I have always understood that the priesthood was given from one person who had the priesthood to another. Someone has told me that Elijah got the priesthood from God directly. He uses this as evidence to say that we do not need the church because any one can have the priesthood if God gives it to them, like he did Elijah.
The fact of the matter is that the Lord could give anyone the priesthood directly if He so chose. The fact of the matter is also, however, that He will not. He has established His order, and that order is that the priesthood will be passed down through the established authority of the Church. God will not go outside this pattern. His house is a house of order.
The Lord has established this order right from the beginning. We can read in the scriptures about this order:
Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.
The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.
Therefore, thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers—
In the time of Moses there were some changes to the way the priesthood was handled. We read in D&C 84:24-25
“But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;”
And we read in the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
“Answer to the question, Was the Priesthood of Melchizedek taken away when Moses died? All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.”
In contrast to the Mosaic prophets (a time of exception), Abraham did not receive the priesthood from “God himself”, but under the hands of Melchizedek.
Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah;
Abraham says to Melchizedek, I believe all that thou hast taught me concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood.
“In the early days of the Church, Hiram Page assumed he had the authority to reveal the word of the Lord to the Church. He began telling others about his revelations, and many members of the Church believed everything he taught. The Prophet Joseph Smith prayed and asked the Lord what to do. The Lord answered him, saying, “No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” (D&C 28:2). The Lord also said that Joseph should tell Hiram Page that the things Hiram had been teaching and writing were from the devil. The Lord explained that Hiram was not the one to receive revelations for the Church: “These things have not been appointed unto him. … For all things must be done in order” (see D&C 28:11–13).
The Prophet Joseph did as the Lord instructed. He met with Hiram Page and told him what the Lord had said. Humbled in spirit, Brother Page expressed his sorrow and promised to stop what he had been doing. Seeing his repentance, Joseph asked him to go on a mission. Later, at a conference, the Prophet told the members of the Church what the Lord had revealed and asked them to forget what Hiram Page had taught them. They all agreed and voted to accept Joseph as their only prophet, seer, and revelator. (See History of the Church, 1:109–15.)”
So, as you can see, there is a pattern established. And God has proclaimed His house a house of order. The method God has established is clear. We are to be ordained to the priesthood, when possible and appropriate, from father to son, but always by someone who has the priesthood and the authority to ordain others.