Chapter 20: Church Organization and Government

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 137–43


In his 77th year, President Brigham Young organized the priesthood to give more clear direction to its labors, to unite the Saints, and to gather and care for the sheep of Israel. The effect of President Young’s last major project was praised by his assistant counselor, Elder George Q. Cannon. He said that President Young “set the priesthood in order as it has never been since the organization of the Church upon the earth. He defined the duties of the Apostles, … Seventy, … High Priests, … Elders, … lesser priesthood, with plainness and distinction and power—the power of God—in a way that is left on record in such unmistakable language that no one need err who has the Spirit of God resting down upon him” (CHC, 5:507).

Teachings of Brigham Young

God reveals His will to the Church through the President of the Church.

In the setting forth of items of doctrine which pertain to the progress and further building up of the Kingdom of God upon the earth, and the revealing of his mind and will, he has but one mouth through which to make known his will to his people. When the Lord wishes to give a revelation to his people, when he wishes to reveal new items of doctrine to them, or administer chastisement, he will do it through the man whom he has appointed to that office and calling. The rest of the offices and callings of the Church are helps and governments for the edifying of the body of Christ and the perfection of the Saints, etc, every president, bishop, elder, priest, teacher, deacon and member standing in his order and officiating in his standing and degree of Priesthood as ministers of the words of life as shepherds to watch over departments and sections of the flock of God in all the world, and as helps to strengthen the hands of the Presidency of the whole Church (DBY, 137).

To possess and retain the spirit of the Gospel, gather Israel, redeem Zion, and save the world must be attended to first and foremost, and should be the prevailing desire in the hearts of the First Presidency, of the Elders of Israel, and of every officer in the Church and Kingdom of God (DBY, 137).

In trying all matters of doctrine, to make a decision valid, it is necessary to obtain a unanimous voice, faith and decision. In the capacity of a Quorum, the three First Presidents must be one in their voice; the Twelve Apostles must be unanimous in their voice, to obtain a righteous decision upon any matter that may come before them, as you may read in the Doctrine and Covenants. Whenever you see these Quorums unanimous in their declaration, you may set it down as true [see D&C 107:27]. Let the Elders get together, being faithful and true; and when they agree upon any point, you may know that it is true (DBY, 133).

The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother’s arms, as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray, for if they should try to do so the Lord would quickly sweep them from the earth. Your leaders are trying to live their religion as far as they are capable of doing so (DBY, 137).

The Twelve Apostles hold the priesthood keys for building the kingdom of God in the world.

The keys of the eternal priesthood, which is after the order of the Son of God, is comprehended by being an apostle. All the priesthood, all the keys, all the gifts, all the endowments and everything preparatory to entering back into the presence of the Father and of the Son, is composed of, circumscribed by, or I might say incorporated within the circumference of the apostleship (MS, 15:489).

After we returned from Missouri, my brother Joseph Young and myself had been singing after preaching in a meeting; and when the meeting was dismissed, Brother Joseph Smith said, “Come, go down to my house with me.” We went and sung to him a long time, and talked with him. He then opened the subject of the Twelve and Seventies for the first time I ever thought of it. He said, “Brethren, I am going to call out Twelve Apostles. I think we will get together, by-and-by, and select Twelve Apostles, and select a Quorum of Seventies from those who have been up to Zion. …” In 1835 the last of January or in February, … we held our meetings from day to day, and Brother Joseph called out Twelve Apostles [on 14 February] (DBY, 141–42).

The calling of an Apostle is to build up the Kingdom of God in all the world; it is the Apostle that holds the keys of this power, and nobody else. If an Apostle magnifies his calling, he is the word of the Lord to his people all the time (DBY, 139).

I have tried to show you, brethren, as briefly as possible, the order of the Priesthood. When a man is ordained to be an Apostle, his Priesthood is without beginning of days, or end of life, like the Priesthood of Melchizedek; for it was his Priesthood that was spoken of in this language and not the man (DBY, 141).

It is the duty and privilege of the Twelve Apostles to have the Holy Ghost for their constant companion, and live always in the Spirit of Revelation, to know their duty and understand their calling; this is also the duty and privilege of the First Presidency of the Church (DBY, 139–40).

An Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ has the keys of the holy Priesthood, and the power thereof is sealed upon his head, and by this he is authorized to proclaim the truth to the people, and if they receive it, well; if not, the sin be upon their own heads (DBY, 136).

The Lesser Priesthood, then, you perceive, comes within the purview [range of authority] of the Apostleship, because a man that holds it has a right to act or officiate as a High Priest, as one of the High Council, as a Patriarch, as a Bishop, Elder, Priest, Teacher, and Deacon, and in every other office and calling that is in the Church, from first to last, when duty demands it (DBY, 140).

You read in the revelation alluded to that when the Twelve were called and ordained, they possessed the same power and authority as the three First Presidents; and in reading further you find that there must needs be appendages and helps growing out of this Priesthood [see D&C 107:22–26]. The Seventies possess the same power and authority; [they receive delegated authority by assignment for the] establishing, building up, regulating, ordaining and setting in order the Kingdom of God in all its perfections upon the earth. We have a Quorum of High Priests, and there are a great many of them. They are a local body—they tarry at home; but the Seventies travel and preach; so also do the High Priests, when they are called upon. They possess precisely the same Priesthood that the Seventies and the Twelve and the First Presidency possess; but are they ordained in all the authority, power, and keys of this Priesthood? No, they are not. Still they are High Priests of God; and if they magnify their Priesthood [callings], they will receive at some time all the authority and power that it is possible for men to receive (DBY, 140).

The office of bishop belongs to the Aaronic Priesthood and holds the authority to minister in temporal and spiritual things.

The office of [Presiding] Bishop belongs to the lesser [Aaronic] Priesthood. He is the highest officer in the Aaronic Priesthood, and has … the administration of angels, if he has faith, and lives so that he can receive and enjoy the blessings Aaron enjoyed (DBY, 143).

A Bishop in his calling and duty is with the Church all the time; he is not called to travel abroad to preach, but is at home; he is not abroad in the world, but is with the Saints (DBY, 144).

The Bishops should be a perfect example to their Wards in all things (DBY, 144).

If a Bishop will act to the extent of his calling and office, and magnify it, there will not be an individual in his Ward that is not employed to the best advantage. He would see that all lived as they should, walking humbly with their God. There would not be a person in his Ward that he does not know, and he would be acquainted with their circumstances, conduct, and feeling [see 1 Timothy 3:1–4] (DBY, 145).

The Bishops should set those whom they have confidence in, those whom they know to be honest, to be watchmen on the tower, and let them find out who are suffering (DBY, 145).

Let each Bishop attend faithfully to his Ward, and see that every man and woman is well and faithfully and profitably employed; that the sick and aged are properly cared for that none suffer. Let each Bishop be a tender and indulgent father to his Ward, administering a word of comfort and encouragement here, a word of advice and counsel there, and a word of chastisement in another place, where needed, without partiality, wisely judging between man and man, caring for and seeking earnestly the welfare of all, watching over the flock of God with the eye of a true shepherd, that wolves and dogs may not enter among the flock to rend them (DBY, 144–45).

I say to the Bishop, … this is your business and calling. Do not let there be one place, in the habitations of the Saints in your Wards, about which you are uninformed (DBY, 146).

The Bishops should, through their teachers, see that every family in their Wards, who is able, should donate what they would naturally consume on the fast day to the poor (DBY, 145).

Church discipline can help people return to righteousness.

We shall never have the keys of authority committed to us to be rulers until we will rule just as God would rule if he were here himself (DBY, 146).

But the Kingdom of heaven, when organized upon the earth, will have every officer, law and ordinance necessary for the managing of those who are unruly, or who transgress its laws, and to govern those who desire to do right, but cannot quite walk to the line; and all these powers and authorities are in existence in the midst of this people (DBY, 146).

Bishops, do you have any trials? Are the feelings of the brethren in your Wards alienated? “Yes.” What should they do in such cases? They should follow the rules laid down, and be reconciled to their brethren forthwith. I think that it can be shown that the great majority of difficulties between brethren arises from misunderstandings rather than from malice and a wicked heart, and instead of talking the matter over with each other in a saint-like spirit, they will contend with each other until a real fault is created, and they have brought a sin upon themselves. When we have done good ninety-nine times and then do an evil, how common it is, my brethren and sisters, to look at that one evil all the day long and never think of the good. Before we judge each other we should look at the design of the heart, and if it is evil, then chasten that individual, and take a course to bring him back again to righteousness (DBY, 149–50).

I would like to see the High Council and Bishops and all Judges filled with the power of the Holy Ghost, that when a person comes before them they can read and understand that person, and be able to decide a case quickly and justly. … I would like the Bishops and other officers to have sufficient power and wisdom from God to make them fully aware of the true nature of every case that may come before them (DBY, 133).

You may, figuratively speaking, pound one Elder over the head with a club, and he does not know but what you have handed him a straw dipped in molasses to suck. There are others, if you speak a word to them, or take a straw and chasten them, whose hearts are broken; they are as tender in their feelings as an infant, and will melt like wax before the flame. You must not chasten them severely; you must chasten according to the spirit that is in the person. Some you may talk to all day long, and they do not know what you are talking about. There is a great variety. Treat people as they are (DBY, 150).

When you are rebuked by each other—when brethren meet you and say, “This is wrong in you,” you should receive it kindly, and express your thanks for the reproof, and acknowledge the wrong frankly, and admit that you may frequently do wrong when you do not know it, and say, “I wish you to enlighten my mind, to take me by the hand, and let me go along hand-in-hand and strengthen and sustain each other.” What, in your weaknesses? Yes. Do you expect to see a perfect man? Not while you stay here (DBY, 150).

Let me say to the brethren and sisters, when you are chastened by any of your leaders, never consider that the enemy does it, but receive it always as a kindness from the hand of a friend and not as from an enemy. If your presidents were your enemies they would let you alone in your faults. If you are beloved of the Lord you will be chastened [see Hebrews 12:6]; receive it with joy (DBY, 133).

Suggestions for Study

God reveals His will to the Church through the President of the Church.

  • How does the Lord use the President of the Church and the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to direct the Church? How do leaders holding other offices in the Church help them? (See also D&C 107:21–38; 132:7.)

  • Why can we put full faith and confidence in the presiding quorums of the Church? (See also D&C 107:27.)

  • Why will the Lord not allow the prophet to lead the Church astray? What promise did President Young make to those who do their duty? (See also D&C OD 1.)

The Twelve Apostles hold the priesthood keys for building the kingdom of God in the world.

  • What are the priesthood keys of the apostleship?

  • What are the duties of Apostles? (See also D&C 107:23–24, 33, 58.)

  • Discuss the relationship between the calling of an Apostle and other offices in the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthood. (See also D&C 107:58.)

  • What are the duties of the Seventy today as they function under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve? (See also D&C 107:34.)

The office of bishop belongs to the Aaronic Priesthood and holds the authority to minister in temporal and spiritual things.

  • What keys, powers, and authorities are held by a bishop? (See also D&C 84:26–27; 107:13–17.) What are the responsibilities of the bishop as the president of the Aaronic Priesthood? as the presiding high priest of a ward?

  • According to Brigham Young, what does a bishop do who “attend[s] faithfully to his Ward”? (See also 1 Timothy 3:1–7.)

  • How can we as home teachers or visiting teachers become more helpful in watching over the Church?

Church discipline can help people return to righteousness.

  • How did President Young describe those who transgress?

  • President Young said that the “majority of difficulties between [people] arises from misunderstandings rather than from malice and a wicked heart.” What was his counsel for handling misunderstandings?

  • What would President Young like to see in disciplinary councils? (See also D&C 107:71–84; 134:10.) How can the “power and wisdom from God” help those rendering judgment in a disciplinary council? (See also D&C 121:41–42.)

  • In what way are those who conduct Church disciplinary councils to “read and understand” those being disciplined?

  • What did President Young say about “chasten[ing] according to the spirit that is in the person”? (See also 3 Nephi 18:28–32.)

  • How did President Young say we should respond when we are chastened by our leaders? (See also D&C 95:1.)