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 Twelve and Seventy: An Interview With Pres. Packer

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I’ve written about the LDS Church’s quorums of seventy before: Organization of LDS Church, Part 2; Chart of LDS General Authorities; How Many Children do the Seventy Have?
I’ve been fascinated by the leadership and organization of the Church for many years. I enjoy watching the Church grow and seeing how the structure of the general church leadership changes to meet the needs of a growing church. What is interesting is how the changes made always fit within the pattern Christ established when on the earth as well as the pattern revealed to Joseph Smith. In other words, the pattern of church leadership established in ancient and modern scripture is sufficient for meeting the needs of any size church. I was thus pleased to see that the Church posted an interview between Elder Ronald Rasband (Senior President of the Seventy) and Pres. Boyd K. Packer.

At one point in the interview Pres. Packer commented about the foresight of Joseph Smith (the foresight was not his own but rather was from God). “President Packer said it is marvelous that Joseph Smith could have anticipated an organization that would expand to meet the needs of the Church worldwide. ‘The revelations came when he was a very young man,’ President Packer said. ‘How he knew what he knew, I was going to say it was incredible. It is not, because he did not have to know much. All he had to do is follow the patterns of revelation.'”

Here’s the video of the interview with Pres. Packer. It’s a nice video that shows the hand of the Lord as He directs the work of His church.

Cloven Tongues of Fire

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There is a phrase in the book of Acts – “cloven tongues of fire” – that describes an experience of great power. The context of the phrase is day of Pentecost. During this great outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, many great sights were seen, many great sounds were heard, and many great feelings were felt. We read, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4).

I started thinking about the term “cloven tongues of fire”. What does that phrase mean? How it is phrased in Acts makes it seem like those present saw flames around them. This might be the case but we get clarification of what this phrase means in the Doctrine and Covenants, part of the canon of scripture for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We read: “Let it be fulfilled upon them, as upon those on the day of Pentecost; let the gift of tongues be poured out upon thy people, even cloven tongues as of fire, and the interpretation thereof.” (D&C 109:36).

Cloven means split. Cloven tongues are like the tongues of snakes. But in this instance, the cloven tongues refer to speaking in tongues. This is a gift from the Holy Ghost. There are at least two ways of looking at these cloven tongues of fire.

  1. On the day of Pentecost, some people spoke in tongues – plural. They said something in one language but other people heard it in another. We know this is the case: “The multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:6-8). Thus, these cloven tongues are really just that – speaking in tongues (multiple) at the same time.
  2. Another interpretation (pun intended) is that tongues are cloven because there is the message of the spoken words and the message of the Holy Ghost. These two things are not always the same thing. What is said and what the Spirit teaches us can be different. Both interpretations are correct.

What’s important to keep in mind is that speaking in tongues is only effective if there is someone who can understand it or interpret it. Generally, it is not the case that the Holy Ghost will bless someone with the gift of tongues in order for them to speak some unknown language without an interpreter. That’s why people speaking gibberish purportedly under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost are not really given the gift of tongues. This is not to say that people cannot speak in an unknown language – such as Adam’s “pure and undefiled” language (see Moses 6:5-6:46) – but again, when this occurs there will almost always be someone who is able to understand and/or translate it by the same power of the Holy Ghost.

The gift of tongues – even cloven tongues of fire – is evident in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today as are the other miraculous events of the day of Pentecost. We have missionaries who learn languages quickly, who teach the gospel filled with the fire of God. There have been cases where missionaries or  apostles have said things they didn’t know how to say in another language or that those listening understood what was being said even though they did not understand the words.

What about someone like myself who served as a missionary in the United States, speaking my native English? The cloven tongues of fire is only one gift of many from the Holy Ghost. Still, there were many times when I spoke and the tongue of the Spirit spoke too – it was a fire that burned brightly within others and myself. Additionally, because of the blessings of the Holy Ghost, my command of English improved. This is not usually how we think of the gift of tongues but it can, and often is, the case that your own language skills will improve so that you can improve teaching the gospel.

“Cloven tongues of fire” is a phrase that provides powerful imagery. The most important implication of it is that it is a gift of the Holy Ghost. When the power of God rests upon us we can know, feel, and do great things. This is a power that touches many but was largely lost from the earth until the Priesthood and ordinances of God were restored to Joseph Smith. The gift (not just influence) of the Holy Ghost is one of the greatest and most important components of the Restoration.

In closing, Pres. Packer gave a great talk on this topic in the April 2000 General Conference. Pres. Packer said:

“In every language, the Spirit of God—the Holy Ghost—guides, or can guide, every member of the Church. Everyone is invited to come and repent and be baptized and receive of this sacred gift. Despite opposition, the Church will flourish; and despite persecution, it will grow. Joseph Smith was asked, ‘How does your religion differ from other religions?’ He replied, ‘All other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.'”

The power of the Holy Ghost is real. When with us, we can receive great blessings so that we are better able to share the gospel with others and bless the lives of others. The flaming fire of the Spirit is a call to responsibility; it is a call to be lights on hills to others who are lost in the darkness of disbelief. It is a call to speak with the power of God so that others might bask in His light and love.