Ordination vs. Setting Apart

(this is one of those blogs that is probably of interest only to me 😉 )

seventytopresidentofseventyFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with all of the logistical considerations of the priesthood.  Consequently, I’ve explored in the past which positions in the priesthood require ordination, and which require a prayer of “setting apart” (both of which involve the laying-on-of-hands).  The former results in a particular priesthood office being conferred upon someone, while the latter results in a person assuming a new role.

What has always struck me as odd is that there seems to be some inconsistencies regarding which positions are viewed as offices, requiring ordination, and which are viewed as roles that only require setting apart.  It seems that there has been confusion on this point, which was acknowledged in Guidelines for the Priesthood: Ordination Preparation Continuing Commitment (© 1985 Herald Publishing House).  That resource states on page 63:

“Some semantic confusion exists concerning the differences between ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands.  Therefore, we define these terms as follows:

Ordination is to membership in the various offices, quorums, and orders of the priesthood…Setting apart by the laying on of hands is to presiding roles within quorums, councils, orders and field jurisdictions of the church, including districts and congregations…This modified definition constitutes a new application of setting apart as interpreted by the First Presidency.”

A modified version of the above appears in the 2004 Priesthood Manual:

“Some semantic confusion exists concerning the differences between ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands.  Therefore, we define these terms as follows:

Ordination is to ministry-specific priesthood offices …Setting apart by laying on of hands is to specific leadership roles within quorums, councils, orders, mission centers and congregations.”

There are several positions that are, beyond doubt, offices of the priesthood, requiring ordination.  These positions include: apostle, bishop, deacon, elder, evangelist (formerly known as evangelist-patriarch), high priest, priest, seventy, and teacher.

Less common positions that are also understood as being offices of priesthood requiring ordination are: president, presiding bishop, presiding bishop’s counselor, presiding evangelist, and prophet.

Positions such as pastor, president of the Council of Twelve, and presidents of the Quorum of High Priests are set apart.

However, there are other positions that seem to be treated inconsistently.  For example:

Presidents of Seventy

There are some references to the position of President of Seventy being conferred via ordination (thereby being viewed as an office of priesthood), and other references to it being granted via setting apart (thereby being viewed as a priesthood role).

Consider the following: In both Guidelines for Priesthood (page 63) and the Priesthood Manual (page 23), presidents of seventy are listed as examples of priesthood offices requiring ordination.

Note that Guidelines for Priesthood, as quoted above, states that the First Presidency has defined the terms ordination and setting apart, and president of seventy is stated as falling under ordination.

However, page 35 of the 2004 Priesthood Manual contradicts page 23, stating that presidents of seventy are to be set apart.

How has the church actually handled presidents of seventy in recent years?  A review of the minutes of World Conferences 2000 to 2013 show that all new president of seventy became such via setting apart, *not* via ordination.  This is in violation of page 23 of the Priesthood Manual and with Guidelines to the Priesthood (though it is in  harmony with page 35 of the Priesthood Manual).

The fact that this type of inconsistency exists utterly baffles me.  Is the position of president of seventy an office of priesthood, requiring ordination, or, is it a role that does not require ordination, warranting only a prayer of setting apart?  That should be a very easy question to answer, but based on our history, it’s not.

On page 23 of The Ministry of the Elder, by Dwight DW Davis (Herald Publishing House, 1953) we are told that president of seventy is a priesthood office.

The book Priesthood Orientation Studies (Herald Publishing House, 1964) makes reference to presidents of seventy, but is not clear on whether this position is an office of priesthood, or a leadership role.

Looking at an older copy of the Priesthood Manual (1985), it states on page 48 that presidents of seventy are set apart.

So, what is the proper understanding of the position of seventy?

Several years ago, I wrote a letter to the World Church Secretary, asking for clarification on these type of questions.  He sent me a reply, which included:

“Your questions are a little complicated, but I’ll try to answer as clearly as possible. There are certain gray areas in this consideration, but ordinations are usually to a priesthood office, while a setting apart is to a responsibility within a priesthood office…

…There may be some inconsistency in World Church quorums and orders…If I may hazard an observation, it would appear to me that leadership positions in World Church quorums are termed ordinations when the role includes a significant function independent of the leadership or the quorum or order. Thus, the Presiding Bishopric carries certain responsibilities as trustees and as leaders of the Aaronic Priesthood, and its members are ordained. The President and Secretary of the Council of Twelve primarily give leadership to the Twelve and are set apart. The Council of Presidents of Seventy call new Seventy and new Presidents of Seventy in addition to their leadership of the seven quorums, and their members are ordained. The President of the Quorum of High Priests primarily gives leadership to the quorum and is set apart.”

So, according to this letter, presidents of seventy are ordained.  The rationalization he gave me made sense to me.  In the letter I sent him, I opened by acknowledging that I was perplexed that the president of the Quorum of High Priests was set apart, but a counselor to the Presiding Bishop was ordained.  I thought it was very odd that a counselor was being ordained, thus having a new priesthood office conferred upon him, but the High Priest quorum president was simply set apart.

As I mentioned above, the explanation he provided made a lot of sense.  The apostles have a lot of responsibility, but the role of president of the Twelve does not have responsibilities beyond directing the Twelve. What apostles do, they do by virtue of their office of apostle.  However, the presiding bishop, *and* his counselors, do not merely hold presidency of the order of bishops, but also  function as a judicial council, hold presidency of the Aaronic priesthood, and have the tremendous responsibility of managing the global finances of the church.  So, based on the insight I received, it makes perfect sense that they would be ordained.

Likewise, the President of the Quorum of High Priests has administrative functions only, but the presidents of seventy, in addition to having that role, are also responsible for calling new seventies and even other presidents of seventy (when a vacancy exists).

So, from the various sources referenced above, there are various different opinions, and clearly, differences between what is stated, and what is actually done.  The letter I received stated that presidents of seventy are ordained, but in the 21st century, they have always been set apart.

Furthermore, the church has issued clarifying statements about the difference between ordination and setting apart, and, in that section, as it appears in the 2004 Priesthood Manual, they are to be ordained, yet, again, that is not what has actually happened in any of our 21st century World Conferences *and* the Priesthood Manual contradicts itself further on.

So, what really is the proper understanding?  Well, I can only offer my own personal opinion, but it would seem to me that it is proper to view the position of President of Seventy as a true and distinct office of priesthood, requiring ordination.

While we have not done so in the 21st century, our most recent Priesthood Manual, on the subject of setting apart vs. ordination, clearly states that presidents of seventy are to be ordained, and senior presidents are to be set apart.

While it is true that later on in the book, it is stated that presidents of seventy are set apart, I feel that this position, and not the former, must be viewed as erroneous, or perhaps out-of-date (the book, in being prepared, may have had the latter chapter written first, and as the clarity on ordination vs. setting apart was incorporated from Guidelines for Priesthood, it may have  been intended that this new view would supersede the other, and the former statement removed, then being overlooked for such removal by accident).

Another indication that the latter view is in error is because it appears in an overview of the office of high priest, which of course, seventies are not.

Finally, the Seventy have a presiding role in the church, as noted in various sections of the Doctrine & Covenants, and as confirmed in Joseph Smith III’s Letter of Instruction.

While such references speak of this presidency being vested in the Seventy, it would be impractical (in my view), in our modern era, for the Seventy as a whole to so function, given that there could be, in theory (presuming ten quorums), 700 seventies.  Therefore, it would seem reasonable to conclude that should the Seventy ever need to function as a third presidency, the Council of Presidents of Seventy would do so on their behalf.  This additional responsibility would seem to warrant ordination.

So, my vote is: presidents of seventy are ordained as such.  The president of seventy who becomes senior president is set apart as such, as that role does not seem to have responsibilities beyond presiding over the Council of Presidents of Seventy.

High Councilors

As another example of inconsistencies regarding a role being ordained or set apart, members of the Standing High Council are high priests and become members of the Standing High Council by being set apart.  However, according to Section 129, it is noted, in a passage concerning evangelists (patriarchs), that they are an office of priesthood:

129:7a Those who are holding the office of patriarchs are to be enrolled with the high priests, the same as the bishops, who are acting in their office by virtue of their being high priests.
129:7b These men in their office are an order in the priesthood, the same as the high councils of the church and the stakes and as the bishops who hold as high priests, as the quorum of the twelve, and as the presidency are but orders in the priesthood, there being but two priesthoods; and these are orders in the Melchisedec priesthood.

Section 17:17 also refers to the office by name (high councilor), and states that they are ordained:

“Every president of the high priesthood (or presiding elder), bishop, high councilor, and high priest, is to be ordained by the direction of a high council, or General Conference.”

Furthermore, like the Seventy, the High Council is an additional presidency of the church, again as noted in both the Doctrine & Covenants, and Joseph Smith III’s Letter of Instruction.

Therefore, while we seem to currently view them as a role to which one is set apart, it would seem proper to ordain them.  An additional reason to do so is that the Council of Twelve is the “traveling high council”.  Both are “high councils”, one travels, one does not.  As apostles are ordained, it is only logical that high councilors would also be ordained.

It just does not make much sense, when both bodies are regarded as high councils of the church, to ordain members of one, but not of the other.  Nor does it make any sense to not view the role as an office, when the Doctrine and Covenants, which forms the law of the church and is part of the Standard of Authority, clearly states that it is an office, requiring ordination.

Another thought: The church has recognized for some time now that Apostles are not as free as the should be to preside over the missionary efforts of the church, as they have a great deal of administrative responsibilities.  The Standing High Council was originally created to support the First Presidency in governing the church.  While I understand that both high councils have changed over the years in purpose and responsibility, perhaps the Standing High Council could in some way, support the Traveling High Council, so that the latter is more free to focus on missionary work.  I realize that the members of the Standing High Council are not full time ministers, and that funding is not currently available to make them such, but if each was assigned, just as the Seventy now are, to work with a specific apostle, regardless of location, there may be some tasks that they could do to help free the apostles.

Please feel free to reply! :)

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