“A History of the Latter-day Seventy,” Ensign, Aug. 2000, 15
As President Spencer W. Kimball stood at the pulpit in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on 3 October 1975, few of those watching realized the significance of the statement he was about to make. Though it did not appear to involve major action at the time, his announcement would eventually affect the way the Church was administered throughout the world. He said:
“Today we announce to you the appointment of four new General Authorities [Seventies] to assist in the carrying forth of the work of the Lord. … The First Quorum of the Seventy will be gradually organized, eventually with seventy members, the presidency of which will be made up of the seven members [of the present First Council of the Seventy].”1
The day had arrived when the growth of the Church required the reconstitution of the First Quorum of the Seventy. It had been nearly 150 years since the Church had its beginnings in Fayette, New York, in a humble log cabin. Church membership had now grown from six men into millions, with hundreds of thousands of converts being added each year.
Over the years, the organization of the Seventy has changed to meet the needs of the worldwide Church, but the Seventy’s mission has stayed the same: to preach the gospel, to be especial witnesses of Jesus Christ, and to help the Apostles build up and administer the Church (see D&C 107:25, 34).
The history of the Seventy in this dispensation began in the early years of the Restoration. On 8 February 1835, the Prophet Joseph Smith called Elders Brigham and Joseph Young to his home in Kirtland, Ohio, and related a vision he had received about those who had died in Zion’s Camp. He then said: “‘I wish to notify all the brethren living in the branches, within a reasonable distance from this place, to meet at a general conference on Saturday next. I shall then and there appoint twelve Special Witnesses, to open the door of the Gospel to foreign nations, and you,’ said he (speaking to Brother Brigham), ‘will be one of them.’” After explaining their duties, “he then turned to Elder Joseph Young with quite an earnestness, as though the vision of his mind was extended still further, and addressing him, said, ‘Brother Joseph, the Lord has made you President of the Seventies.’ They had heard of Moses and seventy Elders of Israel, and of Jesus appointing ‘other Seventies,’ but had never heard of Twelve Apostles and of Seventies being called in this Church before. It was a strange saying, ‘The Lord has made you President of the Seventies,’ as though it had already taken place, and it caused these brethren to marvel.”2
Forty-eight days later, the revelation known as section 107 was given, which included the following instructions:
“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.
“And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named. …
“The Seventy 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;
“The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews” (D&C 107:25–26, 34–35).
A few months after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, a general conference of the Church was held in Nauvoo on 6–8 October 1844. Much of the conference was devoted to putting the organization of the priesthood in place, in accordance with a motion Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presented early in the conference, “that we as a church endeavor to carry out the principles and measures heretofore adopted and laid down by Joseph Smith as far as in us lies, praying Almighty God to help us to do it.”3 This motion carried unanimously. As part of this conference, President Brigham Young said to the Seventy, “You are all apostles to the nations to carry the gospel; and when we send you to build up the kingdom, we will give you the keys and power and authority.”4 This statement of President Young can be better understood by referring to a statement made by President Joseph F. Smith: “The seventies are called to be assistants to the twelve apostles; indeed they are apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, subject to the direction of the Twelve, and it is their duty to respond to the call of the Twelve, under the direction of the First Presidency of the Church, to preach the gospel to every creature, to every tongue and people under the heavens, to whom they may be sent.”5 Members of the Seventy receive delegated authority from the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to function in their appointed roles.
When the Saints left Nauvoo, there were 35 quorums of the Seventy. This number had increased to 146 by 1904. It was clear that these were general Church quorums and not stake quorums. Their major responsibility was to serve as emissaries of the Lord across the earth. Then, during the mid-1930s the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve placed the Seventies under stake supervision.
In the October 1976 general conference, one year after President Kimball had indicated that the First Quorum of the Seventy would be gradually organized, he said:
“In 1941, five high priests were called to assist the Twelve Apostles in their heavy work, and to fill a role similar to that envisioned by the revelations for the First Quorum of the Seventy. The scope and demands of the work at that time did not justify the reconstitution of the First Quorum of the Seventy. In the intervening years, additional Assistants to the Twelve have been added, and today we have twenty-one.
“Commencing a year ago, brethren other than the First Council of the Seventy were called into the First Quorum of the Seventy, and at present there are fourteen in that quorum, including the First Council.
“Since the functions and responsibilities of the Assistants to the Twelve and the Seventy are similar, and since the accelerated, worldwide growth of the Church requires a consolidation of its administrative functions at the general level, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, with the concurrence of the Assistants to the Twelve and the First Quorum of the Seventy, have felt inspired to call all of the Assistants to the Twelve into the First Quorum of the Seventy, to call four new members into that quorum, and to restructure the First Council of the Seventy. …
“With this move, the three governing quorums of the Church defined by the revelations—the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, 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.”6
This action more clearly established the relationship of the Seventy to the Twelve as described by the Lord in D&C 107:38: “It is the duty of the traveling high council to call upon the Seventy, when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel, instead of any others.”
On one occasion Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles listed three things which had happened in his lifetime which he said would do more than anything else for the spreading of the gospel, for the perfecting of the Saints, and for the salvation of men. The first of these three things was “the receipt of the revelation which makes the priesthood … available … without reference to race or ancestry.” The second was “the organization of the First Quorum of the Seventy as the third great council of the Church,” and the third was “the publication of the standard works … with the new teaching aids that accompany them.”7
The unfolding of the present-day organization of the Seventy continued with an announcement in the October 1978 general conference by President N. Eldon Tanner (1898–1982), a counselor in the First Presidency:
“The very rapid growth of the Church across the world, with the attendant increase in travel and responsibility, has made it necessary to consider a change in the status for some of the Brethren of the General Authorities. Some of our associates have served for many years with complete and unselfish dedication, and they deserve every honor and recognition for such devoted service. It is felt advisable at this time to reduce somewhat the load of responsibility that they carry.
“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.”8
The call to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is, of necessity, a call for life. This is so because of the Lord’s system of seniority whereby the President of the Church is chosen.9 This same system of seniority does not exist among the Seventy, and there is no need for them to give a lifetime of service as Seventies even though that was the practice for many years.
On the other hand, the Presidency of the Seventy is unique. Most presidencies in the Church have a presidency of three: a president and two counselors. But the revelations indicate a different organization for the Seventy. Note that in the Presidency of the Seventy all are Presidents—none are counselors: “And it is according to the vision showing the order of the Seventy, that they should have seven presidents to preside over them, chosen out of the number of the seventy; and the seventh president of these presidents is to preside over the six” (D&C 107:93–94).
The seventh, or presiding, President is the one with the most longevity or more uninterrupted years of service in the Presidency of the Seventy than the other six Presidents.
In the 1980s, several additional inspired decisions accelerated the opportunity of the Seventy to serve while they remained of an age and in a status of health that the heavy rigors of the work could be accomplished. In the April 1984 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, explained:
“In the case of the Seventy, we are putting into effect the practice long generally followed and accepted in the Church with reference to other offices. Members of the First Quorum of the Seventy are General Authorities in every sense: in calling, in responsibility, in power and authority. Theirs have been permanent appointments, and those presently serving will continue so to serve. However, tenure of appointment is not important insofar as the work is concerned. Calls to serve as bishop, stake president, Regional Representative, mission president, temple president, and president of the auxiliary organizations are for a period of years. The individual is then honorably released and others are afforded the opportunity of service. 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. While they so serve, they will be General Authorities with every right, power, and authority necessary to function. They will be expected to give their full time to this work while they are in office. This procedure, we feel, will provide a constant infusion of new talent and a much widened opportunity for men of ability and faith to serve in these offices.”10
Then, in October 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson made the following announcement:
“In harmony with the needs of the growth of the Church across the world, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles have given prayerful consideration to the role of the stake seventies quorums in the Church and have determined to take the following action relative thereto:
“… The seventies quorums in the stakes of the Church are to be discontinued, and the brethren now serving as seventies in these quorums will be asked to return to membership in the elders quorums of their wards. Stake presidents, in an orderly fashion, may then determine who among such brethren should be ordained to the office of high priest.
“This change does not affect the First Quorum of the Seventy, members of which are all General Authorities of the Church. …
“At this time, we commend all who have served both past and present as members of stake seventies quorums of the Church and who have so ably given of their time, talents, and resources in spreading forth the gospel of Jesus Christ.”11
This announcement was in keeping with President Brigham Young’s statement more than 138 years earlier: “The Seventies are not called to be a local body, but are ordained … to travel, ordain local officers, and build up and set in order the whole Kingdom of God upon the earth, wherever it is necessary.”12
In the early days of the Restoration, the Lord made provision for the future growth of the Church when He said:
“And these seven presidents are to choose other seventy. …
“And also other seventy, until seven times seventy, if the labor in the vineyard of necessity requires it.
“And these seventy are to be traveling ministers, unto the Gentiles first and also unto the Jews” (D&C 107:95–97).
The day came as prophesied in the scriptures when the work required that an additional Quorum of the Seventy be organized. This was done in April 1989, when President Benson said in the general priesthood session:
“With the continued rapid growth of the Church, the First Presidency and the 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 currently 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.”13
The work continued to expand, and six years later, in preparation for further fulfillment of the role of the Seventies, President Gordon B. Hinckley said in the April 1995 general conference:
“Now in the ongoing of this work, administrative changes sometimes occur. The doctrine remains constant. But from time to time there are organizational and administrative changes made under provisions set forth in the revelations.
“For instance, twenty-eight years ago the First Presidency was inspired to call men to serve as regional representatives of the Twelve … to train our stake and ward leaders in the programs of the Church that they in turn might train the membership in their responsibilities before the Lord.
“At that time there were 69 regional representatives. Today there are 284. The organization has become somewhat unwieldy.
“More recently the Presidency were inspired to call men from the Seventy to serve in Area Presidencies. As the work grows across the world, it has become necessary to decentralize administrative authority to keep General Authorities closer to the people. We now have such Area Presidencies well established and effectively functioning.
“It is now felt desirable to tighten up the organization administered by the Area Presidencies. Accordingly, we announce the release—the honorable release—of all regional representatives effective August 15 of this year. …
“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 with 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. They will be closely tied to the Area Presidencies. They will be fewer in number than have been the regional representatives. We are guided in setting up this new corps of area officers, as were our Brethren before us in the calling of regional representatives, by the provision contained in the revelation on priesthood, section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants. After directions to the Twelve and the Seventy, the revelation states:
“‘Whereas other officers of the church, who belong not unto the Twelve, neither to the Seventy, are not under the responsibility to travel among all nations, but are to travel as their circumstances shall allow, notwithstanding they may hold as high and responsible offices in the church.’”14
The call of Area Authorities was a preparatory step for what occurred just 24 months later. In the April 1997 general conference, President Hinckley announced that the Area Authorities would now be known as Area Authority Seventies. He said:
“They will continue with their present employment, reside in their own homes, and serve on a Church-service basis. Those residing in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific will become members of the Third Quorum of Seventy. Those in Mexico, Central America, and South America will become members of the Fourth Quorum. Those residing in the United States and Canada will become members of the Fifth Quorum.
“They may be assigned to (a) preside at stake conferences and train stake presidencies, (b) create or reorganize stakes and set apart stake presidencies, (c) serve as counselors in Area Presidencies, (d) chair regional conference planning committees, (e) serve on area councils presided over by the Area Presidency, (f) tour missions and train mission presidents, and (g) complete other duties as assigned.
“Consistent with their ordination as Seventies, they become officers of the Church with a specific and definite tie to a quorum. While there will be only limited opportunities for them to come together in quorum meetings, the Presidents of the Seventy will communicate with them, will instruct them, receive reports, and do other things of that kind. They will now have a sense of belonging that they have not experienced up to this time. As Seventies they are called to preach the gospel and to be especial witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ as set forth in the revelations. 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.
“Although the ordination to the office of Seventy is without term, a Seventy is called to serve in a quorum for a designated period of years. At the conclusion of this service, he will return to activity in his respective ward and stake and will meet with his high priests group. …
“With these respective quorums in place, we have established a pattern under which the Church may grow to any size with an organization of Area Presidencies and Area Authority Seventies, chosen and working across the world according to need.”15
Today there are 276 members of the Seventy called, as the Lord has said, to “bear record of my name in all the world, wherever … mine apostles, shall send them to prepare a way before my face” (D&C 124:139). These Seventies supervise the work of the Church under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve in 28 areas scattered across the earth. The number of areas and quorums will certainly increase as the years pass and the work intensifies, but the organization is now in place to keep the administration of the Church close to the prophets, seers, and revelators whom the Lord has called to direct the work. Yet this work has hardly begun, and the future is bright with the promise that the ordinances and covenants of salvation and exaltation will be made available to “every nation, kindred, tongue and people” (1 Ne. 19:17). The revelations have made clear that this kingdom will roll forth as the stone “cut out without hands” and become a “great mountain, and [fill] the whole earth” (see Dan. 2:34–35).