Chapter 3: Succession in the Presidency

Teachings of the Living Prophets Teacher Manual, (2010), 13–18


Introduction

The President of the Church was foreordained in the premortal life and is called in mortality after long, faithful service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He is set apart to exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven on earth and formally sustained by the membership of the Church.

The Lord establishes the order of succession in the Presidency of the Church.

Help your students understand how important the role of revelation from the Lord to His prophet is in the process of calling Apostles. As the Spirit confirms the divine order of succession, bear testimony and invite your students to testify of the authority and simplicity of the succession process.

Because there are several quotations suggested in this chapter, you may want to make a handout for your students that includes all of the quotations you plan to use. You may also wish to familiarize yourself with the history of succession in the presidency of the Church from the days of Joseph Smith. This history is summarized on pages 29–33 of the student manual under the headings “The Assistant President of the Church,” “The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” and “The Lord Confirmed to the Saints That Brigham Young Was Joseph Smith’s Successor.”

Some Doctrines and Principles

  • The Lord established the order of succession in the Presidency of the Church.

  • The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presides over the Church at the death of the President.

  • Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles determines who presides.

  • Church members sustain the newly called President of the Church.

Ideas for Teaching

The Lord Established the Order of Succession in the Presidency of the Church

Invite the students to discuss how leaders or presidents are chosen in a variety of organizations. For example:

  • How is the president of a company chosen?

  • How is a new leader chosen in a democratic government?

  • How is a new leader chosen in a monarchy?

  • How does a person become the President of the Church? How is this process different from the way leaders are chosen in other organizations?

Inform the students that the Lord Himself determines who will lead the Church. By divine instruction, the Apostle with the most seniority (the one who has been an Apostle the longest) becomes the presiding high priest of the Church. The membership of the Church can have full faith that he is the individual whom the Lord desires and places in position to become the President of the Church (see point 3 under “Important Principles of Succession” on page 34 of the student manual). Because of this, the manner of succession of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique.

Read the quotation by President Spencer W. Kimball on page 35 of the student manual under the heading “The Lord Established the Order of Succession in the Presidency of the Church.” Invite students to discuss the following questions:

  • How does the pattern for succession of the President of the Church eliminate errors, conflicts, ambitions, and ulterior motives?

  • How does knowing that a new President of the Church is called to his office by God, instead of according to worldly systems, build your faith and strengthen your testimony?

Divide the class into three groups. Write the following scripture references on the board: Jeremiah 1:5; Abraham 3:22–23; Doctrine and Covenants 138:53–56; Alma 13:1–9. Invite each group to study one of the first three references as well as Alma 13:1–9. Give each group a copy of the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44):

Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 511)

Ask the groups to look for answers to the following questions as they study their scripture passages and the quotation:

  • When did the Lord choose the men who would be presidents, prophets, and leaders of the Church?

  • How did prophets distinguish themselves in the premortal world?

  • Other than prophets, who else was foreordained in the premortal life?

  • How does this knowledge affect your confidence in the person the Lord chooses to be the prophet?

Choose a spokesperson from each of the groups. Invite the spokesperson to share with the class the answers his or her group found to the questions and any other insights they had.

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Presides over the Church at the Death of the President

Write the equation 3 = 12 on the board. Ask the students to read Doctrine and Covenants 107:23–24 and explain in what sense the equation is true. (In the sense that the Quorum of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are equal in authority.)

Share the following statement by President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972):

I think it must be conceded that the apostles could not be equal in authority with the Presidency when the First Presidency is fully and properly organized. There could not be two heads—or three heads—of equal authority at the same time, for such a thing would lead to confusion. Hence the apostles are equal, as has been stated, in that they have power to assume control of the affairs of the Church when the Presidency is dissolved by the death of the President. (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:255)

  • According to President Smith, when is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “equal in authority and power” to the First Presidency?

  • Why would the phrase “equal but under” be appropriate in describing the relationships of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency?

To illustrate that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the composite leadership of the Church and that the Church is never without divinely appointed leadership, invite a student to read the statement by President Spencer W. Kimball on page 37 of the student manual under the heading “Leadership by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Timing of the Succession.”

Read the statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley on pages 36–37 of the student manual under the heading “Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”

Then ask:

  • When does the President of the Church receive the keys of his office?

  • What is the difference in the way the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold all the keys of the priesthood and the way the President of the Church holds the same keys?

  • When does the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles become authorized to exercise the keys of the priesthood he was ordained to?

Point out to students that following the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young led the Church as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for over three years before the First Presidency was reorganized in December 1847. Ask:

  • By what right did President Brigham Young lead the Church following the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph?

Help your students understand that it is the prerogative of the senior Apostle to decide when the Quorum of the First Presidency should be reorganized and that the senior Apostle can preside over the whole Church as President of the Twelve until he feels the need to reorganize the First Presidency. The rest of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles then sustains his decision.

Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Determines Who Presides

Advance preparation: Before class, you may want to list the names of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in random order on the board or on a handout, or you could display their pictures (if available) in random order on the board. Use a recent Ensign or Liahona conference issue for reference.

Review the principle that when the President of the Church dies, the Quorum of the First Presidency is dissolved and the counselors in the First Presidency return to their order of seniority within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask:

  • What is the apostolic seniority of the current counselors in the First Presidency?

Show students a list of names, or show pictures, of the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in random order. Ask the class to arrange the names or pictures in the proper order of seniority. After a short time, help them complete the assignment correctly.

Encourage students to memorize the names of members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the order of their seniority.

Help students understand that the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have always been ordered according to seniority. When the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was first organized in this dispensation, seniority was determined by age (see History of the Church, 2:219–20). Since that time, seniority has been determined according to the date of each member’s ordination to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This seniority not only determines the order of succession to the presidency but also the order of leadership within the quorum. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

Seniority is honored among ordained Apostles—even when entering or leaving a room. …

Such deference from a junior to a senior Apostle is recorded in the New Testament. When Simon Peter and John the Beloved ran to investigate the report that the body of their crucified Lord had been taken from the sepulcher, John, being younger and swifter, arrived first, yet he did not enter. He deferred to the senior Apostle, who entered the sepulcher first. (See John 20:2–6.) (In Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 52; or Ensign, May 1993, 40)

Note: If time allows, you may want to have students read the statement by President N. Eldon Tanner on pages 38–39 of the student manual under the heading “Reorganizing the First Presidency.” It describes the circumstances existing when President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency and President Spencer W. Kimball, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, responded to the news of the death of President Harold B. Lee, who had been serving as President of the Church.

Share the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explaining the advantage of the model of senior leadership:

Have you ever wondered why the Lord organized the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles so the senior leadership of the Church will always be older men? This pattern of seniority values wisdom and experience over youth and physical vigor. (In Conference Report, Apr. 2003, 88; or Ensign, May 2003, 84)

Ask students:

  • Why do you think wisdom and experience are more important in Church leadership than youth and physical vigor?

Church Members Sustain the Newly Called President of the Church

Note: If your students do not understand the meaning of “solemn assembly,” refer them to the information on pages 39–41 of the student manual under the heading “What Is a Solemn Assembly?”

Explain to your students that one of the most sacred meetings in the Church is the solemn assembly, where members of the Church sustain a newly called President of the Church. Members of the Church throughout the world are encouraged to participate, either in person or by means of radio, television, satellite, or the Internet. The quorums and organizations of the Church stand independently and vote to sustain the President of the Church.

Have a student read the statement by Elder David B. Haight on pages 40–41 of the student manual under the heading “What Is a Solemn Assembly?” This statement explains the protocol of the solemn assembly.

Ask students:

  • Why do you think the Church follows such a formal procedure for sustaining a newly called President of the Church?

  • What privileges are offered to members of the Church through this formal presentation of a new Church President?

  • What responsibilities rest upon the members of the Church after they have sustained a new President?

Ask your students if any of them have had the opportunity to attend a solemn assembly and participate in the sustaining of a new prophet. Invite several students to share the feelings they experienced while attending and participating in this sacred meeting.

Remind your students that at every conference of the Church, members are invited to sustain the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Sustaining Church leaders means “to pledge support to those serving in general and local Church leadership positions” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Sustaining Church Leaders,” scriptures.lds.org; see also Hebrews 13:17; 3 Nephi 12:1; D&C 1:38; 112:20).

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 107:22; then ask the following questions:

  • According to this verse, how should the members of the Church sustain the First Presidency?

  • What does it mean to uphold the President of the Church with our confidence?

Challenge the students to sustain the President of the Church by showing confidence in his teachings and faith in his leadership, by offering prayers in his behalf, and by obeying his counsel.

Bear your testimony of the great blessing it is to sustain and receive counsel from the man the Lord chooses to be the President of His Church.