The Church in the 20th Century: Quorums of Seventy set in place

Fourth in a series about the top stories of the 20th Century.

The revelations on the priesthood office of Seventy, recorded in Section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants, became an integral part of the incremental changing of the administration of the Church during a time of tremendous growth during the past three decades.

Members of the First Quorum of the Seventy gather in the tabernacle before start of October 1979 general conference. The organization of the quorum was announced by President Spencer W. Kimball four years earlier.Deseret News file photo

When President Spencer W. Kimball announced in the October 1975 general conference that the First Quorum of the Seventy would "be gradually organized," there were about 3.5 million members of the Church.

Today, there are five quorums of the Seventy to help in the administration of the Church, which now has more than 10 million members.

Elder L. Aldin Porter, currently the senior member of the Presidency of the Seventy, emphasized during a Church News interview that very important instructions for handling the growth of the Church, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, are recorded in Section 107. "The basics were revealed then, and continuing revelation has brought the Seventy to the present day."

He said that Section 107 wasn't given by the Lord to only meet the needs of the Church only in its early days. "He gave it to meet the needs of the Church today and in the future. We can have 50 quorums of the Seventy, even 70 quorums of the Seventy as they are needed ." (See D&C 107:93-96.)

Prior to 1975, the only Seventies among the General Authorities were the seven presidents of Seventy who comprised the First Council of the Seventy.

In the October 1975 general conference, the organization of the First Quorum of the Seventy was announced by President Kimball and three members, in addition to the Seven Presidents, were added to the quorum.

A year later, in the October 1976 general conference, President Kimball announced the further expansion of the First Quorum of the Seventy. The Assistants to the Twelve were called to the First Quorum of the Seventy. The presidency of the quorum was composed of members of the newly reconstituted First Quorum of the Seventy.

President Kimball said in his opening address at the conference: "With this move, the three governing quorums of the Church defined by the revelations — the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First Quorum of the Seventy — have been set in their places as revealed by the Lord. This will make it possible to handle efficiently the present heavy workload and to prepare for the increasing expansion and acceleration of the work, anticipating the day when the Lord will return to take direct charge of His Church and Kingdom."

Another important event in the progression of Church administration at the time was the establishment of emeritus status for some General Authorities.

Conducting the sustaining of Church officers at the October 1978 general conference, President N. Eldon Tanner said: "After a long period of prayerful consideration and counsel, extending, indeed, over several years, we announce a new and specific status to be given from time to time to Brethren of our associates in the General Authorities. We announce that some Brethren have been designated as emeritus members of the First Quorum of the Seventy. These Brethren are not being released but will be excused from active service. It is out of consideration for the personal well-being of the individuals, and with deep appreciation for their devoted service, that this designation will be given from time to time to designated members of the General Authorities."

While changes were being made in the leadership of the Church, there were also changes made in administration as the membership grew at a more rapid pace throughout the world. The First Quorum of the Seventy was fully involved in the administration.

An article in the June 26, 1976, Church News outlined a system where members of the First Quorum of the Seventy would serve as area supervisors, under the direction of members of the Quorum of the Twelve who were area advisers. The organization gave each area supervisor responsibility over the missions and stakes in a specific area of the world. Area supervisor was changed in 1979 to executive administrator.

The administrative burden was taken off individual members of the First Quorum of the Seventy with the organization of Area Presidencies, effective July 1, 1984, each of which was composed of three members of the quorum.

An article in the June 24, 1984, Church News stated: "For the past several years, members of the Seventy have been assigned as executive administrators in various areas, at times residing in various countries, but most recently residing in Salt Lake City. The Area Presidencies replace the executive administrators."

Originally, there were seven areas in the United States and Canada, and six international areas.

The Church News article noted that, according to President Gordon B. Hinckley, then second counselor in the First Presidency, "This organization lends strength to administration and brings a combined wisdom to decisions and provides flexibility in meeting challenges of growth."

In April general conference of that year, another significant change in the Quorum of the Seventy was presented to the Church. President Hinckley, after announcing new additions to the quorum, said: "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, just as a mission president or temple president would do, and then to be released with honor and appreciation."

President Ezra Taft Benson announced during the 1986 general conference the discontinuation of Seventies quorums in the stakes. That left the First Quorum as the only quorum of Seventies in the Church and all of its members were General Authorities.

More fulfillment of verses 96-97 of Section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants was announced during the April 1989 general conference. While conducting the sustaining of officers, President Thomas S. Monson, then second counselor in the First Presidency said: "With the continued rapid growth of the Church, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have determined that the time has come to take additional steps to provide for the expansion and regulation of the Church. We announce, therefore, the organization of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, to become effective immediately.

"The initial membership of the Second Quorum of the Seventy will be those General Authorities presently serving under a five-year call. Additional Brethren will be added to the Second Quorum of the Seventy from time to time and will serve as Seventies and as General Authorities, also under a five-year call."

At that time, there were 36 members in the Second Quorum, with 35 in the First Quorum.

Regional representatives, a part of Church administration beginning when 69 were called in 1967, were released in 1995 as another piece of the incremental expansion of the Seventy. In the April 1995 general conference, President Hinckley announced the honorable release of all 284 regional representatives. He said: "It is now felt desirable to tighten up the organization administered by the Area Presidencies. . . .

"Now we announce the call of a new local officer to be known as an Area Authority. These will be high priests chosen from among past and present experienced Church leaders. They will continue their current employment, reside in their own homes, and serve on a Church-service basis. The term of their call will be flexible, generally, for a period of approximately six years."

The Aug. 5, 1995, Church News announced the calling of the first 117 Area Authorities and they were assigned in 22 areas.

That set the scene for the most recent expansion of the quorums of the Seventy. Area Authorities, in April conference of 1997, were renamed Area Authority Seventies and organized into the Third, Fourth and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy.

The April 12, 1997, Church News reported that, in making the announcement, President Hinckley said: "We have determined to present to the conference the names of these Area Authorities to be ordained as Seventies. They will then have a quorum relationship presided over by the Presidents of the Seventy. They will be known as Area Authority Seventies, to serve for a period of years in a voluntary capacity in the area in which they reside. They are called by the First Presidency and will work under the general direction of the Quorum of the Twelve, the Presidents of the Seventy, and the Area Presidencies in that part of the world in which they reside."

The article further quoted President Hinckley as saying, referring to the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy: "The First is comprised of those who serve to age 70. Additionally, we are calling a group of wise and mature men with long experience in the Church and with freedom to go wherever circumstances dictate, as members of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. These Brethren will serve for periods of from three to five years. In every sense they will be General Authorities.

"Though all Seventies have equal scriptural authority, members of the First and Second Quorums are designated General Authorities while members of the Third, Fourth and Fifth are designated Area Authorities."

President Hinckley also noted in that conference that the ordination to the office of Seventy is without term, but service in a quorum is for a designated number of years.

Elder Porter pointed out that an Area Authority Seventy, within his area and by assignment of the Area Presidency or the president of the Quorum of the Twelve, can do almost anything that a General Authority Seventy can do.

He also noted that those serving as Area Authority Seventies were not reordained if they had been ordained a Seventy previously in the stakes.

Today there are 237 members of the Seventy worldwide – 88 who are General Authorities and members of the First and Second Quorums; and 149 who are Area Authority Seventies and members of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums. From the ranks of the Seventy are drawn the 28 Area Presidencies that administer teh work of the Church throughout the world.

The revelation is being fulfilled that the Seventy are called to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world, and that they "are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews." (See D&C 107:25,34.)