“Every act or ordinance performed in the Church is done under the direct or indirect authorization of one holding the keys for that function,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in his priesthood session address.
In controlling the exercise of priesthood authority, the function of priesthood keys both enlarges and limits, he said. “It enlarges by making it possible for priesthood authority and blessings to be available for all of God’s children. It limits by directing who will be given that authority of the priesthood, who will hold its offices, and how its rights and powers will be conferred.”
Ultimately, he said, all priesthood keys are held by Jesus Christ, whose priesthood it is.
“The divine nature of the limitations put upon the exercise of priesthood keys explains an essential contrast between decisions on matters of Church administration and decisions affecting the priesthood,” Elder Oaks noted.
He explained that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as a council “are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures – matters such as the location of Church buildings and the ages for missionary service. But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.”
Posing the question of how priesthood authority applies to women, Elder Oaks quoted President Joseph Fielding Smith to the effect that though women are not given the priesthood, that doesn’t mean they are not given authority.
“In that notable address, President Smith said again and again that women have been given authority,” Elder Oaks said.
“To the women, he said, ‘You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.’ He also said that the Relief Society ‘[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority.’ And of course, the Church work done by women or men, whether in the temple or in the wards or branches, is done under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys.”
Though it is not common to speak of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, they are given priesthood authority in such functions as serving a full-time mission or teaching in a Church organization, Elder Oaks noted.
“Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities,” he said.
“The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood. But, as various Church leaders have emphasized, men are not ‘the priesthood.’ Men hold the priesthood, with a sacred duty to use it for the blessing of all of the children of God.”
Quoting President J. Reuben Clark relative to the role of women as “a creator of bodies,” Elder Oaks declared, “In the eyes of God, whether in the Church or in the family, women and men are equal, with different responsibilities.”