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Organization of the Church in New Testament Times

by Todd Compton

Latter-day Saints "believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, Evangelists, and so forth" (A of F 6). They believe that Jesus Christ bestowed his priesthood on those he called and appointed to positions of responsibility in the church he organized. They believe that in the "Primitive Church" a person had to be "called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who [were] in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof" (A of F 5, cf. John 15:16; 20:22-23; Acts 6:6; 13:1-3). The Church established by Christ provided for a general leadership composed of apostles and prophets, with each local congregation under the direction of an "overseer," a bishop. The apostles were charged to bear the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world and to organize converts into churches or mutually supportive communities of saints.

The latter-day restoration of this administrative structure is distinctive, but shares some features retained also by Protestant and Catholic traditions. It resembles Protestantism in its attempt to return to the basic doctrines and procedures of the early Church. However, it shares a more Catholic conviction of the need for authoritative church leadership and a centralized organization. THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints is particularly distinctive in its belief in the leadership of living prophets who guide it through revelation.

The LDS position is in agreement with the several allusions to Church structure in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul describes the organization of the Church as "first apostles [apostoloi, "sent ones," i.e., representatives, agents], secondarily prophets." In Ephesians 2:20, the Church at Ephesus is said to be "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." Three of the apostles—Peter, James, and john—are clearly a leading group (like a First Presidency), and Peter seems to lead this group in initiating authoritative action and receiving revelation (Matt. 16:18; Acts 1-5; 8-10). Latter-day Saints regard Peter as the prophet or president of the Church in New Testament times.

The early church also had bishops (epískopoi, "overseers, supervisors," 1 Tim. 3:1), elders (presbúteroi, Acts 15:22; 16:4; 20:17, where a council of elders is grouped with the apostles), teachers (did skaloi, 1 Cor. 12:28, here mentioned just after the apostles and prophets; Eph. 4:11), deacons (di konoi, "servants, helpers," Philip 1:1), and a group of seventy (Luke 10:1) who gave missionary service. All of these offices have LDS equivalents.

However, Latter-day Saints do not claim an exact, one-to-one correspondence between the primitive Church and the restored Church. Continuing revelation provides for continual adaptations of the basic ecclesiastical pattern. For instance, in the early New Testament Church the three leading apostles were part of the council of the Twelve, while in the latter-day Church they generally are a separate quorum. In the early Church, elders appear to have been older members of a congregation, while in the LDS Church they are often, or usually, younger men. Deacons and teachers were adults in the primitive Church (1 Tim. 3:12) and in the early LDS Church. In the twentieth-century Church, however, young men ordinarily receive these priesthood offices at the ages of twelve and fourteen. The LDS Church has no officer entitled evangelist (euaggelistes, "good-message announcer") or pastor (poimen, "shepherd," Eph. 4:11-14); but Joseph Smith taught that the evangelist was a patriarch, an official who gives revelatory "fatherly" blessings (see TPJS, p. 151); and a pastor, although not an ordained officer in the priesthood, could well be any leader who serves as a "shepherd of the flock" (MD, p. 557).

[See also Apostasy.]


Dahl, Larry E., and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds. The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective. Provo, Utah, 1990.

See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City, 1966), for articles on separate offices in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Thomas F. O'Dea, The Mormons, pp. 174-86 (Chicago, 1957); James Talmage, The Articles of Faith, chap. 11, pp. 198-216 (Salt Lake City, 1971); and D. Michael Quinn, "From Sacred Grove to Sacral Power Structure," Dialogue 17.2 (1984):9-34.

See The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville, Tenn., 1962), for articles on separate offices from a non-Mormon perspective; F. Agnew, "The Origin of the New Testament Apostle Concept: A Review of Research," Journal of Biblical Literature 105 (1986):75-96; and A. Lemaire, "The Ministries in the New Testament: Recent Research," Biblical Theology Bulletin 3 (1973):133-66.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Organization of the Church in New Testament Times

Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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