From the time of the organization of the Church there has been designated one presiding authority over the entire body. On April 6, 1830, it was “given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church” (D&C 20:2).
As the Church matured, further revelation defined the office of the President and the Quorum of the First Presidency:
“And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses … to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church” (D&C 107:91–92).
“I give unto you my servant Joseph to be a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and prophet.
“I give unto him for counselors my servant Sidney Rigdon and my servant William Law, that these may constitute a quorum and First Presidency, to receive the oracles for the whole church” (D&C 124:125–26).
“Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church” (D&C 107:22).
Set Forth by Revelation
The place of the President of the Church and that of the Quorum of the First Presidency in having responsibility for the entire Church in all the world is clearly set forth in these revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.
At the same time, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is spoken of as being “equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned” (D&C 107:24).
The Seventy, likewise, “form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named” (D&C 107:26).
The question arises, How can they be equal in authority? Speaking to this question, President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) taught: “I want here to correct an impression that has grown up to some extent among the people, and that is, that the Twelve Apostles possess equal authority with the First Presidency in the Church. This is correct when there is no other Presidency but the Twelve Apostles; but so long as there are three presiding Elders who possess the presiding authority in the Church, the authority of the Twelve Apostles is not equal to theirs. If it were so, there would be two equal authorities and two equal quorums in the Priesthood, running parallel, and that could not be, because there must be a head” (Elders’ Journal, Nov. 1, 1906, 43).
Likewise, the Seventy, who serve under the direction of the Twelve, would become equal in authority only in the event that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve were somehow destroyed.
There have been lengthy periods when there was no Quorum of the First Presidency. Following the death of the Prophet Joseph, the presiding authority rested in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with Brigham Young as President. This continued for three and a half years. Following the death of Brigham Young, the authority again reverted to the Quorum of the Twelve and continued so for three years and two months. Following the death of John Taylor, one year and nine months passed before the First Presidency was reorganized.
Since that time a reorganization of the Presidency has occurred within a few days following the death of the President. In every case the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has become President of the Church. Seniority is determined by the date of ordination to the apostleship.
It is obvious that while the First Presidency presides and has jurisdiction over all elements of the Church, there must be delegation of authority and responsibility to others in carrying forward the vast undertakings of the Church throughout the world.
“The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.
“The Seventy,” likewise, “are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations” (D&C 107:33–34).
Thus, as a practical matter, the Twelve and the Seventy are given much of the responsibility, under the direction of the First Presidency, for the ecclesiastical affairs of the Church. This includes the proclamation of the gospel to the nations of the earth and the administration of the various programs involving the members of the Church.
To accomplish this, other work must be done. Houses of worship must be constructed and maintained, translations of Church literature must be made, publications must be printed, and many other matters of a temporal nature cared for. The Presiding Bishopric is given responsibility for these. Again under the direction of the Presidency, the Bishopric establishes the methods and the means for the collection of the tithes and offerings of members, sees to the welfare needs of the poor and distressed, and manages many other functions.
And so, with this relatively simple and well-understood management structure, the Church carries forward its vast program throughout the world. The Church’s organization is designed in such a way that growth can be accommodated through enlargement of the body of the Seventy as ecclesiastical officers and the addition of employees dealing with temporal affairs.
Further, an article of our faith states, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (A of F 1:9).
In other words, we believe in continuous revelation. It is the peculiar responsibility of the President of the Church to receive revelation for the entire Church. Every other officer is entitled to receive revelation concerning his particular responsibilities and obligations, but revelation affecting the entire Church is given only to and through the President.
Direction by Revelation
We have the standard works which have been accepted as scripture by action of the membership of the Church. Then the question naturally arises, Has other revelation been received since, and is it being received today?
I have no doubt of it.
My Church service includes 3 1/2 years as an Assistant to the Twelve, which group became part of the First Quorum of the Seventy; 20 years as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and 24 years as a member of the Quorum of the First Presidency, as President for the last 10 years. I have seen many changes which I am absolutely certain came of revelation.
From time to time, I have been interviewed by representatives of the media. Almost invariably they have asked, “How does revelation come to the prophet of the Church?”
I reply that it comes now as it has come in the past. Concerning this, I have recounted to these media representatives the experience of Elijah following his contest with the priests of Baal:
“And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
“And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:11–12).
That is the way it is. There is a still, small voice. It comes in response to prayer. It comes by the whispering of the Spirit. It may come in the silence of the night.
Do I have any question of that? None whatever. I have seen it in instance after instance. Perhaps the most widely publicized revelation in recent years was that given to President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) concerning the eligibility of all worthy men to be ordained to the priesthood (see Official Declaration 2). The outcome of that revelation has been tremendous.
There have been many others not so widely publicized—for example, the method of financing local Church operations. For many years members of the Church not only paid their tithing and fast offerings, but they also contributed generously to their respective ward budgets. They participated in the cost of real estate and building construction. Then came a very significant change. It was determined that all such costs would come from the tithing funds of the Church. This change represented a great act of faith based on revelation.
Today all such financing is provided through tithing. And the remarkable and wonderful thing is that the Church has never been in better financial condition than it is today. The Lord has kept His ancient promise as He has given modern revelation.
The concept of small temples came, I believe, as a direct revelation. I have spoken at various times on how this occurred. The resultant blessing to our people with the erection of these smaller temples has been remarkable.
Another example: some years ago it became apparent that the Salt Lake Tabernacle could not accommodate all who wished to attend our general conferences. But what could we do?
I am satisfied that the construction of our great Conference Center came about as a result of the expressed will of the Lord given through revelation. The construction of this building was a bold undertaking. It meant tearing down a historic structure and replacing it with this great auditorium complex, involving millions of dollars.
Now, at this present date, we are having to close the Tabernacle for seismic strengthening and other remodeling work incident to its age. I ask myself, “What would we do without the Conference Center?”
And so it goes. I might mention other things, but there is no need. The fact of the matter is that God is revealing His will as He did anciently. He is guiding His Church through His appointed servants.
The First Presidency carries on its shoulders a great and heavy burden. It is possible only because of a large and efficient organization. We need have no fear concerning the future. The structure is in place under which the work will go forward. There may be modifications in programs, but it is God’s work and its destiny is clear. It will continue “as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands [which] shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).
Never doubt that destiny.