A restored priesthood?
Even a cursory glance at mormon teachings will show what a vital part of their mythos the idea of a restored priesthood is. It is one of the, if not the key, declaration of uniqueness and superiority of mormonism over and above orthodox Christianity. If mormons are correct, then every Christian baptism performed is null and void and if they are not correct, then every mormon baptism is illegitimate and they are all individually lost in their sins because they have placed their faith in false teachers and a false gospel.
The story takes us back to the 1800's in Harmony, Pennsylvania on the banks of the Susquehanna River. On May 15, 1829 as Joseph Smith tells it, an angelic visitor appeared to him and his companion Oliver Cowdery and identified himself as John the Baptist. John places his hands upon Joseph and Oliver and gives the the "Aaronic Priesthood". The story is canonized in mormon scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants, Section 13: 1 Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness. Set aside for a moment the idea of the sons of Levi making an offering again after the perfect sacrificial offering of Christ. What Smith is claiming here is startling: a man who was beheaded in the first century appears to these two men in the 1800's, with a body of flesh and bone apparently, and confers on them a priesthood that has been lost for 18 centuries. Later Peter, James and John appeared to Smith and granted them the higher priesthood, known as the Melchizidek priesthood.
The first issue is the nature and the function of the Levitical priesthood, the priesthood of Aaron that Mormonism claims has been restored. The Levites were a particular ethnic group that was set aside for the administration of the temple ordinances, in return for their service they were not given a land holding but were given a portion of the offerings to support themselves. The primary function of the Levitical priests was to administer the temple ordinances, which were primarily to deal with sacrifices. That is important because according to mormonism, young men hold the “Aaronic” priesthood which was restored, but there is no comparison between the Aaronic priesthood of Mormonism and the Levitical priesthood. The Levites were an ethnic tribe and spent most of their time in sacrifice.
The key here is the idea of covenant administration. Under the Old Covenant, the members were national Israel, it was an ethnic membership. The mediator was the High Priest, an office which only one person at a time held. What we know from the book of Hebrews and from Old Testament evidence, primarily the promise of a new and better covenant in the book of Jeremiah chapter 31, is that the new Covenant is different than the old Covenant. Under the old Covenant, human priests offered sacrifice for the sins of the people and also for themselves. Under the New Covenant, there is the perfect and complete sacrifice by and through Christ. That sacrifice for sin is complete and eternal and sufficient, so there is no reason for a system of ongoing sacrifice which was the main function of the Levitical priesthood. In the same respect there is no need for an ongoing prophetic ministry in the sense of receiving new revelation or in a restoration of the temple system. Why have a temple and priests when there are no more sacrifices to be made? Why have a prophet when revelation has been received once and for all in the person and work of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2)? The prophets of the Old Testament all were pointing in one way or the other to the coming of Christ and His reign, and that has taken place so now the ministry of the believers is to call people to recognize that event and repent. Any new revelation that is allegedly being brought forth is done to the detriment of the Gospel, trying to add to the perfect work of Christ on the cross.
There is no mandate in the Bible for a person who receives revelation to hold any priesthood, or to administer the sacraments or any of the other minor functions associated with the “Aaronic” priesthood in mormonism. There is no sign of the receipt of the Holy Spirit in regeneration being tied to the priesthood. In fact the concept of a continuation of a human priesthood that resembles in any way the OT priesthood is completely absent in the NT.
So in a nutshell the issue is that the “restored” priesthood is a relic of the Old Testament/Old Covenant and has been made obsolete by the cross because the function and role of the human priest as administrator of the sacrifice and mediator between man and God has been replaced by our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews is just devastating to the whole foundation of the mormon restored priesthood and modern day prophets. From front to back, it contrast the Old Covenant human priesthood of Aaron with the eternal priesthood of Christ, the perfect mediator of the New Covenant.
Furthermore, the Levitical priesthood that was supposedly restored is restricted to members of that tribe and is further restricted in that only those of a certain age could serve in it: “from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting.” (Numbers 4:3) Mormons by contrast “ordain” young men in their teens to the Aaronic priesthood.
The priesthood of Melchizidek is held by only one individual, that being Christ Jesus, and there is no mention of this priesthood held by anyone else (other than the man that it is named after in the OT)There is not a hint that Peter, or Paul, or John or any of the Apostles held or claimed to hold or needed to hold some special priesthood.
Ultimately, there are two major issues that confound the mormon priesthood restoration tale: First, the mormon priesthood doesn't resemble in any way the Levitical priesthood and it certainly is not reflective of the priesthood of Melchizidek which is held only by Christ as our mediator and High Priest and second there is no evidence that the apostles held to or saw a need for a specific priesthood that was passed on by the laying on of hands after the mormon model. We don't need to restore something that Christ has made obsolete, and we should not desire to go back to the old system and try to please God outside of Christ.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, "See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain." But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:1-13)