The Seventy. Part 6: The Kimball/Benson/Hinckley Revolution.

[If you haven’t seen the predecessors, you can find them all here.]

Church growth during the 1960s and 70s placed increased pressure on the apostles in their role in local priesthood organization and regulation to say nothing of bureaucratic administration at headquarters. Stake conferences were reduced in number to 2 per year, the First Council, the Assistants and Regional Representatives were in place, but more help would be needed based on growth predictions. In 1975, the First Presidency and the Twelve made public the decision to reconstitute the First Quorum. The First Council would again be known as the Presidency of the Seventy. Three new men were called into the quorum and the first quorum was defined as a body of general authorities.

Spencer W. Kimball. Asked First Council to put up or shut up. They put up, he bought it.

One year previous to this, seventies quorums were redistributed to stake jurisdictions, no longer would quorums cross stake boundaries. For some decades, stake presidents were authorized to use the seventies in various ways. Now they had them where they wanted them.[1] The stake seventies presidencies were now the stake mission presidencies. The First Council’s role was again diminished in the lives of the quorums.

In 1976, the office of Assistant to the Twelve was abolished, and those high priests were ordained seventies and placed in the first quorum of the Seventy. A number of long-time First Council members expressed their joy over this move. But the return of the first quorum meant reloading it not with local seventies or elders but with men of wide experience in local leadership. The constituency of the Presidency of the Seventy would change, and the members of the old First Council gradually moved out of the presidency and into the first quorum.

S. Dilworth Young - The End of an Era

Other changes were afoot. Term of service was about to become an issue. Membership in the First Council had been a lifetime call baring release for cause or promotion. Now that would change. It was experimental. At first it was announced that some members of the first quorum would be called in temporary 3-5 year service. Then a second quorum of seventy (also general authorities — 1989) was opened and its membership contained these men with limited time of service. An “Emeritus status” was then approved and it was announced that members of the first quorum would retire to that status as needed. Finally a firm maximum date of 70 years of age was confirmed. Health concerns might speed the date of emeritus status. The point here was to maintain a vigorous membership that could not be crippled by age or health as so often was the case in the First Presidency and Twelve and to provide a larger selection of men the opportunity to serve.

In 1997 the previously announced “Area Authorities” (effectively replacing the Regional Representatives – See President Gordon B. Hinckley’s explanation here.) were brought into the fold and ordained as seventies. Eventually their title moved to “Area Seventy” and the number of quorums increased to eight in 2005. In 2010, their authority was enhanced from advisory status and “by assignment” supervision to one of “line” authority.[2] It will be interesting to see what further evolution comes to the office.

On a final note, in the October 1986 General Priesthood session of the LDS General Conference, President Ezra Taft Benson announced that seventies quorums in stakes were discontinued and seventies in stakes would now join with the elders quorums. The policy continued the 1901 effected reduction in the need for local seventies quorums.

Pres. Benson makes Seventies a rare breed.

I’m curious. Are there any seventies out there from that era, never ordained high priests? Fess up if you know someone in this category.

[1] Fixed quorum membership had been abolished long before. When you moved, you joined the quorum in your new location at least by 1884. The policy was tweaked from time to time. Stake presidents were now (1974) authorized to ordain seventies, with First Council approval.

[2] “Line” authority means an officer is in the chain of command so to speak. Such officers have defined decision-making boundaries which determine what issues have to be passed up the chain and which they can decide themselves. Mission presidents within the U.S. for example now are under the supervision of an Area Seventy, whereas previous to this the AS functioned in a council advisory capacity. Same with stake and temple presidents I think. (One man described to me his tour as mission president as the time when he had a thousand bosses.)


  1. WVS, can I also ask any SP’s out there whether this change in the ‘line of authority’ has had any impact on the day-to-day running of their calling? I would be surprised if it has but I am curious.

  2. I have enjoyed this series so far. There is a man in our ward who was only recently ordained a high priest (perhaps two years ago). Prior to this nothing was done officially in terms of his priesthood office. He never said anything, and nothing was done, so he just hung out with the HP group.

  3. I asked a stake president, released two years ago in New Mexico, what his ongoing interaction with general authorities was. He said he was supervised by one of the presidents of the Seventy who was over about 200 stake presidents. That was who he contacted for anything that was beyond his own authority.

  4. On my mission we would meet with the 70s during priesthood. They always seemed to me a sad little lot; never more than about four active in any one ward, much smaller than the other quorums. And in theory they were supposed to be proselyting ten hours a week, but no one ever did, so there was a huge amount of guilt built systemiically into that calling. I thought it was wise when the Church did away with local 70s.

  5. I don’t know if he’s still a Seventy, but back in 2001-02 as a ward membership clerk I typed up a certificate for a father ordaining his son to some office. I put the father’s office as “Seventy”. The bishop gave it back to me with a note that the brother’s Seventy office was now dormant (since 1986) and that I was to type up the certificate again with his office as “Elder”. I verified this with MIS Help and they confirmed that.

  6. Last Lemming says:

    I was in the LTM when the Assistants to the 12 were moved into the First Quorum and S. Dilworth Young was moved out of the Presidency of the Seventy. Young subsequently came to the LTM and addressed the situation in a way that makes me think that many of the later changes had already been anticipated. First, he explained that his “demotion” was a forerunner of the way things were going to be in the future–membership in the Presidency would no longer be a lifetime calling. (I suspect he may even have volunteered to be the first to go.) He also explained that additional seventies quorums were envisioned as the First Quorum filled up, although he did not mention that they would be differentiated by term of service or scope of responsibility.

    He also showed up the mission president by waiting in line to bus his tray after lunch while the MP cooled his heels after having cut to the front. So I will always have a soft spot for S. Dilworth Young.

    As for myself, I was ordained a Seventy in 1985, and spent four years back in the Elder’s Quorum (most of them as President) after the change. Had I not been living in a leadership-starved ward, I might have avoided being ordained a High Priest, but alas, it was not to be.

  7. Last Lemming says:

    The bishop gave it back to me with a note that the brother’s Seventy office was now dormant (since 1986) and that I was to type up the certificate again with his office as “Elder”. I verified this with MIS Help and they confirmed that.

    This strikes me as odd. The ordination is still valid, even if you don’t belong to a Quorum.

    How is that handled for members of the 2nd – 8th Quorums? I assume that their priesthood office would be recorded as Seventy. But after their release, does their office revert the High Priest or does it remain Seventy? If the latter, why is that any different from the brother described by John Taber?

  8. Anyone who remembers S. Dilworth Young’s talk in conference after his release from the presidency of the 70 should also have a soft spot in his heart for Brother Young. It’s a short talk–read it all, and good luck keeping a dry eye.

  9. My father was a bishop in 1986 when the stake seventies quorums were dissolved. His instructions for ordinations performed by those who had previously ordained as Seventies was the same: certificates and lines of authority were to reflect the Elder ordination.

    As for the 2nd-8th Quorums, I believe it would be like being called to a High Priest position, being ordained a High Priest, and later released from the position – but still holding the office of High Priest. IOW, these brethren still hold the office of Seventy. Don’t quote me on that, though.

  10. Thanks for the series.

  11. In my stake, I believe that most of the Seventies were ordained High Priests when the local Seventies quorums were discontinued. However, there is one man who was not active at the time, and so was not “promoted.” He is now active, and meets with the Elders, and has been chafing for ordination to HP for some time…

  12. You could do a whole series on just the ecclesiastical reorganizations (and restorations) under Pres. Kimball. I think people don’t really appreciate just how much he did structurally. And honestly I’m never sure how much was directed by Kimball and how much was more other people like Pres. Hinkley.

  13. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ve appreciated this series.
    Mark B., thanks for the link. What a guy.

  14. Elder S. Dilworth Young also gave a talk in the Oct. 1978 general conference

    a few times in the ’70’s Elder Young gave talks that were interrupted by music and he did that as an object lesson! I seem to recall hearing one at byu

  15. Oh, yes, that talk, whizzbang. I remember it well. Elder Young was speaking and suddenly some extremely loud music came onto the PA system. President Oaks and the others on the stand looked as if they were going to have a heart attack as they tried to figure out what had caused it. And then Elder Young chuckled and admitted that he’d done it and worked it into his speech. I suspect that it was the talk he gave on March 9, 1976–and his opening line in that talk suggests the same.

  16. Thanks all. It’s been fun.

  17. My dad is still a (Stake) Seventy. He has never been active enough in the Church to be ordained a High Priest, but he does meet with them when he does attend. All of my Aaronic and Melchizedek Ordination Certificates have my father named and his Priesthood Office as “Seventy.”

  18. Once again great series WVS.

  19. Jim Donaldson says:

    A few years ago (perhaps five), our ward executive secretary, a middle aged man, was an ordained 70. He lived in our ward just a couple of years before moving on, but we hear from him from time to time, and he has been active. Perhaps he has been ordained a high priest since, but no one has mentioned it to me.

    I think we also have an inactive ordained 70 in our ward too. Or at least we used to. I don’t get to pour over the ward list much anymore.

  20. I like to preach the gospel according to MLS, since I currently serve as a Stake Clerk. Now days, when a clerk fills out a ordination certificate, he has only four options: priest (very limited), elder, high priest and apostle. Obvioulsy, according to MLS, the office of Seventy has become just like that of Bishop or Patriarch – something that a High Priest is ordained to do. But it is the HP in him that is doing the ordination.

  21. #21 Wayne, that’s fascinating. I specifically asked an Area Seventy a number of years ago which office he was to use for his line of authority when ordaining others, and he told me then (late 1990s) he should use the Seventy ordination.

  22. I was a an Elder in Chesapeake VA in ’86 and recall reading the scripture that was used three weeks before conference. I guess the discussion by the brethren started some 10 or 11 months before and when I read the scripture in the D&C I knew the day would come that seventies would be taken from the stakes. I told my wife before conference and she noted it but it was not taken very well in the EQ. Funny,… no one said anything after conference either. It was a real testimony builder for me and has been ever since.

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