We saw three empty seats among the Quorum of the Twelve at Elder Richard G. Scott’s funeral this week and we assume that we will have three new apostles called at this weekend’s General Conference. This is the most vacancies The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had in the Quorum of the Twelve since 1906.
These three new apostles will be called without much fanfare. Their names will be read and they will come up and assume these empty seats on the stand and we will go on with the conference as simply as that.
Yet these are momentous callings to know the Savior as a special witness. At Elder Scott’s funeral, a remark of his was remembered by Elder D. Todd Christofferson. “That word ‘know’ is a very important word for those 15 men who are apostles—the sacred experiences and the confirmation [of the] certainty that our Father in Heaven lives and that His Son, Jesus Christ is our Savior; not a hope, not a belief, not a wish, but an absolute, confirmed certainly. Our Father in Heaven is real. His Son, Jesus Christ, is real. I know the Savior.”
President Henry B. Eyring has said something similar, “I am a witness of the Resurrection of the Lord as surely as if I had been there in the evening with the two disciples in the house on Emmaus road. I know that He lives as surely as did Joseph Smith when he saw the Father and the Son in the light of a brilliant morning in a grove of trees in Palmyra.”
Their testimonies could not be clearer of their personal knowledge of the Savior, Himself. So the gravity and importance of this apostolic calling could not be overstated. From scripture, from testimony, from historical records there are at least four things we can understand about the choosing of an apostle.
Our Lord is a God of order. When Harold B. Lee became President of the Church, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “It is reassuring to know that [a new President is]…not elected through committees and conventions with all their conflicts, criticisms, and by the vote of men, but [is called of God and then sustained by the people…
”The pattern divine allows for no errors, no conflicts, no ambitions, no ulterior motives. The Lord has reserved for himself the calling of his leaders over his church.”
Members will not be mounting campaigns behind our possible favorites or calling for politically correct decisions or taking a poll in the local newspaper.
We sometimes hear the Church described as a democracy, but in reality it is a theocracy where God directs His church. As our fifth Article of Faith says: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”
Apostles called are chosen through inspiration by the President of the Church, sustained by the general membership and ordained by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.
What we understand of the procedure is this: when a new apostle is to be chosen, the President of the Church asks each of the Apostles to make recommendations on slips of paper and not to discuss this with each other.
Elder Christofferson said: “[President Monson’s] practice has been to ask each of his counselors and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve to give him names they would recommend for his consideration, not to discuss with each other but just individually, to give him whatever name or names they feel impressed he ought to look at,” he says.
“What process he goes through exactly, I’m not sure. That’s, again, something private he pursues. He then brings back, when he’s reached his decision and had the inspiration he needs, the name or names to the council that we have of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to sustain it. That goes forward to general conference”
President N. Eldon Tanner gave an example of how this works with an experience of President Heber J. Grant: “While he was a member of the Council of the Twelve, when asked by the President of the Church to submit names, he repeatedly submitted that of a very good friend of his for consideration to fill existing vacancies among the Twelve.
“The man was never chosen, and President Grant is reported to have said at one time that if he ever became President of the Church, and there was a vacancy to fill, he would call that man, because he was so well qualified.
“After he became President and it was necessary to fill a vacancy, he told the Lord that he knew whom he wanted, but that he wanted to select the man that the Lord wanted. The name of Melvin J. Ballard, whom President Grant knew slightly, but not too well, came into his mind and kept recurring to let him know that he was the man who should be called. He was nominated by President Grant and approved by the Twelve. He was ordained and set apart by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve and at the following general conference was presented to those in attendance for their sustaining vote.”
President Hinckley explains the process:
When a man is appointed to be an apostle, he is given all the keys of the kingdom, but as Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained, “But since keys are the right of presidency, they can only be exercised in their fullness by one man on earth at a time. He is always the senior apostle, the presiding apostle, the presiding high priest, the presiding elder…
“Thus, the keys though vested in all of the Twelve, are used by any one of them to a limited degree only, unless and until one of them attains that seniority which makes him the Lord’s anointed on earth.”
President Joseph Fielding Smith said that when an apostle becomes the presiding officer of the Church, he does not receive any additional authority:
“The Prophet [Joseph Smith], in anticipation of his death, conferred upon the Twelve all the keys and authorities which he held. He did not bestow the keys on any one member, but upon them all, so that each held the keys and authorities. All members of the Council of the Twelve since that day have also been given all of these keys and powers.
“But these powers cannot be exercised by any one of them until, if the occasion arises, he is called to be the presiding officer of the Church. The Twelve, therefore, in the setting apart of the President do not give him any additional priesthood, but confirm upon him that which he has already received; they set him apart to the office, which it is their right to do.”[i]
President Harold B. Lee observed: “The beginning of the call of one to be President of the Church actually begins when he is called, ordained, and set apart to become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles”[ii]
President N. Eldon Tanner also gave us this insight on this principle citing the time when President Harold B. Lee died.
“President Romney, Second Counselor, in my absence was directing the affairs of the Church, and was at the hospital with Spencer W. Kimball, President of the Council of the Twelve. Immediately upon the death of President Lee, President Romney turned to President Kimball and said, “You are in charge.” Remember, the Prophet Joseph Smith had said that without the President there was no First Presidency over the Twelve.
“Not one minute passed between the time President Lee died and the Twelve took over as the presiding authority of the Church.
“Following President Lee’s funeral, President Kimball called a meeting of all of the Apostles for Sunday, December 30, at 3 P.M. in the Salt Lake Temple Council Room. President Romney and I had taken our respective places of seniority in the council, so there were fourteen of us present.
“Following a song, and prayer by President Romney, President Kimball, in deep humility, expressed his feelings to us. He said that he had spent Friday in the temple talking to the Lord, and had shed many tears as he prayed for guidance in assuming his new responsibilities and in choosing his counselors.”
Third: Calling and Preparation
The Lord knows his children and has prepared them for their callings of responsibility from the pre-mortal world. He told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Abraham was, of course, taught the same thing as he surveyed the universe, “now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born” (Abraham 3: 22,23).
If it was so in ancient times, surely it is the same today. As we read in the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was.”
The Lord prepares his servants with knowledge, leadership training and life experiences so they are ready for the callings he extends to them. Whoever these new apostles will be, they have been schooled by the Lord for this calling. They may or may not come from the governing ranks of the Church. Dallin H. Oaks was a Utah Supreme Court Justice and Russell M. Nelson, a heart surgeon when they were called. What is true is that those called have already been excellent at their work, in their family and in their Church callings.
I like this story that happened to a friend of ours, Yves Perrin, who was called to be a mission president in Tahiti. He went to our neighbor Elder James M. Paramore for a chat one afternoon and asked him a question. “Elder Paramore, was I called to be the mission president in Tahiti because I am a native French speaker, was already a missionary in Tahiti and was once a principal of a school there?” Elder Paramore answered that he had it wrong. He spoke French, was a missionary to Tahiti and had been a principal of a school there because he was going to be called to be a mission president there.
Just as the Lord had Nephi prepare a small and large set of plates centuries before Martin Harris lost the 116 pages, the Lord knows the end from the beginning and prepares all things for His purposes. He knows and prepares His apostles for their significant calling.
The three new apostles will be called to a life of sacrifice and service. LDS Public Affairs director, Mike Otterson, describes it well:
“Can you imagine what it would be like to be called to the Twelve? In most cases you have already had a successful career. You know you will continue to serve the Church in some volunteer capacity, but you have begun to think of your future retirement. The First Presidency and the Twelve, of course do not retire. Neither are they released. With their call comes the sure knowledge that they will work every day for the rest of their lives, even if they live into their nineties, until they literally drop and their minds and bodies give out. Their workday begins early and does not end at 5pm. The Twelve get Mondays off, and those Mondays are frequently spent preparing for the rest of the week. If they have a weekend assignment, they will often travel on a Friday afternoon. Periodically, even though in their 80’s, they face the grueling schedule of international speaking conferences and leadership responsibilities.
“What about when they are home? I have the cell phone numbers of most of the Brethren because I sometimes have to call them in the evening, on weekends or when they are out and about. I’m not naïve enough to think that I am the only Church officer to do so. So even their downtime is peppered with interruptions. I invariably begin those calls by apologizing for interrupting them at home. I have never once been rebuked for calling. They are invariably kind and reassuring, even early in the morning or late at night.
“Their primary time off each year is from the end of the mission presidents’ seminar at the very end of June, through the end of July. And while this time is meant as a break, most of the Brethren use this time to turn their thoughts, among other things, to October General Conference and preparation of their remarks. During Christmas break they do the same for April conference. Every one of them takes extraordinary care and time in deciding on a topic and crafting their messages. The process weighs on them for months as they refine draft after draft.
“This is not a schedule you would wish on anyone. Yet they bear it with grace and find joy for some overwhelmingly important reasons – their testimony and commitment to be a witness of the Savior of the world and their desire to strengthen His children everywhere. They would be the very first to acknowledge their own faults or failings, just as we can readily point to the apostles of the New Testament and see imperfect people.”
Sending our Support
So from those of us at Meridian Magazine, we send our love and support to the apostles who have served us so well and the new apostles who will do the same. We sense your goodness. We are lifted by your words. Our lives our clarified by the revelation you receive. We love the Lord of whom you bear witness.
[i] Smith, Joseph Fielding: Doctrines of Salvation Deseret Book Publishing Company. 3:155.
[ii] Brewster, Hoyt W. Prophets, Priesthood Keys and Succession, Deseret Book Publishing Company, p. 107.