Accent on Mormon Beliefs - The Importance of Councils


The writer of Proverbs tells us that "where no counsel is, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:4).

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are a multitude of councils. In fact, the LDS Church is governed by councils. Every presidency, including the First Presidency, is composed of a president who has two councilors whose duty it is to give him their best advice, suggestions, and assistance. In addition to these, there is the Council of the Twelve Apostles who sit in council with one another and with the First Presidency to discuss and consider matters pertaining to the overall functioning of the Church in general.

On a local level there are stake presidents who not only serve with the assistance of two councilors but with the assistance of twelve men known as High Councilors where they met together to discuss matters concerning their particular stake. Each stake is comprised of a number of wards and branches presided over by a bishop or branch president, each of whom have two councilors.

In addition to this, branch presidents and bishops meet frequently with other priesthood leaders in their ward or branch in what is called a Priesthood Executive Committee. In this meeting the bishop presides as he sits in council with his priesthood brethren as they give him their advice, suggestions, and information so that he can better perform the spiritual and temporal duties of his office.

The bishop or branch president also sits in council with the heads of all of the auxiliary departments within his ward, which includes all the priesthood leaders, as well as the presidents of the Relief Society, the Primary, the Young Men andYoung Woman's program, and the Sunday School. This group of individuals is known as the Ward Council.

The idea of governing in councils also extends to the smallest unit of the Church which is the family. In the home the father presides, much the same way a bishop presides over his ward or a stake president presides over his stake. However, a bishop and stake president have two councilors to assistant them. In the home the presiding authority (the husband and/or father) has only one counselor, which is his wife. It is the teaching of the LDS Church that, although a husband presides in his home, he does so in council with his wife. When there are children in the home, the LDS Church teaches that parents should meet in council with their children, especially in matters that concern the entire family.

From this we see that from the very top governing body of the Church to the smallest governing unit, Latter-day Saints are taught to direct, manage, and oversee their area of responsibility through the use of councils.

But the use of councils doesn't stop there.

Latter-day Saints also believe that all earthly mortals, regardless of when or where they were born, are children of the same Father who lives in heaven because, before we were born here on earth, we were born to and lived with our Father in heaven. But to be the child of a father there also has to be a mother, and the LDS Church believes we likewise have a mother in heaven. That makes all of us related to one another as a family.

With so many children, how did God manage all of us? The answer is: The same way He governs us here on earth. The LDS Church teaches that the same pattern of governing we see in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today is the same way our Father governed us in heaven. Through a system of priesthood hierarchy, going from one person who presides over the entire Church (e.g., the First President), through a system of different levels of priesthood offices, all the way down to the bishop and branch president, the Church can govern a thousand members as easily as it can govern a hundred million people. The reason why is because this system is the most effective and efficient way of directing and attending to the needs of everyone in the Church. This is the same way our Father organized us, His children, when we lived in heaven, with Himself as the head of His family.

If we all belong to the family of God and the Church of Jesus Christ is patterned after the way God governs in heaven, then it follows that God must have governed us in heaven through the use of councils before we ever came here to earth. But, the question this raises is: seeing that God is all-knowing, why would He need to seek counsel from anyone?

However, this question doesn't pertain just to our past life but it also extends into our eternity. As Latter-day Saints we believe that the primary reason for our existence here on earth is to prepare ourselves to someday be worthy to inherit all that God has. To a Latter-day Saint, that means becoming an exalted being, just like our Father in heaven, and one of the requirements needed for that to happen is for us to be sealed to someone as an eternal husband or wife. The reason why is because only an exalted husband and wife, working together, can have the privilege and power of having spirit offspring, just like our Father in heaven can.

But how will we manage those children? The answer is: The same way we manage them now. As our spirit offspring become more numerous, we will organize them in the same manner that the Church of Christ is organized because it is the perfect way to govern. Thus, we see that the Church of Christ, as an organization, is eternal. It existed in heaven long before the earth was created and it will continue long after the earth and heavens have passed away.

Yet, the Church is also governed by councils. Then will we continue to hold councils after we become exalted beings? And, if so, with whom will we council if we inherit God's all-knowing nature? Since the divine pattern for governing is eternal then, to answer that question, all we have to do is to look at the present system in order to understand the answer for both the past and the future.

Here in mortality there is one person who presides over the entire Church. As such, he has full authority over everyone in the Church. But one person can only be in one place at one time and can only do so much. Therefore, there are levels of authority, sometimes referred to as a chain-of-command, which enables that one person to direct the affairs of the entire Church.

The way the president is able to fulfill his duty is by sitting in council with his two councilors and twelve other apostles. They, in turn, preside over the Quorum of the Seventies who preside over designated areas and the stakes within them. The stake presidents then preside over their area of responsibility, which includes a number of wards and branches. The bishops of those wards and the branch presidents within the stake then preside over individuals and families within their area of responsibility.

If this is system is patterned after the way our Father in heaven governed us when we lived in heaven with Him then we would expect to find evidence of God using councils to manage and direct His children. Therefore, let's take a look at what happened in heaven before the earth was created.

As some point in our pre-mortal life our Father in heaven came to us, His children, and offered a plan for our salvation and exaltation. If an earthly father were to propose some grand plan for his family, they would no doubt first council with their wife, not only get her opinion and input, but to make sure she was agreeable to what her husband wanted to do. It seems only logical and reasonable to assume that our Father in heaven consulted with His wife concerning the next step in the progression of their< children. It is inconceivable that husbands on earth are taught to council with their wives but then, in their exalted state, would act independent of their celestial partner's advice and approval.

On earth, LDS parents are instructed to council with their children but these councils are not for the children to give wise advice and instruction to their parents. Rather, they are meant to allow the children an opportunity to express their opinions, feelings, dreams, desires, concerns, and complaints. For example, if the parents of a particular family wanted to go on a vacation, it would be appropriate for them to hold a family council to give their children the chance to talk about where they would like to go, what they would like to do while on vacation, when they would like to go, and discuss the things they would need to prepare ahead of time for their trip. Although the father, as the head of the house, would make the final decision, what he ultimately decides will be influenced by what he hears from his children.

The LDS faith teaches that there was a Grand Council in heaven where God, our Father, presented to us His plan for our exaltation, which included us leaving heaven and living on an earthly world where we could experience pain and sorrow, fear and worry, heartbreak and discouragement as well as be confronted with sin, including all of its temptations. The way most members of the LDS Church interpret this event is that we sat intently listening as our Father presented the details of His plan and then, at the end of His presentation, we shouted for joy.

However, it should be noticed that this was not called the Grand Meeting in heaven. Instead, it is called the Grand Council<. That would seem to suggest that it was a family council where we, as God's children, expressed our opinions, feelings, concerns, and fears about the Father's plan. In fact, this exchange of ideas became so heated that it literally resulted in a war, with Lucifer spearheading the opposition.

The scriptures tell us that as a result of this war in heaven Lucifer and his angels were expelled and cast down to the earth (Revelation 12:9). The way most LDS members understand what happened next is that those who remained faithful to the Father's plan remained in heaven until they received the announcement that it was their turn to be born into mortality.

However, there is evidence to suggest that all of us participated in the building of the earth and that in the Grand Council we had a say in some of the aspects of what our earth would look like, perhaps deciding on such things as what kinds of animals, trees, vegetation, and other features we wanted on our new world. All of this could have been determined in that grand family council in heaven.

If the Church organization is eternal then so too is its mission. The purpose of the Church of Christ here on earth is to perfect the saints by preparing them, through instruction and opportunities, to learn how to become qualified for their future exalted state. There is every reason to believe that the same situation existed in heaven prior to us coming to earth. There is no doubt that we were given instruction and opportunities needed to prepare us for our future life on earth.

We can relate this to what happens when a high school student is in their senior year. There, a guidance councilor will meet with each student to determine their goals for the future. For those who want to go onto college, the guidance councilor will recommend schools, make the student aware of what classes they will need to take in order to qualify for their chosen career, and help them with the admission paperwork. If a student wants to go onto some sort of a vocational school, the guidance councilor will make similar recommendations and provide all the necessary help needed for the student to successfully achieve the goal they've set for themselves.

This is not much different than what happens in the Church of Christ except it is done with the idea in mind that members of Christ's church want to become exalted. Therefore they are instructed, guided, encouraged, and given the necessary help to achieve that goal by priesthood leaders who act in the capacity of guidance councilors. For this reason, it seems certain that we had a similar experience prior to our coming to earth where we were physically, intellectually and spiritually prepared for our life in mortality while taking into account our personal aspirations for the future. In this way we not only received counsel but we also had the opportunity to express our desires and ambitions.

In this regard we also know that certain individuals were given assignments in the pre-mortal world. For example, Adam didn't become the first man on earth by the luck of a draw. His assignment was made with deliberate thought and wisdom by our Father in heaven. Since God will never take away our freedom to choose, it's certain that Adam was given the choice either to accept or reject this assignment with its attendant responsibility. We also know that Noah, Abraham, John the Baptist, Joseph Smith and many others were chosen or ordained (e.g., pre-selected) in the spirit world before they were ever born on earth.

There also is evidence to suggest that all of us come to earth with an assigned mission to complete. That mission may be as simple as raising a family but it is an assignment that we were given and which we agreed to before being born into mortality. Likewise, there is evidence to indicate that many of us may have chosen which families we wanted to be born into and even who we wanted to have as our eternal marriage partner prior to coming to earth.

But, for these kinds of arrangements to actually take place would indicate that first some sort of council had to be held in order to discuss and then approve these arrangements Furthermore, since, when we come to earth, we no longer have any memory of the assignments or arrangements we had agreed to before entering mortality, then it becomes essential that someone in the spirit world make sure the conditions are created whereby the assignments and arrangements can be realized.

The purpose of the Priesthood Executive Committee (PEC) meetings and Ward Council (WC) meetings is to discuss the needs of the ward members and how the leaders of the ward can assist them in their spiritual growth. If the Church is eternal then it seems certain that there are similar kinds of councils being held in the spirit world to help individuals both there and in this world to achieve their spiritual goals. For example, if a brother and sister in the spirit world present their request to become eternal marriage partners and, since they will no longer remember their agreement to marry each other once they are born here on earth, then it becomes the responsibility of those in authority in the spirit world to see to it that these two individual have the opportunity to meet each other so they have the chance to fall in love.

If this couple, upon meeting one another, do choose to marry each other then those in the spirit world must provide the conditions where this couple can find the gospel and are able to get married in an LDS temple. But, for all of this to happen, there would need to be some sort of coordination of activity among those in the spirit world to make sure events happen that would allow these two people to fulfill their desired wish to become sealed to one another as husband and wife.

In the Church of Christ, every organization is presided over by a president with two councilors. As Christians we talk about the Godhead as being made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As a Father, God presides as the head of His family. The plan of salvation was His idea and He is the one ultimately responsible for insuring that His plan is carried out. Therefore, in the Godhead, He is the president which means that the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are His councilors. Their duty is to give the Father counsel and to assist Him in carrying out His plan.

But what advice can a son give to his father, especially one who is all-knowing? Furthermore, the LDS Church teaches that "As we now are, God once was. As God now is we may become." That means God, our Father, became an exalted being by going through the same experience we are now going through. He once lived on a physical earth as a mortal and knows firsthand every problem we face, just like an earthly father who was once a teenager fully understands what his teenage son is going through. If Jesus is the Son of God, what advice can He give to His Father that His Father doesn't already know through His own personal experience?

The answer is: the Son doesn't give "advice," He gives perspective. As a Son, Jesus represents all of our Father's sons and daughters and provides the Father with His children's viewpoint. He looks out for our interests, and is the voice for our concerns. Even though the Father has been through the experience of mortality and fully understands all that we go through, He is no longer a child but thinks and behaves as a father. Jesus, on the other hand, is of our generation and His feelings are more closely aligned with ours. Although the Father will make the final decision based on His own wisdom, the Son, as councilor, is able to give the Father the perspective of His children which the Father takes into account when making His decisions. As such, Jesus is our representative in the Godhood. This gives a new meaning to the scripture that states: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous" (1 John 2:1).

This is no different than an earthly father who had a very large family. In his family council, all of his children would have the opportunity to express their feelings on various issues but with so many children they might find it more advantageous to chose one of their own - someone who was wise and admired - to be their spokesman who would plead their case before their father. This is the role Jesus plays as a councilor in the God head.

This is the way the "church" operates both in the present and in the past and there is no reason to believe that it will be any different in the future. After the resurrection, those who have become exalted will be in the same position that our Father in heaven is in now. They will have countless children who will need to be guided in their spiritual development and have opportunities provided for them to grow to become like their parents.

Since such exalted people will live in heaven, those spirit children will refer to their "dad" as their father in heaven and the cycle will start all over again. To organize these children and provide for their spiritual and temporal welfare, exalted parents will do what has been done before, which is to organize their children according to the pattern they learned from our Father in heaven while living with Him, and that includes holding councils.

For this reason, the "church" we belonged to throughout our journey to exaltation will not disappear when we become exalted. Although it's possible that just a small percentage of our Father's children may ultimately become exalted, yet that number will still be quite large. To illustrate this point, there are currently four billion people on the earth today and all of them are children of God. If only 1% of them became exalted, that would amount to one hundred million people. To assemble that many people into a working society there has to be some sort of an organizational structure for them to live within. When we consider the fact that all exalted beings are sealed and linked to one another, it becomes obvious that they will be a close knit society where all work together. For that to happen there must be a system that gives structure and order so that such a large number of people can work harmoniously with one another.

The system for order that will be used among exalted beings is the same as that which is already found in the Church of Jesus Christ. Just as Christ is the head of this church now, after the resurrection He will continue to be its head throughout all eternity. This will place Him as the supreme presiding authority over all His brothers and sisters who have become exalted. But how will He preside over so many people? All the evidence points to an organizational structure where He presides much like the President of the Church now presides, with a hierarchy of leaders who govern through councils.

The purpose of this future church will be the same as it always has been, which is to teach the gospel of salvation and to provide the means for the exaltation of its members. The Church today is comprised of families that are gathered together into wards, branches, and stakes. This system provides each father and mother with the means for them to help prepare their children for exaltation and there is no reason to believe that this same pattern will not continue after the resurrection under the direction of Jesus Christ. But to do that, it s clear there must be councils held, not just at the family level but also at the "church" level, just as it is done today.

As we come to understand this pattern better we can gain a greater appreciation of the eternal importance of councils.

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