At the center of Mormonism's exclusive teaching and practices is the belief that the kingdom of God and salvation are totally governed through LDS priesthood authority. Here is how the LDS Church defines its priesthood:
The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of God. Through the priesthood God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power He redeems and exalts His children, bringing to pass "the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). God gives priesthood authority to worthy male members of the Church so they can act in His name for the salvation of His children. Priesthood holders can be authorized to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation, and govern the kingdom of God on the earth.
The elite teaching and practices of Mormonism can never be understood apart from the realization that everything in the LDS Church is founded and authorized by the sealing, binding, and loosing power of its male priesthoods. The ordained male priesthoods' authoritative role in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be overemphasized. The LDS Church's claim that it is the one and only true church on earth is primarily based on its theology of priesthood authority. The Mormon Church has two distinct male priesthoods-all women are excluded-called the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Mormonism teaches that God delegates his priesthood authority to worthy male members of the LDS Church so that they can act in his name for the salvation of his spirit-children. According to Mormonism, the priesthood holders are the only authorized ones to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation, and govern the kingdom of God on the earth. It is also important to understand that eternal salvation in Mormonism is exclusively mediated through its official male priesthoods. The Latter-day Saints' Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods are believed to be the exclusive agents of the delegated power and authority of God on earth for the salvation of humankind. For without the direct authority of the Mormon male priesthood, the LDS ordinances of eternal salvation cannot be performed or experienced. For Mormons, the door of eternal salvation is opened and made possible only through the so-called authoritative keys possessed by the male priesthood. It is actually a very simple equation: without the ordinances performed by the ordained Mormon priesthoods, eternal salvation in Jesus Christ is not available and cannot be experienced. Although Christians acknowledge the important leadership functions of New Testament apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip the church for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12), we declare that Jesus Christ is the only eternal Mediator and High Priest of God's spiritual authority and power. As apostolic writings make clear, Jesus is the only Mediator between God and men and the only Mediator of a new covenant (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15).
The Aaronic Priesthood for Young Men
The Aaronic Priesthood is called the lesser, Levitical, or preparatory priesthood in the LDS Church. A worthy male Mormon who has experienced water baptism can be ordained into the Aaronic Priesthood beginning at age twelve and is given a very special status within the LDS organization. The Aaronic male priesthood holder enters into a detailed preparation process to eventually earn a leadership position within the Melchizedek Priesthood. This is how the LDS Church defines the Aaronic Priesthood:Worthy male members may receive the Aaronic Priesthood beginning at age 12. These young men, typically ages 12-17, receive many opportunities to participate in sacred priesthood ordinances and give service. As they worthily fulfill their duties, they act in the name of the Lord to help others receive the blessings of the gospel.
These young male Mormons participate in numerous services and responsibilities, ranging from blessing and serving the sacrament (communion), assisting in temporal matters, collecting offerings, teaching, baptizing, and even ordaining other boys into the Aaronic Priesthood.
The Melchizedek Priesthood for Adult Men
In early Mormon history, the higher and greater priesthood position in the LDS Church was called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. It was eventually changed to the Melchizedek Priesthood. This priesthood office is named after the high priest Melchizedek, who lived during the time of Abraham. The official LDS Web site defines the Melchizedek Priesthood in this way:
Through the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, Church leaders guide the Church and direct the preaching of the gospel throughout the world. In the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood, "the power of godliness is manifest" (D&C 84:20). This greater priesthood was given to Adam and has been on the earth whenever the Lord has revealed His gospel. It was taken from the earth during the Great Apostasy, but it was restored in 1829, when the Apostles Peter, James, and John conferred it upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
Mormons believe that the Melchizedek Priesthood was first given to Adam and possesses the power and authority over all the offices in the LDS Church. A Mormon male must become a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder to receive eternal exaltation into a god, for it is a requirement before he can receive the temple endowment and be sealed to his wife and family for eternity. Bruce McConkie's statement makes the LDS teaching concerning the Melchizedek Priesthood quite clear:
Without the Melchizedek Priesthood salvation in the kingdom of God would not be available for men on earth . . . As far as all religious organizations now existing are concerned, the presence or the absence of this priesthood establishes the divinity or falsity of a professing church.
Are Mormons Christians?
Although I considered writing a chapter dedicated to the question of whether Mormons are Christians, I concluded that this was not really necessary. First, Dr. Craig Blomberg has already done a superb job in his chapter "Is Mormonism Christian?" in the book The New Mormon Challenge, and second, I believe that this question is best addressed in the context of this chapter, which explains Mormonism's exclusive claim that it is the one and only true church on earth. It is clear that Mormonism has set itself totally apart from all Christian churches, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox, and itself affirms that it is not Christian as Christianity has always been historically understood. Dr. Stephen Robinson provides the Mormon answer to the question whether Mormons are Christians: "Latter-day Saints do not seek to be accepted as historically 'orthodox' Christians or as Evangelicals. We are neither."