Priesthood keys are the authority Heavenly Father has given to priesthood leaders to direct the use of His priesthood on earth. Jesus Christ holds all priesthood keys. “The keys of this dispensation,” which are necessary to lead the Church, were conferred on the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 110:16). Today the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold those keys. Priesthood keys are also given to the Presidency of the Seventy; presidents of temples, missions, stakes, and districts; bishops; branch presidents; and quorum presidents—including Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidents (Come Follow Me, What are the keys of the priesthood?). All of the priesthood keys have been restored to the earth (D&C 65:2, 42:11, 132:7). Their “key” purposes are: the power to seal, power to administer to the sick, power to baptize, power to administer the sacrament, power to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Oftentimes the keys of the priesthood are confused with the duties that come from holding the priesthood. Approach the teaching of this doctrine with simplicity and clarity. Consider using the phrase “Keys are Conferred” or writing it on the board to help the youth better understand. You might also use this excerpt from Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B, (2000), 8–18:
“A key unlocks the door to a house. We cannot appropriately enter a house unless we receive the key or the owner’s permission. Likewise, except for the right that husbands and fathers have to bless their families, a man who holds the priesthood can use it only when he receives proper permission. A priest, for example, has the authority to ordain another to an office in the Aaronic Priesthood, but he cannot do it without receiving permission to do so from his bishop or branch president. This power to give permission is called the keys of the priesthood.
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: ‘These keys are the right of presidency; they are the power and authority to govern and direct all of the Lord’s affairs on earth. Those who hold them have power to govern and control the manner in which all others may serve in the priesthood. All [worthy men] may hold the priesthood, but [it] can only use it as authorized and directed so to do by those who hold the keys” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 98; or Ensign, July 1972, 87).”
Peter is shown holding his keys in the picture of Thorvaldsen’s statue (right). Do you remember when President Packer shared the wonderful story about President Kimball?
From President Packer’s April ’08 general conference talk The Twelve:
“In 1976 an area general conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Following the closing session, President Spencer W. Kimball desired to visit the Vor Frue Church, where the Thorvaldsen statues of the Christus and of the Twelve Apostles stand. He had visited there some years earlier and wanted all of us to see it, to go there.
To the front of the church, behind the altar, stands the familiar statue of the Christus with His arms turned forward and somewhat outstretched, the hands showing the imprint of the nails, and the wound in His side very clearly visible. Along each side stand the statues of the Apostles, Peter at the front to the right and the other Apostles in order.
Most of our group was near the rear of the chapel with the custodian. I stood up front with President Kimball before the statue of Peter with Elder Rex D. Pinegar and Johan Helge Benthin, president of the Copenhagen stake.
In Peter’s hand, depicted in marble, is a set of heavy keys. President Kimball pointed to those keys and explained what they symbolized. Then, in an act I shall never forget, he turned to President Benthin and with unaccustomed firmness pointed his finger at him and said, “I want you to tell everyone in Denmark that I hold the keys! We hold the real keys, and we use them every day.”
I will never forget that declaration, that testimony from the prophet. The influence was spiritually powerful; the impression was physical in its impact.
We walked to the back of the chapel where the rest of the group was standing. Pointing to the statues, President Kimball said to the kind custodian, “These are the dead Apostles.” Pointing to me, he said, “Here we have the living Apostles. Elder Packer is an Apostle. Elder Thomas S. Monson and Elder L. Tom Perry are Apostles, and I am an Apostle. We are the living Apostles.
“You read about the Seventies in the New Testament, and here are two of the living Seventies, Elder Rex D. Pinegar and Elder Robert D. Hales.”
The custodian, who up to that time had shown no emotion, suddenly was in tears.
I felt I had had an experience of a lifetime.”
Activity Suggestion: Print out each of the keys below and cut out to make key shape. During class, pass them out to as many students as possible (or have the youth pair up). Ask them to read and ponder the quote and teach what they learned to the class. You might also encourage them to answer the question found at the top of this post. By posing the question at the beginning of class, it will help them think on it throughout the learning experience. PDF Files: Proper Order, Preside, Power and Authority, Lead, D&C 6:52, D&C 13: 27, Delegates, Governing, Communication, Bless, Bestow.