Who is supposed to take the lead of meetings?


The day after general conference, I began looking over the scriptures that speak of priesthood offices and duties and new thoughts came to mind, some of which I am publishing here.

D&C 20:38-45 describes the calling and duties of an elder:

The duty of the elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the church of Christ—An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize; and to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons; and to administer bread and wine—the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ—and to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures; and to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church; and to confirm the church by the laying on of the hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost; and to take the lead of all meetings.

The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.

So, “an elder” is “to take the lead of all meetings.”

Which elder takes the lead?

The presiding elder.

And which elder is the presiding elder?

The elders’ quorum president is the presiding elder.

Deacons

A congregation has a quorum of elders and deacons, with presidencies for both, all present in a meeting.

Who takes the lead?

The elders’ quorum president, per D&C 20:44.

And to take the lead of all meetings.  (D&C 20:44)

Teachers

A congregation has a quorum of elders, deacons and teachers, with presidencies for each, all present in a meeting.

Who takes the lead?

The elders’ quorum president, per D&C 20:44.

If all the elders go missing, who then takes the lead?

The teachers’ quorum president, per D&C 20:56.

And he is to take the lead of meetings in the absence of the elder or priest—  (D&C 20:56)

Priests

A congregation has a quorum of elders, deacons, teachers and priests, with presidencies for each, all present in a meeting.

Who takes the lead?

The elders’ quorum president, per D&C 20:44.

If all the elders go missing, who then takes the lead?

The priests’ quorum president, per D&C 20:49.

And he is to take the lead of meetings when there is no elder present;  (D&C 20:49)

If all the elders and priests go missing, who then takes the lead?

The teachers’ quorum president, per D&C 20:56.

Priests’ quorum president!? What’s that?

That’s a presidency formed of three priests, one priest presiding and two priests as his counselors, just as the elders’, teachers’ and deacons’ quorums are all set up:

Verily, I say unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts, there must needs be presiding elders to preside over those who are of the office of an elder; and also priests to preside over those who are of the office of a priest; and also teachers to preside over those who are of the office of a teacher, in like manner, and also the deacons—wherefore, from deacon to teacher, and from teacher to priest, and from priest to elder, severally as they are appointed, according to the covenants and commandments of the church.  (D&C 107:60-63)

Continuing on…

The bishopric

A congregation has a quorum of elders, deacons, teachers and priests, with presidencies for each, all present in a meeting. Additionally, the bishopric also attends.

Who takes the lead?

The elders’ quorum president, per D&C 20:44.

If all the elders go missing, who then takes the lead?

The priests’ quorum president, per D&C 20:49.

If all the elders and priests go missing, who then takes the lead?

The teachers’ quorum president, per D&C 20:56.

Wait! Isn’t the bishop supposed to take the lead?

Nope. All bishops in the church are high priests who have been called, ordained and set apart as bishops. They function in the capacity of a bishop, not as a high priest. Their jurisdiction, while holding this calling, is that of a bishop. A bishop’s jurisdiction is over the Priesthood of Aaron in a ward, which includes presiding over the priests:

Also the duty of the president over the Priesthood of Aaron is to preside over forty-eight priests, and sit in council with them, to teach them the duties of their office, as is given in the covenants—this president is to be a bishop; for this is one of the duties of this priesthood. (D&C 107:87-88)

The office of a bishop pertains to both the higher or Melchizedek priesthood, being an appendage of it, and also to the lesser or Aaronic priesthood, presiding over it:

And again, the offices of elder and bishop are necessary appendages belonging unto the high priesthood.

And again, the offices of teacher and deacon are necessary appendages belonging to the lesser priesthood, which priesthood was confirmed upon Aaron and his sons. (D&C 84:29-30)

If we were to show this vertically, we could more clearly see that the office an elder always takes precedence over the office a bishop.

Lesser Priesthood

Teacher (1st listed appendage)

Deacon (2nd listed appendage)

High Priesthood

Elder (1st listed appendage)

Bishop (2nd listed appendage)

So, it does not matter whether a bishop is a high priest or a literal descendant of Aaron, once he has been set apart as a bishop, he is locked into it for the duration of the calling, meaning he cannot take the lead of any meeting in which an elder is present, for taking the lead of all meetings pertains to the office of an elder.

Now, in the case of a meeting in which members, priests and the bishopric are all present, but no elders are present, the president of the priests’ quorum*** takes the lead of the meeting, not the bishop.  This is because the scripture specifically gives this as the duty of a priest.  A bishop is given no such duty anywhere in the scriptures.

***

Keep in mind that the priests’ quorum presidency, which is made up of three priests, and the bishopric, which is made up of a high priest and two (elders or high priests) counselors, might be interpreted as two separate presidencies.  For example:

And again, I say unto you, I give unto you Vinson Knight, Samuel H. Smith, and Shadrach Roundy, if he will receive it, to preside over the bishopric; a knowledge of said bishopric is given unto you in the book of Doctrine and Covenants.

And again, I say unto you, Samuel Rolfe and his counselors for priests, and the president of the teachers and his counselors, and also the president of the deacons and his counselors, and also the president of the stake and his counselors.  (D&C 124:141-142)

Historically, these scriptures have been interpreted as meaning that the priests’ quorum is different than the teachers’ and deacons’ quorums, in that those quorums have quorum members (teachers and deacons) composing their presidencies, while the priests’ quorum has the bishopric as its presidency.  So, in the above, Vinson and counselors would have become a presiding bishopric, while Rolfe and counselors would have become a normal bishopric.  That is, indeed, one way of reading these verses.

But the wording also permits presidencies of deacons, teachers and priests, and also a separate bishopric which presides over the entire Aaronic Priesthood and has some special connection, in particular, to the quorum of priests.

In fact, taking this alternate view, we can also see that president of a stake and the president over the high priests’ quorum, which historically have been combined together into one president, can also be interpreted as two separate presidencies.  For example:

And again, I give unto you Don C. Smith to be a president over a quorum of high priests; which ordinance is instituted for the purpose of qualifying those who shall be appointed standing presidents or servants over different stakes scattered abroad; and they may travel also if they choose, but rather be ordained for standing presidents; this is the office of their calling, saith the Lord your God.

I give unto him Amasa Lyman and Noah Packard for counselors, that they may preside over the quorum of high priests of my church, saith the Lord.  (D&C 124:133-136)

So, the presidencies of the quorum of high priests are instituted for the purpose of qualifying men for the presidencies of the stakes.  The one is for the other, but they are not the same.  And so, after we read the Lord appointing who will be the presidency of the quorum of the high priests, we read that they were to also appoint a president of the stake and counselors:

And again, I say unto you, Samuel Rolfe and his counselors for priests, and the president of the teachers and his counselors, and also the president of the deacons and his counselors, and also the president of the stake and his counselors.  (D&C 124:141-142)

In like manner, the presidency of the quorum of priests, which presidency is made up of three priests of the quorum, may have been instituted for the purpose of qualifying men for the bishopric, hence the link between the bishopric and the priests.

In other words, the Aaronic priesthood priests’ quorum was to have two presidents: one an ordained bishop and the other an ordained priest.  This was to correspond to how the Melchizedek priesthood was originally set up: with two presidents; a first elder, apostle or president (Joseph Smith) and a second elder, apostle or president (Oliver Cowdery and later Hyrum Smith.)  The locally organized Melchizedek priesthood would also have two presidents: a president of the stake and a high priest president over the high priests’ quorum.

I suppose I could take this further, but I think what I have written will suffice.

High priests

A congregation has a bishopric as well as quorums of elders, deacons, teachers and priests, with presidencies for each, all present in a meeting. Additionally, there are high priests present.

Who takes the lead?

The elders’ quorum president, per D&C 20:44.

Why doesn’t the high priest take the lead?

High priests may only officiate as high priests when they are called to do so by the stake presidency.

High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood have a right to officiate in their own standing, under the direction of the presidency, in administering spiritual things, and also in the office of an elder, priest (of the Levitical order), teacher, deacon, and member. (D&C 107:10)

They may officiate in the office of an elder, priest, teacher, deacon and member, without permission from the stake presidency, but in any of these capacities, they still are subject to the leadership of the elders’ quorum president, who is to take the lead of all meetings.

What if the high priest officiates in his own standing?

Okay, in that case the high priest is given an assignment by the stake president and is sent out, (essentially as a local apostle). A high priest’s main duty is to teach:

And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people. (Alma 13:1)

therefore, the high priest will be sent to his own ward or to some other ward of the stake, to deliver some message or teaching. We get these all the time in the form of high counselors delivering their talks on assignment from the stake presidency. In such a case, the high priest still doesn’t take the lead of the meeting.

The reason is because they are acting in their capacity as, or exercising their right to officiate as, high priests, not as elders. Elders have the right to take the lead of all meetings, therefore, a high priest on assignment, sent by the stake presidency, must still defer meeting conducting and leadership to the elders’ quorum president. Although the high priest is there on his own authority, once an elders’ quorum is established with an elders’ quorum presidency, the elders’ quorum president is the man in charge of all the meetings. So, although he may get up and speak to the congregation, he must do so with the permission or consent of the elders’ quorum president. If he tries to take the lead of any meeting, while a presiding elder is there, he will be trampling upon the elder’s rights and the priesthood order set up by God in the scriptures.

Now, if there are no presiding elders present in the congregation, then the high priest who is officiating in his standing, defers to the priests’ quorum president.  If there are no priests, then he defers to the teachers’ quorum president.  This is because these quorums have been given the jurisdiction of leading meetings in the absence of elders or priests.  High priests have no such right of leading meetings.

Also, if there is a high priest in the congregation, but he is not officiating in his own standing, not currently being under assignment, and if the congregation is missing all its elders, then the high priest can officiate in the office of an elder (without anyone’s permission) and he has the right to take the lead of that meeting, even with priests and teachers present, because they cannot take the lead when an elder is present.

However, the moment an elders’ quorum member enters the meeting, that man is the elder who takes the lead of the meeting. This is because his membership in the established quorum of elders takes precedence over any high priest officiating in the office of an elder, for although the high priest can be considered an elder while he’s officiating as such, he does not pertain to the elders’ quorum established in that ward, from which presiding elders are to be chosen. So the quorum member elder becomes the de facto presiding elder (and thus the leader of the meeting) the moment he walks into the room.

What about apostles and seventies?

Apostles and seventies are all elders that travel. As such, they have all the duties of the normal elders, but because they do not pertain to the elders’ quorums of the wards they attend, they must submit to the leadership of the established elders’ quorum president, so they cannot take the lead of any meeting that is attended by a quorum member elder.

What about the stake presidency? Surely they can take the lead!

Not on a ward level. The name of the game is jurisdiction. The elders’ quorum president has complete jurisdiction over taking the lead of all meetings of his ward. Only if there is a stake meeting, of several wards and branches, only then does the stake presidency take the lead of the meetings. So, the reunion of a stake brings everyone under his jurisdiction, while the reunion of a ward brings everyone under the jurisdiction of an elders’ quorum president. When the stake president enters a ward to speak, he does so as a visiting high priest (an apostle), and not as a president of anything in the ward, and so everything that pertains to a high priest officiating in his own standing pertains to him, including having to submit to the leadership of the elders’ quorum president.

What about the president of the church?!

It doesn’t matter what title a person holds. There are only a limited number of priesthood offices and a president of the church is a high priest, so everything that applies to a high priest applies to him. If the president of the church comes to a ward, he must submit to the leadership of the elders’ quorum presidency:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— (D&C 121:41-42)

The principle is this: When you enter the jurisdiction of someone else’s priesthood quorum, you essentially enter without priesthood. You may influence them, or attempt to influence them, but cannot do so by virtue of your priesthood office, nor can you remove the rights that pertain to their office, calling and quorum.

I will close with a final scripture:

But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings… (D&C 46:2)

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6 Comments

  1. P.S. It seems to me that the Lord set up this order of the priesthood specifically to keep the priesthood from aspiring to and acquiring honors of men. The elders, priests and teachers, and by extension, the deacons (as they have the duty “to watch over the church,” which implies taking the lead of meetings), were to serve as a bulwark against the disposition of those who possessed high- and holy-sounding titles, such as “bishop so-and-so, president so-and-so, elder so-and-so,” etc., from acquiring and centralizing all the power. The elders, priests, teachers and deacons were only “brother so-and-so,” which is much the same as you would call any male member of the church who had not had the priesthood conferred upon him. In other words, this seems to me to be a means of keeping the bishops, apostles, high priests, prophets, seventy, stake presidents, patriarchs and all other offices of typically high esteem, humbly in their place, in their sphere of service or jurisdiction, as lowly servants of the Lord. It was to keep them from usurping and concentrating power and authority into a few hands and becoming like unto the Pharisees.

    Of note is that the largest listed quorum, that of the elders, consisting of 96 elders, was the one that was to lead. Secondly the priests, consisting of 48 priests. Thirdly, the teachers, of 24 priests. Finally, if we add the deacons, that quorum would come to 12 men. Any of these quorums is greater than the 3 men that make up the bishopric, or the few high priests that might reside or visit in any ward, or the lone apostle or seventy that might wander in. It is almost as if the Lord didn’t trust the leadership to be put into a few hands, so instead put all the leadership responsibility on the quorums which contained the greatest number of men, that all those men would serve as check and a balance to the concentration of power in the hand of any single presidency (whether of the elders’ quorum, or teachers’, etc.)

    All of this shows how upside down the church has become. If we were to ask who was to take lead of a meeting of, say, a group of LDS from the same ward, in a church setting, and the group consisted of the following offices attending:

    Deacon
    Teacher
    Priest
    Elder
    Bishop
    High Priest
    Apostle
    Stake president
    President of the church
    Relief Society president
    A female member
    A little child
    Seventy

    the modern LDS would say that the president of the church would lead the meeting, if he was gone, then the apostle would lead it, if both were gone, then the seventy would lead it, then the stake president, then the bishop, then the high priest, and finally the elder. The office of elder comes last when it comes to leading meetings in the modern church, while those with high titles come first, in direct contradiction to what the scriptures dictate.

  2. The way I see it, most of D&C 20 is simply out of date. It was given in 1830, when the church was very young, and things were dramatically altered even by 1834-35. Joseph Smith experimented with a lot of different church structures. For example, D&C 20 says nothing about the High Priesthood (because the first high priests were not ordained until 1831). There is also no mention of the presiding quorums that were formed later, including the First Presidency, the Presiding High Council, and the Quorum of the Twelve. These later developments made much of D&C 20 obsolete, including the idea that elders would take the lead in every meeting.

  3. While that sounds potentially correct — if the section is in deed “out of date”, then I’d expect the current presiding high priest of the church to have offered the revelations he’s received to “up date” these “obsolete” instructions to the church for their vote — so the canonized word of God would reflect “these later developments”.

    As it stands, however, no presiding high priest of the church has done that — so [out of date or not], D&C 20 is the only binding instructions for the church of Christ to follow.

  4. I have heard that the revelations were used kind of like a church handbook of instructions, so when new information came out or circumstances changed, Joseph Smith would revise the wording of his revelations for the next publication, hence differences in the wording from one edition to the next.

    Such a process would remove the obsolete or “no longer expedient” material, to be replaced with the new words of God. Everything that remained would be the “still expedient” stuff.

    Assuming that this process has continued to this day, everything we’ve got in our revealed church handbook of instructions (the D&C) is still expedient for us, and thus not obsolete.

    So, when it comes to the revelations we’ve currently got, in the unchanged state they are currently in, it is not a case of “rock, paper, scissors.” In other words, later revelations are not “papers” that cover the “rocks” of earlier received revelations and first presidency statements are not “scissors” that cut up the canonized “papers.”

    The whole body of revelations, regardless of how chaotic and hard to make it all fit into a cohesive whole, as some consider it to be, must be treated as equally binding. It’s not high priests OR elders, it’s high priests AND elders. The revelations on high priests do not invalidate all that the Lord said concerning the elders.

    As far as who leads the meetings, there are no scriptures anywhere that indicate a high priest is to take the lead of any meeting, but we do have such a duty given to the elders. So, if we have allowed the high priests and bishops and presidents to seize control of this right and duty which pertains solely to the elders (and priests and teachers), it has no basis in the scriptures and thus is an extra-scriptural addition (a tradition) which goes against what the Lord has specifically stated on the matter.

    If you recall the missionaries of the Book of Mormon, they had a two-fold mission when preaching the gospel to the Lamanites. #1, to convince them of the falseness of the traditions of their fathers, and #2, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. In like manner, unless this modern tradition is dropped, these words of the Lord cannot be fulfilled.

  5. Btw, my comment immediately above was directed to Chris and not to Justin. (I accidentally replied to Justin, which he can see, but no one else can.)

    Also, there is a saying that many people like to quote concerning Joseph Smith, namely, that “Joseph Smith taught that a newer revelation will not contradict a previous revelation.” I don’t know if he really did teach that, or where that is written if he did, but what I do know is that the Lord categorically states, that insofar as the church covenants are concerned, that is the case:

    And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him; for, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants. (D&C 28:11-12)

    By this we may know what has not been appointed by the Lord, for anything that is currently in the church which contradicts the church covenants, or does not conform to them, was not appointed by the Lord. It may have been appointed by the leadership acting separate from the Lord, by the people acting separate from the Lord, by a mix between the two, or by Satan, just as Hiram received directions from that quarter.

    So, applying that principle to the case at hand concerning who is to lead the meetings, we may know for a fact that the current order of having everyone other than the elders, priests and teachers leading the meetings is not of God.

  6. As general conference has just passed and thus has been in my mind of late, I am surprised, looking over this post again, that I didn’t talk about who takes the lead of general conference meetings. Currently we have the First Presidency leading or presiding, but they are high priests. So, should not one of the 12 or 70 elders lead general conference? It may be that current practice is based on conferences during the times of Joseph Smith, who led them. But Joseph (and also Oliver) were designated as the first and second elders of the church. None of the subsequent presidents or First Presidencies of the church were ever designated as such, so it doesn’t seem to me that that principle (of members of the First Presidency leading) would apply across the board.


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