A Philosophical Foundation
Each world cycle is composed of two parts. A dividing era, and a unifying era. A fall/division and a redemption/at-one-ment. Our source and our destination is oneness. Before this world was, we were one with God (in a sense), and all who take part in the redemption are seeking to bring all intelligence back into that oneness. So how is this accomplished?
I think the best way to see it is to take a lesson from nature… A snowflake, as well as most minerals, need a “seed”, or nucleus around which to grow. Most scientists believe that particles of dust provide this nucleus for snow. Once water coalesces around the dust particle, it freezes and begins to grow in a fractal (see Wikipedia) pattern. The formation is a chain-reaction which pulls water from the air to grow the snow flake. It is somewhat of a miracle that somehow each part of the flake knows how to grow perfectly symmetrically. The same is true for a diamond. Once a nucleus forms, the mineral continues to grow bigger and bigger in a perfectly symmetrical crystal lattice. And somehow every atom that is incorporated into that diamond follows the same form and habit (shape) of the nucleus.
The point of all this is that Christ is our nucleus and the priesthood is the magical power that makes the mineral and the snowflake grow, and do so in perfect symmetry, harmony and purity. It might be said that it is the power “to officiate in Gods name”, but this is trivial. The temporal ordinances of the Gospel have only one purpose, and that is to bring us to Christ (or in other words to bring us into a unity of the faith with Christ). Every temporal aspect of the gospel, or “Aaronic” aspect of the priesthood has the purpose of pulling chaotic intelligence from the earth and giving it a “like-mind” with our nucleus so that we can be assimilated into his body. Just as we eat food that we might assimilate it into our bodies, and we symbolically eat Christ’s flesh and blood that we might be one with his Spirit, the purpose of all the sacraments is to make us like Christ so at some point we might be fit food, that Christ may eat us and we may be one with his body. He is the vine and we are the fruit. His goal is to draw intelligence to himself to be connected totally and equally in mind and spirit and even to a lesser extent in body.
If you picture the Solar system, and Christ is in the center of the sun and is a mineral composed of pure energized hydrogen. We could then compare the planets to dispensational heads. The Sun constantly exerts two forces on all matter in the solar system. One is a gentle gravitational pull toward itself. The other is a constant solar wind blowing non-massive (unfit) material out toward the Oort cloud. We could then compare “the devil” to an oppositely polarized comet that spends most of its time out in the darkness of the universe. When the comet comes far enough into the solar system, its opposing polarity causes both the planets and the sun to “eject” masses of matter which are too strongly polarized to stay “at one” with the bodies they come from. They may separate and become planets of their own, or they may fly out of the solar body (system) completely to become comets or chaotic masses of stellar dust. In this example, lets call the seemingly opposing forces of gravity and the solar wind the priesthood. The priesthood of the sun governs what matter is attracted to the sun and what matter is repulsed. The priesthood of the planets does likewise for themselves, at the same time being controlled and even powered by the sun in a way a bit too complicated to explain here. (In essence a charged particle traveling through an alternating magnetic field creates its own alternating magnetic field, etc). So just as with the mineral and the snow flake, this mystical “priesthood” power is the force that allows these stellar bodies to attract “like-minded” aspects of stellar matter unto themselves to continue their own growth.
So in summery, I think the best definition of the priesthood is that found in D&C 84:19. It is the power holding “the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God”. Or perhaps better put, “the key of the intelligence of God”. It is the power to make your mind & spirit (intelligence) like and one with God’s mind and spirit (intelligence). And when that occurs, your body will follow suite and become like God’s as well, which is exaltation and eternal life. This is the Heavenly City or Zion spoken of in the scriptures where all men are one, and there are no rich or poor among them.
There are other more trivial aspect of the priesthood such as the organizational characteristics of the ‘Government of God’ (see John Taylor’s book with the same name for some good material on this). Additionally there are many who refer to the Power of God as manifest in the Gifts of the Spirit as the “power” of the priesthood (see this article for more on this distinction).
The Divisions of the Priesthood
Now a second point to make in reference to “the priesthood of all believers”. Remember there are two main divisions of the priesthood in the Church (even though as Joseph Smith said, “all priesthood is Melchizedek” or all priesthood is just a different manifestation of the same power). One is Temporal or Aaronic and one is the Spiritual or Melchizedek. I believe this distinction is an earthly shadow of a heavenly principle; being that there are two main divisions of the priesthood as seen from the perspective of a “king and priest” in heaven. There is an earthly priesthood and a heavenly priesthood. The lower is held and administered by the church on earth, the other is held and administered by the church in heaven. The lower earthly priesthood, of course, is governed by the higher heavenly priesthood. Just as the local or central high council (twelve) give bishops a large degree of autonomy, so also does the heavenly priesthood give the earthly one, while at the same time just as the general authorities are really the ones who have any control in which direction the church goes as a whole, so also is only the heavenly priesthood really in control of which direction human history goes.
And here is the big point I wanted to make in the previous article… the priesthood in heaven governs more than the Mormon Church. It governs the secular and religious affairs of the whole earth. The higher one gets in the heavens (third degree of celestial kingdom for instance), the more power the priesthood (both male and female) has to govern the affairs of beings below them (including the earth), BUT the less likely they are to do so in trivial ways. The higher a being is, the more power to influence they have, but the more respect they have for agency and self determination and so the less they exert that power on others.
Now in regard to the quote of “the 1,400 years of priesthood privation and absence of divine authority”. This is a difficult thing to discuss. I believe on my mission my view of things was fairly dogmatic, following pretty closely with what I read in McKonkie’s Mormon Doctrine. I believed the “truth” was taken off the earth within the first four hundred years or so after Christ and that the Catholic Church was devoid of all authority and was perhaps even the “church of the devil” mentioned in Nephi’s vision. However, the more I read about the apostasy and then prayed for understanding, the more it seemed that there was so much more to it. I believe a first big step toward understanding is seeing and studying the parallel between the Times of Israel and the Times of the Gentiles (see my article here on it). A statement such as “the priesthood was taken from the earth for X years” is true, but only in the context it is usually trying to convey, which is that a certain level of the portion of the priesthood given to Both Abraham and Peter was taken from the general assembly of both Israel and the Christian/Catholic Church at the time of Moses (~1500 BC) and Justinian (~500 AD) respectively. We might simplistically generalize that the “Melchizedek” priesthood was taken from Israel at the time of Moses as also it was taken from the Christian Church at the corresponding time of Justinian. Although true as a simplified statement, a closer look at even that statement begs the question, “Do you mean that Elijah, who held the binding power to seal on earth and heaven, and was translated to heaven without tasting death only had the lower or Aaronic Priesthood? I would dare say not. I would say that many prophets such as Elijah, Daniel, Lehi and others held a form of the higher priesthood comparable to what we call today the “Melchizedek” Priesthood, even though it was not available to Israel at large because of thier wickedness and apostasy.
So also I ask, “where did they get it?” Most of those individuals were not descendants of Aaron and so should not have even had right to the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood. But they were a member of the house of faith and chosen seed, and thus by their purity they were given great power by God and might I suggest that like John they were “ordained by [an] angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power” (D&C 84:28). Is this an example of the “priesthood for all believers”? Well, to argue for or against that you have to dive into definitions and semantics which always lead one in circles. The Catholic Church has been debating the protestants for years on this issue (see here.. and here ) and the truth is that the doctrine like all dogmas approximates the truth, but the truth is what it is and can only be fully known when it is revealed by the spirit. God respects his lower earthly priesthood. But there also is a higher heavenly priesthood organization with the authority to give power to whom they will. But God’s house is a house of order even through to some mortal’s eyes it may seem like giving people like Elijah or Lehi or Joseph Smith a higher priesthood was out of order, at some point we will see how it all followed the proper order after all.
As I mentioned in another article.. Jesus submitted to John’s priesthood, even though “being without” priesthood (from the Jews perspective), he was greater than John’s priesthood. This is the lesson that the author of Hebrews is trying to get across when in Heb 7:14 he says, “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood”. In fact, this is likely a reason why many of the Jews accepted John the Baptist and not Christ. John was the son of a/the High Priest. He was a direct descendant of Aaron and a legitimate heir to the priesthood. The orthodox Jews were waiting for a great “prophet” and just as Catholics believe any great reformer must be part of the Catholic Priesthood and many Mormons believe that any prophet must be part of our high priesthood, so also many Jews undoubtedly believed the promised “Prophet” and great High Priest must be a Levite. So when Christ came along, who was not only not a descendant of Aaron or Levi or even Ephraim, but instead was a descendant of David through his unholy fornication with Bathsheba you can imagine the self-righteous repulsion from among the orthodoxy. I believe there is a great truth being taught here. Jesus submitted to the lower priesthood, but the heads of the lower priesthood rejected him. This is repeated throughout biblical history. The ones who think they have the birth right & priesthood are rejected by God, and an unexpected one gets it instead. The first are made last and the last are made first. When the orthodoxy gets weighed down in their own dogma, God sends a reformer from the unorthodox.
So what lessons might we as Mormons take away from this? I think we would do well to remember that we should all humbly submit to the priesthood, even as Jesus did to John, Caiaphas and Pilot. But at the same time, we would be well to remember that “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Luke 3:8). He can make any Son of God the Chosen Seed and he can give anyone His Priesthood. He follows a particular order, but we should not be so arrogant as to think we fully understand it. We should never think we know who is or isn’t God’s chosen. We should submit to earthly religion but realize that it is a schoolmaster pointing us to the higher heavenly religion (Gal. 3:24, 2 Ne. 25:25). We should heed the council spoken to us over the pulpit and written on our earthy tablets in our buildings made by hands, but we should thirst for the council whispered to us over the unhewn alter and put into the fleshy tablets of our hearts. There is a reason that the teachings of the Temple are to remain unwritten, and there is a reason why the highest teachings are to remain unspoken.
As for another in depth discussion on priesthood, see these two articles which elaborate a bit more on these principles…
see The Difference Between the Priesthood & Prophets https://mormonuniversalism.com/326/the-difference-between-the-priesthood-prophets/
Also this artilce I found written by an anonymous individual in
Also an article on the lower, temporal, Aaronic priesthood https://mormonuniversalism.com/57/the-lower-priesthood-of-aaron/