Today in the modern LDS church the organization of the church, or hierarchy, is well defined and there is certainly no question as to the structure. The organizational structure itself is actually very similar to what you would find in any corporation. There is a single leader and then subsequent levels of leadership with various delegated responsibilities. Most people would assume this is the way the structure always was in the early church and that it is the way that God intended it to be. However, that is completely wrong. The original leadership structure of the church certainly had similarities to what we have today. However, it ultimately was fundamentally different. This difference was crucial in order to avoid much of the problems we see today.
In order to understand the organizational structure of the church it is important to consider one of the first revelations that Joseph Smith received. In the current D&C 5 there is a crucial part that was removed, however it was present in the original Book of Commandments. The passage gives us great insight into what God wanted his church to look like.
And thus, if the people of this generation harden not their hearts, I will work a reformation among them, and I will put down all lyings, and deceivings, and priestcrafts, and envyings, and strifes, and idolatries, and sorceries, and all manner of iniquities, and I will establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.Book of Commandments 4 (D&C 5)
In that passage, God is saying that if the people turn their hearts and actions over to him then he will establish his church which will be like the church which Christ established personally. Therefore, we really should be expecting to see a form of biblical Christianity today. Admittedly, the records we have are not always clear and are certainly limited in nature. However, it is very clear that what God wanted “in the days of old” is what he wanted today also. The passage itself was removed from the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants for reasons that I will discuss in the future.
As mentioned previously, the current structure of the LDS church is very simple and is essentially like a pyramid. The current president of the church is the single leader, and he has 2 councilors to assist in the president’s work. This team is called the First Presidency and is always chosen from the 12 apostles. These 12 apostles operate under the direction of the First Presidency and in turn oversee the various quorums of seventy who assist the apostles in their efforts. The seventy oversee the stake presidencies while the stake presidencies oversee the bishoprics which are the last level of leadership in the church. The bishoprics oversee the elders, deacons, teachers, and priests.
When the current president of the church dies then the apostle who has served the longest in that office then becomes the next president of the church and chooses 2 councilors from the remaining 14 apostles. The new vacancy is then filled and there are again 15 total apostles with 3 of them acting in the First Presidency. This structure operates like clockwork and individuals almost always move up the ranks of leadership. They start as bishops, then stake presidents, then seventy, then apostles, then president.
The church itself was first organized on April 6th, 1830, and the small membership was easy to govern. However, as the church grew it become increasingly harder. On March 8th, 1832, Joseph received a revelation to call Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon as his counselors in the newly formed First Presidency of the church. Jesse served for almost a year until he left the church and was excommunicated. He was replaced by Frederick G. Williams who was chosen by revelation from God which is recorded in D&C 81. D&C 107:22 indicates that the First Presidency should be composed of a president and 2 councilors however at various times Joseph did use the services of a various number of assistant councilors who performed fluctuating duties.
It is important to note that after the excommunication of Frederick G. Williams his replacement in the First Presidency was chosen by revelation, in 1841, which is described in D&C 124:126. It is also very important to stress that during the life of Joseph Smith, no counselor in the first presidency was ever an apostle and they were always chosen by explicit revelation. This is even though the quorum of the twelve apostles was formed in 1835 and the First Presidency councilors could easily have been picked from that quorum.
The following passage from D&C 102:9-11 is slightly long, however it establishes some absolutely critical aspects to be aware of concerning the First Presidency.
The president of the church, who is also the president of the council, is appointed by revelation, and acknowledged in his administration by the voice of the Church. And it is according to the dignity of his office that he should preside over the [high] council of the Church; and it is his privilege to be assisted by two other presidents, appointed after the same manner that he himself was appointed. And in case of the absence of one or both of those who are appointed to assist him, he has power to preside over the council without an assistant; and in case he himself is absent, the other presidents have power to preside in his stead, both or either of them.D&C 102:9-11
The absolutely key things to consider are:
- First Presidency is the highest group in the church
- President of the church is chosen by revelation
- Counselors are chosen by revelation
- A president or a counselor has the authority to preside in the absence of either
Certainly #1 is given and followed today. #2 though is certainly not followed today as the president is always the next senior apostle there is certainly no revelation in this case. #3 is ambiguous because we don’t have any written revelation to support this however the president of the church could get revelation as to the councilors. However, it is very likely this is not followed either and the President just chooses whomever he feels is the best. Lastly, #4 is certainly not followed. When a president of the church dies then the entire First Presidency is dissolved which doesn’t make any sense. A counselor has the authority to continue in the First Presidency when the President dies. Therefore, it is confusing as to why we flagrantly violate the scriptures and totally ignore what they say in this regard.
In June 1829 Joseph received a revelation calling for the establishment of the quorum of the twelve apostles. This is canonized as D&C 18:26-30 today. For various reasons it wasn’t until almost 6 years later on February 14th 1835, that the quorum of the twelve apostles was actually organized. About 2 weeks later the apostles were meeting with Joseph and were wondering about their duties. He proposed the following question to them, “What importance is there attached to the calling of these Twelve Apostles, different from other callings or officers of the Church?” He then answered the question with the following:
They are the Twelve Apostles, who are called to the office of the Travelling High Council, who are to preside over the churches of the Saints, among the Gentiles, where there is no [stake] presidency established; and they are to travel and preach among the Gentiles, until the Lord shall command them to go to the Jews. They are to hold the keys of this ministry, to unlock the door of the kingdom of heaven unto all nations, and to preach the gospel to every creature. This is the power, authority, and virtue of their apostleship.Joseph Smith
Thus, Joseph stated that the Quorum of the twelve apostles were to essentially be permanent missionaries. They were to establish branches of the church in all the world and then help those branches grow until they could become stakes. Once this happened then they were to move to other locations and continue in their efforts building up the kingdom of God. Today this is not how it works at all.
Joseph even reiterated this concept during a May 2nd, 1835, conference in Kirtland in which he stated:
The Twelve will have no right to go into Zion, or any of its stakes, and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof, where there is a standing high council [stake presidency]; but it is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the Church. When the Twelve are together, or a quorum of them, in any church, they will have authority to act independently, and make decisions, and those decision will be valid. But where there is not a quorum, they will have to do business by the voice of the Church.Joseph Smith
Therefore, it was very clear that the twelve apostles were to find, organize, and strengthen members until they were strong enough to govern themselves. This would be accomplished when a High Council could be established which is what happens with a stake is organized. The statement from Joseph even says that the apostles were to be governed by the branches themselves unless the quorum itself was together. Today this is not how the church operates in the slightest. The twelve apostles are essentially permanent administrators and oversee the entire church.
Lastly, this concept is again reiterated in D&C 107:38-39 which declared them as a “traveling high council” which ministers to “branches of the church”. The quorum of the twelve apostles are in fact always described as a traveling council whose sole job is to build up the church in various places. One final scripture to illustrate this point is in D&C 107:
The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.D&C 107:33
The twelve apostles certainly travel to various locations and help to build up the church. However, they are mostly administrators out of Salt Lake and preside over the organized stakes of Zion which Joseph explicitly said they should not do.
On February 28th 1835 Joseph began to organize the quorum of seventy according to revelation and said:
The Seventies are to constitute traveling quorums, to go into all the earth, whithersoever the Twelve Apostles shall call them.Joseph Smith
They were to explicitly prepare the way before the twelve apostles and essentially be doing much of the same work as the quorum of the twelve apostles. They were not to oversee stake conferences and essentially be a link between the apostles and the stake presidency. Their function was to witness of Christ and do missionary work. Today they minister almost exclusively to members.
This organizational structure is also canonized in D&C 107.
The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world-thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.D&C 107:25
Thus, the seventy were to be missionaries outside of the organized stakes, where the twelve apostles had jurisdiction, and prepare the areas for the apostles themselves to organize churches in those locations. Certainly, this is not followed today at all as seventy routinely visit organized stakes. Stake Presidents routinely meet with members of the seventy for direction and guidance and almost every Stake Conference today will be presided over by a member of seventy. This is in direct opposition to written revelation however the modern LDS church doesn’t seem to mind.
Standing High Council
Today we would call a standing high council an organized stake of Zion. The stake itself is in many ways a smaller version of the overall church. This is manifest in that it is governed by a presidency which in turn governs the standing high council which is itself similar to the quorum of the twelve apostles. The difference through is the high council of a stake manages only the stake while the twelve apostles are supposed to oversee the areas outside of stakes.
This differentiation is further specified by the May 2nd 1835 revelation quoted earlier which goes on to state
No standing High Council has authority to go into the churches abroad, and regulate the matters thereof, for this belongs to the Twelve.Joseph Smith
Thus, Joseph was clear that the duties of the twelve apostles and those of the stake councils were totally separate and should not overlap. They had somewhat similar functions however the apostles were outside Zion and the high council was inside. Why is it that we recognize that one stake can’t tell another what to do, however we let the apostles tell the stakes what to do when they were clearly separated by Joseph. This pattern of separation was to be replicated with each stake until the church would fill the whole world. At that time apostles would no longer be needed because everyone would be a witness of Christ personally.
As has been shown, the organization of the church as revealed by God is starkly different from the current organization that the LDS church adopts. This is for a variety of reasons which will be shown in the future. It is however not God’s church if it is not following his revealed organization structure.
In very simple terms, the First Presidency is over the entire church with the Stake Presidencies in the organized area of Zion and the twelve apostles in the unorganized areas of Zion. The Stake Presidencies each have their standing high councils while the twelve apostles have the seventy. Each side governs the kingdom of God according to their respective duties. However today it has been changed so that the apostles govern the entire church. This is not correct regardless of how much certain people want it to be.
In addition, the First Presidency is always from the quorum of the twelve apostles which is directly contrary to revelation found in D&C 102. The president of the church is also never chosen by revelation but instead by seniority. This is also blatantly wrong and violates revelation from God. Lastly, how are the twelve apostles even then the travelling high council if their primary job is to sit at a desk in Salt Lake? What good is their special witness of Christ if they mostly debate about policy changes. I certainly am not saying they don’t do anything. However, I think it is clear that the church has changed in a way that no longer matches the reveled organization from God. Therefore, either they need to change it, or God is going to.