Though perhaps it was little realized until recent years, the Lord set in place early on the administrative structure for a global and infinitely expandable church when he revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith instructions pertaining to the office of Seventy.
It is an office with roots extending back to Old Testament times, when the Lord told Moses, "Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee" (Numbers 11:16). There the Lord took of the spirit that was upon Moses and placed it upon the seventy, enabling them to help Moses bear the burdens of the people. During the Lord's mortal ministry, he appointed seventy along with the apostles, sending them out two by two to preach the gospel and heal (see Luke 10).
Much of the latter-day instruction pertaining to the Seventy is in Doctrine and Covenants 107, where the Lord unfolds the vision that the Seventy are to act under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve. They are to be presided over by seven of their number, and the seven presidents are to choose other seventy, then still other seventy "until seven times seventy, if the labor in the vineyard of necessity requires it" (verse 96).
Through the 181-year history of the Church the organization of the Seventy has been expanded and adapted to meet changing needs. In Nauvoo, the number of seventies quorums had grown to 30 by 1846. It was a general office until 1883, when, in Utah, seventies began to be associate with a quorum in the area where they lived.
By 1953, with about 500 seventies quorums in the Church, the First Presidency directed that each stake or mission with more than 36 seventies would have its own quorum.
A landmark event occurred at October 1975 general conference, when President Spencer W. Kimball announced the reconstitution of the First Quorum of the Seventy to consist entirely of General Authorities and be filled gradually with 70 members and seven presidents. A year later the seven-member First Council of the Seventy were released and its members returned to the quorum. Also called to the quorum were the Assistants to the Twelve, and that General Authority position was discontinued.
In 1986, stake seventies quorums were discontinued, and seventy became an office for general Church leadership.
Three years thereafter, the Second Quorum of the Seventy was created, also composed of General Authorities, fitting the pattern of expansion envisioned in the early days of the Church.
In 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the office of Area Seventy and the creation of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Quorums made up of men who had been serving as Area Authorities and who then were called and ordained as Seventies. Subsequent divisions of those quorums would bring about the Sixth through the Eighth Quorums.
The First and Second Quorums of the Seventy are comprised of General Authorities, while the members of the other quorums are designated as Area Seventies with geographically limited responsibility.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband has been in the First Quorum of the Seventy since April 1, 2000, and is beginning his third year as the senior member of the Presidency of the Seventy.
"Just in my time, I have seen the 107th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants as it relates to the Seventy come to life," he observed in an April 13 interview. "I know it was written in 1835, but so much of it is as if the Prophet Joseph Smith were looking at our day and saying, 'Let me help you understand how to administer and guide this Church in the latter days.'"
Elder Rasband emphasized two verses in particular in Section 107.
Verse 38 provides that the Twelve (the "traveling high council") are to call upon the Seventy for assistance "to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel instead of any others." The word "instead" looms large, Elder Rasband said, considering that the number of the First Presidency and the Twelve is limited to 15, while the seventies quorums can be expanded as needed. More and more, the apostles are calling upon the Seventy to accomplish certain tasks.
Elder Rasband's other point of emphasis is verse 95, which provides that the seven presidents are to choose other Seventy. "That's what we're doing, under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve," he said. "Of course we propose them to the First Presidency and they make the calls, but they are leaning upon us and asking us to make those selections."
The total number of seventies in the Church stands at 320 since the recent general conference. Do they meet in individual quorums?
"The two General Authority quorums meet every Thursday here at Church headquarters," Elder Rasband said. The proceedings of those weekly meetings are made available to members of the First and Second Quorums serving away from Church headquarters.
And the other quorums meet separately at least once a year, most recently in connection with the April general conference.
As from the beginning, the Area Seventies quorums have respective geographic responsibility, currently constituted as follows:
Third Quorum: Europe and Africa.
Fourth Quorum: Mexico, Central America, the northern part of South America, and the Caribbean.
Fifth Quorum: Idaho, Utah and western America.
Sixth Quorum: central, northeastern, southeastern and southwestern America.
Seventh Quorum: Brazil, Chile and southern South America.
Eighth Quorum: Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific and the Philippines.
In this issue of the Church News, published together for the first time, are group photos of the Third through the Eighth Quorums of the Seventy.