Succession in the Presidency

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, (2001), 236–38


Introduction

Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve taught:

“Following the death of the President of the Church, the next ranking body, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, becomes the presiding authority. The president of the quorum becomes the Acting President of the Church until a new President of the Church is officially ordained and set apart in that office” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 17; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 15).

This principle of succession has come to be expected today, but in the early days of the Church, the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith caused a severe trial for the Saints. Sidney Rigdon and several others claimed they had the right to lead the Church, and because this was the first time a President of the Church had died, many of the Saints did not know who to follow. But Brigham Young reminded the Saints that before the Prophet’s death, he gave the keys to lead the Church to the Twelve Apostles. President Brigham Young, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and the rest of the Twelve led the Church for over three years. On December 5, 1847, the Twelve reorganized the First Presidency, with Brigham Young as Church President and Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards as counselors. This action was sustained in a general conference in Iowa on December 27, 1847. From that time forward, when a Church President has died, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve has always become the next President of the Church.

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

Note: Prayerfully study the assigned scriptures and historical readings and consider the principles under this heading before preparing your lessons.

  • When the President of the Church dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the presiding quorum, under the direction of the senior Apostle. The Twelve Apostles hold all the keys necessary to direct the Church and reorganize the First Presidency (see “Succession in the Presidency,” Student Study Guide, p. 158, par. 1–7; see also D&C 107:22–24; 112:30–32).

Additional Resources

  • Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341–43, pp. 286–307.

Suggestions for Teaching

Note: Choose from the ideas under this heading, or use some of your own, as you prepare to teach the assigned scriptures and historical readings.

“Succession in the Presidency,” Student Study Guide, p. 158, par. 1–7. When the President of the Church dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the presiding quorum, under the direction of the senior Apostle. The Twelve Apostles hold all the keys necessary to direct the Church and reorganize the First Presidency.

(40–45 minutes)

Share memories you may have of hearing about the death of one of the Lord’s prophets. Ask students if they remember a time a President of the Church died. Ask:

  • What feelings did you have?

  • Is there any reason to fear for the well-being of the Church or its future when the President of the Church dies? Why not?

Use the following outline of statements and scripture references to help your students understand how the Lord chooses a new President of the Church:

  1. 1.

    When a man is ordained an Apostle, he receives all the “keys” (power and authority) he would need to be the President of the Church (see D&C 112:30–32).

    President Harold B. Lee, who was then a counselor in the First Presidency, said:

    “The beginning of the call of one to be President of the Church actually begins when he is called, ordained, and set apart to become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. …

    “Each apostle so ordained under the hands of the President of the Church, who holds the keys of the kingdom of God in concert with all other ordained apostles, has given to him the priesthood authority necessary to hold every position in the Church, even to a position of presidency over the Church” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1970, 123).

  2. 2.

    When the President of the Church dies, the First Presidency is dissolved. His counselors who were formerly members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles become members of that quorum again.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

    “The Twelve are not subject to any other than the First Presidency, … and where I [that is, the President of the Church] am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve” (History of the Church, 2:374).

    President N. Eldon Tanner, who was a counselor in the First Presidency, gave the following account of events following the death of President Harold B. Lee:

    “Following President Lee’s funeral, [President Spencer W. Kimball, who was then President of the Quorum of the Twelve,] called a meeting of all of the Apostles … in the Salt Lake Temple Council Room. President Romney and I had taken our respective places of seniority in the council, so there were fourteen of us present” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 62; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 43).

  3. 3.

    The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who have the same authority as the First Presidency (see D&C 107:22–24 ), lead the Church until a new First Presidency is organized.

  4. 4.

    The senior Apostle (the one who has been an Apostle the longest) becomes the next President of the Church. He is sustained and ordained by the Quorum of the Twelve. Each new President is also sustained by the members of the Church in general conference (see D&C 102:9).

    President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained:

    “There is no mystery about the choosing of the successor to the President of the Church. The Lord settled this a long time ago, and the senior apostle automatically becomes the presiding officer of the Church, and he is so sustained by the Council of the Twelve which becomes the presiding body of the Church when there is no First Presidency. The president is not elected, but he has to be sustained both by his brethren of the Council and by the members of the Church” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:156).

Have students find the list of members of the original Quorum of the Twelve in the front of the Doctrine and Covenants. Tell them that Thomas B. Marsh was excommunicated on March 17, 1839, and David W. Patten was killed by a mob on October 25, 1838 (see D&C 124:130). Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 124:127 and tell how Brigham Young was chosen to become the next President of the Church. Read the account of Brigham Young’s selection in the student study guide (see “Succession in the Presidency,” p. 158, par. 1–7). Ask:

  • What might it have been like to be in the congregation that day?

  • How would this manifestation have helped the Saints in that day?

  • Read 2 Kings 2:1, 8–15. How does this compare to what happened to Brigham Young?

  • Why is it necessary for Church members to have a testimony that each new prophet is “called of God”?

  • What witness are Church members given in our day that a new President of the Church is called by God?

Share the following statements. President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, said:

“This transition of authority … 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 his 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” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, 61–62; or Ensign, May 1986, 46–47).

Elder David B. Haight said:

“This divinely revealed procedure for installing a new First Presidency of the Church—revelation from the Lord and sustaining by the people—has been followed to our present day. The First Presidency is to be ‘upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church’ (D&C 107:22).

“Several years ago President Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Twelve Apostles, … said:

“‘It is reassuring to know that [a new President is] … not elected through committees and conventions with all their conflicts, criticisms, and by the vote of men, but [is] called of God and then sustained by the people. …

“‘The pattern divine allows for no errors, no conflicts, no ambitions, no ulterior motives. The Lord has reserved for himself the calling of his leaders over his church’ (Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 33)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, 8; or Ensign, May 1986, 8).