The Importance of Living Prophets
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are unique among Christian denominations for their belief in a living prophet of God. Throughout human history, the Lord has spoken to His people through His chosen servants, the prophets. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught:
Because Heavenly Father loves His children, He has not left them to walk through this mortal life without direction and guidance. The teachings of our Heavenly Father are not the ordinary, predictable, run-of-the-mill kind you can pick up in paperback at the local bookstore. They are the wisdom of an all-powerful, all-knowing celestial Being who loves His children. Encompassed in His words is the secret of the ages—the key to happiness in this life and in the world to come.
Heavenly Father reveals this wisdom to His children on earth through His servants the prophets (see Amos 3:7). From the days of Adam, God has spoken to His children through appointed oracles who are charged with revealing His will and counsel to others. Prophets are inspired teachers and are always special witnesses of Jesus Christ (see Doctrine & Covenants 107:23). Prophets speak not only to the people of their time, but they also speak to people throughout all time. Their voices echo through the centuries as a testament of God’s will to His children.
Many Christians believe in ancient prophets, but Mormons believe in prophets, both ancient and modern. President Uchtdorf said:
Today is not different from ages past. The Lord does not love the people of our day any less than in past times. One of the glorious messages of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ is that God continues to speak to His children! He is not hidden in the heavens but speaks today as He did in ancient days.
From Adam to Jesus Christ
From the beginning, prophets have been essential in moving forward the work of the God. Elder Robert D. Hales taught:
There has always been a desperate need for the steady and reassuring voice of a living prophet of God: one who will speak the mind and will of God in showing the way to spiritual safety and personal peace and happiness.
Living prophets are important—and have always been— because they tell the people God’s will for them now. President Ezra Taft Benson said:
God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the Ark. Noah needed his own revelation. Therefore the most important prophet so far as you and I are concerned is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us.
Although the prophetic channels have been authorized by God, they have not all been organized in the exact same way throughout the millennia. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:
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. In Moses’s time, we read of a more formal structure, including elders, priests, and judges. In Book of Mormon history, Alma established a church with priests and teachers.
During the Savior’s mortal ministry, He again set up a more formal structure for His Church. Elder Christofferson explained:
… 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.” It included additional officers, such as seventies, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons. Jesus similarly established the Church in the Western Hemisphere after His Resurrection.
Following the apostasy and disintegration of the Church He had organized while on the earth, the Lord reestablished the Church of Jesus Christ once again through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The ancient purpose remains: that is, to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the ordinances of salvation—in other words, to bring people to Christ.
Thus, the modern Church of Jesus Christ is organized in the same way as the ancient Church.
The Prophet and Apostles
When Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry, He called 12 disciples, or Apostles, to help Him preach and teach the gospel. These Apostles were special witnesses of Him. President Howard W. Hunter explained:
Many people have chosen to follow Christ, and we constantly pray that many more will so choose, but to a certain few of the Lord’s followers the call was more specific. … To these chosen twelve, the call to follow Christ meant to forsake all and to physically accompany the Lord on his ministry. Their call was a privileged one. They walked and talked with the Son of God daily. They knew the Lord intimately and feasted upon his word with humble and receptive hearts. They loved him, and Jesus called them his friends. (See John 15:14, 15.)
These twelve apostles served a vital function in the Lord’s plan. They were special witnesses of the Savior’s divinity and of his literal resurrection. Not only did they know him during his mortal ministry, but they communed with him after his resurrection. … (See Luke 24:38, 39.)
These Apostles knew of the Lord’s divinity and of his resurrection with a certainty beyond all description and disputation. With this knowledge, born of experience and confirmed by the Holy Ghost, they were commanded to “be witnesses unto [Christ] both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Indeed, the word apostle means “one who is sent.”
But the Apostles’ commission extended beyond testifying of the Savior and His divinity. President Hunter said:
… The Apostles not only proclaimed the gospel but also took the leadership of the Church to establish unity and faith among the Saints.
To accomplish this work, Jesus Christ had to give them the priesthood power to do so. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught:
When Jesus called His twelve Apostles, He laid His hands upon them, ordained them, and conferred upon them the authority to act in His name and govern His church. Peter is commonly understood to have become the chief Apostle, or the President of the Church, after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
This same organization was implemented when the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Sister Carol F. McConkie taught:
In the Lord’s true Church, “there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred.” We sustain President Thomas S. Monson as our prophet, seer, and revelator. He reveals the word of the Lord to guide and direct our entire Church. As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. explained, “The President of the Church … alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church.” …
We also sustain President Monson’s counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators. “They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of [the Lord] … , subject to … the President of the Church.”
President Russell M. Nelson said:
The calling of 15 men to the holy apostleship provides great protection for us as members of the Church. Why? Because decisions of these leaders must be unanimous. Can you imagine how the Spirit needs to move upon 15 men to bring about unanimity? These 15 men have varied educational and professional backgrounds, with differing opinions about many things. Trust me! These 15 men—prophets, seers, and revelators—know what the will of the Lord is when unanimity is reached! They are committed to see that the Lord’s will truly will be done.
The prophet is the head of The Church of Jesus Christ. However, the governing body is comprised of the prophet, his two counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Living Prophets, Seers and Revelators
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ sustain the prophet and apostles as prophets, seers and revelators. But what exactly does this mean? Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander explained:
The fundamental responsibility of prophets, seers, and revelators, all of whom bear apostolic authority, is to bear certain testimony of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world. This basic call to be a special witness of His name has remained constant whenever Apostles have been on the earth. This testimony, borne of the Holy Ghost through revelation, was the heart of the New Testament Church and is the heart of the Church today.
Prophets and apostles, as they work in unison with each other and the Holy Ghost, teach us what we need to know. Sister McConkie said:
The Lord’s house is a house of order, and we need never be deceived about where to look for answers to our questions or uncertain about which voice to follow. We need not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” God reveals His word through His ordained servants….
They also warn of dangers that are coming. Elder Neuenschwander said:
The presence of seers among us is not much spoken of, yet the ability to see beyond the present lends power and authority to apostolic testimony and teaching. … To the question of what our modern seers are making known that otherwise could not be known and what they are seeing that is not visible to the natural eye, I make a very simple response. Listen, ponder, and prayerfully consider what they are teaching and what they are doing. As you do so, a pattern emerges that reveals much, and therein will the answer to this question be found.
This is the reason that most Latter-day Saints faithfully watch General Conference every six months: to hear the counsel and teachings from the Lord’s prophets and Apostles. Elder Hales said:
A characteristic of prophets throughout the ages is that, regardless of the consequences, they have had the strength to speak the words of God with plainness and boldness.
Thus, Latter-day Saints need never wonder where the Lord stands—they need only listen to the words of the prophets and Apostles. But often, the plain and precious teachings of the prophets are contrary to the pleasing wisdom of the world. It is for this reason that living prophets are not always popular with the world—and the reason that it can be difficult for some people to follow the prophet. But it is always important. Sister McConkie taught:
In a world threatened by a famine of righteousness and spiritual starvation, we have been commanded to sustain the prophet. As we give heed to, uphold, and affirm prophetic word, we witness that we have the faith to humbly submit to the will, the wisdom, and the timing of the Lord.
We heed prophetic word even when it may seem unreasonable, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. According to the world’s standards, following the prophet may be unpopular, politically incorrect, or socially unacceptable. But following the prophet is always right. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” …
We have a choice. We may choose to ignore, trifle with, trample upon, or rebel against the words of Christ spoken by His ordained servants. But the Savior taught that those who do so will be cut off from His covenant people.
Rather than a source of fear, this is a source of comfort for Latter-day Saints. President Uchtdorf explained:
Today, we have again apostles, seers, and revelators who are watchmen on the tower, messengers of supernal, healing truth. God speaks to us through them. They are profoundly aware of the different circumstances we members are living in. They are in this world but not of this world. They point the way, and they offer help for our difficulties, not through the wisdom of this world but from an eternal Source.