“High Council,” Church History Topics
During the months following the organization of the Church in April 1830, most priesthood holders could gather together to conduct Church business in quarterly conferences. Within a year of the Church’s organization, its administrative needs grew more complex as Church membership grew, new settlements were established in both Ohio and Missouri, and the Lord commanded the Saints to expand their efforts to establish the Church. Revelation to Joseph Smith soon called for different councils to meet based on different needs.1 These councils gathered as needed to conduct business beginning in 1832, including a council led by Joseph Smith and his two counselors.2 But in order to round out the council, Joseph had to call on available high priests each time they needed to meet.3
In February 1834, Joseph Smith met with a group of high priests in Kirtland and said he would teach them “the order of councils in ancient days … as shown to him by vision.”4 He then proceeded to organize the first standing high council, consisting of 12 high priests, which would handle administrative and disciplinary issues affecting the Church in Kirtland.5 That summer, a second high council was organized in Missouri for the purpose of “settling important business that might come before them which could not be settled by the Bishop and his council.”6
The next spring, the Twelve Apostles were called. While their primary duty was to preach the gospel, they also served as a traveling high council to administer Church business in the smaller branches outside of the stakes in Kirtland and Missouri. When the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835, selections from the minutes of the first high council meeting, with additions to clarify the role of the Twelve Apostles, were included as one of the early sections, giving instructions on procedures for conducting councils.7
In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith gave the Twelve Apostles authority to oversee some Church business in the stakes as well as in outlying branches.8 After his death, the Twelve functioned as General Authorities in the Church, while high councils continued to be organized at the stake level. Today, stake high councils help administer Church business within their stakes, participate in disciplinary decisions, and support stake presidencies in their ministry.