I have wondered for a very long time about our use of the words keys. I have tried to make head or tail of them for many years. I have never, in my lifetime, heard a completely coherent account of keys that seems to just fit.
When the Lord says he will lead his church by the keys, he is not saying that the keys themselves are keys of presidency. He is making a different point altogether. He is saying that he had given keys by which certain things may be unlocked. And he is saying that the church will be led by men who have this power to unlock.
See how different those two are. In the one reading, we assume that keys must mean “keys to preside” because the Lord talks about presiding and keys in the same sentence. In the other, the keys are what keys ought to be. They are the ability to unlock things. And the Lord is saying he will lead by those to whom he has given the ability to unlock things which others cannot.
When we have this idea that keys are a “right to preside” we have started down the wrong road altogether. As any one knows. keys do not command, keys are things that unlock.
In case you are not clear why this difference matters. Think about how different the meaning of these phrases is if we think of keys as the right to preside, command or govern, as opposed to thinking of keys as something that unlocks.
The keys of the ministering of angels. (D&C 13, D&C 107:19)
The keys of the knowledge of God. (D&C 84)
The keys of the mysteries of the kingdom.(D&C 107:17)
The keys of communion with the general assembly and with the church of the first born (D&C 107:18)
The keys of the mysteries, and of the revelations which are sealed. (D&C 28:7)
It is as if we found a scripture or two that mentioned presidency or presiding in the same sentence as keys and decided that keys meant “the right to lead” and that is utter bunk. Keys are the ability to unlock something. When the Lord mentions keys in conjunction with leading, he is making a connection and we are missing it. He is saying “I will use those who have the right to unlock as my leaders”. He is NOT saying “keys mean you can lead”.
Keys mean you can unlock. The fact that he uses those who can unlock certain things to lead is secondary. In fact, not every key makes one a leader. Some things are meant to be unlocked by everyone, as soon as they are ready to use the key for themselves.
Having taken up the idea that keys are the right to lead, we have seriously misunderstood some of the keys. Some of the keys are not at all what we think they are. For instance, it has become common to say in the church that if you are a deacon then you have the right to call down angels from heaven to assist or protect you.
Complete and utter rubbish.
Making someone a deacon in a mortal fallen world does not give them the right to command either resurrected beings in the celestial world or the right to command the spirits of just men made perfect. Do we think children have authority to command the spirits of their righteous ancestors who have perfected themselves? Do children command their fathers? Do we think a resurrected being is subject to the commands of a mortal being? Is the kingdom of heaven so upside down to put the least who are just learning the priesthood in command of those who have mastered it? The whole notion is astonishing vanity.
Read the scriptures in D&C 107 and ask yourself if you read the word “keys” in the other verses the same way we like to read about the keys of the ministering of angels. That gives you a sense of the folly of our typical interpretation of “keys of the ministering of angels”.
D&C 107:18 The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—
19 To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
20 The power and authority of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments.
So there we see the keys of the ministering of angels in verse 20. Have no doubt those keys are real. But our interpretation of them is wildly wrong. If we use our same interpretation of the keys of the ministering of angels for the other keys in these three verses, what kind of doctrine do we get? If the keys of the ministering of angels are the right for mortals to command angels to come down and protect or help them, then logically we have to conclude that the keys to commune with the general assembly, and the church of the first born is the right to command them to come commune with us. Moreover, the scripture says the keys of the Melchizedek priesthood allow us to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. If we apply the same interpretation to these keys as we like to for the “keys of the ministering of angels” then we conclude that if I am an Elder I can command Christ and God the father to come in person at my whim. Yuck. What a horribly confused and apostate doctrine. We are God’s servants, not the other way around. We do not command the Father, we do not command the son, we do not command the general assembly or the church of the first born, we do not command resurrected beings in the celestial kingdom nor do we command the spirits of just men made perfect.
It is all rubbish. Being a deacon, or a bishop, or Aaron himself does not given you the right to command resurrected beings or the spirits of just men made perfect. Commanding angels to come protect or assist you has nothing at all to do with the real meaning of the phrase “the keys of the ministering of angels”.
Which we ought to be able to see with plain sense anyway. It is just weird to have come up with this strange interpretation by which God has provided a special mechanism for protecting the men of the church, but apparently not the women.
In fact, our misinterpretation of the keys of the ministering of angels makes even less sense when we take into account Joseph Smith’s statement to the relief society.
“If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates. Females, if they are pure and innocent, can come in the presence of God; for what is more pleasing to God than innocence; you must be innocent, or you cannot come up before God; if we would come before God, we must keep ourselves pure, as He is pure.”
So what ARE the keys of the ministering of angels. I have written another post addressing this exactly, but this seems like a good place to summarize. Let us start with D&C 129
D&C 129:1 There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely:Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—
2 For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
3 Secondly: the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.
4 When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
5 If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.
6 If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—
7 Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.
8 If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will notfeel anything; you may therefore detect him.
9 These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.
Notice that final verse. These are THREE GRAND KEYS whereby you may know whether any administration is from God. These keys are comprised of knowledge.
Now anyone who has been endowed has been given a more thorough version of the instruction found in D&C 129 and it was plainly demonstrated to them how it was to be used for the purpose of discerning whether a divine ministration was from God. The means for discerning given in the endowment is a portion that is given out under the authority of the Aaronic priesthood, as is plainly stated during the endowment ceremony. THAT is the keys of the ministering of angels we have so completely misunderstood.
As angels may minister to both men and women, the keys of the ministering of angels are distributed to both men and women. Both men and women can be visited by angels as Joseph Smith clearly explained, and so both men and women need a key by which they can discern.
We don’t realize that when we say the Aaronic priesthood has the keys of the ministering of angels, we mean it has the right to distribute those keys in the temple to both men and women. There is a precedent for this which is intimately related, but is a slightly different thing. Joseph Smith “spoke of delivering the keys of the Priesthood to the Church, and said that the faithful members of the Relief Society should receive them with their husbands, that the Saints whose integrity has been tried and proved faithful, might know how to ask the Lord and receive an answer; for according to his prayers, God had appointed him elsewhere.”(TPJS page 226)
It is not really a key of made up just of knowledge. If someone were to look it up on the internet, and hope to use it to discern a divine manifestation, it would not work properly, as it had not been bestowed properly.
But what does it unlock? If it is a key, it must unlock something. It doesn’t unlock the ability to command angels to come assist or protect us.
Here is the deal.
If you or I were to ever have the privilege of learning at the hand of an angel. And certainly, as Joseph Smith said, if we live up to our privileges, whether male or female, then we will do exactly that, then they will not teach us things that we expected. They will teach us things that are very, very different than what we expected. Joseph Smith said “If the Church knew all the commandments, one-half they would condemn through prejudice and ignorance.” Angels do not appear to reveal that which we could find already in the scriptures. Their teachings will run strongly against our ideas and traditions – not because they will be teaching us wrong, but because of our own prejudice and ignorance.
And we will be absolutely obligated, tremendously obligated, to accept everything they say, to submit to any command they give, to heed their words with complete obedience.
Given such a terribly strong obligation to obey and hearken to things that will seem wrong to us, there must be a way to absolutely KNOW that we are being given a true manifestation from god.
And that is why there is a key. It is a key that unlocks absolute certainty that a manifestation is from God. It is a key of the ministering of the angels. It is distributed in the temple, as an expansion of the “three grand keys” given in D&C 129. It is distributed to both men and women, as both will be taught by angels if they live up to their privileges.
Without those keys, what they teach would seem so foreign, wrong-minded, even contrary to the gospel to us that we would reject it. Without keys, we cannot gain the knowledge they would impart to us.
That is what the keys unlock. Without those keys, we could not tell a real angel from a false manifestation, as either one would present things surprising and foreign to us.
Brigham Young tells us that our endowment is to allow us to pass “by the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation.”
What does he mean “to pass the angels”? Certainly it is a reference to passing the cherubim guarding the tree of life. To what purpose do angels minister? To what purpose would we come to the general assembly and the church of the first born?
Joseph Smith said “The sound saluted my ears–‘Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant’ (Hebrew 12:22, 23, 24). What would it profit us to come unto the spirits of the just men, but to learn and come up to the standard of their knowledge?”
And that is the point. Angels minister to teach us a higher law, that we may come up to their standard of knowledge. When Brigham Young speaks of “passing angels” he is talking about coming up to their standard of knowledge as we press forward to that point where we can gain our own exaltation. But to do so, we will need the keys that will prove to ourselves that we are learning from God’s own servants, causing us to accept that which is unexpected, and requiring us to obey their every word with certainty.