“We are becoming a great global society,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley (“This Work Is Concerned with People,” Ensign, May 1995, 52). Indeed, the Church now has more than 11 million members throughout the nations, and it continues to carry out the Savior’s charge to take the gospel to all the world.
In the Saturday morning session of the April 1997 general conference, President Hinckley announced a new calling in the Church to help meet the needs of this increasing global membership—the Area Authority Seventy, to be assigned to the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy. Today Area Authority Seventies are playing a pivotal role in preaching and administering the gospel worldwide.
Exactly what is the role of Area Authority Seventies? We need first to understand the role of the Seventy.
The Prophet Joseph Smith announced the establishment of the office of Seventy on 8 February 1835. On 28 February he organized the First Quorum of the Seventy (see History of the Church, 2:181, 201–4). A month later the Lord by revelation gave further instructions through the Prophet Joseph regarding the calling and role of the Seventy. These instructions were recorded in what is now Doctrine and Covenants 107:
“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. …
“The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve … , 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. …
“It is the duty of the [Twelve] to call upon the Seventy, when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel, instead of any others. …
“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;
“And these seven presidents are to choose other seventy besides the first seventy to whom they belong, and are to preside over them;
“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 107:25, 34, 38, 93–97).
The role of the Seventy, then, is to act under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in building up and regulating the affairs of the Church in all nations. The Twelve are to call upon the Seventy to help in preaching and administering the gospel.
Members of the Quorums of the Seventy do not hold priesthood keys as part of their callings as Seventies. But when they receive an assignment from the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the keys they need to accomplish the task are delegated to them. As President Brigham Young explained to the Seventy, “When we send you to build up the kingdom, we will give you the keys, and power and authority” (History of the Church, 7:308). When they are ordained, members of the Seventy do receive apostolic authority to bear witness that Jesus is the Christ and to go forth in all the world as the Twelve may send them.
The need for Area Authority Seventies was anticipated by the Lord when He provided that there be “other seventy, until seven times seventy, if the labor in the vineyard of necessity requires it” (D&C 107:96). Before 1997 the need for help in administering the Church in all the world was served by two other callings—from 1967 until 1995 by regional representatives of the Twelve and from 1995 until 1997 by Area Authorities. (For more information, see Elder L. Aldin Porter, “A History of the Latter-day Seventy,” Ensign, August 2000, 14–20.)
By 1967 the Church was beginning to experience rapid growth. The first stake outside of North America was created in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1958. Nine years later when 69 brethren were called as regional representatives of the Twelve, there were 29 stakes outside the United States and Canada and a total of 2.6 million Church members. These regional representatives resided in their own homes, continued their employment, and served under the direction of the Twelve to train and strengthen stake leaders. When this calling was concluded in 1995, there were 284 regional representatives serving throughout the world.
When President Hinckley announced the calling of Area Authorities in 1995, Church membership had reached 9 million. President Hinckley explained: “[Area Authorities] 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” (Ensign, May 1995, 52).
By 1997 when Area Authorities became Area Authority Seventies and three additional Quorums of the Seventy were organized, Church membership had grown to 10 million, with more than 2,400 stakes, 318 missions, almost 25,000 wards and branches, and 56,000 full-time missionaries. Temples were beginning to dot the earth, with 51 temples in operation—a number that would double in the next three years.
Since 1997 Area Authority Seventies have helped carry the heavy responsibilities that rest upon the shoulders of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy in a growing Church. That growth will ever continue, for prophets from ancient to modern times have prophesied of our day:
“The God of heaven [shall] set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed … , and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44).
“The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).
Area Authority Seventies can perform many of the same duties, when assigned, as do Seventies in the First and Second Quorums. And all Seventies go about building up the Church. How then do Area Authority Seventies differ from members of the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy?
First, Area Authority Seventies maintain their employment and serve on a Church-service basis in the areas where they live. Members of the First and Second Quorums give up their own employment to travel and serve full-time wherever they are assigned.
Second, Area Authority Seventies are assigned to quorums by geographical area. Those living in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the Pacific are assigned to the Third Quorum; those in Mexico, Central America, and South America are in the Fourth Quorum; and those in the United States and Canada are in the Fifth Quorum. Seventies in the First and Second Quorums are called to the First Quorum or to the Second Quorum, which have no geographic limitation.
Third, members of the First and Second Quorums are designated General Authorities; members of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums are designated Area Authority Seventies.
Exactly what do Area Authority Seventies do? When President Hinckley announced their calling in April 1997, he listed some of their key assignments:
Preside at stake conferences and train stake presidencies.
Create or reorganize stakes and set apart stake presidencies.
Chair regional conference planning committees.
Serve on area councils.
Tour missions and train mission presidents.
Serve in Area Presidencies. (See “May We Be Faithful and True,” Ensign, May 1997, 6.)
Three members of the Seventy serve as an Area Presidency in each of the Church’s 29 area headquarters located throughout the world. In the past this assignment placed a heavy responsibility on members of the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy and their wives, who often lived away from their families for many years. Now an increasing number of Area Authority Seventies are serving as members of Area Presidencies in the areas where they live.
Many Area Presidencies have included Area Authority Seventies since 1997. But in 2001, the role of Area Authority Seventies in Area Presidencies was expanded. Two of the Church’s Area Presidencies are now made up entirely of Area Authority Seventies.
The Central America Area, for example, is now presided over by three native residents of Guatemala. These men, Elder Enrique R. Falabella, Elder Julio E. Alvarado, and Elder E. Israel Pérez, preside over an area that includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Belize and consists of 403,000 members, 78 stakes, and 10 missions.
The newly established Idaho Area is presided over by three Area Authority Seventies who live in Idaho: Elder C. Scott Grow, Elder D. Rex Gerratt, and Elder Ronald L. Loveland. These Brethren preside over an area in southern Idaho consisting of almost 317,000 members, 96 stakes, and 2 missions.
The first Seventies called in 1835 were men who had proven their faithfulness and loyalty to the Church during the march of Zion’s Camp. Today we see a similar pattern. The Area Authority Seventies are men of great spiritual capacity. They are responsible and obedient. Many are former stake or mission presidents. They are exemplary husbands and fathers. They are teachers of the gospel. When they are released as Area Authority Seventies, they return to serve in the wards and stakes (or branches and districts) in which they live. They continue to contribute to the Lord’s kingdom—through whatever callings and assignments they receive.
And what of the future? The Church will continue to grow. Today we exceed 11 million members. Some, not of our faith, project that our membership will exceed 200 million by the end of this century.
The number of Quorums of the Seventy and members of the Seventy can grow and multiply to meet the needs of the Church. President John Taylor (1808–87) received the following revelation on 14 April 1883 when he inquired regarding the Lord’s will concerning the organization of the Seventies:
“Thus saith the Lord unto the First Presidency, unto the Twelve, unto the Seventies and unto all my holy Priesthood, let not your hearts be troubled, neither be ye concerned about the management and organization of my Church and Priesthood and the accomplishment of my work. Fear me and observe my laws and I will reveal unto you, from time to time, through the channels that I have appointed, everything that shall be necessary for the future development and perfection of my Church, for the adjustment and rolling forth of my kingdom, and for the building up and the establishment of my Zion. For ye are my Priesthood and I am your God. Even so. Amen” (in James R. Clark, compiler, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 volumes [1965–75], 2:354).
We are blessed in this day to have continual revelation from the Lord on the organization of the Seventy. The calling of Area Authority Seventies and the expansion of the Quorums of the Seventy to five—and the number of quorums will likely continue to expand—are evidences of continuing revelation in the Church. With no basic organizational change, just the calling of additional Area Authority Seventies as needed, the Church can accommodate future growth.
Through continuing revelation to His prophets, the Lord provides the perfect organization needed to accomplish His purposes. The Church is safely under the leadership of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—the 15 men we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators.
I have both observed and participated in the growth and development of the leadership of the Church during the past 35 years. I served as a regional representative. I was in the Presidency of the Seventy in 1995 when Area Authorities were called. I witnessed the memorable occasion in 1997 when the Area Authorities were informed by the First Presidency that they would be ordained Seventies and assigned to one of the three newly established Quorums of the Seventy. I testify that revelation was experienced at that time. And I have watched as a great sense of brotherhood has developed among the Quorums of the Seventy.
Those who are called as Area Authority Seventies and who serve in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy are men who share the burden and responsibility to bear a sure witness of Jesus Christ in all the world. In very deed, they are helping fulfill the Lord’s charge to the original Seventy: “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).
“We have two Quorums of Seventy who serve as General Authorities with jurisdiction across the Church. …
“We also have a faithful cadre of Brethren serving as Area Authorities. These have been called wherever the Church is organized. They are faithful and devoted men. They are men who love the Church and who have served in many capacities. As we have traveled at home and abroad, we have worked with many of them and have been deeply impressed with their remarkable capacity. …
“… We have determined to present to the conference the names of these Area Authorities to be ordained 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 live. …
“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. …
“We welcome most warmly these Brethren into quorum membership and activity. They have our confidence, our love, and our esteem.
“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.
“Now, the Lord is watching over His kingdom. He is inspiring its leadership to care for its ever-growing membership.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “May We Be Faithful and True,” Ensign, May 1997, 5–6.