“Chapter 2: The Living Prophet: The President of the Church,” Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual (2010), 14–27
“Chapter 2,” Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, 14–27
The President of the Church presides over all priesthood quorums and the general membership of the Church. President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency explained: “He is the senior Apostle on the earth. He has been ordained and set apart as the prophet, seer, and revelator to the world. He has been sustained as the President of the Church. He is the presiding high priest over all the priesthood on the earth. He alone holds and exercises all the keys of the kingdom under the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of this Church and is the chief cornerstone” (“Continuing Revelation,” Ensign, Aug. 1996, 5).
Elder Mark E. Petersen (1900–1984) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified that the living prophet is the Lord’s spokesman to the Church and to the world: “People who are not members of this church may not sense the great significance attached to his ministry. Even some Latter-day Saints have not yet discovered it. But the president of the Church is in fact a prophet raised up in these last days to give inspired guidance, not only to Latter-day Saints, but to all mankind everywhere” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 15; or Ensign, July 1972, 40).
A careful study of this chapter will deepen your appreciation for the President of the Church and the priesthood keys of authority he holds and will help you understand how safety comes to those who choose to heed his counsel.
President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told of an experience when President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) declared that he, as the President of the Church, held the keys of the priesthood:
“In 1976 following a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, President Spencer W. Kimball invited us to a small church to see the statues of Christ and the Twelve Apostles by Bertel Thorvaldsen. The Christus stands in an alcove beyond the altar. Standing in order along the sides of the chapel are the statues of the Twelve, with Paul replacing Judas Iscariot.
“President Kimball told the elderly caretaker that at the very time Thorvaldsen was creating those beautiful statues in Denmark, a restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ was taking place in America with apostles and prophets receiving authority from those who held it anciently.
“Gathering those present closer to him, he said to the caretaker, ‘We are living Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ and pointing to Elder Pinegar he said, ‘Here is a Seventy like those spoken of in the New Testament.’
“We were standing near the statue of Peter, whom the sculptor depicted holding keys in his hand, symbolic of the keys of the kingdom. President Kimball said, ‘We hold the real keys, as Peter did, and we use them every day.’
“Then came an experience I will never forget. President Kimball, this gentle prophet, turned to President Johan H. Benthin, of the Copenhagen Stake, and in a commanding voice said, ‘I want you to tell every prelate [religious leader] in Denmark that they do not hold the keys! I hold the keys!’
“There came to me that witness known to Latter-day Saints but difficult to describe to one who has not experienced it—a light, a power coursing through one’s very soul—and I knew that, in very fact, here stood the living prophet who held the keys” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 7; or Ensign, May 1995, 8).
The prophet has the powers, gifts, and blessings that enable him to officiate in any office of the Church (see D&C 46:29; 107:91–92). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles identified responsibilities of the President of the Church, the living prophet:
“He is the earthly head of the kingdom of God, the supreme officer of the Church, the ‘President of the High Priesthood of the Church; Or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.’ (D. & C. 107:65–66.) His duty is ‘to preside over the whole church. …’ (D. & C. 107:91.)
“He is the one man on earth at a time who can both hold and exercise the keys of the kingdom in their fulness. (D. & C. 132:7.) By the authority vested in him, all ordinances of the gospel are performed, all teaching of the truths of salvation is authorized, and through the keys which he holds, salvation itself is made available to men of his day” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 591–92; emphasis added).
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) explained how the priesthood keys continue from the Prophet Joseph Smith to the current living prophet in this dispensation: “That same authority which Joseph held, those same keys and powers which were the very essence of his divinely given right to preside, were by him conferred upon the Twelve Apostles with Brigham Young at their head. Every president of the Church since then has come to that most high and sacred office out of the Council of the Twelve. Each of these men has been blessed with the spirit and power of revelation from on high. There has been an unbroken chain from Joseph Smith, Jr., to Spencer W. Kimball [who was the current prophet]. Of that I bear solemn witness and testimony before you this day. This Church is built upon the sure word of prophecy and revelation—built, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ‘upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.’ (Eph. 2:20.)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, 27–28; or Ensign, May 1981, 22).
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) indicated that the Saints need never be deceived, for the Lord has established an unmistakable channel of instruction: “When there is to be anything different from that which the Lord has told us already, he will give it to his prophet not to some Tom, Dick, or Harry that is thumbing his way across the country as we have had people tell the story; and not through someone, as another story relates, who swooned and came up and gave a revelation. I have said, ‘Do you suppose that when the Lord has his prophet on the earth, that he is going to take some round-about means of revealing things to his children? That is what he has a prophet for, and when he has something to give to this Church, he will give it to the President, and the President will see that the presidents of stakes and missions get it, along with the General Authorities; and they in turn will see that the people are advised of any new change’” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” [address to CES religious educators, July 8, 1964], 11; emphasis added).
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught that we should value the words of the prophet more than those of any other person: “Of all mortal men, we should keep our eyes most firmly fixed on the captain, the prophet, seer, and revelator, and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the man who stands closest to the fountain of living waters. There are some heavenly instructions for us that we can only receive through the prophet. A good way to measure your standing with the Lord is to see how you feel about, and act upon, the inspired words of his earthly representative, the prophet-president. The inspired words of the president are not to be trifled with. All men are entitled to inspiration, and various men are entitled to revelation for their particular assignment. But only one man stands as the Lord’s spokesman to the Church and the world, and he is the president of the Church. The words of all other men should be weighed against his inspired words” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” New Era, May 1975, 16).
The Lord reveals His mind and will to His prophet. President Spencer W. Kimball testified that the heavens are still open and that the Lord guides His Church from day to day:
“I bear witness to the world today that more than a century and a half ago the iron ceiling was shattered; the heavens were once again opened, and since that time revelations have been continuous. …
“Since that momentous day in 1820, additional scripture has continued to come, including the numerous and vital revelations flowing in a never-ending stream from God to his prophets on the earth. …
“… We testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord.
“Now, a word of warning: Let us not make the error of the ancients. Numerous modern sectarians believe in the Abrahams, the Moseses, and the Pauls, but resist believing in today’s prophets. The ancients also could accept the prophets of an earlier day, but denounced and cursed the ones who were their contemporaries.
“In our day, as in times past, many people expect that if there be revelation it will come with awe-inspiring, earth-shaking display. For many it is hard to accept as revelation those numerous ones in Moses’ time, in Joseph’s time, and in our own year—those revelations which come to prophets as deep, unassailable impressions settling down on the prophet’s mind and heart as dew from heaven or as the dawn dissipates the darkness of night.
“Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, a light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half there has been no interruption” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1977, 114–15; or Ensign, May 1977, 77–78; emphasis added).
The world is constantly changing. New and different problems and many variations of old problems continually challenge us. Our wise and loving Heavenly Father knows all things before they happen, and He reveals answers and solutions through His prophet as needed. In addition to interpreting and reaffirming existing scripture, a prophet acts as the agent through whom the Lord can give new scripture, according to the needs of the people. Speaking under the direction of the Holy Ghost, the living prophet’s words take precedence over other statements on the same issue. His inspired counsel is in harmony with the eternal truths in the standard works and is focused upon the needs and conditions of his day.
Doctrines are eternal and do not change; however, the Lord, through His prophet, may change practices and programs, according to the needs of the people. The following examples illustrate this principle:
The law of Moses was given to the children of Israel as a “schoolmaster to bring [them] unto Christ” (Galatians 3:24; see also Galatians 3:24, footnote b; from Joseph Smith Translation) but was fulfilled when the law of the gospel was given by Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:23–25; Mosiah 13:27–35; 3 Nephi 9:15–20).
When Jesus was upon the earth, the gospel was generally taught only to the house of Israel (see Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24; Mark 7:25–27). After His Resurrection, the Savior commanded the Apostles to take the gospel to everyone (see Mark 16:15; Acts 10).
In Moses’s time the Melchizedek Priesthood was taken from the general population of Israel and the Aaronic Priesthood was given only to the Levites (see D&C 84:24–26; see also Numbers 8:10–22; Hebrews 7:5). In the time of Christ and His Apostles, the Melchizedek Priesthood was again made available and the Aaronic Priesthood was offered to men who were not Levites (see Luke 6:13–16; Philippians 1:1; Hebrews 7:11–12). Today “every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority” (Official Declaration 2).
President John Taylor (1808–87) referred to prophets in the Old Testament to illustrate that new revelations are necessary for new generations: “We require a living tree—a living fountain—living intelligence, proceeding from the living priesthood in heaven, through the living priesthood on the earth. … And from the time that Adam first received a communication from God, to the time that John, on the Isle of Patmos, received his communication, or Joseph Smith had the heavens opened to him, it always required new revelations, adapted to the peculiar circumstances in which the churches or individuals were placed. Adam’s revelation did not instruct Noah to build his ark; nor did Noah’s revelation tell Lot to forsake Sodom; nor did either of these speak of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt. These all had revelations for themselves, and so had Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, and Joseph. And so must we” (The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham , 34; see also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor , 158).
President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) spoke of a meeting attended by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Brigham Young: “Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the written oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day.’ ‘And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the living oracles [living prophets] those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1897, 22–23; emphasis added).
President Boyd K. Packer taught that principles and doctrines of the gospel remain constant, even though Church practices must be adjusted occasionally: “Procedures, programs, the administrative policies, even some matters of organization are subject to change. We are quite free, indeed, quite obliged to alter them from time to time. But the principles, the doctrines, never change” (“Principles,” Ensign, Mar. 1985, 8).
President Wilford Woodruff declared that we can have full confidence in the direction the prophet is leading the Church: “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty” (Official Declaration 1, “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto”; emphasis added).
President Harold B. Lee taught this same principle: “You keep your eye upon him whom the Lord called, and I say to you now, knowing that I stand in this position, you don’t need to worry about the President of the Church ever leading people astray, because the Lord would remove him out of his place before He would ever allow that to happen” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 533).
President Gordon B. Hinckley gave similar assurance to Church members: “The Church is true. Those who lead it have only one desire, and that is to do the will of the Lord. They seek his direction in all things. There is not a decision of significance affecting the Church and its people that is made without prayerful consideration, going to the fount of all wisdom for direction. Follow the leadership of the Church. God will not let his work be led astray” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 68–69; or Ensign, Nov. 1983, 46; emphasis added).
Many people revere the prophets of the past but refuse to accept the prophet the Lord has sent to guide them in their day (see Helaman 13:24–26). President Harold B. Lee shared an experience that illustrates this tendency:
“I have a banker friend in New York. Years ago when I met him in company with President Jacobson, who was then presiding over the Eastern States Mission, we had quite a discussion. President Jacobson had given him a copy of the Book of Mormon, which he had read, and he spoke very glowingly of what he called its ‘tremendous philosophies.’ Near the close of the business hour he invited us to ride to the mission home in his limousine, and we accepted. On the way, as he talked about the Book of Mormon and his reverence for its teachings, I said, ‘Well, why don’t you do something about it? If you accept the Book of Mormon, what is holding you back? Why don’t you join the Church? Why don’t you accept Joseph Smith, then, as a prophet?’
“And he said, very thoughtfully and carefully, ‘Well, I suppose the whole reason is that Joseph Smith is too close to me. If he had lived two thousand years ago, I suppose I would believe. But because he is so close, I guess that is the reason I can’t accept him as a prophet.’
“Here was a young man saying, ‘I believe in the dead prophets that lived a thousand-plus years ago, but I have great difficulty believing in a living prophet.’ That attitude is also taken toward God. To say that the heavens are sealed and there is no revelation today is saying that we do not believe in a living Christ today, or a living God today—we believe in one long-since dead and gone. So this term living prophet has real significance” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. , 105).
Claiming a belief in dead prophets while rejecting the living prophet is a very old problem. Some of the Pharisees of Jesus Christ’s day rejected the living Christ but accepted the prophet Moses, who had led Israel over 1,000 years earlier. They reviled a man whom Jesus had healed, saying:
“Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples.
President Harold B. Lee taught that a belief in revelation must include the teachings of our current prophet:
“Soon after President David O. McKay announced to the Church that members of the First Council of the Seventy were being ordained high priests in order to extend their usefulness and to give them authority to act when no other General Authority could be present, a seventy I met … was very much disturbed. He said to me, ‘Didn’t the Prophet Joseph Smith say that this was contrary to the order of heaven to name high priests as presidents of the First Council of the Seventy?’ And I said, ‘Well, I have understood that he did, but have you ever thought that what was contrary to the order of heaven in 1840 might not be contrary to the order of heaven in 1960?’ He had not thought of that. He again was following a dead prophet, and he was forgetting that there is a living prophet today. Hence the importance of our stressing that word living.
“Years ago as a young missionary I visited Nauvoo and Carthage with my mission president, and we were holding a missionary meeting in the jail room where Joseph and Hyrum had met their deaths. The mission president related the historical events that led up to the martyrdom and then he closed with this very significant statement: ‘When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, there were many saints who died spiritually with Joseph.’ So it was when Brigham Young died: so it was when John Taylor died. … Some Church members died spiritually with Wilford Woodruff, with Lorenzo Snow, with Joseph F. Smith, with Heber J. Grant, with George Albert Smith. We have some today willing to believe someone who is dead and gone and to accept his words as having more authority than the words of a living authority today” (Stand Ye in Holy Places , 152–53; emphasis added).