As a young missionary for the Church I came to love the message of Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” It has always given me a sense of comfort and confidence knowing that I belonged to the Lord’s restored Church lead by a living prophet. Having a living prophet being led by the Gift of the Holy Ghost creates a true and living Church (D&C 1:30).
Dispensations and Dispensation Heads
As Latter-day saints we know that the word of God is revealed in the context of gospel dispensations. The dispensation head receives the word of God for his dispensation. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the role dispensations and dispensation heads. He shows the role of apostles and prophets with the head of the dispensation within which they live:
Some background is essential to our understanding of what is involved. We all know that salvation is in Christ. He is the Firstborn of the Father. He was like unto God in the premortal life, and he became, under the Father, the Creator of all things. We look to him; our faith centers in him, and in the Father, through him.
Second to Christ stands that great spirit person Michael, who led the armies and hosts of heaven when there was war and rebellion in heaven, and who, being foreordained so to do, came here as the first man of all men and became the presiding high priest over the earth. The next person in this hierarchy is Gabriel, who came into this life as Noah. After that, we do not know the order of priority, except that singled out from among the hosts of heaven were certain who were foreordained to be the heads of dispensations.
Dispensations are those periods of time when the plan of salvation, the Word–the Eternal Word–is dispensed to men on earth. How many there have been we do not know. I suppose there have been ten; maybe there have been twenty; there could have been more. I am speaking now not of what sometimes are called dispensations in the sense that John the Baptist and Paul and some of the other prophets had special appointments. I am speaking of those great eras or periods, of those designated portions of the earth’s history, when the Lord, through one man, gives his word to the whole world and makes all the prophets, and all the seers, and all the administrators, and all the apostles of that period subject to, and exponents of, what came through that individual (emphasis added). What this means is that the head of a gospel dispensation stands as one of the ten or twenty greatest spirits who have so far been born on earth. (1)
Priesthood and Prophets
All true prophets of Jesus Christ testify of him and his divinity. In order to represent him with authority they must hold the Lord’s priesthood. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained the role of priesthood in the Lord’s giving his revelations to the earth:
Although there are two Priesthoods, yet the Melchizedek Priesthood comprehends the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood, and is the grand head, and holds the highest authority which pertains to the priesthood, and the keys of the Kingdom of God in all ages of the world to the latest posterity on the earth; and is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven.
Its institution was prior to “the foundation of this earth, or the morning stars sang together, or the Sons of God shouted for joy,” and is the highest and holiest Priesthood, and is after the order of the Son of God, and all other Priesthoods are only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same, and are held, controlled, and directed by it. It is the channel through which the Almighty commenced revealing His glory at the beginning of the creation of this earth, and through which He has continued to reveal Himself to the children of men to the present time, and through which He will make known His purposes to the end of time. (2)
The Mantle Passes On
President Nathan Eldon Tanner left on record for church members the process that takes place as one prophet passes on and is succeeded by another. This account is given after the death of President Harold B. Lee who was replaced by President Spencer W. Kimball:
When Wilford Woodruff was the president of the Church, he said that it was the will of the Lord that no amount of time be allowed to pass between the death of the president of the Church and the time that the First Presidency was reorganized. Therefore, on December 30, 1973, just four days after President Lee’s death, President Kimball, the president of the Twelve, called the members of the Twelve together in the upper room of the temple for the purpose of discussing the reorganization of the First Presidency and to take whatever action was decided upon. Those who had been counselors to the President–that is, President Romney and myself–took their respective places in the Quorum of the Twelve.
President Kimball, upon expressing his great sorrow at the passing of President Lee and his feeling of inadequacy, called upon the members of the Twelve in order of seniority to express themselves individually as to how they felt about reorganizing the presidency of the Church.
As each member of the Twelve spoke, he expressed himself as feeling that now was the time to reorganize the First Presidency and that President Spencer W. Kimball was the one whom the Lord wanted to preside at this time. The sweet Spirit of the Lord was present in rich abundance and there was complete unity and harmony in the minds and spoken words of the Brethren. The only purpose and desire was to do the will of the Lord, and there was no question in anyone’s mind but what the will of the Lord had been expressed.
Elder Ezra Taft Benson then made the formal motion that the First Presidency of the Church be reorganized and that Spencer W. Kimball be sustained, ordained, and set apart as the president, prophet, seer, revelator, and as trustee-in-trust of the Church. This motion was seconded and unanimously approved.
In all humility, President Kimball stepped forward and made his speech of acceptance, praying that the Spirit and blessings of the Lord would attend him that he might be made able to carry out the will of the Lord. He said he had always prayed for President Lee’s health and strength and vigor and for the blessings of the Lord to attend him as he carried on as the president of the Church. He emphasized the fact that he had prayed sincerely with his lovely wife, Camilla, that this position would never come to him and that he felt sure that President Lee would certainly outlive him.
On this occasion I thought of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed: “… O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
” (Matt. 26:39.) And he so accepted.
He then chose and nominated as his first counselor N. Eldon Tanner and as his second counselor Marion G. Romney, each of whom expressed himself in all humility and pledged himself to support and sustain President Kimball as the president of the Church and to fill his office to the best of his ability, and prayed for the blessings of the Lord to attend him.
Following this, President Benson was sustained as president of the Council of the Twelve. President Kimball then took his seat in the middle of the room, and as all those present placed their hands upon his head, we felt the Spirit of the Lord was truly with us, and this sweet Spirit filled our hearts. Then, with President Benson being mouth, in a beautiful prayer and blessing, Spencer Woolley Kimball was ordained and set apart as prophet, seer, and revelator and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It is my testimony to you and to the world that the plan and order of the Church has been followed, that the will of the Lord has been done, and that Spencer W. Kimball is his prophet and president of his church and kingdom here upon the earth. In the stake conferences since his appointment and in the solemn assembly today, the people have enthusiastically sustained him. It is the great privilege, honor, and responsibility of each and every one of us to accept and support President Kimball as a prophet of God and under his direction do all in our power to help build the kingdom, to further the cause of righteousness, and prepare the world for the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (3)
President Kimball gave this account at the passing of President David O. McKay:
It is Sunday morning, January 18, 1970. A great heart stops beating and an aged body relaxes and slumbers. Like an earthquake sends a tidal wave around the earth, communications now cover the earth and millions of serious-minded people in even faraway places stop to pay saddened tribute to a mighty man of God who has passed from mortality.
For days, long lines of loving followers inch their way along the street, even in the rain, to see once more the visage of their departed leader.
The Tabernacle is crowded with those who loved him, and sweet tributes are paid.
The earthly body of the prophet, David O. McKay, is laid to rest in dignified reverence.
In our feeling of emptiness, it hardly seems that we could go on without him; but as one star sinks behind the horizon, another rises in the sky, and death spawns life.
The work of the Lord is endless. Even when a powerful leader dies, not for a single instant is the Church without leadership, thanks to the kind Providence who gave his kingdom continuity and perpetuity. As it already had happened eight times before in this dispensation, a people reverently close a grave, dry their tears, and turn their faces to the future.
The moment life passes from a President of the Church, a body of men become the composite leader–these men already seasoned with experience and training. The appointments have long been made, the authority given, the keys delivered. For five days, the kingdom moves forward under this already authorized council. No “running” for position, no electioneering, no stump speeches. What a divine plan! How wise our Lord, to organize so perfectly beyond the weakness of frail, grasping humans!
Then dawns a notable day (January 23, 1970), and fourteen serious men walk reverently into the temple of God–this, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, several of whom have experienced this solemn change before.
When these fourteen men emerge from the holy edifice later in the morning, a transcendently vital event has occurred–a short interregnum ends, and the government of the kingdom shifts back again from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to a new prophet, an individual leader, the Lord’s earthly representative, who has unostentatiously been moving toward this lofty calling for sixty years. The man is Joseph Fielding Smith.
Not because of his name, however, did he ascend to this high place, but because when he was a very young man he was called of the Lord, through the then-living prophet, to be an apostle–a member of the Quorum–and was given the precious, vital keys to hold in suspension pending a time when he might become the senior apostle and the President.
In that eventful temple meeting, when he has been “ordained and set apart” as the President of the Church by his brethren, the Twelve, he chooses his counselors–two mighty men of valor: Elder Harold B. Lee and Elder Nathan Eldon Tanner, with their rich background as teachers, businessmen, public officials, and especially Church leaders.
And a presidency of three and a newly constituted Council of Twelve walk humbly to their offices without fanfare or ostentation, and a new administration moves into a new period with promise of great development and unprecedented growth. (4)
Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet
Elder Ezra Taft Benson when President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles gave fourteen fundamentals for us to remember as we follow the prophet, “for our salvation depends on them” (5):
1. The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
2. The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
3. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
4. The prophet will never lead the church astray.
5. The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
6. The prophet does not have to [page 8] say “Thus Saith the Lord,” to give us scripture.
7. The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
8. The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
9. The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.
10. The prophet may advise on civic matters.
11. The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
12. The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
13. The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency–the highest quorum in the Church.
14. The prophet and the presidency–the living prophet and the First Presidency–follow them and be blessed–reject them and suffer.
I testify that these fourteen fundamentals in following the living prophet are true.
If we want to know how well we stand with the Lord then let us ask ourselves how well we stand with His mortal captain–how close do our lives harmonize with the Lord’s anointed–the living Prophet–President of the Church, and with the Quorum of the First Presidency. (6)
1. Bruce R. McConkie, “This Generation Shall Have My Word through You,” Ensign, June 1980, 54-55
2. (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 167.)
3. N. Eldon Tanner, “Chosen of the Lord,” Ensign, May 1974, 84-84
4. Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 313.
5. Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” Liahona, June 1981, 1-8