Church History
Common Consent

“Common Consent,” Church History Topics

“Common Consent”

Common Consent

After the restoration of priesthood authority, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery not to ordain each other as elders and leaders in the Church until other believers could “decide by vote whether they were willing to accept” Joseph and Oliver’s leadership. One of Joseph’s first actions at the organizational meeting of the Church on April 6, 1830, was to call for such a vote. He asked those assembled to show whether they approved of him and Oliver as teachers and whether they should organize the Church according to revelation. The members voted unanimously in favor.1 A July 1830 revelation reiterated that “all things shall be done by common consent in the Church by much prayer & faith.”2

men raising right hands

Early Church members conducted business by common consent, sustaining leaders and decisions by vote.

Early Church leaders adopted procedures used in other organizations—such as raising hands to vote—in their attempts to fulfill the Lord’s command that business be conducted by common consent. Formalities like calling meetings to order, sustaining officers and decisions by vote, keeping minutes, and announcing agenda items had become commonplace in many different organizations during the previous century.3 Churches, government bodies, and private clubs alike employed similar procedures, taking the British House of Commons as their model.4 By the 1820s, most Americans, including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, took these “parliamentary procedures” for granted as the way meetings should be run.5 These forms helped set apart Church meetings, including the founding meeting, as legitimate or official rather than informal gatherings.6

The practice of conducting Church business by common consent sometimes resulted in contrary votes. A revelation in 1841 even recognized the possibility of the Saints not ratifying callings issued by revelation. “A commandment I give unto you,” the Lord declared, “that you should fill all these offices and approve of those names which I have mentioned, or else disapprove of them at my general conference.”7 Some members at an 1841 conference objected to retaining the elders quorum president, a bishop, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and a counselor in the Nauvoo high priests quorum presidency. The respective quorums subsequently met in councils to reconsider these callings.8 At a conference in 1843, Joseph Smith questioned Sidney Rigdon’s fitness to serve as a counselor in the First Presidency. Other leaders spoke out in support of Rigdon, and the assembled Church members voted to retain him in his calling against Joseph’s initial wishes. Joseph begrudgingly accepted the result.9

Over time, debate in Church conferences and sacrament meetings was increasingly viewed as disruptive. Church leaders began to instruct those presiding over meetings to answer any objections raised during a sustaining vote outside of the meeting. Nonetheless, the same vigorous discussion continues today in ward, stake, mission, and general Church councils. Latter-day Saints continue to conduct Church business by common consent. Those who cast opposing votes are referred to their local leaders to discuss their concerns. Those who vote in favor seek to sustain leaders and programs not only with their vote but also through their actions, faith, and prayers.10