathsome scumbag he is…

  36. Bruce Bogtrotter says:

    it’s a series of tubes,
    John C’s post asserts that the Priesthood is not a superpower.
    I don’t see that it is irrelevant to ask whether or not the same is also true of faith.

    Sorry if my tone sound dismissive, but if some people have genuinely experienced literal physical superpowers, then it is REALLY REALLY important that we talk about them and investigate them and understand them and do everything we can to replicate them under controlled test conditions so that the broader population can benefit from them. (Of course, this would come at a price because there are always those who turn to the dark side and use their powers for evil instead of good. As we know, with great power comes great responsibility).

  37. Yeah, that’s really not the point, Bruce. That would be simony at best. And even if it weren’t, the point is that we are not in control. We don’t do this at whim or will, or to be seen of others, etc. That’s not what it’s for. Read the Gospels for proof of Jesus’ reticence to publish his miracles abroad.

  38. The Other Clark says:

    @Bogtrotter: Finding ways to increase the effectiveness of priesthood power and/or faith is commendable (We’re encouraged to seek out the best gifts, right?) But I believe it improper to try and “replicate them under controlled test conditions.” Miracles are signs that follow those who believe, so I’m doubtful the “broader population” will benefit from them until well into the Millenium.

  39. I look at priesthood ordinances and blessings like a great feast given to us all, men and women alike, by the Lord. I see priesthood administration (distinct from church leadership administration) as the waitstaff at this feast — most necessary to the feast, but plainly not more important. Though this service is done only by men, they cannot serve and receive simultaneously; in order to receive priesthood ordinances, all are truly alike, male and female. Any power exercised or gift given comes from God, not the server. Looking at it this way, the distortions and delusions about “holding” the priesthood that we may subscribe to become a lot more obvious.

  40. The Other Clark is exactly right, Bogtrotter. You aren’t going to duplicate the results of faith by implementing the tools of another method. And frankly, I don’t suppose many of us reading your challenge are persuaded that you are at all sincere in your desire to benefit mankind by trying.

  41. “Wrong! We won’t become Zion until all God’s people repent of their personal sins and stop trying to find a place at some imagined table.”
    I’d phrase this differently, Jettboy. I’d say we won’t become Zion until we all repent and make room at God’s table. Will everybody there have to repent and come unto God? Yes. But there’s no reason for us to make a hard task harder.

    I also suspect you of the trolling, so watch yourself. Miracles happen, both big and small. Those with eyes to see and so forth.

    Be nice. Ignore trolls is you can’t say nothing nice to them. Vengeance (on the blog) is mine and so forth.

  42. @John C #13. I know I’m totally missing the point of the rest of this thread, but I just thought I’d point out that Bruce Bogtrotter is the fat kid from Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” who gets forced to eat the whole cake when caught stealing Ms. Trunchbull’s from the kitchen, a minor hero in a book about a little girl with super powers.

  43. Great post, thank you for John C. for your take on this, it is refreshing.

    Everyone else, Don’t feed the trolls. ;-)

  44. Bruce Bogtrotter says:

    An interesting connection, though not intentional.

    I don’t know why I’m obviously not “sincere in [my] desire to benefit mankind”.
    One of my favourite Roald Dahl stories is The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, which recounts the journey of the titular character as he develops clairvoyance and uses it to break the bank in casinos, eventually using the proceeds to fund orphanages.
    I always thought if I ever developed the gifts of prophecy or seership that I could game the stock market and, in similar fashion, funnel the revenue to charitable causes. I’d also greatly reduce human suffering and death by giving specific predictions of natural disasters, etc.

  45. #10, MCQ, I love you man, but you referenced the wrong person in your disagreement.

  46. #44 – and that is the exact popint of disagreement, isn’t it?

  47. Heartily agree with this post. Through our less than precise use of language, often-used hyperbole and rhetoric, and simple laziness, we have long been taught that the Priesthood is the “power” when it is really only the right or authorization. We make almost only rare distinctions between Faith and administrative authority. Personal Faith has always been the “power.” Even D&C 121 doesn’t make that clear. As stated there, if a man uses his position of power unrighteously, then “amen to the priesthood of that man.” (He certainly cannot use his power of faith unrighteously) While sometimes that should mean that he is removed from his calling (position of power), I think Joseph meant it as amen to his actual power (derived from his faith).

  48. A very nice post, John. Glad I stopped by!

    I don’t read or comment on blogs much anymore, much of that due to the negativity in the way some commenters are treated. Is it really necessary to profane or demean someone with such harsh language?

  49. Hmm, this is an interesting topic and I have to say I’ve seen people treat the priesthood the same facetious way as your son thanks to movies, books, and well-intentioned teachers of youth trying to make analogies. But I have to admit I disagree with the implication in your post that “faith” is the “power that will let you move mountains…” and not Priesthood power as many suppose. While it is true that one need not be ordained to the Priesthood in order to work miracles, faith is not the power that actually performs the miracle – Priesthood power is. By this, I mean that faith is the thing God requires before He performs the miracle, but it’s still God’s power that performs or accomplishes the miracle. And God’s power is Priesthood power.

  50. If you use your priesthoood to move a chair and show off, you just lost your priesthood, man.
    I do believe that I’m working under God’s permission (call it what you may) when I’m in the temple and particularly when I’m doing live ordinances (helping newbies). I love the words I get to speak. I believe in the promises I give under divine authority. But nothing I say has any effect without the faith/faithfulness of the person I am inviting into her possibilities.

  51. Faith and the Holy Ghost. The great spiritual gifts are gifts of the Holy Ghost, prophecy, revelation, healing, tongues, etc. I have always presumed that the priesthood is an organizing principle. See, there is matter unorganized! Organizing is a great superpower all by itself. Your son should have pointed his finger at his messy room and said, “I will organize this disordered matter!”

  52. Just a thought about whether it is the power of faith or the power of the priesthood that performs miracles. When Joseph Smith was asked if women could perform laying on of hands to heal the sick, he responded, “It is no sin for anybody that has faith to do it, or if the sick has faith to be healed.” Now there may be more than one reading of this, but I read it to mean that the miracle is tied to the power of faith, not the power of priesthood, which seems validated by the fact that he was essentially saying it was fine for women to do it as well. As this was 1842 and these women hadn’t yet been endowed, I don’t think we can make any claim that they had the power of the priesthood, not even through their husbands. So for this miracle at least, I’m claiming the power of faith does the trick.

    But the OP has really got me wondering now – is there such a thing as the power of priesthood that does not essentially boil down to faith? Are there miracles that require both faith and priesthood? Or if you had enough faith, would that be sufficient, even if you’re a woman?

  53. Perhaps the discussion would go somewhere more productive if we’d stop putting off the honest and uncomfortable questions of people’s relationships with the faith in which they were raised and dismissing them as merely trollish baiting (even when it is phrased with a bit of irreverent humour).

    I think the point is, yes: we agree that the priesthood isn’t a superpower. John’s argument for that states in part that *faith* is the force causing miraculous change, not the priesthood in and of itself. But people have faith in plenty of ideas and practises that we in the LDS community consider to be false, or that people in the wider world can attribute to nothing more mysterious than the placebo effect or post hoc reasoning. So if the truth of the idea is irrelevant and the act of faith, however misguided, is all that matters, that poses one problem. And if the truth of the thing is in fact a salient point, then how do we establish what *is* true (and which definition of that word holds the most value for this sort of discussion) in a way that’s more broadly useful than simply saying, “well, you can’t disprove it: I know what I saw/felt/experienced.”?

    I think that’s what Bruce is getting at…though he’s at work right now, so I’m not in a position to ask him myself.

  54. @ Mandy
    If one had the faith, it would be sufficient – man, woman, or child. The only limitation is one’s own faith and, apparently, trustworthiness (see Helaman 10: v.5-6 – the Lord gives Nephi the sealing power and says, “all things should be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will”).

    In other words, miracles cannot override God’s will. But it doesn’t hurt to ask, as I borrow from your comment – Joseph Smith said, “It is no sin for anybody that has faith to do it…” Ergo, gender, age, experience – these things aren’t limitations for miracles. I happen to know a child who prayed and brought her dead father back to life… now she’s a grandmother and still a faithful member of the church.

    Personally, I would follow the pattern the Lord established (i.e., ask the priesthood), but if the priesthood were not immediately available, I know the Lord would give me a miracle just the same. Anyone can find themselves in a situation where they need to pray for a miracle, and He will be there.

  55. Elisha, #54: I agree with the thrust and sentiment of your comment. However, in my belief, faith does not cause God to grant our petition and He mystically alters the situation. The “miracle” (miracles, per se, don’t actually exist) is caused by our faith/power, in the same manner by which Christ performed any of His “miracles.” God doesn’t/can’t intercede on our behalf simply due to our sincere desires and make things happen. We make them happen, or they don’t happen. On the other hand, if our belief and faith (is of sufficient strength, and) is that God will make something happen if we have sufficient faith, that results in the same outcome.

    Yes, my belief is partly derived from the Pratt brothers’ and Skousen’s higher and lower intelligences teachings. And, I apologize for my lack of impulse control which leads to such thread-jacking comments.

  56. Just wanted to say I loved this post and it led to a great conversation with my wife. In college, some girls seemed to think that a blessing from ANY priesthood holder would provide greater insight than her own faith and private prayer might in tackling a challenge. It seems like an improper conception of priesthood as super power can have real consequences for some people.

  57. Micah, I have to say that it’s not just co-eds that put more stock in priesthood blessings than personal prayer. That can be a life-long thing. On the other hand, as a priesthood holder, I have a testimony that the power is real and that Heavenly Father loves His children. I know that He wants us to serve, comfort, and bless His children. I find giving blessings to be scary, humbling, and rewarding.

    I have sometimes been annoyed by people asking for blessings when it seemed like a little personal prayer was called for, but I try not complain. And then, when I give the blessing I nearly always exhort them to pray more too :-).

    My father-in-law very helpfully taught me that I could silently propose in my mind what I think I should say and listen/feel for quiet confirmation– even while I am giving the blessing. This has worked surprisingly well.

  58. Great post. I wish this post could be read over the pulpit especially at a ward I attended a few weeks ago: it was fast and testimony meeting and a woman from the congregation got up, explained that her 12-year-old had just been given the priesthood, and she explained that she had recently had a conversation with him about the scary things in the world (like the shooting in CT and natural disasters) and that he needn’t be afraid of those things because he now had the priesthood and THAT would always warn him before bad things happened. Huh. Besides wanting to stand up on my bench and scream, “False doctrine” across the chapel, I thought about how she was setting her son up for a life of hardship in misunderstanding the priesthood. It’s not a super power and if you expect it to be, you’ll be awfully disappointed when you didn’t “predict” the latest natural disaster. Plus, can you imagine the power-tripping that kid will have? I can just see him, in five to ten years, telling girls to “respect” him because he has the priesthood and has special detection skills they, apparently, do not have.

%d bloggers like this: