Chapter 19: Priesthood Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

My dear friends in the gospel, this is God’s work. This is his Church and the Church of his Beloved Son whose name it carries. God will never permit an imposter to stand at its head. He will name his prophets, and he will inspire and direct them.

With that said, what would you say about the citations of these “prophets” and what they taught?

  1. Joseph Smith: “I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 6:408-409).
  2. Brigham Young: “Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him.  He helped to make and organize this world.  He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken—HE is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do” (Brigham Young, April 9, 1852, Journal of Discourses 1:50)
  3. John Taylor: “Why is it, in fact, that we should have a devil? Why did not the Lord kill him long ago? Because he could not do without him. He needed the devil and a great many of those who do his bidding just to keep men straight, that we may learn to place our dependence upon God, and trust in Him, and to observe his laws and keep his commandments. When he destroyed the inhabitants of the antediluvian world, he suffered a descendant of Cain to come through the flood in order that he might be properly represented upon the earth” (John Taylor, October 29, 1882, Journal of Discourses 23:336).
  4. Wilford Woodruff: “If we were to do away with polygamy, it would only be one feather in the bird, one ordinance in the Church and kingdom. Do away with that, then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians and do as the world does, then all would be right.  We just can’t do that, for God has commanded us to build up His kingdom and to bear our testimony to the nations of the earth, and we are going to do it, come life or come death. He has told us to do thus, and we shall obey Him in days to come as we have in days past” (Wilford Woodruff, December 12, 1869, Journal of Discourses 13:166).
  5. Lorenzo Snow: “We have a mother in heaven. We are the offspring of God. He is our Father, and we have a Mother in the other life as well” (Lorenzo Snow, The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p. 191)
  6. Joseph F. Smith: “Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death: but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. …So you see Jesus is the only person who had our Heavenly Father as the father of his body” (Joseph F. Smith, Family Home Evening manual, 1972, pp. 125,126. Ellipsis mine).
  7. Heber J. Grant: “Always keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, even if it is wrong, and you do it, the lord will bless you for it but you don’t need to worry. The lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray” (Marion G. Romney, quoting LDS President Heber J. Grant, Conference Reports, Oct. 1960, p. 78).
  8. George Albert Smith: “The churches of the world are trying, in their way, to bring peace into the hearts of men. They are possessed of many virtues and many truths, and accomplish much good, but they are not divinely authorized. Neither have their priests been divinely commissioned. The Latter-day Saints are the only ones who bear the authority of our Heavenly Father to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel. The world has need of us” (George Albert Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 2011, pp. 124-125).
  9. David O. McKay: “FAITH, GRACE, AND WORKS. The fallacy that Jesus has done all for us, and live as we may, if on our deathbed, we only believe, we shall be saved in his glorious presence, is most pernicious. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, has given us the means whereby man may obtain eternal happiness and peace in the kingdom of our Father, but man must work out his own salvation through obedience to the eternal principles and ordinances of the gospel. For centuries men have been blinded by the false teaching of ‘belief alone sufficient’; and today there is manifest on every hand the sorry plight into which this and other perverse doctrines have thrown the pseudo-Christian sects. The world is in sore need at the present time of the gospel of individual effort—the gospel of faith and works. He who will not grasp this means provided him, will sink beneath the waves of sin and falsehood” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, p. 8).
  10. Joseph Fielding Smith: “This doctrine did not originate with President Brigham Young but was taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith. At a meeting of the general authorities of the Church, held August 22, 1895, the question of the status of the negro in relation to the Priesthood was asked and the minutes of that meeting say: ‘President George Q. Cannon remarked that the Prophet taught this doctrine: That the seed of Cain could not receive the Priesthood nor act in any of the offices of the Priesthood until the seed of Abel should come forward and take precedence over Cain’s offspring” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 110. See also Milton R. Hunter’s Pearl of Great Price Commentary, 1948, pp. 141-142)
  11. Harold B. Lee: “Any member of the Church who is learning to live perfectly each of the laws that are in the kingdom is learning the way to become perfect. There is no member of this Church who cannot live the law, every law of the gospel perfectly” (Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 2000, p. 33).
  12. Spencer W. Kimball: “This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209).
  13. Ezra Taft Benson: “There are members who know this latter-day work is true, but who fail to endure to the end. One who rationalizes that he or she has a testimony of Jesus Christ but cannot accept direction and counsel from the leadership of His Church is in a fundamentally unsound position and is in jeopardy of losing exaltation” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 467)
  14. Howard W. Hunter: “Man is not complete without woman. Neither can fill the measure of their creation without the other. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. Only through the new and everlasting covenant of marriage can they realize the fulness of eternal blessings. As a matter of priesthood responsibility, a man, under normal circumstances, should not unduly postpone marriage. Brethren, the Lord has spoken plainly on this matter. It is your sacred and solemn responsibility to follow his counsel and the words of his prophets” (Howard W. Hunter, “Being a Righteous Husband and Father,” Ensign (Conference Edition), Nov. 1994, p. 49).
  15. Gordon B. Hinckley: “As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say” (Gordon Hinckley, “We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90).
  16. Thomas S. Monson: “In about 1956 we recognized that our neighborhood was deteriorating. We observed this one Halloween by the nature of the people who came in the guise of ‘Trick or Treat.’ The minority elements were moving into the area where we lived, and many of the old-time families had long since moved away. Seeking counsel, I visited with Mark E. Peterson, who for many years had been the General Manager of the Deseret News. O. Preston Robinson, my former professor of marketing at the University of Utah, had succeeded Brother Petersen as the General Manager at the News. As I mentioned to Mark my dilemma, wondering if it would be unfair for me to move, he said simply, ‘Your obligation to that area is concluded. Why don’t you build a house in my ward?’” (Thomas S. Monson, On the Lord’s Errand: Memoirs of Thomas S. Monson, 1985, p. 184).

If you are a Mormon, you may agree with some (maybe many?) of these quotations. If you are not a Mormon, on the other hand, you might be surprised at these. My point is this: I doubt anyone agrees with every single citation. Time has shown that these men were wrong in their thinking. Now, you can say that maybe some of the quotes above were not said while they were acting as a general authority. My response is, How do you know?

Recently, I was told by several Mormons that Spencer W. Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness cannot be trusted because Jeffrey R. Holland contradicted his teachings in an October 2017 address. My response was, “What happens when Holland is gone and another apostle or prophet contradicts him?” Was he misleading us? After all, both Kimball and Holland couldn’t be correct. One of them has to be wrong. Is it possible to attain perfection (as the quote above by Kimball states) or it is not? Malachi 3:6 says God does not change. Either people are saved by works and reaching perfection (as per Kimball) or it’s more based on our efforts and doing their best. The law of contradiction does not allow both to be true, but the way a person receives forgiveness needs to be the same in Kimball’s day as well as Holland’s day. Otherwise, there is mass confusion. The Bible says it has been faith, and faith always, that has saved people. For instance, read Hebrews 11.

Some express concern that the President of the Church is likely always to be a rather elderly man, to which my response is, “What a blessing!” … He does not need to be youthful. He has and will continue to have younger men to travel over the earth in the work of the ministry. He is the presiding high priest, the repository of all of the keys of the holy priesthood, and the voice of revelation from God to his people. …

As I write this, the LDS Church lifts up a frail man in Thomas S. Monson as being their direct communicator with God. He did not attend the October 2017 General Conference because of poor health. In official church photos, he looks confused. He no longer attends church leadership meetings and is pretty much waiting for his time to die. Why does the church do this to someone who is 90 years old? Why can’t they let a feeble elderly man live in peace for his last few years? Why prop him up as a prophet of God when he might not even know what he had for lunch today?

According to Hebrews 1:1-2, there is a Man who is the living prophet today. It reads:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Of course, this passage is talking about Jesus! In ancient times, as the King James Version puts it, we had prophets, but in these last days we have Jesus. In Hebrews 3:1 it says that Jesus is both an apostle and a high priest. Christians do not need anyone after Jesus because He fulfilled all of these offices.

To my mind there is something tremendously reassuring in knowing that … we shall have a President who has been disciplined and schooled, tried and tested, whose fidelity to the work and whose integrity in the cause have been tempered in the forge of service, whose faith has matured, and whose nearness to God has been cultivated over a period of many years.

Where did Thomas S. Monson get “disciplined and schooled”? Of course, he was a business executive for a newspaper. Yet where did he get his spiritual training? From other leaders? (Where did they get their discipline and schooling? Please don’t say that Jesus’s disciples were unlearned men because that’s not a good response.) And just what qualifies him for becoming the top leader of Christ’s church? What Monson (as well as the other LDS prophets had) had is white skin, the fortune to be born in Utah (for the most part), and a good family pedigree. However, Monson and the other prophets are teachers of heresy. They should not be emulated or adored. Instead, they (and their teachings) should be avoided at all costs.

I speak … in gratitude for a prophet to guide us in these latter days. I plead for loyalty to him whom the Lord has called and anointed. I plead for steadfastness in upholding him and giving attention to his teachings. I have said … that if we have a prophet, we have everything. If we do not have a prophet, we have nothing. We do have a prophet. We have had prophets since the founding of this Church. We shall never be without a prophet if we live worthy of a prophet.

Ahh, but Christians do have a prophet. His name is Jesus. He is so much better than any sinful human being that any religion can bring forth, whether his name is the Dalai Lama, Muhammad, Buddha, or Jim Jones. All of these men have led people away from a true relationship with God.

Talking about the high priest, the writer of Hebrews says, “Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people” (5:3). The passage says that Jesus was so much better than the high priest hailing from the line of Aaron because He wasn’t sinful and didn’t need appeasement from His sins. He is the perfect priest. He is the perfect king. And, yes, He is the perfect prophet.

The Lord is watching over this work. This is His kingdom. We are not as sheep without a shepherd. We are not as an army without a leader.

But Christians are not sheep without a shepherd. Jesus said He was the “good shepherd.” He continues to guide His people today through the Holy Spirit (see John 16.) Here is what John 10:7-18 says:

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Notice, we are to be aware of thieves. Is it possible the prophet of the Mormon Church is a thief. If he steals salvation form people, then he certainly is.

When a President of the Church dies, the senior Apostle becomes the next President.

Where is this found in the Standard Works? Where did the ancient apostles every have such a plan of succession? We see nothing in the Bible that suggests such a pattern.

And think about it. Why should one of the twelve be considered the president merely because he has been a general authority longer than anyone else? What if someone was more qualified? What if someone was the choice that God intended rather than qualifying because he is the eldest prophet? Could this information from Hinckley have been included by the church’s editorial team because the top leaders of the church (Monson, now 90; Nelson, 93; Oaks, 85; and Ballard, 88) are nearing the end of their lives? There will be turnover in the next decade, with these four all surely dying soon. In early October Robert D. Hales passed away; he was fourth in line to become president of the church. There are very good odds that, if he lives, Jeffrey R. Holland—currently just 76 and a mere kid compared to the others—will be the prophet by 2022. (Not a prophecy, but the odds makers say I will be very close.) Holland will have an interesting presidency, I predict. He is very shrewd and cunning.

Transition of authority [to a new President of the Church], in which I have participated a number of times, is beautiful in its simplicity. It is indicative of the way the Lord does things. Under His procedure a man is selected by the prophet to become a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. He does not choose this as a career. He is called, as were the Apostles in Jesus’ time, to whom the Lord said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you.” (John 15:16.) The years pass. He is schooled and disciplined in the duties of his office. He travels over the earth in fulfilling his apostolic calling. It is a long course of preparation, in which he comes to know the Latter-day Saints wherever they may be, and they come to know him. The Lord tests his heart and his substance. In the natural course of events, vacancies occur in that council and new appointments are made. Under this process a particular man becomes the senior Apostle. Residing latent in him, and in his associate Brethren, given to each at the time of ordination, are all of the keys of the priesthood. But authority to exercise those keys is restricted to the President of the Church. At [the prophet’s] passing, that authority becomes operative in the senior Apostle, who is then named, set apart, and ordained a prophet and President by his associates of the Council of the Twelve.

There is no electioneering. There is no campaigning. There is only the quiet and simple operation of a divine plan which provides inspired and tested leadership.

I have been a witness, a personal witness, to this wondrous process. I give you my testimony that it is the Lord who [selects the prophet].

All of this comes with absolutely no biblical support for how a prophet should be picked.

To read other reviews of the Gordon B. Hinckley manual, click here.