Q&A: Questions and Answers


“Are General Authorities human?”

Answer/Elder Bruce R. McConkie

I suppose this is a question that is in many minds, and has been from the very beginning. It arises, in the very nature of things, because of the high regard in which we hold the offices that these brethren are called to fill.

I recall an incident from early Church history, from the days of persecutions and difficulties. Heber C. Kimball, then a member of the Council of the Twelve, found himself in circumstances where he sought hospitality from a member of the Church, a widow woman. She offered him what she had—bread and milk—and provided a room with a bed for him. He went to retire. She thought: “Here’s my opportunity. I would like to find out (and this is, in effect, the same old question: Are General Authorities human), I would like to find out what an apostle says when he prays to the Lord.” So after the door was closed, she crept quietly up to it to listen. She heard Brother Kimball sit down on the bed. She heard each of his shoes fall to the floor. She heard him lean back on the bed and then utter these words: “Oh Lord, bless Heber; he is so tired.”

There are some things of a serious and proper nature that might be said about this subject, and perhaps we can draw some conclusions and make some points that will have beneficial application to all of us. This is a subject about which people often have incorrect concepts. Many people had this same question in their minds during the time of Joseph Smith. He said: “I was this morning introduced to a man from the east. After hearing my name, he remarked that I was nothing but a man, indicating by this expression, that he had supposed that a person to whom the Lord should see fit to reveal His will, must be something more than a man. He seemed to have forgotten the saying that fell from the lips of St. James, that Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, yet he had such power with God, that He, in answer to his prayers, shut the heavens that they gave no rain for the space of three years and six months; and again, in answer to his prayer, the heavens gave forth rain, and the earth gave forth fruit. Indeed, such is the darkness and ignorance of this generation, that they look upon it as incredible that a man should have intercourse with his Maker.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 89.)

This is the view of the world generally: “If there is such a thing as a prophet, he is so ennobled and exalted that he is different from the general run of men.” They may think of John the Baptist out in the desert eating locust and wild honey, or of someone like Enoch of whom the people said, “A wild man has come among us.”

There is somewhat this same concept in the Church today. We think of the dignity and glory and greatness of the office. Then some of that feeling spills over and is applied to the individual who holds the office.

There might be a way to put this subject in better perspective. Instead of asking, “Are the General Authorities human?” let me ask you, “Is your bishop human?” What would the answer be? Or if I say to you, “Are the missionaries human?” would the answer be yes or no? It depends entirely on what we are talking about. Certainly they are human in the sense that every foible and frailty and difficulty common to the human race attends all of them and all of us. But on the other hand, the General Authorities and the bishops and the missionaries—and this extends out and includes every member of the Church—ought not to be human in the sense of worldliness or carnal pursuits. None of us should be “human” if by that is meant living as carnal men live.

When we come into the Church, we say that we forsake the world. We are supposed to overcome the world. The Book of Mormon language is that we put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord. (Mosiah 3:19.) Well, if we, all of us, lived up to our potential and raised ourselves to the standards that we ought to have, then none of us would be human in the worldly or the carnal sense. Yet with it all we would be so in the sense that we are mortal and all that’s related to it.

Under the heading “General Authorities” in my book, Mormon Doctrine, I wrote: “Some General Authorities are empowered to do one thing and some another. All are subject to the strict discipline the Lord always imposes upon his saints and those who preside over them. The positions they occupy are high and exalted, but the individuals who hold these offices are humble men like their brethren in the Church. So well qualified and trained are the members of the Church that there are many brethren who could—if called, sustained, and set apart—serve effectively in nearly every important position in the Church.” (Mormon Doctrine [Bookcraft, 1966], p. 309.)

Further along in the book under the heading of “Prophets” is another statement: “With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their problems without inspiration in many instances. Joseph Smith recorded that he ‘visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that “a prophet is always a prophet”; but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.’” (Ibid., p. 608.)

Thus the opinions and views, even of a prophet, may contain error, unless those opinions and views were inspired by the Spirit. Inspired scripture or statements should be accepted as such. We have this problem, however. Paul was one of the greatest theologian-prophets of all the ages, but he had some opinions that weren’t in complete accord with the Lord’s feelings, and he wrote some of them down in his epistles. But being wise and discreet, he labeled them as such. He said, “This is what I think.” When he got through telling that, he said, “Now this is what the Lord thinks.” Paul’s views, his private opinions, were not as perfect as they might have been.

Prophets are men, and when they act by the Spirit of inspiration, what they say is the voice of God; but still they are mortal and they are entitled to and do have private opinions. Because of the great wisdom and judgment of these men, their views may be as good as mortal men can have, but unless they are inspired, unless they are in accordance with the revelations, they are subject to error on the same basis as the views of anyone else in the Church.

We need not wonder vainly if the General Authorities are speaking by the Spirit of inspiration or not—we can discover for certain. I remind you that one of Joseph Smith’s famous statements is to this effect: “The Lord will not reveal anything to Joseph that he will not reveal to the Twelve or to the least and last member of the Church as soon as he is able to bear it.” (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 149.)

That’s perfect. That’s the same doctrine that Paul taught. Paul said, “Ye may all prophesy.” He said, “Covet to prophesy.” (1 Cor. 14:31, 39.) The whole membership of the Church, the whole body of the Church is supposed to receive revelation. It’s not reserved for a select few, the missionaries, or the bishops. We ought to get revelation. We all ought to be as the apostles and prophets.

Member of the Council of the Twelve

“How do men advance in the priesthood?”

Answer/ J. Anderson

The question posed may seem to be simple and elementary. Many would answer that if a man is worthy, as he grows older he will be advanced from one office to another, moving from elder to seventy and then to high priest. Certainly we hear of men being “advanced” as the person in charge of the meeting asks for the approval of the membership for the men’s ordination to a different office in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Then, after being interviewed and approved, they are ordained by those having authority to what many think of as a higher office in the priesthood.

Actually such a change is not an advancement in the sense that a man is being moved from an office of lesser importance to one of greater importance. It would be more accurate to say that he is receiving a new calling or ordination in the priesthood, with new and different responsibilities. As far as the Lord is concerned, each office of the priesthood is equal in importance to every other. How one carries out his calling is far more important than the office he may hold.

President Joseph F. Smith said in this regard:

“No office adds to the power of the Priesthood. But all offices in the Church derive their power, their virtue, their authority, from the Priesthood. If our brethren would get this principle thoroughly established in their minds, there would be less misunderstanding in relation to the functions of government in the Church than there is. Today the question is, which is the greater—the high priest or the seventy—the seventy or the high priest? I tell you neither of them is the greater, and neither of them is the lesser. Their callings lie in different directions, but they are from the same Priesthood. If it were necessary … and there was no man left on earth holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, except an elder—that elder, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God and by the direction of the Almighty could proceed, and should proceed, to organize the Church of Jesus Christ in all its perfection, because he holds the Melchizedek Priesthood. But the house of God is a house of order, and while the other officers remain in the Church, we must observe the order of the priesthood, and we must perform ordinances and ordinations strictly in accordance with that order, as it has been established in the Church through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 148.)

The statement “while the other officers remain in the Church” means that each office in the priesthood has its own particular duties. Therefore, one is not promoted or advanced in the sense that one office is greater or lesser than another. He is just adding precept upon precept as he grows in gospel knowledge, and he is gaining in spiritual power as he magnifies the respective callings he receives with each new office in the priesthood. The offices in the priesthood are, after all, appendages to the Melchizedek Priesthood itself. (D&C 84:29–30.)

East Millcreek Stake

“I think I have found the right person to marry. How can I be sure?”

Answer/ Lindsay R. Curtis , M.D.

May I answer this in two parts:

1. You may recall that Oliver Cowdery desired to translate just as Joseph Smith had been doing. The Lord gave him permission to do so. Imagine Oliver’s disappointment when he discovered, after receiving “permission” to translate, he was unable to do so.

The Lord’s answer to him is found in the ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants. “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you, therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” (D&C 9:7–8. Italics added.)

Too many individuals expect the Lord to give them the answers to their problems simply because they ask. The Lord expects us to give the matter some thought and a little mental research. It is more likely that we will then reach the conclusion by ourselves, after which the Lord causes our bosom to burn within us if that conclusion is right. The same principle applies whether we are seeking a mate or making any other decision.

2. Some have told me: “Yes, I prayed and received my answer that this was the right companion for me, but now it hasn’t worked out. Our marriage has failed. Why?” Perhaps it is because we take it for granted that the right partner in marriage is all that is needed, and we put forth no further effort to make that marriage succeed.

I asked one disillusioned man if he ever told his wife that he loved her. He said, “Yes.”

I then asked, “When was the last time you told her?”

“When I married her. She knows that I love her.”

“Perhaps she does, but she may wonder about it if you don’t tell her so many times every day.”

Possibly the most abused phrase is: “Then they were married and lived happily ever after.” Far more correct is this: “Then they were married, and they settled down to the job of making their marriage work, and they were happy.”

Give the Lord a chance. Instead of asking the Lord to tell you if he or she is the right mate for you, ask Him to help you make the decision. Then study your mate, comparing his/her likes, dislikes, attributes, strong points, and weak points with yours. Take time to stand back and see if you think you can live together, work together, go through sorrow as well as happiness together.

Decide if he is the type of father you can be proud of. Can your children also be proud of him? Will he truly stand as the priesthood head of the family, pointing the way and leading your children and you to the celestial kingdom?

Will she be both a mother and wife, supporting you in your righteous efforts to be the priesthood head of the family?

Remember that marriage merely unlocks the gate that leads up the never-ending stairs of life together. But you’ll find as you progress up the stairs together, you become stronger and the stairs become easier to climb, because your increasing love for each other gives you unbelievable strength.

High Councilor, Weber State College Stake