1. The Primitive Church.—In the dispensation of the Savior’s ministry, Christ established His Church upon the earth, appointing therein the officers necessary for the carrying out of the Father’s purposes. As shown in the last lecture, every person so appointed was divinely commissioned with authority to officiate in the ordinances of his calling; and, after Christ’s ascension, the same organization was continued, those who had received authority ordaining others to the various offices of the priesthood. In this way were given unto the Church, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, high priests, seventies, elders, bishops, priests teachers, and deacons.2. Besides these specific offices in the priesthood, there were other callings of a more temporal nature, to which men were also set apart by authority: such for instance was the case of the seven men of honest report who, in the days of the apostles, were chosen and appointed to minister to the poor, thus leaving the Twelve freer to attend to the particular duties of their office. This special appointment illustrates the nature of the helps and governments set in the Church, to assist in the work under the direction of the regular officers of the priesthood.
3. The ministers so appointed, and the members among whom they labor, constitute the Church of Christ, which has been impressively compared to a perfect body, the individuals typifying the separate members, each with its special function, all co-operating for the welfare of the whole. Every office so established, every officer so commissioned, is necessary to the development of the Church and to the accomplishment of the work of God. An organization established of God comprises no superfluities; the eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, every organ of the body, is essential to the symmetry and perfection of the physical structure; in the Church no officer can rightly say to another, “I have no need of thee.
4. The existence of these officers, and particularly their operation with accompaniments of Divine assistance and power, may be taken as a distinguishing characteristic of the Church in any age of the world,—a crucial test, whereby the validity or falsity of any claim to Divine authority may be determined. The gospel of Christ is the everlasting gospel; its principles, laws, and ordinances, and the Church organization founded thereon, must be ever the same. In searching for the true Church, therefore, one must look for an organization comprising the offices established of old, the callings of apostles, prophets, evangelists, high priests, seventies, pastors, bishops, elders, priests, teachers, deacons; not men bearing these names merely, but ministers able to vindicate their claim to position as officers in the Lord’s service, through the evidences of power and authority accompanying their ministry.
5. Apostasy from the Primitive Church.—The question may fairly arise in the mind of the earnest investigator, have these authorities and powers, together with their associated gifts of the Spirit, remained with men from the apostolic age to the present; in short, has there been a Church of Christ upon the earth during this long interval? In answer, let these facts be considered: Since the period immediately following the ministrations of the apostles of old, and until the present century, no organization has maintained a claim to direct revelation from God; in fact, the teachings of the professed ministers of the gospel for centuries have been to the effect that such gifts of God have ceased, that the days of miracles have gone, and that the present depends for its guiding code wholly upon the past. A self-suggesting interpretation of history indicates that there has been a great departure from the way of salvation as laid down by the Savior, a universal apostasy from the Church of Christ. Scarcely had the Church been organized by the Savior, whose name it bears, before the powers of darkness arrayed themselves for conflict with the organized body. Even in the days of Christ, persecution was bitterly waged against the disciples; commencing with the Jews, and directed first against the Master Himself and His few immediate associates, this tide of opposition soon enveloped every known follower of the Savior; so that the very name Christian became an epithet of derision.
6. In the first quarter of the fourth century, however, a change in the attitude of paganism toward Christianity was marked by the conversion of Constantine the Great, under whose patronage the Christian profession grew in favor, and became in fact the religion of the state. But what a profession, what a religion was it by this time! Its simplicity had departed; earnest devotion and self-sacrificing sincerity were no longer characteristic of the Church’s ministers; these professed followers of the humble Prophet of Nazareth, these self-styled associates of the meek and lowly Jesus, these loudly-proclaimed lovers of the Man of Sorrow, lived amid conditions strangely inconsistent with the life of their great Exemplar. Church offices were sought after for the distinction of honor and wealth accompanying them; ministers of the gospel affected the state of worldly authority; bishops sought the pomp of princes, archbishops lived as kings, and popes like emperors. With these unauthorized and unscriptural innovations came many changes in the ordinances of the so-called church: the rites of baptism were perverted; the sacrament was altered; public worship became an exhibition of art; men were canonized; martyrs were made subjects of adoration; blasphemy grew apace, in that men without authority essayed to exercise the prerogatives of God in calling others to what still bore the name of spiritual office. Ages of darkness came upon the earth; the power of Satan seemed almost supreme.
7. For a special consideration of the evidence of a general apostasy from the Church of Christ, the student must consult authorities on ecclesiastical history. While the fact of the apostasy is admitted by but few such writers, the historical events which they chronicle suggest the awful truth. We may trace, from the days of the apostles down to near the close of the tenth century, a constantly changing form of Church organization, which, at the later time named, bore but little semblance to the Church established by the Savior. This falling away is admitted by some historians, and as we shall presently see, it was definitely foretold by authoritative prophecy.
8. John Wesley, founder of a powerful sect, declared that the distinctive gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer with the church, having been taken away on account of the unworthiness of professing Christians, whom he characterized indeed as heathen, with only a dead form of worship. In the Church of England “Homily Against Peril of Idolatry” we read “So that laity and clergy, learned and unlearned, all ages, sects, and degrees of men, women, and children of whole Christendom—an horrible and most dreadful thing to think—have been at once drowned in abominable idolatry; of all other vices most detested of God, and most damnable to man; and that by the space of eight hundred years and more.” Milner, an author on church history, admits a pitiable condition of the Church in the tenth century, and finds in that sad state a fulfillment of scriptural predictions.
9. This Great Apostasy was Foretold.—The infinite fore-knowledge of God made plain to Him even from the beginning this falling away from the truth; and, through inspiration, the prophets of old uttered solemn warnings of the approaching dangers. Surely Isaiah was gazing upon the era of spiritual darkness when he declared, “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.” And how deeply impressive is the declaration of Jeremiah, “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
10. The prophecies of the apostles relative to the false teachers so soon to trouble the flock, already quoted, declare the apostasy then rapidly approaching. Paul warned the Saints of Thessalonica that they be not deceived by those who cried that the second coming of Christ was then at hand, “For,” said the apostle, “that day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” This falling away had begun even in the days of the apostles:—”Even now,” says John, “are there many anti-Christs.” And Paul, in addressing the Galatians, declared, “There be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”
11. Not less conclusive are the prophecies contained in the Book of Mormon relating to this great falling away. Nephi, son of Lehi, predicted the oppression of the North American Indians at the hands of the Gentiles, and declared that at that time the people will be lifted up in self-pride, having departed from the ordinances of God’s house; true, they will build to themselves many churches, but in these they will preach their own wisdom, with envyings, and strife, and malice, denying however the power and miracles of God.
12. Restoration of the Church.—From the facts already stated, it is evident that the Church was literally driven from the earth; in the first ten centuries immediately following the ministry of Christ, the authority of the priesthood was lost from among men, and no human power could restore it. But the Lord in His mercy provided for the re-establishment of His Church in the last days, and for the last time; and prophets of olden time fore-saw this era of renewed enlightenment, and sang in joyous tones of its coming. It has been already shown that this restoration was effected by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith, who, together with Oliver Cowdery, in 1829 received the Aaronic Priesthood under the hands of John the Baptist; and later the Melchizedek Priesthood under the hands of the former-day apostles, Peter, James, and John. By the authority thus bestowed, the Church has been again organized with all its former completeness, and mankind once more rejoices in the priceless privileges of the counsels of God. The Latter-day Saints declare their high claim to the true Church organization, similar in all essentials to the organization effected by Christ among the Jews; this people of the last days profess to have the Priesthood of the Almighty, the power to act in the name of God, which power commands respect both on earth and in heaven. Let us consider the organization of the priesthood as it exists to-day.
PLAN OF GOVERNMENT IN THE RESTORED CHURCH.
13. Orders and Offices in the Priesthood.—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes two orders of priesthood, the lesser called the Aaronic, the greater known as the Melchizedek order. The Aaronic Priesthood is named after Aaron, who was given to Moses as his mouth-piece, to act under his direction in the carrying out of God’s purposes respecting Israel. For this reason, it is sometimes called the Lesser Priesthood; but though lesser, it is neither small nor insignificant. While Israel journeyed in the wilderness, Aaron and his sons were called by prophecy and set apart for the duties of the priest’s office.
14. At a subsequent period of Israel’s history, the Lord chose the tribe of Levi to assist Aaron in the priestly functions, the special duties of the Levites being to keep the instruments and attend to the service of the tabernacle. The Levites thus chosen of the Lord were to take the place of the first-born throughout the tribes, whom the Lord had claimed for His service from the time of the last dread plague in Egypt, whereby the first-born in every Egyptian house was slain, while the eldest in every Israelitish house was hallowed and spared. The commission thus given to the Levites is sometimes called the Levitical Priesthood; it is to be regarded as an appendage to the priesthood of Aaron, not comprising the highest priestly powers. The Aaronic Priesthood, as restored to the earth in this dispensation, comprises the Levitical order. This priesthood holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and the authority to attend to the outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel; it comprises the offices of deacon, teacher, and priest, with the bishopric holding the keys of presidency.
15. The greater or Melchizedek Priesthood is named after the king of Salem, a great High Priest of God; before his day it was known as “the Holy Priesthood, after the order of the Son of God, but out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of His name, they, the Church, in ancient days, called that Priesthood after Melchizedek.” This priesthood holds the right of presidency in all the offices of the Church; its special functions lie in the administration of spiritual things: comprising as it does the keys of all spiritual blessings of the Church, the right “to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and Church of the First Born, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” The special offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood are those of apostle, patriarch or evangelist, high priest, seventy, and elder. Revelation from God has defined the duties associated with each of these callings; and the same high authority has directed the establishment of presiding officers growing out of, or appointed from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.
16. Specific Duties in the Priesthood.—The Office of Deacon is the first or lowest in the Aaronic Priesthood. The duties of this calling are generally of a temporal nature, pertaining to the care of the houses of worship and the comfort of the worshipers. In all things, however, the Deacon may be called to assist the Teacher in his labors. Twelve deacons form a quorum; such a body is to be presided over by a president and counselors, selected from among their number.
17. Teachers are local officers, whose function it is to mingle with the Saints, exhorting them to their duties, and strengthening the Church by their constant ministry; they are to see that there is no iniquity in the Church; that the members do not cherish ill-feelings toward one another; but that all observe the law of God respecting Church duties. They may take the lead of meetings when no Priest or higher officer is present. Both Teachers and Deacons may preach the word of God when properly directed so to do; but they have not the power to independently officiate in any spiritual ordinances, such as baptizing, administering the sacrament, or laying on of hands. Twenty-four Teachers constitute a quorum; from among such a body a president and counselors are to be chosen.
18. The Priests are appointed to preach, teach, expound the scripture, to baptize, to administer the sacrament, to visit the houses of the members, exhorting them to diligence. When properly directed, the Priest may ordain Deacons, Teachers, and other Priests; and he may be called upon to assist the Elder in his work. A quorum of Priests comprises forty-eight members; such an organization is to be presided over by a Bishop.
19. Elders are empowered to officiate in any or all duties connected with lower callings in the priesthood; and in addition, they may ordain other Elders; confirm as members of the Church candidates who have been properly baptized, and confer upon them the Holy Ghost. These officers have authority to bless children in the Church, and to take charge of all meetings, conducting the same as they are led by the Holy Ghost. The Elder may officiate in the stead of the High Priest when the latter is not present. Ninety-six Elders form a quorum; three of these constitute the presidency of the quorum.
20. Seventies are traveling ministers, ordained to promulgate the Gospel among the nations of the earth, “unto the Gentiles first, and also unto the Jews.” They are to act under the direction of the Apostles in this exalted labor. A full quorum comprises seventy members, including seven presidents.
21. High Priests are ordained with power to officiate when properly directed in all the ordinances and blessings of the Church. They may travel as do the Seventies, carrying the Gospel to the nations; but they are not specially charged with this duty, their specific calling being that of standing presidency. The High Priests of any stake of the Church may be organized into a quorum, and this without limit as to number; over such a quorum, three of the members may be chosen to preside, as president and counselors.
22. Patriarchs, or Evangelists, are charged with the special duty of blessing the Church; of course they have authority to officiate also in other ordinances. There is one “Patriarch to the Church,” with general jurisdiction throughout the whole organization; he holds the keys of the patriarchal office, and unto him the promise is given “that whoever he blesses shall be blessed, and whoever he curses shall be cursed, that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven6
23. Concerning the patriarchal authority, the Lord has said: “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. This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage.” But, beside this office of general patriarchal power, there are a number of local Patriarchs appointed in the branches of the Church, all subject to counsel and direction at the hands of the “Patriarch to the Church;” yet possessing the same privileges in their district as belong to him throughout the Church. It is made a duty of the Twelve Apostles to ordain evangelical ministers, or Patriarchs, in all large branches of the Church, the selection to be made through the power of revelation.
24. Apostles are called to be special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world; they are empowered to build up and organize the branches of the Church; and may officiate in any or all of the sacred ordinances. They are to travel among the Saints, regulating the affairs of the Church wherever they go, but particularly where there is no complete local organization. They are authorized to ordain Patriarchs and other officers in the priesthood, as they may be directed by the Spirit of God.
25. Presidency and Quorum Organizations.—The revealed word of God has provided for the establishment of presiding officers “growing out of, or appointed from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.” In accordance with the prevailing principles of order so characteristic of all His work, the Lord has directed that the bearers of His priesthood shall be organized into quorums, the better to aid them in learning the duties of their stations. Some of these quorums are general in extent and authority; others are local in their jurisdiction. All quorums in authority and all presiding officers are to be sustained in their several positions by the vote of the people over whom they are appointed to preside. Local officers are thus voted upon by the local organizations, general authorities by the Church in conference assembled. Conferences of the Church are held at semi-annual intervals, on which occasions the names of all the general officers are submitted for the vote of the people. In like manner the authorities of stakes and wards are sustained by vote at local conferences held for these and other purposes. The principle of common consent is thus observed in all the organizations of the Church.
26. The First Presidency constitutes the presiding quorum of the Church. By Divine direction, a president is appointed from among the members of the High Priesthood to preside over the entire Church. He is known as President of the High Priesthood of the Church, or Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church. He is called “to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which He bestows upon the head of the Church.” His station is compared by the Lord to that of Moses of old, who stood as the mouth-piece of God unto Israel. In his exalted labors among the Church, this Presiding High Priest is assisted by two others holding the same priesthood, and these three High Priests, when properly appointed and ordained, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayers of the Church, “form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.”
27. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.—Twelve men holding the apostleship, properly organized, constitute the quorum of the Apostles. These the Lord has designated as the twelve traveling counselors; they form the traveling presiding High Council, to officiate under the direction of the First Presidency in all parts of the world. They constitute a quorum, whose unanimous decisions are equally binding in power and authority with those of the First Presidency of the Church. When the quorum of the First Presidency is disorganized through the death or disability of the President, the directing authority in government reverts at once to the quorum of the Twelve Apostles, by whom the nomination to the Presidency is made. There may be apostles in the Church who are not members of this quorum of Twelve; but such have no place in the sittings of the quorum.
28. The Presiding Quorum of Seventy.—The first quorum of Seventies form a body whose unanimous decisions are equally binding with those of the Twelve Apostles. Many quorums of Seventies may be required in the work of the Church; already there have been effected approximately two hundred of such organizations; each quorum is presided over by seven presidents. The seven presidents of the First Quorum of Seventies, however, preside over all the other quorums and their presidents.
29. The Presiding Bishopric, as at present constituted, comprises the Presiding Bishop of the Church, and two Counselors. This quorum holds jurisdiction over the duties of other Bishops in the Church, and of all organizations pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood. The oldest living representative among the sons of Aaron is entitled to this office of presidency, provided he be in all respects worthy and qualified; he must be designated and ordained by the First Presidency of the Church. If such a literal descendant of Aaron be found and ordained, he may act without counselors, except when he sits in judgment in a trial of one of the presidents of the High Priesthood, in which case he is to be assisted by twelve High Priests. But in the absence of any direct descendant of Aaron properly qualified, a High Priest of the Melchizedek Priesthood may be called and set apart by the First Presidency of the Church to the office of Presiding Bishop; he is to be assisted by two other High Priests properly ordained as his counselors.
30. Local Organizations of the Priesthood.—Where the Saints are permanently located Stakes of Zion are organized, each Stake comprising a number of wards or branches. Over each Stake is placed a Stake Presidency, consisting of a president and two counselors, who are High Priests properly chosen and set apart to this office. The Stake Presidency is assisted in judicial function by a Standing High Council, composed of twelve High Priests chosen and ordained to the office. This Council is presided over by the Stake Presidency, and forms the highest judicial tribunal of the Stake.
31. The presidents of stakes and bishops of wards are properly regarded as pastors to the fold; their duties are doubtless analogous to those of the pastors of former dispensations. The High Priests and the Elders in each Stake are organized into quorums as already described; the former without limitation as to number, the latter forming one or more quorums, each of ninety-six members, as their number may warrant. Patriarchs are also set apart to officiate in their holy office among the people of the Stake.
32. A Ward Bishopric is established in every fully organized Ward of the Church. This body consists usually of three High Priests set apart as a Bishop and Counselors. If, however, a literal descendant of Aaron be called to the bishopric, it is his privilege to act without counselors, as was stated in the case of the Presiding Bishop. The Bishop has jurisdiction over the quorums of the Lesser Priesthood in his Ward, and also over holders of the Higher Priesthood as members of his Ward; but he has no direct presidency over quorums of the Melchizedek order, as such, which may be embraced within his domain. As a presiding High Priest, he properly presides over his entire Ward. The ward organization comprises quorums of Priests, Teachers, and Deacons, one or more of each as the numerical extent of the Ward may determine.
33. Helps in Government.—Beside these constituted authorities and offices in the priesthood, there are a number of secondary or special organizations established among the people for educational and benevolent purposes. Among these, the following are of such importance as to call for special mention.
(1.) Primary Associations.—These provide for the moral instruction and training of young children.
(2.) Mutual Improvement Associations.—These comprise separate organizations for the sexes, and are designed for the education and training of the youth, in subjects of general and theological interest. Instruction is provided in theology, literature and history, science and art, the laws of health, and numerous other branches of useful knowledge.
(3.) Sunday Schools comprise graded classes for the study of the scriptures, and for training in theology, in moral and religious duties, and in the discipline of the Church. Sunday schools, while primarily designed for the young, are open to all.
(4.) Church Schools.—These institutions provide for both secular and religious instruction, and range from the grade of the kindergarten to that of the college.
(5.) Religion Classes.—In these is provided a course of graded instruction in theology and religion, which is offered as a supplement and complement to the purely secular teachings of the non-denominational schools.
(6.) Relief Societies.—These are composed of women whose self-imposed duties relate to the care of the poor, and the relief of suffering among the afflicted.
34. Most of these auxiliary organizations exist in each ward. Indeed, with the exception of Church Schools, which usually rank as stake institutions, or even as of wider scope, all of the secondary organizations named are regarded as essential to the complete equipment of any ward. Officers are appointed to preside over the several organizations in each ward; and while such officers are subject in a general way to the local authorities in the priesthood, they look for specific instructions regarding the plan and method of their particular work, to the stake and general authorities of the special organizations. In accordance with the principle of common consent which characterizes the Church in general, the officers of the auxiliary institutions, while they are nominated by, or at least with the consent of the established authorities in the priesthood, are installed and retained in office by the vote of the members in the local or general organization within which they are appointed to labor.