What is the authority of stake high councils?
July 1982

“What is the authority of stake high councils?” Ensign, July 1982, 31–32

Would you please help me understand the meaning of Doctrine and Covenants 107:36, which speaks of the authority of stake high councils?

Roy W. Doxey, Director of Correlation Review. Whenever I think of councils in the Church, my mind centers on this statement from President Stephen L Richards, counselor to President David O. McKay:

“Now, I don’t know that it is possible for any organization to succeed in the Church under the priesthood without adopting the genius of our Church government. What is that? As I conceive it, the genius of our Church government is government through Councils. The Council of the Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, the Council of the Stake Presidency, or quorum if you choose to use that word, the Council of the Bishopric, and the quorum o[r] Council of the Quorum Presidency. I have had enough experience to know the value of councils. Hardly a day passes but that I see the wisdom, God’s wisdom, in creating councils: to govern his Kingdom. In the spirit under which we labor, men can get together with seemingly divergent views and far different backgrounds, and under the operation of that spirit, by counseling together, they can arrive at an accord, … and therefore I say that accord is always right. That accord represents the wisdom of the council, acting under the Spirit.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, p. 86.)

Although the stake high council is not mentioned in the foregoing observation, the same value may be placed on it.

In 1835 when Doctrine and Covenants section 107 was revealed there were two high councils, one in Ohio and the other in Missouri. The one in Ohio was the first organized, and the minutes of that organization are recorded in section 102. These minutes constitute in some respects guidelines for high councils today, especially in the functioning of courts. Since it was the only high council in the Church when it was organized (February 1834), the Kirtland high council was presided over by the First Presidency and had general jurisdiction throughout the Church. This placed the high council in a unique position. (See D&C 102:9–10.) In reference to that high council, President John Taylor said:

“In Kirtland, Ohio; a great many things were revealed through the Prophet. There was then a First Presidency that presided over the High Council, in Kirtland: and that High Council and another which was in Missouri, were the only High Councils in existence. As I have said, the High Council in Kirtland was presided over by Joseph Smith and his Counselors; and hence there were some things associated with this that were quite peculiar in themselves. It is stated that when they were at a loss to find out anything pertaining to any principles that might come before them in their councils, that the presidency were to inquire of the Lord and get revelation on those subjects that were difficult for them to comprehend.” (Journal of Discourses, 19:241.)

Thus, the Kirtland high council, having general jurisdiction throughout the Church, differed from the high council in Missouri, and from stake high councils today. With the First Presidency presiding; the Kirtland high council formed “a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency [First Presidency], or to the traveling high council [Twelve Apostles].” (D&C 107:36.)

In the next verse (37) [D&C 107:37], the Lord refers to the high council in Missouri (Zion), which did not have the First Presidency as presiding officers, as being “equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.” Thus, this high council, and any other stake high council of twelve members referred to as “councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion,” was to be of equal standing to each other.

The growth of the Church was foreordained and known in prophecy. (See D&C 65:2.) That stakes other than those in Ohio and Missouri would be organized was also known, for the Lord made it clear in D&C 101:21 “when there is found no more room for them [the Saints]; … I have other places which I will appoint unto them, and they shall be called stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion.”

As each stake is organized, a high council is also organized to assist the stake presidency in governing the stake. None of these stake high councils has jurisdiction over decisions of the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve. A stake high council’s jurisdiction is confined to the stake in which it is organized. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “No standing High Council has authority to go into the churches abroad, and regulate the matters thereof, for this belongs to the Twelve. No standing High Council will ever be established only in Zion, or one of her stakes.” (History of the Church, 2:220.)

Furthermore, “The High council had nothing to do with the Twelve, or the decisions of the Twelve. But if the Twelve erred they were accountable only to the General Council of the authorities of the whole Church, according to the revelations.” (Ibid., p. 285.)