"A Babe upon Its Mother's Lap"

Church Development in a Developing World

Robert S. Wood

Robert S. Wood, “‘A Babe upon Its Mother’s Lap’: Church Development in a Developing World,” in Global Mormonism in the 21st Century, ed. Reid L. Neilson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008), 65–83.

Elder Robert S. Wood was a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy when this was published. This essay was presented at “Church Development in the Developing World,” the International Society’s fifteenth annual conference, April 2004, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

In a real sense, human societies, whether portrayed as developed or developing, are designated in the prefatory section of the Doctrine and Covenants simply as “Babylon the Great,” whose fundamental tendency is to “seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness.” At the same time, however, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called forth out of obscurity, has been commissioned to proclaim the fulness of the gospel to establish the everlasting covenant in the hearts of the people and to prepare them to “speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world” (D&C 1:20).

In the first worldwide leadership training meeting on January 11, 2003, President Boyd K. Packer reminded us of an earlier such meeting, as reported by President Wilford Woodruff:

[One] Sunday night [in 1834] the Prophet [Joseph Smith] called on all who held the Priesthood to gather into the little log school [in Kirtland, Ohio]. . . . It was a small house, perhaps 14 feet square. But it held the whole of the Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were then in the town of Kirtland, and who had gathered together to go off in Zion’s camp. . . . The Prophet called upon the Elders of Israel with him to bear testimony of this work. . . . When they got through, the Prophet said, “Brethren, I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it. . . . It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will [grow until it will] fill North and South America—it will fill the world.”[1]

Recalling the words of President Woodruff and speaking by satellite transmission to priesthood bearers around the world, President Packer underscored just how far the Church had developed since that Sunday evening in Kirtland. He cited the flock’s diversity among whom the shepherds of Israel now labor. But he also cited the unity that transcends that diversity and the categories into which we sort people: “Although we differ,” he said, “in language and custom and culture and in many ways, when we meet together we strengthen one another, and we become one. The language of the Church is the language of the Spirit.”

Americans or Brazilians, French or Chinese, Europeans or Africans, developed or developing—there is a tie that steps over the limits of time, space, and tradition. As the Apostle Paul recognized in his own Mediterranean world, that bond makes us “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” It is worth emphasizing that Paul recognized that this transcendent citizenship is founded upon “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:19–20).

As it was in the first century, so it is today. With this vista before us, let us now together consider what is, in fact, developing in the developing world and how the Church’s destiny, as foreseen by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is being realized in that segment of the Lord’s vineyard.

Developmentalism and Multiculturalism

The very term development is weighted with much baggage and often intense controversy. As some of the terms of the debate are relevant to the discussion of the Church’s role, particularly outside of Western Europe, Canada, and the United States, let me venture into these murky waters. The notion of the developing world preceded in various guises the contemporary world and may, in some sense, be seen as related to what the historian J. P. Bury called the “idea of progress” in Western history. So let me start where such things often begin—in ancient Greece.

Despite the strength of the ancient belief that human history is cyclical—or that, at best, humanity’s finest moments lie behind it in some golden age—by the start of the fifth century before Christ, the Greek poet and philosopher Xenophanes (560–478 BC) wrote, “The gods did not reveal from the beginning all things to us; but in the course of time, through seeking, men find that which is better.” Through human effort and striving, things may get better or, in other words, they develop.

Aristotle explicitly linked development with inherent potential and the fulfillment of that potential with human happiness. When each living thing is given proper external conditions and nurture, it tends toward some good or end. So it is with human beings and, by extension, human societies. In this view, individual and social development is not simply culturally determined—although favored or inhibited by the conditions of time and place—but is defined by the nature of human beings, their potential, and their proper end.

This philosophical stance was given a powerful boost with the industrial revolution’s onset. Insight into how the material world works along with human inventiveness and invention reinforced both the notions of development as improvement and of the commonality of that development in all societies.

By the 1950s a whole literature on intellectual, scientific, technological, economic, social, and political development surfaced, but with it came controversy whether such an approach to those societies characterized as “developing” was just an imperial or colonial perspective, a mirror image of Western intellectual and social history.

Indeed, after the Second World War, policy makers and analysts alike divided the world in three parts, with two parts being defined by the Cold War divide and one part being the Third World that was not clearly associated with either side of that Cold War divide or was assertively nonaligned. A high percentage of those states were in the southern hemisphere and were characterized not only by their stance on the Cold War but also by their level of development. Development was explicitly defined by reference to key political, social, and economic traits of the American-led coalition, centered in North America (the United States and Canada), Western Europe, and Japan. Aside from the military containment of the Soviet Union and its partners, coalition members were increasingly defined by policy goals and processes that favored economically integrated, market-based, liberal democratic, and rule-coordinated communities.

With the Cold War’s conclusion, containment—with its triadic view—gave way to another tripartite perspective, this time defined by the notion of globalization. The terms of reference were remarkably similar to those of the Cold War: vanguard societies networked together not only by the instruments of the information revolution but also by broader and deeper economic integration and commitment to democratic norms and practices. This vanguard is the center and the driver of global economic growth and increasing social equality. It centers as during the Cold War in Western Europe, North America, and Japan and accounts for 70 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), 80 percent of global foreign direct investments (FDIs), and 10 percent of global population.

If Western Europe, North America, and Japan are again the new First World core, what are, in this view, the other two worlds? The Second World refers to those societies who are going through the interlinked process of domestic political transformation and international economic integration, with all the social and cultural implications implied by such changes. This is seen as the true world of development and includes such diverse states as China, India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, a number of states in Southeast and Northeast Asia, and the states of Eastern and Central Europe associated with the European Union. Some states may be problematic as to whether or when they would enter into this world, but the key direction of progress is seen as integration with the First World.

Transitional disruptions in investment and employment patterns and social dislocations are assumed not only in the Second World but in the First World as well, but the expectation is that sustained economic growth, democratization, and social betterment will result. And what of those states who seem marginalized in this process, notably in the Middle East and Africa? They are clearly the newly defined Third World denizens and a breeding ground of resentment, anger, and violence.

Whether from a Cold War or a globalization perspective, this is, of course, an idealized version of the worlds since the Second World War. It does sustain the argument of those who see the very notion of development as stemming from a particular Western vantage point and being reflective of the political economies and the policies of key Western countries.

If there is, however, a powerful tendency in the literature of development to see certain common elements of intellectual, economic, or political evolution—indeed, progress—in both Western and non-Western societies, so there has arisen a comparably powerful school of thought that emphasizes the cultural distinctiveness and hence incommensurate evolution of different societies—with the possible exception of technological inventions. This latter exception could, however, be quite troublesome in the argument if we hold that technological development itself—and the science that undergirds it—decisively shapes other areas of human endeavor. In any case, we can discern two distinctive approaches to the course of social evolution—what I would call the development school and the multicultural school.

How might these perspectives bear upon the subject at hand? In the first place, if there is a common human nature and good—destiny, if you will—transcendent of history, then the touchstone by which to evaluate development in all cultures and societies must be that common nature and good. Gross domestic product, economic arrangements, political decision making, social relations, customs—all the items we use to pronounce a society as developed or developing may be consequential only to the degree that they nurture the good man or woman. If this is so, it may well be that literacy, political democracy, economic growth, free markets, and greater social equality are intimately connected to human potential and that the Western experience is universal in its implications and not simply the imperial and mirror-gazing fantasies of Western economists and politicians.

Second, it may also be that some practices that we too quickly dismiss as the Wasatch Front’s quaint customs are intimately connected to the kingdom’s doctrinal foundations. Zion is not only the pure in heart but also a society of the pure in heart. Israel, the kingdom of God, Zion—these are all social concepts. When the restored gospel enters into any country or society, the kingdom of God accompanies it. Being no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens is a weighty idea. A developing church in a developing world carries breathtaking implications.

It Will Fill the World

Whatever the vantage point, what finally defines the developing world? In the first instance, it is defined by what it lacks. Secondly, and more controversially, it is defined by whither it tends. In general, the developing world is deficient in sustained economic growth and social equality; it is lacking in constitutionally delimited democracy and honest bureaucratic structures; its market system is typically rudimentary and its modern infrastructure fragmented and unreliable; it is characterized more by oligarchy and personal favoritism than independent legal and institutional norms; its population is young, but its mortality rates are often high; personal and group security is fragile and violence more typical than peaceful resolution of disputes; and the hopes of its people, stimulated by a global media and market system, are often shattered by the realities of social barriers, corruption, and political incompetence.

However, these societies so characterized are really on a spectrum both in terms of the relationship between their past and their present and among each other. Development means not only movement away from the things described above but movement toward norms, institutions, practices, and global engagements that can only be described as Western in origin, empowered by a science and technology that reached its apogee in the West.

On the other hand, in many of these developing societies, particularly in the southern hemisphere, there is an important cultural gap between them and some of the most advanced Western-based communities—the spirit of faith. Unlike Europe, west and east, which has once again embraced paganism with a rapidity that few would have suspected, many of the peoples in the developing world retain a strong spiritual sense. As many commentators have noted, they are open as perhaps never before to the teachings of theistic religion in general and Christianity in particular. Indeed, it is in these areas that the Church’s growth is most visible as it is among immigrants coming to the United States, Canada, and Europe from these developing regions.

In one sense, the establishment and deepening of the Church in these areas sustains the influence of Western modes of development, for the Church’s culture, like the culture of Christianity in general, is intimately connected with certain norms closely associated with the rise of the West. At the same time, however, critical elements of Church doctrine and social practice increasingly diverge from the secular trends so widespread in the West. Such doctrines and practices focus and refine the spiritual sense often found among the peoples of the developing world. I would signal three key elements that have prepared the Church for the preaching of the gospel and the establishment of the kingdom in the developing world—doctrinal, cultural, and institutional.

“By Sound Doctrine Both to Exhort and to Convince” (Titus 1:9)

I am not sure that the general membership of the Church has fully grasped the significance of the worldwide training meetings commenced in January 2003. The broadcasts are the apostolic voice to Church leadership in every country about the fundamental doctrines, principles, and practices that define the restored gospel’s mission and roles. Since the opening of the heavens to the Prophet Joseph Smith that spring day in 1820, the Lord through His prophets has established the latter-day kingdom’s fundamental canon. Beyond that canon, over the years, a tradition of religious exposition and teaching has evolved, as have programs to meet the needs of a growing church. As the Church’s membership has grown beyond its North American core, the Brethren have sought to reinforce in the minds of all people that which is most fundamental to the Restoration and to emphasize the key role of the Spirit’s guidance in the conduct of the Church in a diverse world.

The unity of the faith worldwide is founded on Christ and the guidance and teachings of the apostles and prophets. It is undergirded by the commission to the Saints and their leaders, not to be themselves instructed by the philosophies of the world but to “teach the children of men the things which I [the Lord have] put into your hands by the power of the Spirit; and ye are to be taught from on high.” They are summoned to “sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken” (D&C 43:15–16).

What have been the central themes of these worldwide training meetings? They include the doctrines of the Restoration as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors; the principles of revelation and priesthood authority; the critical importance of the redeeming ordinances as the instruments of the Atonement and the temple as the focus of our efforts; the standards of personal worthiness; the eternal nature of the family; the mandate to prepare missionaries and preach the gospel; the role of the stake, the bishops, and the auxiliaries; and the adaptability of organization and programs to the varying circumstances of our members. Running through all these presentations are doctrinal foundations, illustrations on how to fulfill the Church’s mission and the roles of the priesthood and auxiliaries, and the need to seek and follow with all diligence the Spirit’s guidance in the diverse opportunities and challenges facing the Saints.

In effect, the Church’s response to the diversity of the circumstances of our members is an emphasis on the basic doctrinal and principled foundations that both transcend those circumstances and provide the key to the necessary adaptations in programs and organization. There has been a great deal of talk in recent years about reducing and simplifying. Although much of the inspiration for this may lie in the need to provide our families “space” within which to carry out their divine role, a major impetus is to provide a framework within which the Church can respond to the varying circumstances of our members, most particularly in the developing world.

“An Holy Nation” (Exodus 19:6)

When the gospel enters into a country, the kingdom goes with it—and hence a particular culture. The Church members are the products of different histories, languages, and civilizations, which bring a richness of experiences, perspective, and custom to the common enterprise to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion. Overarching and transcending this rich variety of customs is a gospel culture. Often this culture joins seamlessly with the local culture, but at times it requires a change of such local cultural perspectives and practices.

Some are uncomfortable with the notion of a distinctive Latter-day Saint culture for fear that it represents the customs of the Western Mormons. There are, indeed, customs that are parochial, but a number of practices are integral to the restored gospel and the drama of latter-day Israel.

Robert Louis Wilken, a professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Virginia, recently wrote concerning the special culture of Christianity in general and its abandonment in European and American culture. Referring to T. S. Eliot’s characterization of culture as the “total harvest of thinking and feeling,” Wilken points to “the pattern of inherited meanings and sensibilities encoded in ritual, law, language, practice, and stories that can order, inspire, and guide the behavior, thoughts, and affections of a Christian people.” Not only theological ideas but also actual historical experiences define the universal Christian community. As he concludes, “Christ does not simply infiltrate a culture; Christ creates culture by forming another city, another sovereignty with its own social and political life.”[2]

What are some of the elements of the distinctive “pattern of inherited meanings and sensibilities” that characterize latter-day Israel? Some of those elements are grounded in basic doctrinal principles, as, for instance, the nature and role of the family, sexuality, dress and demeanor, the care of the body, the sanctity of speech, and certain forms of entertainment. The doctrine of eternal gender and the relationship between a man and woman, as well as the divinely mandated roles of mothers and fathers, are closely connected with standards of sexual behavior, modesty in dress and speech, and the inappropriateness of some recreational and lifestyle choices. The Word of Wisdom also does not simply define what should be taken into the body but separates Latter-day Saints from some of the cultural practices and associations often connected with such things as alcohol, smoking, drugs, coffee, and tea.

The concept of individual freedom is central to the plan of salvation and the Atonement and carries implications far beyond the theological realm. The organization of society and notions of rights and duties naturally flow from the teachings that life entails not only choice but also the ability to make choices and to be responsible for the consequences of our actions—in effect, personal accountability. The emphasis on both self-reliance and ties of community and charity are themselves shaped by the central doctrine of moral agency and personal freedom. These beliefs and norms give rise in turn to certain cultural expectations and patterns of behavior distinct from the broader society, whether it be in the highly secular society of the developed world or the more restrictive but spiritually open societies in much of the developing world.

If fundamental doctrine defines the broad culture, so too does the historical experience of the Latter-day Saints. As doctrine has shaped the “pattern of inherited meanings and sensibilities,” so too has the history of the restored Church. To say that the events in upper-state New York, Kirtland, Zion’s Camp, Missouri, Illinois, the westward trek, and the rise of the Mormon communities in the West are but parts of Americana or Western American history is to miss the universal significance of these shaping events in the latter-day kingdom’s rise. It would be comparable to saying that the Passover, the forty years in the wilderness, the Babylonian captivity are but chapters in the history of Egypt, Canaan, and the ancient world. Not only was Israel defined by these epics but so too was the consciousness of Lehi’s children and of Christianity itself.

The twenty-fourth of July celebration and the Mormons’ settlements throughout the West are not of parochial concern but are the workings of God to prepare a people with a universal mission and readiness to receive the triumphant Lord upon His return. The spread of the gospel and the kingdom entails the incorporation of diverse peoples into this historical consciousness. It is part of the spiritual covenant that causes them to stand apart from their societies, even as the nineteenth-century Saints were separated from the diverse peoples from which they came. As Peter told the early-day Saints, harking back to the commission of Moses to the children of Israel, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, . . . which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God.” He also said, “As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 2:9–10; 1:15).

“Fitly Framed Together” (Ephesians 2:21)

As an eternal and universal doctrine and a transcendent culture have prepared the Church for its vocation in the developing world, so also has the inspired organization raised up by the Prophet Joseph Smith. One stands in awe at the simplicity and adaptability of the institutions established by the Prophet and their subsequent development to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse church. Family focus; lay leadership; priesthood keys and quorums; inspired and hierarchically generated and congregationally sustained calls; geographically delimited local congregations; stakes as the fundamental defense, refuge, and gathering places of the Saints; gender-based, age, and special-needs groups organized as auxiliaries of the priesthood—these institutional building blocks can be introduced and adapted in remarkably different circumstances. Programs have and will change, but these fundamental institutional elements, like the doctrine, remain constant. Overarching these local organizations stands the apostolic direction. In many respects, it has been at the pinnacle of the Church where the most significant developments have occurred.

If we had to pick a date of most contemporary significance to the Church’s growth in the developing world, we could probably do no better than June 9, 1978, subsequently followed by an official declaration of the First Presidency on September 30 in the same year. As the declaration stated, “In early June of this year, the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church” (Official Declaration–2). The implications of this removal of all restrictions on those of African descent were immense for the preaching of the gospel and establishing the Church in Africa, Brazil, and around the world. If one adds the global explosion of temple building, reaching its apogee under the direction of President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Church’s whole relationship to areas once distant from Salt Lake City, not only physically but socially, was decisively altered from that June date onward.

Another key element in the developing Church is in the transformation and extension of the apostolic voice. In my own memory, the direct involvement of the Apostles, organized in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, has been intense and extensive, not only in the policy but in the implementation arena. As one reads the Church’s history, it is clear how necessary this extensive direction was. The spirit of the organization that the Prophet erected had to penetrate deeply into the consciousness of lay leaders coming from many backgrounds and cultures. Handbooks and manuals have been written to codify the objectives, standards, and practices of the Church organization, but, as has often been noted, there are intangible things that cannot be reduced to paper or computer programs. In a real sense, the Church is multigenerational not simply in the sense that it generates families of Latter-day Saints, but it is multigenerational in its organizational capacity. Simply, it often takes several generations to appreciate fully how we ought to lead and guide.

We can take nearly any country in which the Church has grown in recent years to appreciate how the strength of the Church organization depends on the transmission of the gospel through several generations. In Brazil, where I served in an Area Presidency for three years, I was struck by how developed the Church was in the south as compared to the north, where the Church’s establishment was of later origins. Yet even there, the great strength came from a few families who had years earlier joined the Church, as well as those families who had moved into the area from the south. At the same time, I saw the foundation of families who will provide the inspiration and leadership of the Brazil North Area and of the Church as a whole in the years to come.

This process of development in Brazil is in fact comparable to what has occurred elsewhere, even in the United States. A number of families who came from the Rocky Mountain West moved to the west and east coasts and the north and south of the United States and provided the initial Church leadership, which has subsequently given way to “homegrown” families who have provided leaders not only in their localities but throughout the world.

It has sometimes been joked that the Church is guided by revelation, inspiration, and relation. Underlying this wry witticism lies a profound truth. The Church’s rise depends not only on those who can read and understand the “rule books” but also on those whose very instincts and sentiments grasp the spirit that is at the heart of the institution. More, they grasp that it is the Spirit that must ultimately be the guide. As the Church’s history demonstrates, this understanding can be seized by a single new convert. But it becomes rooted and is perpetuated in his or her own family.

To return to the original point, given the need for close guidance of a young and growing church, it is not surprising how involved the Apostles have been in the Church’s daily administration. Yet, in recent years, as the Church spread into many cultures and climes and witnessed unparalleled growth, it became apparent that the key issue was how to ensure that the apostolic voice would continue to be heard. The worldwide leadership meetings, the reach of modern telecommunications, the active chairing of the Church’s principal committees, and a travel schedule that remains breathtaking—these all will remain key elements in ensuring that the apostolic and prophetic foundations of the kingdom endure. At the same time, progressive steps in the evolution of the general organization have extended the apostolic voice.

In April 2004 it was announced that, beginning in the second half of the year, many stake conferences theretofore presided over by a General Authority or Area Seventy would be clustered together, and the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve would meet with those stakes in their respective centers on the Sunday of conference by satellite transmission. The stake presidents would preside over the regular Saturday priesthood leadership and Saturday evening sessions. Moreover, the reorganization of stakes were to be henceforth done by the Quorum of the Twelve and the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, assisted where needed by other General Authorities and Area Seventies.

Over the years the Apostles have organized and deployed various “arms” to share in the burdens of administration and by which they could reach throughout the world. Assistants to the Twelve, additional counselors in the First Presidency, regional representatives, area administrators, as well as the development of an extensive Church “civil service” in the temporal and programmatic areas, have all been employed to ensure the clarity, reach, and vigor of the apostolic guidance.

But one of the most significant developments has been in the extension of the role of the Seventy. The Lord declared in the Doctrine and Covenants the pattern whereby the Apostles may build up the Church and regulate all of its affairs:

The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.

The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews;

The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews. . . .

It is the duty of the traveling high council to call upon the Seventy, when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel, instead of any others. (D&C 107:33–35, 38)

In the same section the Lord called upon the Seventy to join with the Twelve as “especial witnesses” of Christ and the restored gospel “unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling” (D&C 107:25).

Throughout much of Church history, this pattern was realized by the organization of the seven-member First Council of the Seventy as General Authorities, with the body of the seventies called to serve as full-time or stake missionaries. It is clear from the words of section 107, however, that when the mission of the Church required, the role of the Seventy could be considerably extended. In the early 1960s, in response to the Church growth, there began what President Boyd K. Packer has called “a pattern of intense revelation.”

First, in 1961, four members of the First Council of the Seventy were ordained high priests and authorized to organize and reorganize stakes and give assignments to stake presidents. The members of the First Council of the Seventy were subsequently given the sealing power. After a gestation period in which regional representatives were called and stake presidents were given increased authority, the First Quorum of the Seventy, with provision for emeritus status, was organized as General Authorities and called not only to assist in the general administration at headquarters but also as Area Presidencies to carry out the mandate to assist the Twelve to build up and regulate the Church in all nations. Subsequently, the stake seventies quorums were phased out, and the Second Quorum of the Seventy, with term appointments, was also called with its members designated as General Authorities with responsibilities comparable to the First Quorum.

Finally, in 1995, regional representatives gave way to Area Authorities, who were subsequently ordained Seventies and general officers of the Church. They were to serve in Church service comparable to bishops and stake presidents, continuing their professional lives, living in their places of residence, and given responsibility in the broad geographical areas in which the Church was organized. They were initially organized in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums and given extensive responsibilities in the organization and reorganization of stakes and general oversight responsibilities—some even serving in Area Presidencies. In April 2004 the First Presidency announced the division of the Fifth Quorum to create the Sixth Quorum.

It was further explained that the seven Presidents would be released as executive directors of six of the key headquarters departments and given responsibility for the eleven areas in Canada and the United States, hence dissolving the Area Presidencies in those areas. Other Seventies were called as executive directors of the several departments. Area Seventies, whose numbers grow, would continue to have area responsibilities. The international Area Presidencies would remain in place. Members of the Twelve, assisted by assigned members of the Presidency of the Seventy, serve as first contacts for these international Area Presidencies.

This is but an abbreviated sketch of recent organizational changes, but it points to two key developments. First, greater responsibilities devolved upon stake presidents, including the ordination of patriarchs and the setting apart of full-time missionaries. The responsibilities of stake presidents will be further heightened in the years to come. Second, the Seventies, under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve, were organized under the presidency of the seven Presidents of the Seventy, either as General Authorities or Area Seventies, to assist in the apostolic charge to build up and regulate the Church. The apostolic keys pertain only to the Apostles, but the apostolic authority may be exercised by the Seventy under the direction of the Apostles. Hence, the stakes as defenses, refuges, and gathering places have been built up under a strengthened local stake president, and apostolic oversight is universal and continuous, whatever the diversity of cultures and a world in commotion.

The Destiny of This Church and Kingdom

As President Hinckley has often noted, there was a great prologue to the Restoration of the Church—a development period, if you will. If all things are present with the Lord, it is clear that the preparation of ancient Israel, the ideas of ancient Greece, the rise of Christianity, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the enlightenment ideas of the Age of Reason prepared the political, economic, and social soil for the implantation of the latter-day kingdom. The Church came “forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine[s] forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (D&C 109:73).

If great secular developments prepared the way for the Restoration, it seems plausible that these same developments and others have converged together to prepare the way for the preaching of the gospel and the establishment of the Church throughout the world. Separate cultures may stand as barriers to the spread of the gospel kingdom, but the eroding and unifying forces of development begun in, but now no longer limited to, the West have cast down walls and opened doors. Many of the forces associated with political, economic, and social development are painful and even unjust. Some are morally corrupting. So too has it been in the history of Europe and America. But the power to weaken the “tradition of their fathers” (D&C 93:39) and to open doors and hearts must not be underestimated. What the Prophet Joseph Smith saw that Sunday night in 1834 was that the flowering of the Church and the sweep of history would ensure that “the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”[3]


[1] Wilford Woodruff, in Conference Report, April 1898, 57, punctuation modernized, as cited in Boyd K. Packer, worldwide leadership training meeting, January 11, 2003.

[2] Robert Louis Wilken, “The Church as Culture,” First Things, April 2004, 32.

[3] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:540.