Generally speaking, we tend to think that the institutional structure of the church is either administrative or pastoral. In other words, we think that the point of things like Bishoprics, High Councils, and Stake Presidencies is either to keep the congregational trains running on time, or else to reach out as the shepherd of the flock, leaving the 99 to find the sheep that has strayed, etc. etc. The odd thing is that both scripturally and historically, the ecclesiastical structure of the church is neither pastoral nor administrative. It is judicial.
Read the Doctrine and Covenants on Church government, and what you will see is that most of the discussion about the offices of bishop or stake president have to do with judging. Indeed, in some ways the ur-institution seems to be neither bishopric, stake presidency, first presidency, nor even Quorum of the Twelve. Rather, it is the stake High Council. (Indeed, I believe that the High Council predates both the first presidency and the stake presidency, with stake presidents initially serving as presidents of the High Council, rather than as presidents of a separate quorum.) Furthermore, what the High Councils seem to have spent most of their time doing during the first three or four generations of the Church was adjudicating disputes between members. Early Mormons seem to have been a quarrelsome bunch (further evidence of post-Puritanism, perhaps?), and the ecclesiastical structure of the Church seems to have been largely about chandelling this litigious energy into priesthood-controlled fora.
The central importance of the judicial role in church government seems to have waned during the administration of Lorenzo Snow, who actively discouraged Mormons from bringing their personal disputes into Church fora, counselling them instead to seek justice from the secular courts. This reverse more than a half-century of Mormon policy, which had been to funnel as much litigation as possible into church courts. It also, in a sense, left the institutional structure of the church bereft of much of its original work. To be sure, bishops, stake presidents, and high councillors retain their respective roles as “judges in Israel,” but these roles are now decisively subordinated to pastoral and administrative roles. Indeed, formal church adjudication is generally seen as a last resort in particularly difficult cases, rather than as an ordinary part of Mormons’ interactions with the Church and with one another. Most dramatically, the Mormon private-law tradition (that is the resolution of disputes among members rather than judging individual infractions of Church standards) has all but disappeared. We are left, however, English fashion, with a constitutional structure that is essentially adjudicative.
We are also left with a fun research question for would-be Mormon legal historians: Why did adjudication play such a central role in the foundation of Mormon institutions, and why has its centrality waned so dramatically?