Obedience to Living Prophets

[ 6 ] Comments

by Kathryn Skaggs


Twice yearly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) gather, globally, to hear the words of living prophets in hopes of receiving specific guidance on personal matters and concerns, potentially spiritually disruptive to their lives.  As these times approach I always find myself thinking about what’s going on in the world and what prophets will have to say, pertinent to our times, affecting these issues. After all, that’s what modern-day prophets do, right?

Not necessarily do I expect our prophets to comment on political issues, as the Church is neutral in such matters, but more what and how they might, perhaps, clarify doctrines, policies, and principles that focus on moral issues that to some might be considered arbitrary.

Much of what prophets teach runs in glaring opposition to mainstream society. For many, their words are uncomfortable, and for a few, unbearable. No doubt this is the way it has always been, but I’m pretty sure that in these last days, with the many voices brought out through modern technology, it’s particularly challenging.

I believe that faithful members look to LDS General Conference to receive specific direction to help them navigate the murky waters of mortality — today, often clouded and promoted through mainstream media.

One of our most distinctive Mormon beliefs is that we follow, or take direction from, those whom we believe to be living prophets. We believe that although prophets are ordinary men they are divinely called of God to speak His mind and will for our day.

Every member of the LDS Church makes the choice to follow living prophets through the covenant of baptism — and throughout active membership has many opportunities, through priesthood authority, to signify this ongoing support. To sustain living prophets is a key component of every faithful Latter-day Saint’s testimony and membership. During the October 1996 General Conference, Elder David B. Haight had this to say:

“When we sustain the President of the Church by our uplifted hand, it not only signifies that we acknowledge before God that he is the rightful possessor of all the priesthood keys; it means that we covenant with God that we will abide by the direction and the counsel that comes through His prophet. It is a solemn covenant.”

The choice to sustain prophets requires trust. However, contrary to what some may surmise, this is not blind trust. For many Mormons, myself included, the trust to follow living prophets comes as a byproduct of our testimony of The Book of Mormon. For many outside of our faith this may seem quite odd. I addressed how we obtain that willingness to follow those whom we believe to be living prophets in my previous post From Faith to Conviction.

Trusting in God, believing that we have living prophets upon the earth today who speak His will, is one of the great blessings of membership in the Church. The blessings come as we hearken to their counsel, believing that it comes from God

What might be interesting to those outside of the Mormon faith, is the fact that not only do we believe prophets speak to members of the LDS Church, but that their words are also applicable and important for all of God’s children. The words of living prophets are for all of mankind. Their teachings and exhortations are not limited to Mormons.

The difference in a member’s relationship with living prophets is that we have bound ourselves, through covenant, to hearken to their messages. To hearken means not only the obligation to listen, but to DO — or quite literally, follow their instruction.

An understanding that the words of living prophets are applicable to all people should create a desire in each of us to invite others to listen to their counsel — General Conference is an excellent opportunity.

The other key element in the member relationship with living prophets is the right to have the Holy Ghost confirm to us that the words they speak are inspired of God. This does not mean, however, that members can simply pick and choose which counsel they are comfortable following. And of course, this is where faith and trust enter this most unique of earthly relationships.

The establishment of trust to follow a prophet emanates from a personal testimony that the Church is true — which includes that living prophets lead it. Once that is established a member can have confidence that although at times following the words of prophets is difficult, nonetheless, it is the current mind and will of God.

As much as this prophet/member relationship may appear to outsiders to be between man and man, it is not. The relationship that members have with prophets springs forth from our relationship directly with God — and our willingness to trust Him. One of the most basic and vital elements of our testimony of the restored gospel is our willingness to have faith in Jesus Christ that living prophets speak on His behalf to the world at large. God sustains the words of His prophets, as His mouthpiece, and has made this fact known in both ancient and modern scripture:

“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7)

“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38)

“Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.” (D&C 21:4–6).

The Lord also gives this warning to those who have made covenants to follow His prophets, but then choose to reject their words:

“And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;

For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;

They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:14–16)

For those of us who choose to follow living prophets today, we believe that we are showing obedience to God’s will — and in so doing we are blessed with safety, protection and, above all, joy. Although at times it might be difficult to follow the counsel of living prophets (and I don’t think that it’s supposed to be easy), I trust that they lead the Church and its people in the way that God would have them – for our day. History proves that following prophets brings safety, both physically and spiritually, to those who will hearken to their words.

I may not always understand why we are counseled to do certain things, but I’m willing to trust that these prophets, called of God — and whom I have sustained as such, have no other desire than to lead me and my family, safely, back to God.

One of the great blessings of following living prophets, to me personally, is the quiet peace that I feel inside when I confidently follow their counsel, and willingly stand up to support their teachings. Questions or concerns that could easily have become distractions, are quickly dispelled when I know such inspired counsel comes from God – empowering me to act accordingly.

  • Have you had an experience where although you struggled to understand the reason(s) for specific counsel given by a prophet, you chose to be obedient — and later received a witness that you made the right choice?

About Kathryn Skaggs

Also writes as A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman -- is a Mormon blogger who is passionate about family. Married to her best friend and eternal companion of 34 years, she is mother of five, Nana to 10; living a life filled with hard-earned joy! As a SAHM Kathryn found her passion while raising her children and serving in the LDS Church — studying the gospel. Her blogging career began in 2008, during a time when she felt more credible information about the Church was desperately needed online. So, as a recently released seminary teacher, with nothing better to do, she began writing. This commitment to share her faith online, eventually led to a, twice now, invitation to contribute as a Guest Voice on the Washington Post “On Faith” Blog. A lover of using social media to share the gospel, you can find Kathryn, a.k.a. @LDSNana, sharing General Conference, in realtime, via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

6 Responses to Obedience to Living Prophets

  1. Paul says:

    I certainly have felt the blessings of following the living prophet. I’ve been fortunate that with each prophet called during my adult life, I’ve very early on received spiritual witness of his call. As you write, once that testimony is in place, sustaining him is easier because faith is stronger.

    One of our challenges in today’s world is to sort through where the prophetic counsel is. Certainly his words in General Conference (and those of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, as they are all sustained as prophets) qualify. But I do get a little squeemish sometimes assuming every administrative direction has the stamp of prophetic revelation. That said, I don’t feel I’ve been harmed by following those directons, either.

    • Paul, your thoughts always bring me back to the subject of priesthood keys. And in those thoughts you make a very important distinction about what counsel actually comes from God and/or is perhaps an LDS leader giving inspired counsel that I am them free to determine if I am bound by covenant to follow. This post is specifically focused on those whom the Lord has called as prophets, seers and revelations, to whom I believe members are to hearken. However, I also have a strong determination to try and align myself with other leaders who are given keys specific to my salvation — although for me I do find this a bit more difficult, because oftentimes their counsel is seemingly not as pertinent, perhaps, and I don’t feel so obligated. Of course I could be absolutely off base with such thoughts. Therefore, I am brought back to having faith that in every circumstance that I choose to follow those with keys, at any level of the Church, I am always blessed — and like you, in doing so, I have never been steered wrong.

      When the brethren are unified, im whatever counsel they give, and wherever they give it, I am more than comfortable aligning myself with such, as God’s will. I have faith that in so doing, I will be strengthened by the Lord in my desire to follow Him through those whom He has called and I have sustained by covenant.

  2. Ray says:

    I love the idea of learning from the wisdom of the prophets and apostles, and I agree with most of the things you wrote in this post – but, honestly, I am uncomfortable with the idea of “obedience to prophets”.

    I value their words greatly, and, lacking personal revelation to the contrary, I try to follow their counsel and advice – but I also have no problem acting differently than what I perceive to be counsel and advice rather than divine command when I disagree strongly with it. I have changed my mind about some things as a direct result of the words of an apostle (Elder Holland’s talk about white shirts and the sacrament comes to mind immediately in that regard), but I also have disagreed with some things I’ve heard over the General Conference pulpit.

    It’s a bit of a tightrope, since I do believe deeply in the principle of prophetic leadership. I just hesitate to use the word “obey”, since we don’t teach that our prophets are infallible – and since “obedience to” has a tendency to turn counsel and advice into command at the most practical level. Perhaps the best example of this in my lifetime was when President Hinckley stated explicitly that it was his own opinion that women should wear no more than one pair of earrings – and yet, today, I would be willing to bet that the majority of members believe it is, in practical terms, a command and, thus, a marker of righteousness that can be used to judge other members (and even non-members).

    • Travis T. says:

      Ray, thank you for your voice of reason. The level of idol worship of leaders in the Lord’s church is quite alarmIng. The Book of Mormon illustrates the responsibility we each have to question and then go to the Lord to see if the counsel we receive from our leaders is truly from God. Ultimately we are responsible for the lives we lead and will not be saved in ignorance of God’s true will that he has promised us through direct revelation.

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