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Succession in the Presidency Review
Because this is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – it is His Church – and we can know that the succession in the First Presidency of this Church is under His direction.
- What does it mean to us personally?
- And what does it mean when we raise our right hand to sustain the Prophet when his name is read?
Painting by the Swiss painter Eugene Burnand ‘Lively Hope.” The painting is a depiction two disciples Peter and John running to the sepulcher on the morning of the resurrection.
I think there is a parallel here to the gathering of the Apostles back to Nauvoo after they learned that the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred. This painting effectively captures the countenances of these two disciples as they neared the tomb
In 2008 in General Conference President Boyd K. Packer said the following:
- Shortly after the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley, the 14 men, Apostles, who had conferred upon the keys of the kingdom, gathered together in the upper room of the temple in order to reorganize the First Presidency of the Church. There were no questions about what would be done, no hesitancy. We knew that the senior Apostle was the President of the Church. And in that sacred meeting, Thomas Spencer Monson was sustained by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as the President of the Church. He nominated and named his counselors. They likewise were sustained, and they were each ordained and given authority. President Monson was specifically given the authority to exercise all the priesthood keys of authority. Now, as the scriptures provide, he is the only man on the earth who has the right to exercise all of the keys. But we all hold them as Apostles. … Already he was and had been sustained for years as a prophet, seer and revelator.
- Succession in the First Presidency is about priesthood keys of authority – an unbroken line of authority.
What has been your experience when a new prophet has been sustained?
President Henry B. Eyring:
“Don’t take lightly the feeling you get of love for the prophet of God. … That is far more than hero worship or the feelings we sometimes have of admiring heroic figures. It is a gift from God. With it you will receive more easily the gift of confirming revelation when he speaks in his office as the Lord’s prophet. The love you feel is the love the Lord has for whoever is His spokesman.”
Let’s see how the organizational structure of the Church evolved.
. D&C 6:28 “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”
“On 5 December 1834 the Prophet Joseph Smith ordained Oliver Cowdery as Assistant ‘It was necessary according to the “divine law of witnesses. However, By 1838 Oliver Cowdery had lost his office of Assistant President through apostasy and excommunication, so in 1841 the Lord called Hyrum Smith to fill this office ( D&C 124:94–96).
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained why we no longer have an Assistant President in the Church:
“The answer to this is a simple one. It is because the peculiar condition requiring two witnesses to establish the work, is not required after the work is established. Joseph and Hyrum Smith stand at the head of this dispensation, jointly holding the keys, as the two necessary witnesses fulfilling the law as it is set down by our Lord in his answer to the Jews [see Matthew 18:16]. Since the gospel will never again be restored there will be no occasion for this condition to arise again. They were called to bear witness in full accord with the divine law”
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
- “One of the most important events in the restoration of the Savior’s church was the formation of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
- Apostles: D&C 107:33
- See Bible Dictionary “Apostles”
- See Topical Guide “Apostles”
- D&C 112: 30-32 – power and authority
- D&C 124: 127-128 – Brigham Young President of the Quorum of the Twelve
“For several years the Lord … carefully prepared the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to assume the leadership of the Church.
“Most importantly, Joseph Smith, feeling that he might soon die, took great care during the last seven months of his life to carefully prepare the Twelve.
President Wilford Woodruff was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and reflected on Joseph’s words:
“I am a living witness to the testimony that [Joseph Smith] gave to the Twelve Apostles when all of us received our endowments from under his hands. I remember the last speech that he ever gave us before his death. It was before we started upon our mission to the East. He stood upon his feet some three hours. The room was filled as with consuming fire, his face was as clear as amber, and he was clothed upon by the power of God. He laid before us our duty. He laid before us the fullness of this great work of God; and in his remarks to us he said: ‘I have had sealed upon my head every key, every power, every principle of life and salvation that God has ever given to any man who ever lived upon the face of the earth. And these principles and this Priesthood and power belong to this great and last dispensation which the God of Heaven has set His hand to establish in the earth. Now,’ said he addressing the Twelve, ‘I have sealed upon your heads every key, every power, and every principle which the Lord has sealed upon my head.’ …
Most of the Twelve were serving missions in the East when the Prophet Joseph Smith and Hyrum were martyred. Within 3 weeks, however, everyone had learned the tragic news and hurried back to Nauvoo. John Taylor and Willard Richards had remained with Joseph and Hyrum and were at Carthage.
A deep gloom fell over the city of Nauvoo when the saints learned of the Martyrdom. The saints obeyed. Willard Richards who instructed them to stay calm and allow government officials to find the murders.
On Saturday, August 3rd, Sidney Rigdon had returned with the expectation of taking over the Church. (Section 124:108-109 Sidney had disobeyed and took his family to Pittsburg.
Sidney said, “The object of my mission is to visit the saints and offer myself to them as a guardian. I had a vision at Pittsburg, the 27th day of June. He went on to say that no one could take the place of Joseph as the head of the Church and that he, as the designated spokesman for the Prophet, should assume the role of guardian of the Church.
Following Sidney’s remarks, BY spoke,
“I do not care who leads the church…. But one thing I must know, and that is what God says about it. I have the keys and the means of obtaining the mind of God on the subject…Joseph conferred upon our heads all the keys and powers belonging to the Apostleship which he himself held before he was taken away, and no man or set of men can get between Joseph and the Twelve in this world or in the world to come.”
Thursday, the 8th of August stands as one of the most important days in the history of the Restoration.
The meeting began at 10 am in the grove. Sidney Rigdon spoke for an 1 ½ hours about his desire to be the guardian of the Church, but he awakened no emotion.
Brigham Young told the audience that he would rather have spent a month mourning the dead Prophet than so quickly attend to the business of appointing a “new shepherd.”
While he was speaking he was miraculously transfigured before the people. This manifestation clearly signaled that Brigham Young had the priesthood keys to lead the Church.
Zina Huntington, who was a young woman of 21 said, “President Young was speaking. It was the voice of Joseph Snith – not that of Brigham Young. His very person was changed…. I closed my eyes. I could have exclaimed, I know that is Joseph Smith’s voice!”
Wilford Woodruff said, “If I had not seen him with my own eyes, there is not one that could have convinced me that is was ot Joseph Smith speaking.”
Hundreds had this same experience.
What did Brigham Young feel? This is how he recorded the event “My heart was swollen with compassion towards them and by the power of the Holy Ghost, even the spirit of the Prophets, I was enabled to comfort the hearts of the Saints.”
The saints voted unanimously to sustain the Twelve as the First Presidency of this people.
Joseph Smith had prepared the members of the twelve and they were prepared to lead the Church.
There were splinter groups because of this decision. Both Sidney Rigdon and James J. Strang worked behind the scenes to pull the leadership away.
- Some of Joseph’s own family did not follow the Twelve. Emma could not be reconciled with the Twelve on economic and theological matters.
- The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints eventually named Joseph Smith III to be it’s president.
Important Principles of Succession
- Highlighted in a 1996 Ensign article by Brent Top and Lawrence Flake. These 4 were operative in 1844 and are still operative today.
“1. Keys of the kingdom given to the Twelve. D&C 27:12-13 Each member of the Quorum of the Twelve “holds the keys of this dispensation in latent reserve for the day when they will be ready, if necessary, to be exercised in the office of president.
“2. Seniority: a governing principle of presidency. In 1835, when the first Quorum of the Twelve was called, seniority was arranged by age. Since then, seniority has been determined by the date of ordination into the Quorum of the Twelve. …
- The President of the Church is the Apostle with the most seniority. The Apostle who is next in seniority is the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, unless he is serving in the First Presidency, in which case the Apostle next in seniority serves as the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Seniority among the Apostles is determined not by age but by the date and order of their ordination as Apostles.
- President Spencer W. Kimball explained, the Lord alone controls the order of succession: “There have been some eighty apostles [by 1972] so endowed [with the keys of authority] since Joseph Smith, though only eleven have occupied the place of the President of the Church, death having intervened; and since the death of his servants is in the power and control of the Lord, he permits to come to the first place only the one who is destined to take that leadership. Death and life become the controlling factors. Each new apostle in turn is chosen by the Lord and revealed to the then living prophet who ordains him”
“3. At the President’s death there is no First Presidency over the Twelve. Following the principles taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith, when the President of the Church dies, the quorum of the First Presidency is automatically dissolved and the counselors, if they previously had been in the Quorum of the Twelve, return to their respective places of seniority in that quorum. Likewise, the President of the Twelve at that time is as much the President of the Church in function and authority as when he becomes sustained as such in a newly organized First Presidency. …
“4. Reorganization of the First Presidency. As the presiding officer of the Church, the President of the Twelve has the prerogative to receive revelation regarding when to reorganize the First Presidency. This decision is made in consultation with and through the unanimous support of the Quorum of the Twelve. …I’ll come back to this one.
Question: What if health or disability prevents a leader from serving?
“On the day that President Howard W. Hunter [1907–95] was sustained as President of the Church, he testified:
“‘When a President of the Church is ill or not able to function fully in all of the duties of his office, his two Counselors, who, with him, comprise a Quorum of the First Presidency, carry on the work of the Presidency. Any major questions, policies, programs, or doctrines are prayerfully considered in council by the Counselors in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. No decision emanates from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve without total unanimity among all concerned.
What really happens – what is the pattern of succession?
President Hinckley after the passing of President Hunter: “Three weeks ago today all of the living ordained Apostles gathered in a spirit of fasting and prayer in the upper room of the temple. Here we sang a sacred hymn and prayed together. We partook of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, renewing in that sacred, symbolic testament our covenants and our relationship with Him who is our divine Redeemer. The Presidency was then reorganized, following a precedent well established through generations of the past. There was no campaigning, no contest, no ambition for office. It was quiet, peaceful, simple, and sacred. It was done after the pattern which the Lord Himself had put in place”
Has the First Presidency always been immediately reorganized?
“As the presiding officer of the Church, the President of the Twelve has the prerogative to receive revelation regarding when to reorganize the First Presidency. This decision is made in consultation with and through the unanimous support of the Quorum of the Twelve” (Top and Flake, “The Kingdom of God,” 33).
After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles led the Church for three and one-half years before the First Presidency was reorganized. The Quorum of the Twelve led the Church for a little more than three years following the death of President Brigham Young and for nearly two years following the death of President John Taylor. More recently, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has led the Church typically for only a few days before the First Presidency is reorganized and a new President is set apart.
Primary children all over the world sing, “Follow the Prophet. Sometimes, we as Mormons are criticized for being “followers” in a uniquely independent world.
Jerry Earl Johnston, a columnist for the Deseret News, recently wrote an article entitled, “When People Call Me a Sheep, I Say Thank You” Feb. 16, 2017
An illustration of this truth was shared in a story told by President Harold B. Lee: A “traveler was leaving by boat from Stockholm, Sweden, traveling out into the Baltic Sea. To do so, the boat had to pass through a thousand or more islands. Standing on the forward deck, the traveler found himself becoming impatient because of what seemed to him to be a careless course. Why not a course near to this island or another and more interesting than the one the pilot had chosen? Almost in exasperation he was saying to himself, ‘What’s wrong with the old pilot? Has he lost his sense of direction?’ Suddenly he was aware of markers along the charted course that appeared as mere broom handles sticking up in the water. Someone had carefully explored these channels and had charted the safest course for ships to take.”[i]
President Lee continued, “So it is in life’s course on the way to immortality and eternal life: ‘God’s engineers,’ by following a blueprint made in heaven, have charted the course for safest and happiest passage and have forewarned us of the danger areas.”17
“Though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”[ii] D&C 1:38
“The pattern of succession for the First Presidency that is in place and has been for this dispensation divinely 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”
What does it mean to us personally? And what does it mean when we raise our right hand to sustain the Prophet’s when his name is read?
Elder George Albert Smith “The obligation that we make when we raise our hands…. Is a most sacred one. It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means…. That we will stand behind him; we will pray for him, we will defend his good name and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct.” (end quote)
It is our obligation to come to know He is a prophet of God and to remain worthy of the faith necessary to fulfill our promise to sustain him.