Chapter 4: The Quorum of the First Presidency

Teachings of the Living Prophets Teacher Manual, (2010), 19–23


Introduction

The First Presidency holds the “keys of the kingdom” and is the highest presiding council in the Church (D&C 81:2; see also D&C 81 section summary; 107:80–81). The Lord communicates His will to the First Presidency. As the presiding quorum of the Church, the First Presidency is the ultimate authority on the earth for Church doctrine. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) made the following promise to those who follow the counsel of the First Presidency:

The Quorum of the First Presidency holds the Keys to the kingdom.

I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency … will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord. …

I testify that if we shall look to the First Presidency and follow their counsel and direction, no power on earth can stay or change our course as a church, and as individuals we shall gain peace in this life and be inheritors of eternal glory in the world to come. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 99; or Ensign, July 1972, 88)

Help students understand the importance of following the First Presidency. Review the promises given to those who do. As a result of this lesson, students should feel a greater desire to sustain and be in harmony with the First Presidency. They should feel to exclaim, like President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Thank God for the presidency. Like [mountain] peaks, they stand with nothing above them but the heavens” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 123; or Ensign, June 1971, 87).

Some Doctrines and Principles

  • The Lord revealed instructions about the First Presidency to the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  • The First Presidency holds the keys of the kingdom, which include the authority to direct the work of the Lord on the earth.

  • As the President of the Church is sustained by his counselors and Church members, the entire Church is blessed.

Ideas for Teaching

The Lord Revealed Instructions about the First Presidency to the Prophet Joseph Smith

List the following events on the board, and ask students to arrange them in chronological order:

Organization of the Church

Joseph Smith’s First Vision

Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood

Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood

Answer: (1) Joseph Smith’s First Vision; (2) restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood; (3) restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood; (4) organization of the Church.

Ask students:

  • Why do you think these events occurred in this order? Why couldn’t they have occurred in a different order?

Have a student read Doctrine and Covenants 128:20–21. Then ask:

  • How does this scripture help explain the order of events in the Restoration? (note particularly the last portion of verse 21).

Explain that the Lord also revealed the organization of Church government line upon line, including instructions about the Quorum of the First Presidency. When the Church was first organized, there was not yet a First Presidency as we have today.

Ask students to read the chart titled “Establishing the First Presidency,” on page 44 of the student manual. Then ask:

  • What title was used for Joseph Smith’s position when the Church was first organized on April 6, 1830?

  • How long after the organization of the Church was the First Presidency established?

  • Why do you think the full organization of Church leadership was not present from the time the Church was first organized?

Bear testimony that from the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith to today, the Lord has instructed His prophets about how to organize and lead His Church, revealing knowledge as it was needed, line upon line (see D&C 128:21). When the time was right, the Lord revealed instructions to Joseph Smith about organizing the First Presidency.

The First Presidency Holds the Keys of the Kingdom, Which Include the Authority to Direct the Work of the Lord on the Earth

Ask students to turn to Doctrine and Covenants 90. Point out that the section heading indicates that “this revelation is a continuing step in the establishment of the First Presidency.” Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 90:9. Explain that the term “your administration” refers to the President of the Church and the term “their administration” refers to the counselors in the First Presidency. Ask:

  • In this verse, what is the difference between the role of the president and the role of his counselors? (The president receives the word; the counselors help the word go forth to the ends of the earth.)

Write on the board: The president directs. (You might want to point out that the president’s role of receiving revelations for the whole Church is also mentioned in D&C 90:4.)

Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 90:6. Then ask:

  • Whom did the Lord name as counselors to the Prophet Joseph Smith? (Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams.)

  • According to this verse, in what sense are the counselors in the First Presidency equal to but under the direction of the president? (In holding the keys.)

Write on the board: Counselors are equal in holding keys.

Invite a student to read the commentary by Elder John A. Widtsoe on pages 45–46 of the student manual under the heading “The Preeminence of the President of the Church.”

Referring to the two principles you have written on the board, explain that understanding these two truths is necessary to understand how the First Presidency functions in leading the Church.

As an example, have a student read Doctrine and Covenants 102:9–11. Then ask:

  • If the President of the Church is unavailable due to illness or other circumstances, what is the way the Lord has provided for His work to continue?

Note: You might ask the students to read the statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley from page 48 of the student manual under the heading “The Counselors Carry On the Work of the First Presidency If the President Is Ill.”

Write the following list of scriptures on the board and assign groups of students to read them, looking for duties of the First Presidency. Give time for students to search, and then invite each group to report their findings and create a list of First Presidency duties on the board.

Scriptures

Duties of the First Presidency

D&C 68:14–15

 

D&C 90:16

 

D&C 107:8–9

 

D&C 107:33

 

D&C 107:78–81

 

D&C 120 section heading and verse 1

 

D&C 124:126

 

Your finished list might look like this:

Scriptures

Duties of the First Presidency

D&C 68:14–15

Appoint bishops

D&C 90:16

Preside, set in order all the affairs of the Church

D&C 107:8–9

Officiate over all offices in the Church

D&C 107:33

Direct the labors of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

D&C 107:78–81

Decide difficult cases, settle spiritual controversies

D&C 120 section heading and verse 1

Make decisions about the disposition (use) of tithes

D&C 124:126

Receive oracles (revelations) for the entire Church

Assign each group to read one of the following quotations from the student manual, looking for additional duties of the First Presidency. (You could have students add their findings to the list on the board.)

  1. 1.

    President James E. Faust, under the heading “Doctrinal Interpretation Is the Right and Responsibility of the First Presidency” (page 52).

  2. 2.

    President Joseph Fielding Smith, under the heading “The First Presidency Presides over the Church” (page 46).

Ask the students:

  • How have the duties of the First Presidency affected your life?

As the President of the Church Is Sustained by His Counselors and Church Members, the Entire Church Is Blessed

Review the list of First Presidency duties on the board and the duties of the President of the Church that you studied in chapter 2.

Ask a student to read Exodus 17:8–13. Point out that Aaron and Hur were like counselors in the First Presidency. Then discuss the following questions:

  • Ultimately, what happened to Israel because Aaron and Hur helped Moses by holding up his arms?

  • What should Israel have learned that day as they watched the battle progress and saw Moses upon the hill?

  • What lessons can we draw from this account that apply to us today?

Invite a student to read the comments by President Gordon B. Hinckley on page 47 of the student manual under the heading “The Importance of Counselors in the First Presidency.” Ask:

  • How do the counselors in the First Presidency help bear the weight carried by the prophet today?

Note: You might also share the comments of President N. Eldon Tanner on pages 49–51 of the student manual under the heading “One Example of the Day-to-Day Activities of the First Presidency.” Then ask:

  • Who else, along with his counselors, helps the prophet carry that weight?

Ask students to read the statement by President Harold B. Lee on pages 53–54 of the student manual under the heading “Church Members Are to Sustain the First Presidency.” Then ask:

  • What can we do today as members of the Church to sustain and support the First Presidency?

  • In what ways do you think “the confidence, faith, and prayer[s]” (D&C 107:22) of Church members help the prophet and his counselors carry their weight?

Have students read Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–6, looking for what happens to us as a people when we sustain the prophet and his counselors. Then ask the following questions:

  • According to these verses, what blessings come to members of the Church when we sustain the prophet and his counselors?

  • How is that like what happened to the Israelites when Aaron and Hur upheld Moses’s arms?

  • When have you felt strengthened, protected, or blessed by sustaining the President of the Church and his counselors?

Have a student read the statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith from page 55 of the student manual under the heading “Church Members Should Look to the First Presidency for Instruction.” Ask:

  • In what ways has instruction given by members of the First Presidency been a blessing in your life?

You might consider drawing students’ attention to the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth, which the First Presidency prepared for the youth of the Church. You could have students share ways they have been blessed by living Church standards.

Have a student read the statement by President Joseph Fielding Smith on page 55 of the student manual under the heading “Those Who Follow the First Presidency Will Never Go Astray and Shall Inherit Eternal Glory.” Then bear testimony of this and the other blessings promised to those who follow the First Presidency. Invite students to sustain and follow the First Presidency throughout their lives.