Church Organization: Overview

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized after the same manner as the church Christ organized during His mortal ministry. The head – or leader – of the LDS Church is the Savior, Jesus Christ. The core unit of the LDS Church is the family and all structures and organizations of the church are established to support and edify families. Watch this brief introduction to the organization of the LDS Church.

Stakes and Wards – An Infographic

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The LDS Church’s Newsroom released an infographic recently that covers LDS Church structure and organization at the stake and ward level (groups of 1000 to 5000 and 150-500 church members, respectively). Their post covers the lay ministry of the Church well. I’ve always been interested in the organization of the Church, posting about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (that last one is about why Mormons are busy with church callings but it explains church organization from an “on the ground perspective”). Many of my discussions of church organization relate to its central organization, which is why this infographic by the LDS Church’s newsroom is a great complement to my posts.

The Twelve and the Seventy – Part Two

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I’ve written about the LDS Church’s quorums of seventy before: The Twelve and Seventy: An Interview With Pres. Packer, Part 1Organization of LDS Church, Part 2Chart of LDS General AuthoritiesHow Many Children do the Seventy Have?

The LDS Church posted the second part of a discussion of the roles and responsibilities of the Seventies. This is from an interview with Pres. Packer (video embedded at the end of the post).

The interview is interesting but I think that what is equally interesting is the timeline of the Seventy. I’ll highlight a few dates and points that I found particularly interesting.

1835 – First Quorum of the Seventy organized

1846 – At the time of the exodus from Nauvoo, the number of seventies quorums had increased to about 35.

1904 – Number of seventies quorums reaches 146.

1953 – Seventies quorums or units are organized in each stake.

1961 – First Council of Seventy ordained high priests.

1961 – Members of the First Council of the Seventy authorized to organize or reorganize stake presidencies and to call stake presidents on assignment. [This step is particularly important because it allowed members of the First Council of Seventy to bestow keys to Stake Presidents. Seventies were given authority to use the keys of the Apostles (which is still the case) as needed].

1974 – Stake presidents authorized to ordain seventies in stakes.

1984 – Tenure of appointment to be fewer years for some Seventy (3–5 years): “However, tenure of appointment is not important insofar as the work is concerned. … After much prayerful consideration, we have called six men, mature and tested through long years of service, to become members of the First Quorum of the Seventy, to serve for periods of three to five years. … They will be General Authorities with every right, power, and authority necessary to function” (Gordon B. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 4).

1986 – Seventies quorums in stakes discontinued.

1989 – Organization of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

1995 – Area Authorities called.

1997 – First and Second Quorum of Seventy are General Authorities.

1997 – Area Authorities are ordained Seventies; Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy organized.

2005 – Area Authority Seventy title changed to Area Seventy.

2005 – Seventh and Eighth Quorums of the Seventy organized.

2009 – Area Seventies replaced by General Authorities in all Area Presidencies.

It is interesting to watch how the organization of the Seventies has changed to provide the authority and training and overview necessary to meet the needs of a growing church.

The Organization of the LDS Church – Part 2

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Under the apostles is the 1st Quorum of the Seventy. All members of this quorum are called and set apart by the apostles. Like the callings of apostle, all members of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy serve until the end of their lives. However, members of the 1st Quorum of Seventy have traditionally been placed on emeritus status around the age of 70. They are especial witnesses of the Savior Jesus Christ – especial differing from special by an e meaning that they bear the responsibility to witness to the earth of the divinity of the Savior. The responsibilities of missionary work and church administration are the same as the apostles. The Seventy are not apostles or prophets, seers, or revelators though. They typically serve throughout the world, directing the church and teaching the gospel. As a whole, the 1st Quorum of the Seventy hold all the rights and keys to the priesthood [I had a brief conversation with someone with authority for the matter and he said that individual Seventies hold no keys – they act under the keys of the Apostles; however, in the case that all the 1st Presidency and Quorum of the 12 all died at the same time – hypothetically – then the 1st Quorum of the 70 should collectively be able to exercise all the keys. This means that collectively they at least have access to the keys of the kingdom should it ever be necessary for them to have to exercise those keys such as if all the 15 apostles {1st Presidency and the Twelve} died simultaneously or in a short enough succession that a new prophet and new apostles could not be called].

Members of the 2nd Quorum of the Seventy are called to serve for 5 years. Their role is the same as those in the 1st quorum, the main difference is the length of calls (1st quorum is for life and 2nd quorum is for 5 years). Members of the 2nd quorum, like those in the 1st quorum can serve throughout the world to call and direct the church in those areas. Each quorum of Seventy can contain up to 70 members. As with the apostles, the most important role of the Seventy is as witnesses of Jesus Christ. They also spend a lot of time training new church leaders, meeting with church members, teaching, and doing administrative tasks. The quorums of Seventy are headed by a presidency of seven men, who traditionally have been called from the 1st Quorum, although members can be called from both 1st and 2nd quorums. These seven presidents of the Seventy hold priesthood keys, unlike the rest of the Seventy.

There are general officers of the church I’ll address later and other authorities but only the apostles (including First Presidency) and those in the first two quorums of the Seventy are General Authorities.

Currently there are 6 more quorums of Seventy. All those in these quorums are ordained as area authority seventies (now just called area seventies). They are not referred to as general authorities because their stewardship lies within the area in which they live and not to the whole church and world. The church organizes its members into a number of geographical areas – some are large and some are small (e.g., ones in Utah). Each area is presided over by an area presidency, comprised of three men who typically are members of the 1st or 2nd quorums of seventy. I’ll copy from Wikipedia:

“The Third Quorum members live and serve in the Africa Southeast, Africa West, Europe Central, Europe East, and Europe West Areas of the Church. The Fourth Quorum members live and serve in the Mexico North, Mexico South, Central America, Caribbean, South America North, and South America West Areas of the Church. The Fifth Quorum members live and serve in the North America Northwest, North America West, Idaho, Utah North, Utah Salt Lake City, and Utah South Areas of the Church. The Sixth Quorum members live and serve in the North America Central, North America East, North America Northeast, North America Southeast, and North America Southwest Areas of the Church. Members of the Seventh Quorum live and serve in the Brazil North, Brazil South, Chile, and South America South Areas of the Church. The Eighth Quorum of the Seventy live and serve in the Asia, Asia North, Australia, New Zealand/Pacific islands, and Philippines areas of the Church.”

Area seventies provide training and teaching to the members within the areas in which they live. They support the apostles and other seventy in their roles. They can call and set apart local church leaders under the direction of the apostles through the area presidency. Similarly to the general authorities, area seventies have a responsibility for missionary work. Until the mid-1980s, the LDS Church had quorums of seventies at the stake level. Men were set apart as seventies with the predominant role as stake missionaries. The role and responsibility of these seventies was markedly different than that of any of the Seventy today. The stake seventies were purely missionary focused. The Seventy today have larger administrative responsibilities.

Each of the six general areas of the church that the area seventies are called to serve in are broken down into smaller areas (the areas were mentioned above – Mexico North or Asia North, for example). Within each of these areas are a number of stakes. Stakes are the largest local unit within the church. Stakes are called stakes in reference to Isaiah 54:2, which reads, “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (emphasis added). In each of the stakes within the church, there are a number of wards. Each ward typically has between 100 and 500 members but some can be a little smaller or larger. There are typically 7-9 wards in each stake. There are a couple caveats to this (i.e., districts and branches) but I’ll address those later.

The Organization of the LDS Church – Part 1

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There is no other church on earth like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its organization and growth are inspired. Much of the organization of the church is built upon the following principle: “No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). The LDS Church is largely run by a lay ministry. People do not vie for positions; most do not seek office. When a call is received, service begins. The LDS church is organized in such a manner that all have the opportunity in even a small way to play a role in the church. The church is run and directed by and through the priesthood of God. In this essay, I’ll provide an overview of how the LDS Church is organized.

I’ll start from the “top” and move down. Actually this is starting at the bottom – at the foundation – and moving up, but we more commonly think of it as top-down. The Savior Jesus Christ is the head of the LDS Church. It is His church and is a restoration of the church He established in ancient days. The Savior chooses one man to act as His prophet – to preside over and to lead the church on earth. The current prophet is Thomas S. Monson, who is the most senior apostle and is ordained as a prophet, seer, and revelator. He is the only one authorized to speak definitively for the whole church and to establish church doctrine. He can delegate this authority in specific circumstances but generally does not. The prophet is the presiding priesthood holder on the earth. He holds all of the keys of the kingdom, meaning that he has the authority and responsibility to direct the church as inspired. The prophet has two counselors (although there could be more) who as a whole constitute the First Presidency of the LDS Church. The First Presidency together also hold all the keys of administration of the church. They constitute the highest governing body of the church and serve in a small way as a type for the Godhead – the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (in other words, there are three people in the First Presidency in part to mirror the three personages in the Godhead).

The members of the First Presidency are all prophets, seers, and revelators in addition to being ordained as apostles. While they are currently called from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, their roles are separate from the Quorum of the Twelve while they are in the First Presidency. Upon the death of the prophet, the First Presidency is automatically dissolved and the counselors return to their place in the Quorum of the Twelve.

The Quorum of the Twelve consists of twelve men who are ordained as apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ and who are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. They are all special witnesses of the Lord Jesus with a special call to bear witness of Him unto all the world. They also serve as the main, under the direction of the First Presidency, administrative body of the church. One man is called as president of the Quorum (with another called as acting president should the president of the Twelve be called as a counselor in the First Presidency). The Twelve, along with the First Presidency, fulfill different assignments throughout the world, including dedicating new temples, meeting with church members, meeting with world, religious, and civic leaders, meeting with the media, and so forth. Each also serve on various committees pertaining to different aspects of church administrations, such as missionary work or education. The Twelve each individually hold all the keys of the priesthood but are not individually or collectively authorized to use those keys except as following the death of the prophet; in that instance, they can only use their keys collectively. The members of the Quorum of the Twelve are “ranked” according to seniority based on how long they’ve been a member of the quorum. The most senior apostle, following the death of the prophet, is shortly sustained as the new prophet and president of the church. There is no jostling for position or asking of questions about who will be called. The new prophet then calls two counselors. Any voids left in the Quorum of the Twelve are then subsequently filled with the callings and sustainings of new apostles.