PROPHETS ARE GOD’S REPRESENTATIVES ON THE EARTH
As with all lessons, be sure to check out the former Priesthood/Relief Society manuals, Teachings of President of the Church… including Joseph Smith (Chapter 16), Wilford Woodruff (Chapter 19), Joseph F. Smith (Chapter 24), Heber J. Grant (Chapter 8) and Spencer W. Kimball (Chapter 23).
Another terrific resource for this lesson is the Teachings of the Living Prophet Institute Student Manual. If you glance thru the index, you will see much that is relevant to this lesson. It can be found at “institute.lds.org” then “Institute Courses and Manuals.” I know what you are thinking, “Brother Bair just can’t leave those institute manuals alone.” You are right. They are simply the best the Church has ever produced.
From this manual, here is an excerpt from President John Taylor which reinforces the idea in this section of how important is revelation:
…the principle of present revelation . . . is the very foundation of our religion.” (3-1)
The relationship between God and His prophets through revelation is well stated by President Harold B. Lee:
God said, defining the relationship that he, Moses, would have to God, and that Aaron would have to Moses: ‘And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his [Aaron’s] mouth: and I will be with thy mouth . . . and will teach you what ye shall do. . . . and he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.’ (Exodus 4:15-16)
I think that is as clear a relationship as you can find anywhere—the relationship of the prophet of the Lord and the President of the Church, the prophet, seer, and revelator, to others of us to whom he may delegate authority. (Teachings of the Living Prophets Institute Student Manual, 13)
This section mentions:
Many people live in darkness, unsure of God’s will. They believe that the heavens are closed and that people must face the world’s perils alone. (p. 39)
Reverend Billy Graham, perhaps one of the most listened-to ministers of the past 50 years, expressed what most Christians believe about the idea that heavens are closed when he answered a question in the Charlotte Observer:
Question: Do you believe God has prophets that can deliver new truth to us today?
Answer: God’s revelation is complete, because "in these last days he has spoken to us by his son...." (Hebrews 1:2).
Interesting that he would refer to this scripture, since it was written by Paul, who was a prophet after the death of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:1). Especially when Paul was one of those who were “the foundation” of Christ’s Church after He died? (see Ephesians 2:20)
Reverend Graham continues:Don’t be misled by those who claim God speaks to them and gives them new truth. He has given us all we need to know in the pages of the Bible. This is why the final verses of the Bible include a warning against adding or subtracting from God’s word (see Revelation 22:18).
First, a very similar warning is given in Deuteronomy 4:2: Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it…If we interpret this verse as Reverend Graham interpreted Revelation 22:18, it would seem that we then should all be Jews.
Second, the Book of Revelation was not originally “the final verses of the Bible. Of course, at the time when John wrote the Book of Revelation, there would not be a Bible for another hundreds of years. According to the Oxford Companion to the Bible, scholars are quite sure that the Book of Revelation was written before 2 Peter, Jude, and John (written by the same author of Revelation). The scholars aslo think that the Book of Revelation was possibly written before Luke, Acts, James, and 2 John and 3 John (the latter two also by the same author of Revelation). If Reverend Graham’s interpretation is correct, it would mean that John likely broke his own rule three times.
Third, check out 1 Nephi 14:20-27, where Nephi sees the same vision as did John and is commanded not to write about it because John will be the one to do so.
Concerning all of this, in conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained:
One of the arguments often used in any defense of a closed canon is the New Testament passage recorded in Revelation 22:18: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of … this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” However, there is now overwhelming consensus among virtually all biblical scholars that this verse applies only to the book of Revelation, not the whole Bible. Those scholars of our day acknowledge a number of New Testament “books” that were almost certainly written after John’s revelation on the Isle of Patmos was received. Included in this category are at least the books of Jude, the three Epistles of John, and probably the entire Gospel of John itself. Perhaps there are even more than these.
But there is a simpler answer as to why that passage in the final book of the current New Testament cannot apply to the whole Bible. That is because the whole Bible as we know it—one collection of texts bound in a single volume—did not exist when that verse was written. For centuries after John produced his writing, the individual books of the New Testament were in circulation singly or perhaps in combinations with a few other texts but almost never as a complete collection. (Ensign, May 2008, 91)
Well did Joseph Smith state the problem with the abominable idea that “the heavens are closed” when he stated:
[Question] Nineteenth—"Is not the canon of the Scriptures full?“If it is, there is a great defect in the book, or else it would have said so. (History of The Church, 3:29-30)
As demonstrated by Reverend Graham, the best scriptures they have to use fall pitifully short of the idea that the heavens will be closed. The Bible, as Joseph Smith declares, makes no such statement.
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland declared in the same conference talk as above:
One Protestant scholar has inquired tellingly into the erroneous doctrine of a closed canon. He writes: “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? … If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today in the church about matters that are of significant concern?” We humbly ask those same questions. (Ensign, May 2008, 91)
This section mentions the various professions of Presidents of the latter days. It might be fun for class members to tell what they know about what professions each president had. A good resource for this is Presidents of the Church Institute Student Manual at “institute.lds.org” website.
THROUGH THE AGES GOD HAS CALLED PROPHETS TO LEAD MANKIND
Again, from the Teachings of the Living Prophets Institute Student Manual Mark E. Petersen taught:
God simply does not work except through prophets. There has never been a period in the history of the Church from Adam down through all the dispensations when he has labored with the people that he did not so labor through prophets. That is one of the fundamental principles of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ: God will work only through prophets. (3-1)
WE HAVE A LIVING PROPHET ON THE EARTH TODAY
This section mentions “keys of the kingdom” and references Matthew 16:19. In Matthew 16:18 we read;
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The Catholic Church interprets the “rock” as Peter. Joseph Smith had this to say about that:
Jesus in His teachings says, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ [Matthew 16:18] What rock? Revelation. (Teachings of President of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 195)
This concept of revelation is closely tied to the “keys” next given to Peter in verse 19:
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Next, Jesus gave all of the apostles (see Matthew 18:1) keys in Matthew 18:18
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Finally, as the manual quotes:
“There is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred” (D&C 132:7).
In Encyclopedia of Mormonism (a great resource for this lesson which can be found at “lib.byu.edu/macmillan”) under the article “Keys of the Priesthood” is found the following summation:
The keys of the kingdom of God on earth are held by the apostles. The President of the Church, who is the senior apostle, holds all the keys presently on earth and presides over all the organizational and ordinance work of the Church (D&C 107:8-9, 91-92). He delegates authority by giving the keys of specific offices to others (D&C 124:123). (p. 780)
Seventies, who now do a great deal of the work in the kingdom, including selecting and ordaining new stake presidents, have no keys, but are delegated the keys to do their work each weekend that they travel on assignment.
Elder M. Russell Ballard explained:
…President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He, and only he, holds and exercises in their fulness all of the keys of God’s kingdom on earth. (Ensign, Nov 1999, 62)
So all of the apostles (15 today) hold the keys of the kingdom jointly, but only the President “exercises them in their fullness.”
Early in the history of Church this doctrine was developed;
One of the most pointed and poignant of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom prophecies was made to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the spring of 1844. Orson Hyde remembered the account:
“We were in council with Brother Joseph almost every day for weeks. Says Brother Joseph in one of those councils, there is something going to happen; I don’t know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the temple is finished. He conducted us through every ordinance of the holy priesthood, and when he had gone through with all the ordinances he rejoiced very much, and said, now if they kill me you have got all the keys and all the ordinances and you can confer them upon others, and the hosts of Satan will not be able to tear down the kingdom as fast as you will be able to build it up.” (Church History and the Fulness of Times, 273-4)
The following details how Brigham Young came to grasp the doctrine:
In Boston rumors of Joseph Smith’s death began on 9 July.10 During the week before confirmation came from family letters and more complete newspaper accounts, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Orson Pratt struggled within themselves about what the terrible news meant. Brigham recorded in his journal, “The first thing which I thought of was, whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth; brother Orson Pratt sat on my left; we were both leaning back on our chairs. Bringing my hand down on my knee, I said the keys of the kingdom are right here with the Church.” (Church History and the Fulness of Times, 289)
Church History and the Fulness of Times is one of those on the “institute.lds.org” website.
Wilford Woodruff taught:
[Joseph Smith] lived until he received every key, ordinance and law ever given to any man on the earth, from Father Adam down, touching this dispensation. (Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, 68)
From Church History and the Fulness of Times, also comes the following explanation of how these keys are passed on at the death of a President of the Church:
Elder Spencer W. Kimball, in a general conference address in 1970, explained the process: “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. . . . 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.” (p. 295-6)
In Teachings of the Living Prophets Institute Student Manual, how the Lord controls this is detailed by President Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve:
Full provision has been made by our Lord for changes. Today there are fourteen apostles holding the keys in suspension, the twelve and the two counselors to the President, to be brought into use if and when circumstances allow, all ordained to leadership in their turn as they move forward in seniority.
There have been some eighty apostles so endowed 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.
The matter of seniority is basic in the first quorums of the Church. All the apostles understand this perfectly, and all well-trained members of the Church are conversant with this perfect succession program. (7-1)
So God is solely responsible for His own prophets, as explained by President Heber J. Grant:
You need have no fear, my dear brothers and sisters, that any man will ever stand at the head of the Church of Jesus Christ unless our Heavenly Father wants him to be there. (Teachings of President of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 74)
The next-to-last sentence of the next section states:
The Lord will never allow the President of the Church to lead us astray. (p. 42)
This makes sense from the above and is verified by this quote from President Wilford Woodruff:
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. (Teachings of President of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 199)
The above statement is also found under “Excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff regarding the Manifesto” after “Official Declaration—1” at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants.
WE SHOULD SUSTAIN THE LORD’S PROPHETS
Sustaining and praying for our prophet is discussed in this section. President Heber J. Grant pleaded:
Pray for the authorities of the Church, and then sustain them in every labor and in all that they undertake to do. (Teachings of President of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 74)
What is the alternative? President Kimball declared:
When the world has followed prophets, it has moved forward; when it has ignored them, the results have been stagnation, servitude, death. (Teachings of President of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 255)
President Joseph F. Smith warned:
It is a serious wrong in the presence of the Almighty for one to vote to sustain the authorities of the Church and then to go away and oppose them and trample under foot the counsels that they give; and we will be judged of the Lord for it. (Teachings of President of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 211)
The following is from Teachings of the Living Prophets Institute Student Manual:
Elder Harold B. Lee related the following incident from Church history which makes clear the consequences of opposing the prophet:
“The story is told in the early days of the Church—particularly, I think, at Kirtland—where some of the leading brethren in the presiding councils of the Church met secretly and tried to scheme as to how they could get rid of the Prophet Joseph’s leadership. They made the mistake of inviting Brigham Young to one of these secret meetings. He rebuked them, after he had heard the purpose of their meeting. This is part of what he said: ‘You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet of God, but you can cut the thread that binds you to the prophet of God and sink yourselves to hell.” (11-3)
A great way to illustrate the idea of going against a prophet of God is found in the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Video found in most ward libraries (#17. “If They Harden Not Their Hearts”). The above event is excellently dramatized. A good discussion could be generated by asking, “What controversies in recent times have found members of the Church taking issue against the Prophet or the Church?”
An interesting comment on obeying prophets is made by President Marion G. Romney:
I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. . . . When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray. (Teachings of the Living Prophets Institute Student Manual, 15)
GREAT BLESSINGS FOLLOW OBEDIENCE TO THE PROPHET
From the manual:
We should follow his inspired teachings completely. We should not choose to follow part of his inspired counsel and discard that which is unpleasant or difficult. (p. 42)
Harold B. Lee recounted a great example of what we can do about this, as found in the Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Student Manual:
In the political field where so much pressure is exerted on men to compromise ideals and principles for expediency, party workers early learned to admire Marion G. Romney’s intense loyalty to his own conscience as well as to the advice of his Church leaders whose pronouncements on vital issues affecting the welfare of the nation he accepted as divinely inspired even though it frequently brought him into sharp conflict with leaders of his own political party. On one such occasion when church leaders in a tersely-worded editorial had denounced the trends of the political administration then in power, he confided in me something which it might be well if all loyal Church members in public life could emulate: ‘When I read that editorial,’ he told me, “I knew what I should do—but that wasn’t enough. I knew that I must feel right about following the counsel of the Church leaders and know that they were right. That took a whole night on my knees to accomplish.” I submit in that statement the difference between “intelligent” and “blind” obedience. Marion G. Romney, while never disloyal to authority over him, could never be rightfully accused of being “blindly obedient.” (p. 47)
The problem of believing in “past” prophets and not “living” ones is as old as the days of Adam and Eve. It is dangerous to us today. President Kimball explained:
Even in the Church many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterday’s prophets and mentally stone the living ones [see Matthew 23:29-30, 34]. (Teachings of President of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 255)
Speaking of “conference addresses” mentioned in this section (p. 42), President Spencer W. Kimball proclaimed:
I can imagine that if the Lord himself were standing on the Mount of Olives and if he were instructing the people, he would say much the same things that have been said and will be said [in our conferences]. I can imagine that if he were standing on the Sea of Galilee with the boats in the water and the people standing around him, that he would say very much the same things… (Teachings of President of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 253)
From Teachings of the Living Prophets Institute Student Manual, Spencer W. Kimball stated:
“In the seven two-hour sessions [of general conference] and in the several satellite meetings, truths were taught, doctrines expounded, exhortations given, enough to save the whole world from all its ills—and I mean from ALL its ills.” (1-2)
If we do “Sustain the Lord’s Prophet” as the title of this section proposes, we will be blessed as President Kimball stated:
The membership of the Church will always be safe if they follow closely the instructions and admonitions and the leadership of the authorities of the Church. (Teachings of President of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 255)