Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet

On the internet and in personal conversations, I have been surprised to find how many people seem to view the words of the prophets as mere opinion or as good suggestions. Some of these people discount prophetic words, even conference addresses, because they view that particular prophet's views to be extreme or unqualified by professional background or in violation of a separation of church and state. One blogger even wondered aloud if she could support her leaders and the opponents of the Church simultaneously.

In a monumental address, President Benson once outlined fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet. It has been almost thirty years since that address, but the topic seems worthy of review. I recommend the entire talk to anyone interested in this principle. In brief, however, the fourteen fundamentals are:

First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works.
Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.
Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or diplomas to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
Sixth: The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.
Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
Eighth: The Prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter—temporal or spiritual.
Tenth: The prophet may well advise on civic matters.
Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
Thirteenth: The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—The highest quorum in the Church.
Fourteenth: The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed—reject them and suffer.

These fourteen fundamentals are very relevant to us today. It is comforting to me to know that, while I can receive a personal witness that a prophet is called of God, I do not need to critically evaluate everything a prophet says. As a prophet, his words are not his opinion or the presentation of one plausible way to do things right. Rather, a prophet speaking as a prophet on any subject is revealing the mind and will of God to us. We can trust absolutely in their prophetic counsel and are guaranteed to be blessed if we obey it.

The only remaining question, then, is when a prophet is speaking as a prophet and when he is not. Joseph Smith taught, "a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such" (Teachings, 278). The manual Teachings of the Living Prophets published by the Church expounds, "Prophets have the right to personal opinions. Not every word they speak should be thought of as an official interpretation or pronouncement. However, their discourses to the Saints and their official writings should be considered products of their prophetic calling and should be heeded" (21).

Several prophets and apostles have commented that a prophet is a prophet when he delivers a message to us by the power of the Holy Ghost; it is our responsibility to be prepared and worthy to recognize that spirit. President David O. McKay also taught that official church doctrine is found in the standard works, official publications of the Church and general conference addresses after 1954 (Conference Report, October 1954, p. 7). Any time a prophet speaks in conference or in an official publication (such as the Ensign or official statements read in church), he is speaking as a prophet.

This truth will not deter some from preferring to think of the prophet as a wise man, like a grandfather, who shares counsel born of experience that may or may not be correct; or that their situation is an exception to the commandment to follow the prophet. Similar things have happened in every dispensation. Even in Moses' day, when the children of Israel were healed from serpent bites by simply looking at the brass serpent raised on a staff by the prophet, there were people chose not to look.

If we desire exaltation, we must learn to have the faith to follow the prophet. We must choose to look. We must choose to obey and follow even if we disagree. With Christ we must express in true humility, "not my will, but thine be done." As we learn to follow the prophet, the Lord will soften our hearts and help us to understand and to qualify for the blessings He has in store for the faithful. Through His prophets, God will lead us home.


  1. I was "in the room" for that address at BYU (which dates me, I know...). Shortly thereafter there was a fair amount of discussion if President Benson (then President of the 12) were setting up the duck for his turn at the wheel. As I listened to the speech, that was certainly not the feeling I got; indeed it seemed to me that it was a fervent testimony in favor of President Kimball.

    I read on another blog the other day that President Kimball actually questioned President Benson on the speech and the reaction, and President Benson reaffirmed that he was simply testifying to President Kimball's role as prophet.


  2. Thanks for the insights-- I didn't know those things about this talk. I wondered some of those same things a little bit when I first read it; further studying has taught me that he was right. The scriptures confirm it, the modern prophets have confirmed it, and the endorsement of the Church has confirmed it.

    It is one of the classic talks I think every member should be familiar with. It also brings to mind this quote from Elder Maxwell: "Make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, in the months and years ahead, events are likely to require each member to decide whether or not he will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions."

  3. More than one of the presidents of the church during my lifetime (President McKay was still around when I was baptized) have had a defining (or dividing, depending on your view, I suppose) issue. So far it has seemed pretty safe and smart and good to me to land on the side of the prophet. I haven't been disappointed.