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In Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the office of Elder is an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood (also known as the "higher" priesthood); because it designates a certain position within the priesthood, it is as a title designating a holder of this priesthood. General Authorities and male missionaries are called by the title, elder.
In the Bible, the term elder is used in different ways. In the Old Testament, the term elder is generally used to refer to older men in a tribe. These men were usually responsible for government and decision making affairs. Their age made their counsel valuable, but their position was not necessarily a priesthood calling (see Genesis 50:7; Joshua 20:4; Ruth 4:2).
Ordained elders, or those who had been called by God to receive the Melchizedek priesthood, are also mentioned in the Old Testament. Exodus 24:9-11 is an example,
Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
Ordained elders also appear in the Book of Mormon. Alma 4:7 reads,
Now this was the cause of much affliction to Alma, yea, and to many of the people whom Alma had consecrated to be teachers, and priests, and elders over the church; yea, many of them were sorely grieved for the wickedness which they saw had begun to be among their people.
Consecrated is another word for ordained. Moroni 3:1 is further evidence that the people of the Book of Mormon held the Melchizedek Priesthood, “The manner which the disciples, who were called the elders of the church, ordained priests and teachers.” From this passage it is also learned that those who hold the priesthood as an elder are able to ordain men to the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood.
With wickedness came apostasy and the priesthood was lost, until Joseph Smith reestablished Christ’s Church in the latter days. In Doctrine and Covenants 20:2-3 it is learned that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were the first elders ordained in the latter days,
Which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church; And to Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church, and ordained under his hand.
The duties of an elder in the Church today are found in Doctrine and Covenants 20:38-45:
- The duty of the elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the church of Christ;An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize; And to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons; And to administer bread and wine—the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ—And to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures; And to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church; And to confirm the church by the laying on of the hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost; And to take the lead of all meetings. The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.”
Elders also have the duty of preaching the gospel to the nations.
- Tonight we announce a significant restructuring of our Melchizedek Priesthood quorums to accomplish the work of the Lord more effectively. In each ward, the high priests and the elders will now be combined into one elders quorum. This adjustment will greatly enhance the capacity and the ability of men who bear the priesthood to serve others. Prospective elders will be welcomed in and fellowshipped by that quorum. In each stake, the stake presidency will continue to preside over the stake high priests quorum. . . .
- Elder D. Todd Christofferson and Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will now teach us more about these important adjustments.
- These modifications have been under study for many months. We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them. To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that the Lord intends for His Saints.
- These adjustments are inspired of the Lord. As we implement them, we will be even more effective than we have ever been previously.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson added:
- In wards, members of elders quorums and high priests groups will now be combined into one Melchizedek Priesthood quorum with one quorum presidency. This quorum, increased in numbers and unity, will be designated the “elders quorum.” High priests groups are discontinued. The elders quorum includes all elders and prospective elders in the ward as well as high priests who are not currently serving in the bishopric, in the stake presidency, on the high council, or as functioning patriarchs.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband noted:
- These adjustments will help elders quorums and Relief Societies harmonize their work. They will also simplify the quorum’s coordination with the bishopric and ward council. And they allow the bishop to delegate more responsibilities to the elders quorum and Relief Society presidents so that the bishop and his counselors can focus on their primary duties—particularly presiding over the young women and the young men who bear the Aaronic Priesthood.