Something used to open a lock; something that is important or central in importance. A “keystone” is the point in an arch that fits in the center, holding the arch together. Upon it all else rests. Keys are better viewed as a signal or a signpost along a pathway. Instead of “I hold keys and so I hold something of value,” holding a key is better viewed as being given a strong guide or route to take. If the word is viewed using these meanings, it suggests that holding a key implies using it in action. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve use their key positions to manage and maintain the worldwide LDS church organization. If not for that constant oversight, the organization of the church would lapse into disorganization. Their keys are indispensable to hold the entire structure together. Without them at the center, like a keystone, the building would collapse. Offices belonging to others are their responsibility. Each person receives keys that come to them in their own sphere. No one should be jealous of church positions; they do not matter and are not necessary.1
And this greater priesthood administers the gospel and holds the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God (T&C 82 : 12). “The word keys is horribly misunderstood. I have made it a practice to not use the word because of all the foolish and vain ideas that have accumulated around it. Joseph used the term in a variety of ways : for example, to mean authority, or opportunity, and in others it refers to a correct idea. This is the most important meaning. The term in the context of priesthood is completely absent from the Book of Mormon, and that book is the keystone of our religion, containing the fullness of the gospel. The only time the word keys is referenced in the Book of Mormon, it refers to a physical set of keys to unlock a door to the treasury controlled by Laban (1 Nephi 1 : 18). Although Joseph used the term often and meant many things by it, the challenge is to understand priesthood without being distracted by a poorly defined, and often used term. Mormon institutions now use the term most often to connote their exclusive right, license or control. The LDS Handbook of Instructions states the following, ‘Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood leaders to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on Earth.’ This definition is the opposite of the way scripture directs priesthood be used (see T&C 139 : 5–7). The LDS Handbook approach turns this scripture upside down and backwards : by virtue of priesthood keys they have the right to direct, control and exercise influence over others. Mormon institutions in general all use their preferred meaning of the term keys to denounce anything or anyone they view as a rival. That is nonsense, and I avoid using the term because of widespread abusive practice.”2 If a Dispensation was given and the recipient failed to complete the work God assigned, then he acquires no key, no honor, no right, no authority from the Lord and therefore, has nothing to account for. The notion that someone can obtain keys without receiving a Dispensation from the Lord and successfully completing the work of God is a false idea that should be rejected. 3
Keys are knowledge. A particular key is knowledge or instruction received from the Lord on how to do something. If one has the key, then one has the ability or power to do something. And conversely, if one is powerless to do or accomplish something (bind and loose, request ministering angels, command the elements or spirits, etc.), then they do not possess a key. “Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven…the key that unlocks the Heavens and puts in our possession the glories of the celestial world.”4 “There are many things which belong to the powers of the Priesthood and the keys thereof that have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world; they are hid from the wise and prudent to be revealed in the last times.”5Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter, and the summum bonum [highest good] of the whole subject that is lying before us, consists in obtaining the powers of the holy [Order of] Priesthood. For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living (T&C 151 : 9). “The Melchizedek Priesthood…is the grand head, and holds the highest authority which pertains to [the Holy Order] and the keys of the Kingdom of God in all ages of the world, to the latest posterity on the earth; and is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation, and every important matter is revealed from Heaven.”6 “In knowledge there is power. God has more power than all other beings because He has greater knowledge; and hence He knows how to subject all other beings to Him. He has power over all.”7 Joseph Smith also used the term keys to mean understanding, the greatest key being the ability to ask God and receive an answer (see T&C 147 : 12).8
1 “‘Keys’ as Challenge,” Sept. 14, 2012, blog post.
2 “The Holy Order,” Oct. 29, 2017, 1, paper.
3 “The Holy Order,” Oct. 29, 2017, 2., paper.
5 DHC, 4 : 209.
8 “Signs Follow Faith,” March 3, 2019, talk given at Centerville, UT, recording.