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The Lord's Church

Structure of the Church of Jesus Christ

Catholic Doctrine

The structure of the Catholic Church is apostolic, meaning the foundation of the Church is built upon the principle that apostolic succession has come from the original Twelve Apostles (mainly Peter) to the present day Pope and the college of bishops who govern the church today.

The Church is usually locally organized into parishes, which are then grouped geographically into dioceses.

NOTE: My research on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church uncovered sometimes conflicting information on organizational structures and on how they interact in the Church. My brief descriptions are a synthesis from these various sources. Exceptions abound.

The Church hierarchy includes the following ten ecclesiastical components:

The Pope
The Pope is "head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth" (Catechism 936). The Pope Ministers on behalf of Christ on earth to lead the Church as a shepherd would lead his flock. Other titles of the Pope include the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, and the Holy Roman Pontiff.

The College of Bishops
The College of Bishops is made up of all the bishops of the Catholic Church. These bishops are the successors of the Twelve Apostles. The purpose of the College is to assist in the governance of the Catholic Church. As the leader of the College of Bishops, the Pope determines how the power of the College is to be employed, while having the authority to call or dismiss a council (i.e. a gathering of bishops to discuss doctrine or ecclesiastical matters) with the final approval of all decisions made by the council. Hence, the Council’s authority is predicated upon its ability to be united with the Pope.

The College of Cardinals
Cardinals are appointed by the Pope but have no more ecclesiastical authority than that of bishops, although one might argue their political influence exceeds that of a bishop under specific circumstances related to their appointment. The College of Cardinals is made up of select bishops who are assigned a special status and position. The primary purpose of the College of Cardinals is to advise the Pope on select matters determined by him. Beginning in 1059 to the present, when the Pope passes away, the College of Cardinals elects a new Pope from among its ranks. Before that time elections were conducted by the clergy and the people of the diocese of Rome.

Synod of Bishops
The Synod of Bishops can be thought of as a continuation of the Second Vatican Council, whereby the Synod meets in Rome as a scheduled advisory board to the Pope to consider selected issues and develop official Church teaching.

The Magisterium is the “keeper and preserver” of official Catholic Church teachings. The Magisterium is called upon to interpret the word of God, which may originate as scripture or tradition. The teachings of the Catholic Church adhere to the standards on faith and morals taught by the Apostles. The Magisterium guards this adherence.

Appointed by the Pope, bishops preside over diocese. A diocese is made up of a number of parishes in a given geographic region. A bishop may be appointed to the office of an archbishop, who presides over a territory that would be considered larger than average or be located in an area or city of significant importance. There is no difference in authority between an archbishop and a bishop.

Priests take a vow of obedience to the bishop and are typically assigned to a parish to minister to the people, exercise ecclesiastical authority over the parish, and manage its day-to-day operations.

Deacons are ordained male assistants to bishops and priests. Deacons help by performing certain spiritual duties. These include the distribution of the Eucharist, proclaiming the gospel, assisting matrimonial services, baptizing, presiding over funerals, and other like ministerial activities. Deacons are not authorized to consecrate the Eucharist. There is no female equivalent to the position of a deacon.

Nuns and Brothers
A woman who feels a vocation to the religious life in the Catholic Church and is willing to take a vow of chastity, charity, obedience, and poverty for life can become a nun. There are many different orders of sisterhood in the Catholic Church, each community having a set of rules approved by Rome.  Men who feel called to live a religious life, but not as a priest or deacon, can become a brother in various communities approved by Rome. A brother will take vows similar to those taken by nuns, including chastity and obedience.

Lay Ministers
Catholics who take an active role in Church service, but who do not choose the religious life, can become lay ministers. Lay ministers can occupy paid parish positions or can be volunteers. Their work is usually directed by the parish pastor or other authorized parish personnel. These lay ministers are “…made to share in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God” (Catechism 873).

See Catechism 873, 869, 936, 2032, and glossary. Also see www.catholic-pages.com, www.bible.ca/catholic-church-hierarchy-organization.htm, and Canon 336 and 338 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Latter-day Saints Doctrine

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church of Jesus Christ on earth. It is patterned after the church established by Jesus Christ during his public ministry. Following the ascension of Christ and through the centuries that followed, men changed the ordinances and doctrines established by the savior, including the organization of the Church.

The result of these changes led to the propagation of sects and ushered in the period in western history known as the “Dark Ages” (approximately A.D. 400 to A.D. 1,000). Amos prophesied of this period when he said there would be “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. … They shall … seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11–12). Christ also knew that this apostasy would take place and prophesied of a restoration when through the prophet Isaiah he said “I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14).

The restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ included a full restoration of the structure of the Church, beginning with restoration of the authority of the priesthood. In 1829 both the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods were restored to the earth, laying the ground work for this revelation given through the prophet Joseph Smith in April of 1830: “The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April” (D&C 20:1).

This revelation inspired the direction that the Church would be organized with the same offices as during the time of Christ’s public ministry, including “Apostles, prophets, seventies, evangelists (patriarchs), pastors (presiding officers), high priests, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons” (Gospel Principles 112). Chapter 8 defines these offices of the priesthood in more detail. The commitment of the Church to restoring and maintaining the same ecclesiastical structure as during the time of Christ on earth is stated in the 6th Article of Faith: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth” (Articles of Faith 1:6).

The Church has grown and become more complex than it was in the early days—growing from six members in 1830 to over 13 million members world wide in 2007. The Lord has revealed the changes necessary to adapt to this growth and complexity. For example, local wards (similar to Catholic parishes) are now organized into stakes (akin to small Catholic dioceses). Stake presidents (akin to bishops in the Catholic Church) preside over these stakes. high councils, each consisting of 12 priesthood leaders answering to the stake president, have been established to provide a structure at the local level that echoes that of the Church as a whole with its twelve apostles answering to the Prophet. Each structural component comes about through revelation and mirrors the framework of the early church of Jesus Christ.

Missions have been established to teach the gospel across the world.

At the ward and stake levels, an array of positions necessary to carry the temporal and ecclesiastical duties common at these levels are filled by unpaid members of the Church. Church leaders at these levels are also unpaid.

There are also a number of unpaid auxiliaries at these and other levels of the Church. The auxiliaries include the Relief Society (one of the largest women’s organizations in the world), Young Men organization, Young Women organization, Primary, sunday school, and various other organizations. Following is a brief description of these organizations and positions. They are duplicated, sometimes with different titles, at the stake and worldwide levels to provide guidance and support.

The bishop calls two counselors to serve with him, forming the bishopric of a ward. All ward auxiliary functions are given guidance and leadership via the bishopric.

Each ward has an elders quorum and high priest group. In each organization there is a leader (elders quorum president and high priest group Leader) with two counselors. All adult men 18 and older belong to either the elders quorum or high priest group and are assigned as home teachers.

Relief Society
The Relief Society organization is dedicated to teaching and ministering to the needs women 18 and older. Each Relief Society has a president, two counselors to the president, teachers, and other positions typical for the operation of a church organization.

Young Men and Young Women
The Young Men Organization and Young Women Organization are dedicated to teaching and ministering to the needs of youth ages 12 to 18 years. In each organization (Young Men and Young Women separately) there is a president, two counselors, teachers, and advisors.

The Primary organization is dedicated to teaching and ministering to the needs of children 18 months to 12 years. Each Primary has a president, two counselors, teachers, and other positions typical for the operation of a church organization.

Sunday School
The Sunday School organization is dedicated to teaching the Church curriculum to members ages 12 to adult. Each Sunday School has a president, two counselors, and teachers for each class—typically taught by age group.

The Activities Committee is dedicated to providing ward or stake-wide activities, including socials, dances, and other social group activities. Each Activities Committee is made up a chair person and others as needed.

Each ward has a ward mission function that helps to coordinate missionary activities within the ward. There are full-time missionaries assigned to each ward to teach people interested in investigating the Church. Each ward mission has a ward mission leader and an appropriate number of member missionaries, who are members of the ward. There is no mission organization at the stake level.

There are other functions at the ward and stake level, including single adults, employment, music, library, public affairs, family history, and seminary. In addition there are priesthood committees that are organized to do things such as help people move into and out of their homes, conduct family history, preach the gospel, and other spiritual and temporal matters.

As time passes and the Church grows across the globe, there will undoubtedly be refinements in organization and function. Such refinements were made by the Twelve Apostles after the ascension of Christ. When the Apostles took up the matter of caring for widows, they directed that the saints should organize and assign this duty so that the Apostles could continue to focus on teaching, leading, and spreading the faith: “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3).

Like the headquarters of the Catholic Church, that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a large operational infrastructure that is staffed by salaried professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, and facilities managers. They accomplish their work through paid employees and workers.
See Gospel Principles 109 to 112.

Church Name

Catholic Doctrine

The term “catholic” comes from the Greek words kata-holos, meaning “according to the whole.” It is thought that Ignatius in the second century first applied this word to the Church. His meaning was that the fledgling institution that was to become the Catholic Church was the single visible entity among other Christian entities that held claim to being Christ’s church.

The Catechesis expands upon the term “catholic”: “The Church is Catholic in a double sense… First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her… Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race…” (Catechism 830 and 831).

The Catechesis refers to the Church as being one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. And although the Catholic Church believes there can be elements of sanctification and truth found outside of the Catholic Church, it believes it is “the sole Church of Christ” (Catechism 870).

See Catechism 830, 831, and 866 to 870.

Latter-day Saint Doctrine

On April 26, 1838, eight years after the revelation on the organization and governance of the Church, came a revelation from the Lord that included what the name of the Church would be called: “Thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4).

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote an article in 1990 in which he describes each phrase from the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” to expound on their meaning (Russell M. Nelson, “Thus Shall My Church Be Called,” Ensign, May 1990, 16). The following is a summary of that article:

The Church
The first two words of the name the Lord chose for His earthly organization… Note that the article The begins with a capital letter. This is an important part of the title, for the Church is the official organization of baptized believers who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ.” (D&C 10:67–69; D&C 18:21–25.) The foundation of the Church is the reality that God is our Father and that His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of the world. The witness and inspiration of the Holy Ghost confirm those realities. The Church is the way by which the Master accomplishes His work and bestows His glory…

of Jesus Christ
By divine directive, the title of the Church bears the sacred name of Jesus Christ, whose church this is.” (See D&C 115:3–4.)… We worship God the Eternal Father in the name of His Son by the power of the Holy Ghost. We know the premortal Jesus to be Jehovah… We know Him to be “the chief corner stone” upon which the organization of His Church is based. (Eph. 2:20.) We know Him to be the Rock from whom revelation comes to His authorized agents (see 1 or. 10:4; Hel. 5:12) and to all who worthily seek Him (see D&C 88:63)…”

of Latter-day
It is true that scriptures foretell the final days of the earth’s temporal existence as a telestial sphere. The earth will then be renewed and receive its paradisiacal, or terrestrial, glory. (A of F 1:10.) Ultimately, the earth will become celestialized. (See Rev. 21:1; D&C 77:1; D&C 88:25–26.) But its last days must be preceded by its latter days! We live in those latter days, and they are really remarkable. The Lord’s Spirit is being poured out upon all inhabitants of the earth, precisely as the Prophet Joel foretold. His prophecy was of such significance that the angel Moroni reaffirmed it to the Prophet Joseph Smith. (See Joel 2:28–32; JS—H 1:41.)

The word Christian appears in only three verses of the King James Version of the Bible. In contrast, the term saint (or saints) appears in thirty-six verses of the Old Testament and in sixty-two verses of the New Testament. Paul addressed an epistle “to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 1:1.) To recent converts there he said, “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19; see also Eph. 3:17–19.). In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul used the word saint at least once in every chapter! A saint is a believer in Christ and knows of His perfect love…

Elder Nelson’s explanation answers the question, “What’s in a name.” One can see there is deep spiritual meaning in each element of the name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” laying the groundwork for a meaningful spiritual association in communion and community with Christ and the faithful.

The Church is often referred to as “The Mormon Church” or “LDS Church.” Both of these have been given to the Church by the media as nick names. Church members have been counseled to use the full name of the Church as much as possible in order to convey the true meaning of the Lord’s work on the earth and his Church in these latter-days.

See chapter 10 in Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest for a more comprehensive explanation and commentary on the structure and name of the Lord’s Church.

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