By guest author, P.D. Wiles.
The sixth Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states:
We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
In simplest terms, those members of the church who hold priesthood offices (the priesthood meaning the authority to act in the Lord’s behalf) are organized according to their duties and responsibilities, similar to the way Christ organized his disciples when He lived upon the earth. A brief explanation of the priesthood can be found in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
“The word "priesthood" has several meanings for Latter-day Saints:
1. Priesthood is power, the power of God, a vital source of eternal strength and energy delegated to men to act in all things for the well-being of mankind, both in the world and out of it (DS 3:80; Romney, p. 43).
2. Priesthood is authority, the exclusive right to act in the name of God as his authorized agents and to perform ordinances for the purpose of opening certain spiritual blessings to all individuals.
3. Priesthood is the right and responsibility to preside within the organizational structure of the Church, but only in a manner consistent with the agency of others.” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1134.)
Each priesthood office has specific requirements and responsibilities. While the names which we refer to these offices may be updated, each entails much of the same accountability with regards to duty. One of the prophets, Joseph Fielding Smith, wrote this on the subject:
“According to the dictionary and in the generally accepted view of the word, an evangelist is ‘a preacher who goes from place to place holding services especially with a view of church revivals,’ He is a ‘preacher of the gospel.’ The term evangel means gospel, or good news. But dictionaries also contain such definitions as this: ‘A Mormon officer of the Melchizedek or Higher Priesthood, whose special function is to bless.’
The Prophet's explanation in relation to the evangelist is: ‘An evangelist is a patriarch, even the oldest man of the blood of Joseph or of the seed of Abraham. Wherever the Church of Christ is established in the earth, there should be a patriarch for the benefit of the posterity of the saints, as it was with Jacob in giving his patriarchal blessings unto his sons.’
The dictionary definition of a pastor is a correct one, even from our understanding of this term; it is, ‘a Christian minister who has a church or congregation under his official charge.’ The term pastor does not refer to an order in the priesthood, like deacon, priest, elder, seventy, and so on, but is a general term applied to an officer who presides over a ward, branch in a mission or a stake, and it could even be applied to a president of a stake. There are several references to pastors in the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Jeremiah. I quote one or two of these showing that this is a general term applied to the priests and teachers in Israel and not to an order of the priesthood:
‘And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.’
‘For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.’
‘As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.’
From these passages you will see that it is clear that the Lord has reference to the priests and rulers over the children of Israel and not to an order, or office, in the priesthood. The Prophet Joseph Smith in the Sixth Article of Faith was following Paul's expression and had reference to those who had jurisdiction over the flocks, or branches, of the Church. We can say truthfully that a bishop is a pastor; so is an elder who has charge of a branch of the Church, or a president of a stake who has direction of a number of wards and branches. We used to have pastors, so named, in Great Britain; they were men appointed to preside over two or more conferences, now called districts.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 3: 109.)
Today, Gordon B. Hinckley presides over the worldwide church as prophet. He is assisted in his duties by twelve apostles, who are assisted by seventies and area authorities, who are assisted by stake presidents. While the language in the scriptures is not quite the same language we use today, we know that the word pastors refers to bishops and branch presidents, and that evangelists refers to stake patriarchs. While the church has changed in size from a handful of members to millions worldwide, and though occasional modification of quorums has been necessary (i.e. the adding on of more quorums of the seventy) the basic priesthood leadership structure has remained the same. Since Joseph Smith, there has been a prophet leading the church upon the earth. And Christ, now as 2000 years ago, stands as the head of our church today.
Finally, these words from Joseph Fielding McConkie:
“Is the organization of the Lord's church the same in all ages? As we have just seen, the principles of salvation must be everlastingly the same. The organization through which they are administered, however, can and may change. Its principles are eternal and as such are irrevocable; its policies, on the other hand, are not, and thus they properly may change as circumstances change. For example, in the early part of the Old Testament, the organization of the Church was familial. When the nation of Israel was formed, the organization of the Church became much more complex. Similarly, when the Church was organized for the first time in this dispensation, it had only a handful of members and a correspondingly simple organizational structure. Today, with millions of members, that organization is appreciably more complex, and it will, of course, continue to grow and change. Nevertheless, we will always be able to describe the Church as Joseph Smith did in the sixth Article of Faith: "We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth." (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Here We Stand [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 146.)