What is the Distinction Between the Elder and High Priest Office?

I have published nearly 400 blog posts over 12 years.  I have addressed a wide variety of topics, including very controversial issues.  And it is a bit surprising to me that one of the most consistently popular posts was on the Elder/High Priest transition.  Only a couple of posts have received more clicks, searches, unique visitors and comments – and they were not Mormon themed.  That post was made shortly after my 40th birthday, and I was still just an Elder.  And now I am a 50 year old Elder.

I believe the relatively high level of interest in the Elder/High Priest transition post represents an under-rated, quiet controversy in the church.  Many of the comments on that post represent good, faithful men who are at least a little disappointed that they have not been ordained High Priests while many of their peers have been.  I admire these men, who keep on going in the church without complaint, in spite of times when they feel unwanted and unappreciated.  I have sympathy for the good sisters of the church who serve so well without being able to hold the priesthood and certain callings, yet they can take some small comfort in not taking it personally.  The men I am talking about here are eligible for advancement to this priesthood office, yet have not been invited.

I think most of the folks reading this post probably know some good brother who attends the High Priest’s group in spite of holding the office of Elder.  He is likely around retirement age or so, and most of his peer group are High Priests.  It makes me wonder why should bishoprics and Stake Presidents be stingy with ordination in these cases?  What harm would it do?  For all practical purposes these men are part of the High Priest group already.  And this leads me to the question that is the title of this post – What is the distinction between the Elder and High Priest offices of the Melchizedek priesthood?

A glance at the scriptures actually tells us very little.  High Priests preside over spiritual things – whatever that means.  And while it makes sense that the Prophet, Stake President and Bishop are presiding High Priests, what distinction is there between the rank and file High Priest and Elder?   For the most part, it seems that there isn’t any.  Is there an important distinction that I am missing?


11 Responses to “What is the Distinction Between the Elder and High Priest Office?”

  1. 1 Reid Litchfield March 15, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    The only distinction that I’m aware of is that High Priests are actually expected to do their home teaching. Levity aside, it seems to be a ‘distinction without a difference’. Living in a part of the world where nurturing ratios are high makes it much more likely that a given MP holder will be ordained a HP earlier than in parts of the world where nurturing ratios are lower. It therefore seems to reflect regional need for MP leadership rather than worthiness. Thanks for the provocative post.

  2. 2 Larry Zetterlind March 15, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    This is a subject that threw me when I turned fifty. Now I was a convert at age 18 from the east so not steeped in the ways of the church. When I turned fifty I was called in and interviewed and told I would be ordained a High Priest. I ask why? Are you going to ask me to be Bishop? They said No, it was because of my age. I was really kind of mad and upset about it….just because of my age? I still don’t see why age should have anything to do with it. If you are not in a high leadership position why then should you be a High Priest unless they are just trying to balance out the size of he quorums?

    • 3 Eric Nielson March 15, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      Balancing may be the best and most simple answer,

      • 4 rozylass March 16, 2017 at 5:41 pm

        My husband was ordained a high priest about age 50 also, but it was probably so he would feel more a part of the group rather than any balancing. The elders quorum was full of young men just returning from missions, newly married, or with young families. Hubby had adult and teen children, not so much in common with the Elders. He really appreciated the opportunity to be with the older men.

  3. 5 R March 16, 2017 at 11:23 am

    The history of the development of our unique LDS idea of priesthood is rather complicated, but it includes the development of the various offices and then the evolution of “priesthood” from merely the condition of being a priest (which is how most other religions understand it) into what we have now, which is priesthood as an abstract authority that a person can “hold.” This idea is foreign to all other religions, linguistically problematic, and fraught with implications, many of which we are struggling with a present. Your dilemma presented in this post is just a minor irritant. I’ve submitted a two-part article to Dialogue covering as much of this topic as possible. If they accept it, watch for it in the next year.

  4. 7 Old Man March 18, 2017 at 1:10 am

    The only distinction I know of is that temple-recommend holding Elders over age 50 can get by with 5% tithing. It’s a tax break for older elders for dealing with judgemental members. Older elders are also allowed to wear colored shirts to church.

    Seriously, the only reason this problem exists is that adult men often jockey for prestige and power. Those who don’t have it, feel less capable and often humiliated. Watch what happens when a stake or ward leader (automatically ordained a high priest) visits the Elder’s Quorum. The Elders usually go silent. They know their status. They almost always defer to a high priest.

    I feel that the reason that high priests usually enjoy a slightly higher home teaching percentage is because they feel they have more control of their lives. HP’s likely get more satisfaction out of attending and participating in church because they enjoy a higher social standing.

  5. 8 Eric Nielson March 18, 2017 at 8:53 am

    I think you are on to something old man.

  6. 9 CRK March 21, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Others probably understand this much better. However, the Church as I recall, generally only has brethren ordained to become a high priest when the calling requires it. There should be, of course, inspired exceptions. This is in contrast to what I will hesitatingly refer to as an “age promotion” policy of a few years ago. Maybe it still holds true in some parts of the Church.
    Alma 13 describes a high priest as one who has exceeding faith. Sadly while activity is generally very high among high priests few could be described as having met this very high standard.
    Elder Theodore M. Burton, when I was a young adult gave a talk on this topic in a stake conference. Although I remember his conclusions, I wish I had written down notes on his wonderful walk through the scriptures that supported his teachings. In addition to the foregoing standard of “exceeding faith” he mentioned others.
    A greater expectation of example, teaching, and temple service comes with the office of high priest, elder Burton taught. Obviously a High Priest would also preside over an elder.
    Elder Burton didn’t give us a bright line meaning of what this was or how it was different for an elder, just a call for high priests to personally attain to a higher standard in these areas.
    I love the higher order of the temple, where we are all dressed the same and treated the same and all are equal before God. It is wonderful to be there in an environment where no one cares if ones calling or priesthood is high or low as is too often the perception outside the temple.

  1. 1 What Will Combined MP Quorums Mean? | Small and Simple Trackback on April 1, 2018 at 10:06 am

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