Seven, autonomous priesthood quorums
The Lord has organized His priesthood into seven different quorums: a quorum of deacons, teachers, priests, elders, seventies, apostles and high priests. There are also presidencies, some of which also form presiding quorums, such as the first presidency, stake presidencies, high councils and the bishoprics, but I will not delve into these latter quorums.
Each of the seven priesthood quorums is autonomous and most are presided over by a president with two counselors, taken from the quorum itself (see D&C 107:60-63.) There is no inter-quorum regulation delineated in the Lord’s scriptures. The teachers do not regulate the deacons, the priests do not regulate the teachers and deacons, the elders do not regulate the priests, teachers and deacons, and so on and so forth.
A quorum convenes as a council. A council is “an assembly of men summoned or convened for consultation, deliberation, advice, or agreement upon some concerted action”. When a quorum convenes as a council, it does so to decide amongst themselves how to discharge the priesthood duties that pertain to their particular office and calling.
The seven priesthood quorums have presidents with counselors, and these presidents, or servants, serve the quorum by teaching them the duty of their office as given in the covenants, while they are sitting with them in council. (See D&C 107:85-89.)
Quorum keys remain with the quorum
No one outside of the quorum has jurisdiction over the quorum. No single person, group or quorum has a right to tell another quorum of the church how to discharge their duties. This is because the keys of the quorum pertain solely to the quorum members.
This shows that each priesthood quorum is autonomous, meaning that they are independent or self-governing. (Joseph Smith’s much quoted saying comes to mind: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”) To illustrate this principle, let’s consider the deacons’ quorum.
A deacons’ quorum is to consist of 12 deacons presided over by a presiding deacon (see D&C 107:85.) The duties of this quorum is ”to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and to invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59) and “to watch over the church, to be standing ministers unto the church” (D&C 84:111.) When the quorum convenes as a council, they consult one with another, deliberate, give each other advice and come to some agreement as to how they should discharge these duties, meaning how they are going to warn, expound, exhort, teach, invite, watch and minister. They are the ones who make this determination. If assignments are given, they are the ones who make the assignments.
Neither the deacons’ quorum president, nor anyone outside of the quorum, can tell the deacons how they are to discharge their duties, nor can they assign deacons to do this or that. The deacons themselves, operating as individual deacons, or as a quorum convened in council, make all of these decisions, for no one else holds the keys to this office and quorum. (See D&C 124:143.)
Decentralized power and autonomy
This self-government is designed to decentralize the authority and power in the church, that no ecclesiastical tyrants can start to abuse the Lord’s people. It is yet another check and balance that the Lord has set up to keep his people humble, looking alone to Him as the author and finisher of their faith, and not to any one man, or group of men, with concentrated power and authority.
Mutually beneficial inter-quorum cooperation
In addition to the duties that pertain to specific quorums, the Lord has also allowed certain quorums to be paired up in their duties, so that there may be assistance, if occasion requires. Specifically, if occasion requires, the deacons’ quorum may assist the teachers’ quorum in all their duties, the priests’ quorum may assist the elders’ quorum in most of their duties, and the seventies’ quorum may assist the apostles’ quorum in all their duties.
Such assistance may come individually, as a teacher asking a deacon to help him in his duties, or as a quorum-wide petition, the teachers’ quorum asking the deacons’ quorum to assist them in some duty they must perform.
There is to be no extortion in the church of Christ
None of these petitions for assistance are commandments or obligations. In other words, although it is the duty of a deacon to assist a teacher in all his duties, that duty only devolves upon him “if occasion requires.” And who decides if the occasion requires? The deacon does. The same goes for quorum-wide calls for assistance. The teachers’ quorum has no right to demand assistance from the deacons’ quorum. They can only request it and if the convened deacons’ quorum are agreed that occasion requires it, they are then duty-bound to extend such assistance.
This same principle applies to all of the other priesthood quorums.
Taking back the power
If you are part of a priesthood quorum that is no longer autonomous, there is a solution: simply assert the rights to the priesthood you have been given and take back your quorum’s (and your own) priesthood autonomy. It is, after all, your duty to do so:
Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen. (D&C 107:99-100)