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True Doctrine Understood: Latter-Day Prophets

Eternal Introduction

We are eternal beings. We are co-eternal with God. We are, according to General Primary President Sister Joy D. Jones, “made of the eternal intelligence which gives [us] claim upon eternal life “(Oct 2017 GC). Before our spirit birth, each of us had the potential to learn and grow. This ability to grow and progress had its limit though and could only be expanded via priesthood and covenant.

The prophet Joseph Smith taught about an Everlasting Covenant being made before our spirit birth (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chpt 2). This covenant allowed us to enter into covenant with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. As a result, “God has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences that they may be exalted with himself” (JS, Discourse, Nauvoo, IL, 7 Apr. 1844, see Joseph Smith Papers).

In this pre-mortal estate, to borrow the words of President Joseph Fielding Smith,

“The heavenly beings were living in a perfectly arranged society... Priesthood, without any question, had been conferred and the leaders were chosen to officiate. Ordinances pertaining to that pre-existence were required and the love of God prevailed.” (The Way to Perfection [1970], 50–51)

We read in the scriptures of a grand council being held. As a result, and after much tribulation, we were born in this second estate. The pattern of the priesthood in heaven was continued and followed here:

“Beginning with Adam, the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached, and the essential ordinances of salvation, such as baptism, were administered through a family-based priesthood order. As societies grew more complex than simply extended families, God also called other prophets, messengers, and teachers... Then, in the meridian of time, Jesus organized His work in such a way that the gospel could be established simultaneously in multiple nations and among diverse peoples. That organization, the Church of Jesus Christ, was founded on “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Why the Church, Elder Christofferson, October 2015 GC)

We, as Latter-Day Saints, believe that Church organization has been restored in our day. Therefore, the pattern for God’s called and anointed servants is not just an ancient doctrine or idea. It is as eternal as we are. Continuing the pattern today, God has given priesthood keys to his called servants to “instruct the weaker intelligences that they may be exalted with Him”. General Conference is one of the ways this eternal truth is manifested to us.

According to Boyd K. Packer, true doctrine understood changes attitudes and behavior. The following are some truths that can enhance our ability to heed the words spoken in General Conference:

Some doctrinal and principle groundwork in order to understand:

“Jesus Christ holds all the keys of the priesthood pertaining to His Church. He has conferred upon each of His Apostles all the keys that pertain to the kingdom of God on earth. The senior living Apostle, the President of the Church, is the only person on earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys (see D&C 43:1–4; 81:2; 107:64–67, 91–92; 132:7)… (Handbook 2.1.1)

With all this talk of keys, what are keys? Keys are simply the right of presidency. In the context of the President of the Church, he holds keys to adjust many things pertaining to the kingdom of God by revelation. He holds the keys that enable all priesthood holders to perform the ordinances of salvation efficaciously. This is why we heed the prophet's words and we can see his role in every ordinance that is performed.

Their counsel is tailored to our time

Ezekiel 3:17 sums it up well, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me"

“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. … 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.” - George Q. Cannon (Gospel Truth, p. 252)

They hold keys to proliferate all the gospel keys, powers, and blessings. This is the ultimate purpose for having a living prophet. A preliminary understanding is discussed here by Joseph Fielding Smith:

"I do not care what office you hold in the Church -- you may be an apostle, you may be a patriarch, a high priest, or anything else -- but you cannot receive the fullness of the priesthood and the fullness of eternal reward unless you receive the ordinances of the house of the Lord; and when you receive these ordinances, the door is then open so you can obtain all the blessings which any man can gain.

Do not think because someone has a higher office in the Church than you have that you are barred from receiving the fullness of the Lord's blessings. You can have them sealed upon you as an elder, if you are faithful; and when you receive them, and live faithfully and keep these covenants, you then have all that any man [or woman] can get." - Joseph Fielding Smith (Conference Report, April 1970, p. 59)

While we celebrate and revere the President of the Church as a living prophet, it ought to be pointed out that his station is not a celebration of Hierarchy. It is a celebration of a divine pipeline that the Lord has created to make the same powers, keys, and gifts that he enjoys available to all. It is highly consistent with the purposes of the Everlasting Covenant discussed earlier and what was discussed during the grand council in heaven. Why else would the Prophets declare the words of the Lord they way they do unless they were trying to unify us and accomplish this beautiful idea?

This is why Elder Christofferson taught the following:

“Years ago, President Boyd K. Packer observed that “the priesthood is greater than any of its offices. … An elder holds as much priesthood as an Apostle. (See D&C 20:38.) When a man [has the priesthood conferred upon him], he receives all of it. However, there are offices within the priesthood—divisions of authority and responsibility. … Rather than ‘higher’ or ‘lower,’ offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood represent different areas of service.” Brethren, I devoutly hope that we will no longer speak in terms of being “advanced” to another office in the Melchizedek Priesthood.”

All this suggests that advancement in the priesthood is done through the temple, NOT THE CHURCH. All of us, men and women, are schooled in the ways of the priesthood by our leaders in the Church. Another important reason to watch and take heed in General Conference.

It is with this understanding that we sing the hymn, “Come, Listen to a prophet’s voice”. I now quote the first and fourth verse, read closely as the meaning becomes plain:

1. Come, listen to a prophet’s voice,
And hear the word of God,
And in the way of truth rejoice,
And sing for joy aloud.
We’ve found the way the prophets went
Who lived in days of yore.
Another prophet now is sent
This knowledge to restore...

4. Then heed the words of truth and light
That flow from fountains pure.
Yea, keep His law with all thy might
Till thine election’s sure,
Till thou shalt hear the holy voice
Assure eternal reign,
While joy and cheer attend thy choice,
As one who shall obtain.

Living Prophets testify of a Living Christ

"[Christ] lives now, directing personally the operations of His Church upon the earth and manifesting Himself personally to His servants.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Light of Thy Childhood Again,” Church News, November 28, 2009)

"... by the veil parting and visitations from beyond the veil if anything, has been intensified in our generation. I bear witness to that.” (Boyd K. Packer, in an address for a Family History broadcast, 18 November 1999; cited in Mine Errand from the Lord: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Boyd K. Packer (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2008), 137)

President Marion G. Romney once wrote of how he and each of the apostles have had experiences “too sacred to tell”. It is after this he writes “I not only know that he lives, but I know him.” (Marion G. Romney, in F. Burton Howard, Marion G. Romney: His Life and Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 222)

There is an overwhelming abundance of those who hold the keys of the kingdom making similar declarations. The parallel symbolism becomes clear and beautiful:

Having a living Prophet, and or a living priesthood reflects the reality of a living Christ. The same way that the temple is a link between heaven and earth, the Brethren serve as a similar link. In a day where empiricism rules, there is great comfort in knowing that we have leaders who have experienced the greatest evidence one can claim. It is even more beautiful that this same evidence is available to us. The brethren are the gatekeepers to the living Christ.

Common misconceptions about the Prophetic Mantle

Sometimes we airbrush our prophets too much. The scriptural record is littered with examples of prophets being susceptible to weakness:

James 5:17 speaks of Elijah being a man subject to passions like us.

Nephi, in 2 Nephi 4, exclaims that the Lord visited him despite his flaws which often beset him.

“[W]hen God makes the prophet, He does not unmake the man.” - David O. McKay (Conference Report, April 1962, p. 5-9)

“I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities.” - Joseph Smith (Teachings, p. 268)

Moroni puts it well in Momon 9:31. He tells us to not condemn his imperfections, he being a prophet of God, but tells us to give thanks the Lord operates this way.

We should be grateful, as Lorenzo Snow put it after noticing some glaring flaws about the Prophet Joseph Smith, “for I knew that I myself had weakness, and I thought there was a chance for me.” (Cited by Neal A. Maxwell, in Conference Report, October 1984, p. 10)

It could very well be that exalting the prophet causes us to exalt our own shortcomings when the reality and the beauty is that God still works with us despite the sins that often beset us (if we are in a posture of repentance).

President Brigham Young spoke often of a common idea that Latter-Day Saints are easily susceptible too because we have the privilege of having a living prophet. He warned against a “state of blind self-security, trusting [our] eternal destiny in the hands of [our] leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 9:150)

The Prophet Joseph Smith put it this way. Speaking of “the present state of the church... that they were depending on the prophet [and] hence were darkened in their minds of neglect of themselves... they are also subject to an overmuch zeal which must ever prove dangerous, and cause them to be rigid in a religious capacity...” (JS, Discourse, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, 26 May 1842; in Relief Society Minute Book, [50]–[54], see The Joseph Smith Papers)

This can lead to us living beneath our spiritual privileges because we misunderstand the actual role of a living prophet.

“Every member of the Church, independent and irrespective of any position that he may hold, is entitled to get revelation from the Holy Ghost; he is entitled to entertain angels; he is entitled to view the visions of eternity; and if we would like to go the full measure, he is entitled to see God the same way that any prophet in literal and actual reality has seen the face of Deity.

We talk about latter-day prophets; we think in terms of prophets who tell the future destiny of the Church and the world. But, in addition to that, the fact is that every person should be a prophet for himself and in his own concerns and in his own affairs.” - Bruce R. McConkie (New Era, June 1980, 46)

In our efforts to have zeal towards a living prophet, we might be coming up short in receiving our own priesthood privileges and revelation. Following the prophet means we are receiving the same spiritual gifts and powers that they enjoy in their lives.

Closing Thoughts

How can all this strengthen our ability to heed the words given by the brethren and other General Authorities of the Church?

We can place the words of the prophet in its more scripturally consistent context. And, because doctrine has been understood, we can change our attitude and behavior. For example:

Are we not more likely to undertake the words of President Nelson if we understood his office as one of dispensing the blessings of the gospel?

Are we not more likely to experiment upon the words of General Conference if we viewed them this way instead of as simply a weekend full of “theological niceties and philosophical footnotes” (Neal A. Maxwell, April 1986 GC)?

Are we not more likely to tune in to the conference ourselves and “heed the words of truth and light... until [our] election’s sure” with this understanding?

Are we not more likely to invite our friends and neighbors to come and “drink from fountains pure” with this increased understanding?

“The purpose of general conference … is fulfilled only if we are willing to act—if we are willing to change.” (Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, April 2014 GC)

Are we not more likely to act and to change if we understand, in the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, that “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him … from the least to the greatest” (History of the Church, 3:380)?

Are we not LESS likely to fret about how hard it is and about our own shortcomings when we understand the prophets enjoy their spiritual blessings DESPITE their weakness? And, therefore, are we not more motivated to drink deeply from the cup that is served to us by those who hold the keys of the kingdom?


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