President of the Church
In the Latter Day Saint movement, the President of the Church is generally considered to be the highest office of the church. It was the office held by Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the movement, and the office assumed by many of Smith's claimed successors, such as Brigham Young, Joseph Smith III, Sidney Rigdon, and James Strang. Several other titles have been associated with this office, including First Elder of the church, Presiding High Priest, President of the High Priesthood, Trustee-in-Trust for the church, Prophet, Seer, Revelator, Translator, and Ruler (in Israel). The movement's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., the first president of the church, was known by all of these titles in his lifetime (although not necessarily with consistency).
Joseph Smith died in 1844 without having indisputably established who was to be his successor. Therefore, his death was followed by a succession crisis in which various groups followed leaders with succession claims. Years later, the office of President was reorganized in many of the resulting Latter Day Saint denominations, the largest of which are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), and The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite).
- 1 Joseph Smith: the first president
- 2 President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- 3 President of the Community of Christ
- 4 Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
- 5 President of The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)
- 6 President of the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite)
- 7 See also
- 8 References
Joseph Smith: the first president
The concept that the Church of Christ would have a single presiding officer arose in late 1831. Initially, after the church's formation on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith referred to himself as merely "an apostle of Jesus Christ, and elder of the church." However, there was one other apostle—Oliver Cowdery—and several other elders of the church, making the formal hierarchy of the church unclear.
In September 1830, after Hiram Page claimed to have received revelations for the church, a revelation to Smith stated that "no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses." Thus, Smith assumed the position as the only apostle or elder with the gift of revelation for the entire church.
In early June 1831, Joseph Smith was ordained to the "high priesthood", along with twenty-two other men (including prominent figures in the Latter Day Saint movement such as Hyrum Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and Martin Harris). As "high priests", these men were higher in the priesthood hierarchy than the elders of the church. However, it was still unclear whether Smith and Cowdery's calling as apostles gave them more authority than the other high priests.
On November 11, 1831, a revelation to Smith stated that "it must needs be that one be appointed of the high priesthood to preside over the Priesthood and he shall be called President of the high priesthood of the Church ... and again the duty of the President of the high priesthood is to preside over the whole church." Smith was ordained to this position and sustained by the church on January 25, 1832 at a conference in Amherst, Ohio.
In 1835, Smith revised the Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, changing the phrase "an ... elder of the church" to "the first elder of this Church." Thus, subsequent to 1835, Smith was sometimes referred to as the First Elder of the church. The 1835 revision also added a verse referring to the office of "president of the high priesthood (or presiding elder)", which had since been added to the church hierarchy.
President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The largest Latter Day Saint denomination is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the church's leader and the head of the First Presidency, the church's highest governing body. Latter-day Saints consider the president of the church to be a prophet, seer, and revelator, and refer to him particularly as the Prophet, a title originally given to Joseph Smith, Jr. When the name of the president is used by adherents, it is usually prefaced by the honorific title "President".
Latter-day Saints consider the president of the church to be God's spokesman to the entire world. He is considered to be the highest priesthood authority on earth, with the exclusive right to receive revelations from God on behalf of the entire church or the entire world. Modern presidents, however, have not generally continued Joseph Smith's practice of publishing written doctrinal revelations and visions, although most have stated that they have received them.
The President of the Church serves as the head of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes and the head of the Council of the Church. The President of the Church also serves as the ex officio chairman of the Church Boards of Trustees/Education.
Establishing doctrine, infallibility, and opinion
According to the LDS Church's Doctrine and Covenants, the President of the Church is the only man empowered to receive revelation for the entire church and to clarify doctrine. The church teaches its members "we can always trust the living prophets" and that one's "greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets, particularly the current President of the Church." In the church, he is "authorized to counsel and dictate in the greatest and what might be deemed the most trifling matters, to instruct, direct and guide this Saints." Members are taught to rely on the Holy Ghost to judge, and if a revelation is in harmony with the revealed word of God, it should be accepted.
Not everything the prophet says is considered to be doctrine. Joseph Smith taught "a prophet is a prophet only when he was acting as such." When he declares new doctrine, "he will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church." If the doctrine is not accepted by the Church as the word of God, members are not bound by the doctrine, even if it comes from the President of the Church.
Presidents of the church have taught that God will never allow the president to lead the Latter-day Saints astray and that God will "remove" any man who stands at the head of the Church who intends to mislead its members. This is not a statement of belief that they are "infallible", but that their errors will not result in "the permanent injury of the work." Bruce R. McConkie said:
With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their own problems without inspiration in many instances.
Revelations from God ... are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit."
Thus the current prophet can clarify, correct or change any previous teachings.
As such, when speaking in his official capacity, the words of the church president are never considered "infallible". Members of the church are not justified in their actions if they "blindly" follow the president. The Church has counseled its members that they should reject statements that contradict what is found in the Standard Works, "regardless of the position of the man who says it". Statements of the president of the church can be changed by a future president of the church; due to the Latter-day Saint belief in "continuing revelation", it is accepted that a church president will occasionally revise or clarify statements of past church presidents. One apostle of the church counseled to "beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence."
However, when the president of the church speaks, it is not always in his official capacity. At these times, the president may offer opinion and conjecture about topics which may or may not be church doctrine or inspired by God. It may be difficult to know when the president of the church is speaking in his capacity as such and when he is offering personal opinion. Most Latter-day Saints assume that statements made by the president in sermons at a church general conference or other formal church meeting would constitute statements made in the capacity of church president. However, even then, the president may explicitly indicate that he is only expressing a personal opinion. However, because of the accepted principle that a prophet's teachings need not include the declaration "thus saith the Lord" to be considered binding, individual members of the church may feel cultural pressure to follow suggestions from the president of the church just as if they were commandments.
Counselors to the President
When a new president of the church is selected, he chooses counselors to assist him. Most presidents have had a minimum of two counselors, but circumstances have occasionally required more than two; for example, David O. McKay had five counselors during the final years of his presidency and at one point Brigham Young had eight. Counselors are usually chosen from among the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, although there have been a number of exceptions where members of the church's Presiding Bishopric or persons from the church at large were called to be counselors. Any high priest of the church is eligible to be called as a counselor in the First Presidency. There have also been a few cases where counselors have been ordained to the priesthood office of apostle and became members of the Quorum of the Twelve after already being chosen as counselors in the First Presidency (e.g., J. Reuben Clark). There have been other cases where counselors have been ordained to the office of apostle but not set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve (e.g., Alvin R. Dyer). Other counselors in the First Presidency were never ordained to the office of apostle (e.g., Charles W. Nibley; John R. Winder). Whether or not a counselor in the First Presidency is an ordained apostle, he is accepted by the church as a prophet, seer, and revelator.
Counselors are formally designated as "First Counselor in the First Presidency" and "Second Counselor in the First Presidency" based on the order they were selected by the president. Additional counselors have been designated in different ways, including "Third Counselor in the First Presidency" (e.g., Hugh B. Brown), "Assistant Counselor to the President" (e.g., John Willard Young), and simply "Counselor in the First Presidency" (e.g., Thorpe B. Isaacson). The president and all his counselors constitute the First Presidency, which is the presiding quorum of the church. The next senior apostle to the president of the church is set apart by the president to be the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Succession to the presidency
In the LDS Church, when a president of the church dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the members of the First Presidency who were formerly members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles return as members of that quorum. The Quorum of the Twelve, which may number greater than twelve with the returning members from the First Presidency, then becomes the presiding council of the church, with the senior apostle as its president. During this period of time, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve is the highest-ranking official in the church, and has historically always become the next church president. However, this appointment is only made official when the Quorum of the Twelve meets and selects the next president of the church.
In modern times, the Quorum of the Twelve has typically moved quickly to reconstitute the First Presidency by setting apart the President of the Quorum of the Twelve as the president of the church within days or weeks of the late church president's death. However, Brigham Young presided over the church for three years as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve before the First Presidency was reconstituted after the death of Joseph Smith. The tradition of waiting for two to three years before selecting a new president continued until the death of the fourth president of the church, Wilford Woodruff, in 1898. More recently, the surviving apostles will typically meet in the Salt Lake Temple on the first Sunday following the late president's funeral, to select and set apart the next president of the church (as was done in 1973, and described in detail by N. Eldon Tanner to BYU students in 1978). At the general conference immediately following the ordination of a new president, the general membership of the church who are in attendance have the opportunity of sustaining their new leader by common consent, at a special conference session called the "Solemn Assembly"
Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is important, as the senior apostle presides over the quorum and, historically, becomes the president of the church upon the current president's passing. Specific rules have applied to special situations that have come up over time.
For instance, there have been cases where an apostle has been excommunicated or disfellowshipped, then later restored to the quorum. It was decided that in these cases, the excommunicated or disfellowshipped apostle loses his seniority in the quorum. For example, Brigham Young decided that John Taylor was to be President of the Twelve and Wilford Woodruff follow him in seniority due to the readmission to the quorum of Orson Hyde, who had been disfellowshipped in 1846, and Orson Pratt, who had been excommunicated in 1842. Young ruled in 1875 that when Hyde and Pratt rejoined the quorum, they became the newest junior members of the quorum and their previous service did not "count" when calculating quorum seniority.
Later, whether or not an apostle was a member of the quorum and when the apostle was put into the quorum became an important factor. Following the death of Lorenzo Snow, John Willard Young (ordained 1855, never in the quorum) became the senior apostle, and Brigham Young, Jr. (ordained 1864, added to the quorum 1868) the senior apostle serving in the quorum. However, on April 5, 1900, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve unanimously decided that the date an individual became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve was the relevant date for succession purposes, not the date an individual was ordained as an apostle. Thus, Joseph F. Smith (ordained apostle 1866, added to the quorum 1867) became president of the church in 1901, because he was the living apostle who had become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at the earliest date.
In another instance, Ezra Taft Benson left active status in the quorum for a time when he was serving as the United States Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower administration. In this case, however, Benson did not lose seniority in the quorum and he became the president of the church upon the passing of Spencer W. Kimball.
If the President of the Quorum of the Twelve has been called to be a counselor in the First Presidency, the most senior apostle not called to the First Presidency is set apart and referred to as the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At the death of the president of the church, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve retains his position in the quorum's membership and the President of the Quorum of the Twelve takes his role as president of the quorum.
Though there has never been a popular movement in the church to have a president removed or punished, he could theoretically be removed from his position or otherwise disciplined by the Common Council of the Church. The only president of the church brought before the Common Council was Joseph Smith, Jr., who was tried for charges made against him by Sylvester Smith after the return of Zion's Camp in 1834. The Council determined that Joseph Smith had "acted in every respect in an honorable and proper manner with all monies and properties entrusted to his charge."
President of the Community of Christ
In the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), the president of the church's formal title is the Prophet–President. The Prophet–President is the highest priesthood leader of this denomination of Latter Day Saints. The position is composed of several roles: (1) President of the Church, (2) President of the High Priesthood and (3) Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the church.
As President of the Church, the Prophet–President is the church's chief executive and is the leader of the First Presidency, the church's chief executive council. As President of the High Priesthood, the Prophet–President is the church's leading priesthood official. (Since the initiation of the ordination of women in 1985, it is now possible for this position to be filled by a woman though all Prophet–Presidents to date have been men.) As Prophet, Seer and Revelator, the Prophet–President is the Community of Christ's spiritual leader and can present revelations to the church to be added to the Doctrine and Covenants — an open canon of scripture, which stands with the Bible and the Book of Mormon as sacred text. Only the Prophet-President is considered to be a prophet, seer and revelator, and so far, each person to hold this position has presented additional revelations to the church, which have been added to the Doctrine and Covenants.
Succession to the Presidency
Generally, the Prophet–President will name or ordain a successor prior to his death. The office was traditionally referred to as President of the High Priesthood. Prior to 1995 these successors had been chosen consistent with lineal succession, even though it was not a church rule. Accordingly, the first six Prophet–Presidents following movement founder Joseph Smith, Jr. were his direct descendants.
In 1995, Wallace B. Smith broke with the precedent of lineal succession by naming W. Grant McMurray as his successor. In November 2004, McMurray resigned from the office of Prophet–President without naming a successor, citing medical and personal issues. The First Presidency, composed of McMurray's two counselors, continued to function as the church's chief executive council. A Joint Council of church leaders led by the Council of Twelve Apostles announced in March 2005 that Stephen M. Veazey would be Prophet–President designate. Veazey had been serving as president of the Council of Twelve. Delegates elected to a special World Conference of the church approved Veazey and he was ordained as the Prophet–President on June 3, 2005.
Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
The Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints broke with the Community of Christ over the issue of lineal succession, when, in 1995, W. Grant McMurray was named the successor to the President Wallace B. Smith. Members of the Remnant Church continue to believe in the lineal succession. As such, the prophet of the Remnant Church, President Frederick Niels Larsen, is a direct descendant (maternal 2nd great-grandson) of Joseph Smith, Jr.
President of The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)
President of the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite)
The tiny Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), headquartered in Independence, Missouri, has a First Presidency with a President and two Counselors. Succession generally goes to the First Counselor at the time of the previous President's death or resignation (no Cutlerite president has ever resigned), subject to approval of the church membership.
- Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ, June 9, 1830.
- LDS Church D&C 28:2
- Different accounts of this meeting give the date as June 3, 4, or 6. Bushman considers June 3 to be the "best guess" for the date.
- "Minutes of June 3-6, 1831". Saints Without Halos. Retrieved 2011-09-22.
- Bushman, Richard Lyman (2007). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 156–157, 595. ISBN 978-1-4000-7753-3.
- Kirtland Revelation Book, p. 84,68; LDS Church D&C 107:64-65, 91-92
- Bushman, Richard Lyman (2007). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Vintage Books. p. 202. ISBN 978-1-4000-7753-3.
- "Prophet Seer, and Revelator: Like Unto Moses". Joseph Smith: Life of the Prophet. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-25.
- LDS Church D&C 20:2
- LDS Church D&C 20:67
- See, for example, LDS D&C 28:2, 6-7.
- True to the Faith (2004), 129–30 Prophets
- Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young. Selected by John A. Widstoe. 1941 pg. 38
- "here may be some things that the First Presidency do; that the Apostles do, that cannot for the moment be explained; yet the spirit, the motives that inspire the action can be understood, because each member of the Church has a right to have that measure of the Spirit of God that they can judge as to those who are acting in their interests or otherwise." Lorenzo Snow, Conference Report (October 1898): 54
- "You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards of doctrine, only insofar as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 3:203–204. ISBN 0-88494-041-1)
- Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:265
- Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, 24–26 August 1973, with Reports and Discourses, 69. OCLC 59671066 ASIN B0017RUZQE.
See also "no member of the Church has the right to publish any doctrines, as the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, without first submitting them for examination and approval to the First Presidency and the Twelve" (Proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, dated 21 October 1865, re: The Seer. Printed in Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 2, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965), 238–39)
- "The rule in that respect is—What God has spoken, and what has been accepted by the Church as the word of God, by that, and that only, are we bound in doctrine." : B. H. Roberts, Deseret News (23 July 1921) section 4:7
- President Harold B Lee taught that "if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them "standard"—it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it." (Harold B. Lee, "The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator," Address to Seminary and Institute of Religion Faculty, BYU, 8 July 1964)
- Wilford Woodruff, Doctrine and Covenants Official Declaration 1'
- "The position is not assumed that the men of the New Dispensation —its prophets, apostles, presidencies, and other leaders—are without faults or infallible, rather they are treated as men of like passions with their fellow men." (James R. Clark, quoting B. H. Roberts, Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 4, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), p. xiv–xv.)
- Boyd K. Packer, "I Say unto You, Be One," in BYU Devotional and Fireside Speeches, 1990–1991 (Provo, Utah: University Publications, 1991), 84
- Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 608
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit," Ensign (March 1997): 14.
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet", 26 February 1980
- "We consider God, and him alone, infallible; therefore his revealed word to us cannot be doubted, though we may be in doubt some times about the knowledge which we obtain from human sources, and occasionally be obliged to admit that something which we had considered to be a fact, was really only a theory." Lu Dalton, Woman's Exponent (Salt Lake City: 15 July 1882), p. 31.
- Brigham Young taught "the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord." As quoted in Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 541; See Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941], p. 135; 64-04, pp. 162-63
- Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places, pp. 162–63, "The Prophet, Seer, and Revelator," Address delivered to seminary and institute teachers, BYU, 8 July 1964
- Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven
- Harold B Lee taught that "if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them "standard"—it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it: Harold B. Lee, "The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator," Address to Seminary and Institute of Religion Faculty, BYU, 8 July 1964.
- See, e.g., Gordon B. Hinckley, “War and Peace”, Ensign, May 2003, p. 78, where church president Gordon B. Hinckley indicated that he was expressing his "personal feelings" and "personal loyalties" on the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
- Boyd K. Packer, The Unwritten Order of Things.
- Seniority is determined by elapsed time since joining the Quorum, not by age.
- Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake, “‘The Kingdom of God Will Roll On’: Succession in the Presidency”, Ensign, August 1996, p. 22.
- N. Eldon Tanner, "Administration of the Restored Church", Tambuli, September 1978, p. 2.
- lds.org, “Succession in the Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”
- Compton, Todd. “John Willard Young, Brigham Young, and the Development of Presidential Succession in the LDS Church.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35.4 (winter 2002): 111-34 at pp. 128–129.
- Doctrine and Covenants 107:82–84.
- Joseph Fielding Smith (1953). Church History and Modern Revelation (Salt Lake City: Council of the Twelve Apostles) 2:21.
- History of the Church 2:143.