By Eric Johnson
Over the past years, we have seen a concerted effort by the LDS leadership to remind its people on a regular basis that the President and other general authorities are responsible to teach the doctrine of Mormonism. While the members are encouraged to gain testimonies, their beliefs need to be in line with the leadership of the church.
In April 2016, the church went into overdrive to make sure this point is very clear with the membership. During the second Sunday of April (the 10th), Mormons studied chapter 7 of the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter. The chapter was titled “Continuous Revelation through Living Prophets.” It emphasized the importance of following the LDS leadership. A full review of this chapter can be found here.
Then, in late March, the April 2016 edition of the Ensign magazine was mailed to millions of LDS members and interested folks like myself. Two articles were written specifically on the topic of obeying the leaders, with specific references to this idea easily found in at least a half dozen other articles included in this issue. What I’d like to do is summarize these and provide some of the quotes from these articles to show how important an issue following the “Brethren” really is in Mormonism.
“Prophecy and Personal Revelation” by Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency (pp. 4-5)
Eyring describes how a Latter-day Saint can hear the Lord’s voice today, through the general authorities at General Conference. We must seek “personal revelation,” but we should accept only that which corresponds to the teaching of the leadership of the church.
The true Church of Jesus Christ has been restored and is on the earth today. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always been led by living prophets and apostles, who receive constant guidance from heaven.
That divine pattern was also true anciently. We learn in the Bible: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). (NOTE: To read a response to Amos 3:7, click Amos 3:7.)
In our day, living prophets and apostles are authorized to speak, teach, and direct with authority from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Savior said to the Prophet, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and 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” (D&C 1:38).
In general conference twice a year, we are blessed with the opportunity to hear the word of the Lord for us from His servants. That is a privilege beyond price. But the value of that opportunity depends on whether we receive the words under the influence of the same Spirit by which they were given to those servants (see D&C 50:19–22). Just as they receive guidance from heaven, so must we. And that requires of us the same spiritual effort.
The servants of God fast and pray to receive the message He has for them to give to those who need revelation and inspiration. What I learned from that experience, and many others like it, is that to gain the great benefits available from hearing living prophets and apostles, we must pay the price ourselves of receiving revelation.
The Lord loves every person who might hear His message, and He knows the hearts and circumstances of each one. He knows what correction, what encouragement, and what gospel truth will best help each person to choose his or her way along the path to eternal life.
We who listen to and watch the messages of general conference sometimes think afterward, “What do I remember best?” The Lord’s hope for each of us is that our answer will be: “I will never forget the moments when I felt the voice of the Spirit in my mind and heart telling me what I could do to please my Heavenly Father and the Savior.”
We can receive that personal revelation when we hear prophets and apostles and as we work in faith to receive it, just as President Lee said we could. I know that is true from experience and by the witness of the Spirit.
“Heavenly Father Spoke to Me through a Conference Talk” (Youth) by Brazilian member Anne Laleska Alves de Souza (p. 6)
Synopsis: A short (three-paragraph) article aimed at the youth showing how God can direct a person’s path (which university to attend). While she was reading the conference edition in the Liahona magazine, the author believes that God spoke to her and gave her direction.
The article (in its entirety):
I was having doubts about what I should study at the university. Most people spoke badly about the course that I wanted to take, so I prayed to the Lord to see if He agreed with my decision.
My answer came the following day while I was reading a general conference talk in the Liahona. I felt as though Heavenly Father was telling me He couldn’t choose for me—this was a decision that I would have to make alone. I knew that no matter what I chose, I would have to work hard to be successful.
I know that my prayer was answered. The confirmation of the Holy Ghost helped me make a decision. I’ve learned to give my best efforts and know that Heavenly Father will help me.
“Follow the Prophet” (p. 6) No author (Children)
Synopsis: In three sentences, children are instructed that they ought to follow the LDS leaders if they hope to follow Jesus. A maze of lines directs the child to the temple, the scriptures, a ward, and a young boy praying.
The article (in its entirety):
Prophets and apostles speak for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They teach us how to follow Jesus. Follow the paths to get to some of the things the prophet and apostles have asked us to do.
“A Worn, Marked Conference Ensign” by Cynthia Goodwill from New York (pp. 8-9)
Synopsis: The author, a returned missionary from the Philippines, saw her BYU roommate with a general conference edition of the Ensign magazine. When she asked to look through it, she saw many markings, including underlining and comments added in the margins. This impressed her. She then discovered that she could find “answers by study” of the leaders’ words. From then on, the author anticipated the conference edition of the magazine, as she also learned to mark up her issues.
As a returned missionary from the Philippines Olongapo Mission, I was finishing up my degree at Brigham Young University and really enjoying life. There were six women in our off-campus apartment, and we were all returned missionaries. We all had classes, jobs, and social scenes to manage, but we were all solidly grounded in the gospel, and the spirit in the apartment was sweet to us all.
One day, I noticed Courtney carrying something as she headed out the door. It was her general conference edition of the Ensign. It was the most tattered and used-looking conference issue I had ever seen. I asked her if I could look at it later because I was curious as to what she saw in these talks that I hadn’t already seen.
When I later browsed through her magazine, it seemed to me that she had underlined every word in every talk. There were comments in the margins. There were lines drawn and pictures here and there. The edges were very worn. She had obviously spent considerable time reading, re-reading, and marking up her Ensign. I was impressed. I loved general conference and I loved listening to the talks, but I had never put that much time and effort into studying my general conference Ensign issue. When I saw the worn, marked pages of Courtney’s magazine, I realized that listening was not enough. I felt the Spirit say, “You can do better.” I agreed.
As time went on, I eventually married and no longer lived near Courtney, but every time general conference came around I would remember her marked-up Ensign and the feeling that I could do better. However, every conference something seemed to get in the way of my acting on that prompting. Then the time came that I decided nothing would get in my way. I grabbed the conference Ensign when it came in the mail and started reading it cover to cover.
As I underlined passages and wrote comments in the margins, I experienced each talk in a deeper way than I had when I had just listened. The Spirit spoke to me as I read, and I wrote down what the Spirit told me to do and acted on it. It was the most wonderful general conference I have ever experienced. I found myself saying to people all the time, “Oh, there’s a wonderful conference talk about that!”
One evening before going to bed, I prayed about a disagreement my husband and I had had earlier in the day. I couldn’t figure out how I could have acted differently. I prayed that I would be able to solve the problem. When I woke up the next morning, the Spirit turned my thoughts to a general conference talk I had read the day before. One part of the talk answered my question perfectly. Humbled, I started out the day by saying a prayer of thanks to my Father in Heaven for answering my prayer through the teachings of His chosen servants.
(subtitle) The Blessings of Studying Conference Talks
At the conclusion of the October 2012 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson said: “As always, the proceedings of this conference will be available in the coming issues of the Ensign and the Liahona magazines. I encourage you to read the talks once again and to ponder the messages contained therein. I have found in my own life that I gain even more from these inspired sermons when I study them in greater depth.” Now I know what the prophet meant when he said that.
I know that the Spirit can speak to us more personally as we put forth the effort to really study the Lord’s word given through His servants in each general conference. I know that we will be blessed as we do.
“Do the Instructions Make Sense?” by Ruth Silver from Colorado (p. 10)
Synopsis: The author went on a trip to France where she received detailed directions each to help guide her to the destination. When we make a wrong turn, it becomes difficult to read the map. Too often, she writes, we blame the instructions for confusing us and we lose sight of where we’re supposed to be headed. This is why a person needs to follow the scriptures and the church leaders. If we follow them, they will help us find our way.
Every day we have the opportunity to study the scriptures. And every six months, we are treated to a general conference of the Church. Are not these times when we can check our road map and make sure we are where we need to be? Once, as I listened to conference, I felt that, imperfect as we are, we can know we’re on the right road if these instructions are making perfect sense to us.
Even as following right directions will get us to destinations in this life, studying the scriptures and heeding the counsel of living prophets allow us to check our course and adjust it if need be so that, ultimately, we arrive at our celestial home.
“Watchmen on the Tower” No author (pp. 28-29)
Synopsis: This article defines a watchman (“sentries stationed on a wall or in a tower to look out for and warn of dangers approaching them from afar”) as well as the different types of towers (“towers in city walls,” “fortress or citadel towers,” and “towers in vineyards, fields, or pastures.” Then the article provides the five advantages the watchmen on the tower have, obviously referring to the LDS leadership. Verses given in the sidebar (“Bible Facts”) show how “the Lord” represents the fortress or tower and “prophets are sometimes compared to watchmen.” (A picture of Thomas S. Monson speaking at conference is placed at the bottom of the article.)
Have an elevated view. As God’s called and authorized servants, prophets are separated from the world, draw closer to Him, and are allowed to see things from a more heavenly perspective.
See things the rest cannot see. “A seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known” (Mosiah 8:17).
Are vigilant. Prophets have a solemn responsibility to warn us of coming dangers, and they will continue to do so regardless of public opinion or trends in society.
Warn of things while they are still far off. “A prophet denounces sin and foretells its consequences. He is a preacher of righteousness. On occasion, prophets may be inspired to foretell the future for the benefit of mankind” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Prophet,” lds.org/scriptures/gs).
Offer safety and protection. By heeding prophets’ warnings, we can find safety and avoid the calamities that may befall us, individually or collectively, if we do not obey.
Bible Facts (sidebar)
In the Old Testament, the Lord is sometimes compared to a fortress or citadel tower of refuge (see Psalm 18:2; 61:3; Proverbs 18:10; 2 Samuel 22:3), and prophets are sometimes compared to watchmen (see Isaiah 62:6; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; 33:7; Hosea 9:8; Micah 7:4).
“The Redeeming and Strengthening Power of the Savior’s Atonement” by Seventy Kim B. Clark (pp. 50-55)
According to Jesus, Jesus suffered and died for all people’s sin. (The painting portrayed on page 50 shows Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the traditional place in Mormonism where the atonement took place.) Besides the atonement, people need “obedience of the heart and soul.” It changes the way a person thinks and acts. The goal is to be with one’s family forever. To obtain what God intends for us to have, we need to follow the leadership of the church.
Applicable quote (ends the article):
And I came to understand that this is why, from the days of Joseph Smith until this very hour, the Lord has called living prophets to stand where Joseph stood, to hold the keys Joseph holds—so that you and I could be blessed with prophetic counsel and guidance, spiritual gifts, sacred ordinances in holy temples, courage and faith to walk in the light, repentance and forgiveness, and the power and authority of the keys of the priesthood of God. It is so that we might qualify for all the blessings of the temple of the Lord, be sealed to a beloved eternal companion, and have our children sealed to us forever in eternal life with our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son.
“Jesus Christ: Our Firm Foundation” by Seventy Donald L. Hallstrom (pp. 58-63).
It is important for a building to have a firm foundation. In the same way, spiritually, all people need a foundation. This is Jesus Christ. There are tools that can be used to build on this foundation, including prayer, study of the scriptures, participation in the church meetings, participating in the sacrament, service, and covenant keeping. Most of all, we can follow the leaders of the Mormon Church who will direct our paths.
Another essential tool is the counsel of living prophets. There are 15 men on earth who are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. They hold the keys of the priesthood of God. We are taught by them often. We raise our hands to sustain them several times a year. We pray for them every day. However, today’s extraordinary blessing of accessibility to their message can lead to a lack of appreciation for its importance.
President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, warned: “Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they consider it either faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel.”
President Eyring added: “Another fallacy is to believe that the choice to accept or not accept the counsel of prophets is no more than deciding whether to accept good advice and gain its benefits or to stay where we are. But the choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. It becomes more dangerous.”
“The Priesthood: A Sure Anchor” by Apostle L. Tom Perry (pp. 74-75)
Perry died two days after preparing this article. He taught that understanding the foundation of the Mormon priesthood was vital. He believes the priesthood has existed since Adam and was organized by Jesus as well. The keys of this authority can be found in today’s LDS Church, with direct guidance by men in the leadership. The priesthood will, he said, “be a sure anchor that will keep you spiritually safe and bring you great joy.”
I find it very interesting what the Savior did first as He began His ministry. He organized the Melchizedek Priesthood. He called twelve Apostles and taught them the laws and order of the priesthood. He called Peter to be the chief Apostle, establishing a line of authority in His Church. In that day and this, it is Jesus Christ who selects His chief Apostle to preside over the Church, and it is the Savior who directs him in his priesthood duties.
So the priesthood has a direct line from our Lord and Savior through the chief Apostle to the other Apostles and on to the other priesthood holders in the Church. Keys of authority are given to the Apostles, and as long as those keys are on the earth, we will be guided by the Lord Himself. This divine direction protects us and assures us that the Church will not vary from the truth. It will remain consistent because it is not directed by any earthly being. It is directed by the Lord.