Introduction: The Role and Importance of the LDS Church President
The LDS church has very specific doctrines with regards to the role and importance of the President of the church. The President of the church (i.e. “the Prophet”) is not elected by the members of the church, rather he is "sustained" by the members of the church.
The President of the church is always the senior apostle in the church. Seniority is determined by his order of ordination into the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, not by his age.
Every President of the LDS church, since Brigham Young, has been a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles for more than 30 years prior to becoming the President of the church. Thus, each president of the church has a vast amount of experience in church administration and operation prior to becoming the president.
The quotes on this page are chosen to make the doctrines of the LDS church regarding the office of “Prophet, Seer and Revelator” clear because there is some inaccurate information on the Internet, and in other places, on this subject.
This key quote, made by President Wilford Woodruff, in 1890, will begin this discussion and is taken from one of the comment sections at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants.
- “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.”
Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2
There are three important concepts to be taken from the above quote:
First, the quote makes it very clear that the prophet is not in charge of church decisions. The key decisions which are made by the church are in fact made by the Savior Jesus Christ.
Second, the above quote does not imply that the Prophet is incapable of “falling” or that he is infallible. Only the members of the Godhead are infallible. The quote only states that if the Prophet does “fall,” the Savior, who literally controls the church and its doctrines, will not allow the Prophet to lead the church astray. How the Savior prevents the prophet from leading the church astray, should the prophet fall, is the prerogative of the Savior.
Third, while the church normally has 15 apostles (the First Presidency, which includes the President of the church and his two counselors, plus the twelve members of the Quorum of the Twelve), only the Prophet has the final word on church doctrine and key church decisions. A full discussion of the powers of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency as a group is beyond the scope of this article.
These doctrines allow all faithful members of the church to have complete confidence in the words of the prophet because the members have faith that the Savior is in charge and that He will not allow the prophet to lead the church astray!!
Indeed, the Savior said this to the members of the church regarding the words of the prophet:
- 4 Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
6 For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name's glory.
Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6
The relationship of the prophet to the members of the church is unlike that of any other leader of any other organization on earth. The church cannot be led astray precisely because the Savior will not allow the prophet to lead the church astray!! That is why the prophet, by himself, has the final word on all key church issues.
The rest of the quotes on this page will further refine the doctrines of the church with regards to the role of the prophet.
Quotes: The Role and Importance of the LDS Church President
- If we had before us every revelation which God ever gave to man; if we had the Book of Enoch; if we had the untranslated plates before us in the English language; if we had the records of the Revelator St. John which are sealed up, and all other revelations, and they were piled up here a hundred feet high, the church and kingdom of God could not grow, in this or any other age of the world, without the living oracles of God.
Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 53
- We have the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; but all these books, without the living oracles and a constant stream of revelation from the Lord, would not lead any people into the Celestial Kingdom of God. This may seem a strange declaration to make, but strange as it may sound, it is nevertheless true.
Of course, these records are all of infinite value. They cannot be too highly prized, nor can they be too closely studied. But in and of themselves, with all the light that they give, they are insufficient to guide the children of men and to lead them into the presence of God. To be thus led requires a living Priesthood and constant revelation from God to the people according to the circumstances in which they may be placed.
President George Q. Cannon; Gospel Truth, sel. Jerreld L. Newquist, 2 vols. (1974), 1:323
- And be it known that whenever a people believe the canon of scripture is complete; whenever they try to feed themselves spiritually upon the prophetic word of the past alone; whenever they are without [living] prophets and apostles to give them the living word; whenever they cease to receive new revelations—then they are no longer capable of interpreting and understanding past revelations. The prophecies of the past can only be understood by living prophets who are endowed with power from on high and whose minds are enlightened by the same Holy Spirit who authored the ancient word.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie; The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 1:275–76
- It is different with us (the LDS church) than with the world; we have a main channel through which to receive our light, knowledge and blessings. … You may take the smartest men that talent and learning ever made and put them in the church of God, and they never can get ahead of their leader. Their wisdom would be turned into folly. Why? Because they are not called to lead.
If a man has never learned a letter of a book, if the Lord calls upon him to lead the church and kingdom of God, he will give him power to do it. We have had these lessons laid before us day after day, calling upon us to be united, and our hearts to become as the heart of one man, that our prayers and works may be centered to one point in carrying out the counsel of our head.
The Lord will lead [the President of the Church] where he wants him to go. We know God is with him, and has led him all the time. … It requires [the prophet] to tell us what is right and what is wrong in many things, because that is his place and calling. ... A perfect channel exists between the Lord and him, through which he obtains wisdom, which is diffused through other channels to the people. That we know. We have got to learn to bring this knowledge into practice.
President Wilford Woodruff; Deseret News, December 16, 1857, 324–25
- I want to say to my brethren and sisters that [the President of the Church] is our leader, he is our law-giver in the Church and Kingdom of God. He is called to this office; it is his prerogative to tell this people what to do, and it is our duty to obey the counsel that he has given to-day to the sisters and the brethren. We, as a people, should not treat lightly this counsel, for I will tell you in the name of the Lord, and I have watched it from the time I became a member of this Church, there is no man who undertakes to run counter to the counsel of the legally authorized leader of this people that ever prospers, and no such man ever will prosper.
Wilford Woodruff; Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, September 20, 1870, 2
- When the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of God, the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, of the apostleship, and sealed them upon the head of Joseph Smith, He sealed them upon his head to stay here upon the earth until the coming of the Son of Man. Well might Brigham Young say, ‘The keys of the kingdom of God are here.’ They were with him to the day of his death. They then rested upon the head of another man—President John Taylor. He held those keys to the hour of his death. They then fell by turn, or in the providence of God, upon Wilford Woodruff.
I say to the Latter-day Saints the keys of the kingdom of God are here, and they are going to stay here, too, until the coming of the Son of Man. Let all Israel understand that. They may not rest upon my head but a short time, but they will then rest on the head of another apostle, and another after him, and so continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of heaven.
Wilford Woodruff, Millennial Star, September 2, 1889, 547
- We have revelation with us. True, the leaders of this Church since the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith have not [published] many revelations. Joseph Smith brought forth the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and it is a grand volume of revelation—one of the most glorious records ever given of God to man on the earth. But I want to say that Brother Brigham Young did not live without revelation. He always had revelation with him. He could not labor without it; he could not preach or do the will of God without it. Nor can any man that occupies that position.
The Lord would permit no man to stand at the head of this Church unless he was governed and controlled by revelation. We are feeble instruments—weak worms of the dust; but God has chosen the weak things of the earth to confound the wise, and to build up His Zion, and He gives us revelation and makes known unto us His mind and will.
Wilford Woodruff, Millennial Star, March 5, 1896, 148
- I hope we may all pursue the course laid down for us by the servants of the Lord, for if we do this I know that we shall be safe in this world, and [we will] secure happiness and exaltation in the world to come. … If we are faithful they will lead us in the way of life, and in as much as we have faith to believe in their instructions, in the teachings of the Holy Spirit through them, we are always in the safe path, and shall be sure of our reward.
President Wilford Woodruff; Deseret News, May 27, 1857, 91
- While I live I want to be true and faithful to my God and to the Saints. One of the greatest blessings of God to me has been the fact that myself and counselors live in the hearts of the Latter-day Saints, and I have felt to be humbled in the dust before the Lord for this. We know that you pray for us. We know that you have respect for us. And we live upon this principle. … The Lord has “chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; ... and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” [See 1 Corinthians 1:27–28.]
We feel our weaknesses. I wish myself that I were a better man than I am. Of course, I have endeavored to do about the best I could in my weak way. I still wish to do so. But I am dependent upon the Lord and upon the prayers of the Saints, the same as my brethren.
President Wilford Woodruff; Deseret Weekly, September 5, 1891, 324
- You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church [the Prophet]. It may contradict your political views ... [or] your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if [we] listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that . . . ‘the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’.
Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct.1970, 152; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 126
- According to the ancient practice we learn that [shepherds] always went forward and prepared the way, so that there could be no danger in advance but what the shepherd would learn of in time to save the sheep. If [the sheep] are allowed to run [ahead of] the shepherd, the wolves are apt to catch them and destroy them, and the very moment that men in this kingdom attempt to run ahead or cross the path of their leaders, no matter in what respect, the moment they do this they are in danger of being injured by the wolves.
This is a subject upon which I have thought a great deal, and I have gained a little useful knowledge during my experience by watching the conduct of men, and I have never in my life known it to fail, that when men went contrary to the counsel of their leaders, … they always became entangled and suffered a loss by so doing.
Now whatever I might have obtained in the shape of learning, by searching and study respecting the arts and sciences of men, whatever principles I may have imbibed during my scientific researches, yet if the prophet of God should tell me that a certain principle, or theory which I might have learned was not true, I do not care what my ideas might have been, I should consider it my duty, at the suggestion of my file leader to abandon that principle or theory...
I have seen men in the days of Joseph bring up principles, and read and teach, and advocate theories when the prophet would say “it is not right to do so, they are not true.” Those men would still argue, maintain their position, and they would write in defense of their theories when the prophet condemned them, and they would say “we have no faith in your theory, nor in the system you present.
The very moment a man does that he crosses the path of the servant of God who is set to lead the way to life and salvation. This is one thing that the Elders should carefully avoid. The fact is there are a great many things taught in the building up of this kingdom which seem strange to us, being contrary to our traditions, and are calculated to try men. Brother Joseph used a great many methods of testing the integrity of men, and he taught a great many things which in consequence of tradition required prayer, faith and a testimony from the Lord before they could be believed by many of the Saints...
With regard to crossing the path of any man who may be appointed to lead us, I will say we never should do it, and I do not care what our feelings and views may be upon the subject as far as our traditions and education are concerned.
If God has anything to reveal, he will reveal it to that man who stands at the head. … There is no other plan, no other system by which to guide and govern men in this kingdom, only that which has been established by the revelations of God in the order of His church and kingdom, and that is for the head to lead, counsel and govern in all dispensations in which the will of God is revealed to man.
President Wilford Woodruff; Deseret News, May 27, 1857, 91
- President Brigham Young revealed that on one occasion he was tempted to be critical of the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding a certain financial matter. He said that the feeling did not last for more than perhaps thirty seconds. That feeling, he said, caused him great sorrow in his heart. The lesson he gave to members of the Church in his day may well be increased in significance today because the devil continues more active:
“I clearly saw and understood, by the spirit of revelation manifested to me, that if I was to harbor a thought in my heart that Joseph could be wrong in anything, I would begin to lose confidence in him, and that feeling would grow from step to step, and from one degree to another, until at last I would have the same lack of confidence in his being the mouthpiece for the Almighty...
"I repented of my unbelief, and that too, very suddenly; I repented about as quickly as I committed the error. It was not for me to question whether Joseph was dictated by the Lord at all times and under all circumstances...
"It was not my prerogative to call him in question with regard to any act of his life. He was God’s servant, and not mine. He did not belong to the people but to the Lord, and was doing the work of the Lord.” (In Journal of Discourses, 4:297.)
Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1982, pp. 90–91; or Ensign, May 1982, p. 64