The Prophet, the Presidency, the Process

How is a new prophet called, and what does it mean to sustain him?

"Jesus Christ whom we follow, whom we worship, and whom we serve, is ever at the helm." —Thomas S. Monson

Photo by Michael Blum

When President Thomas S. Monson passed away January 2, 2018, millions mourned the loss of this compassionate prophet of God. For many of us, he was in the First Presidency for as long as we’ve been alive, so his passing marks a significant change for us in terms of Church leadership.

Insofar as leadership is concerned, members of the Church need never worry about being left leaderless; immediately after President Monson’s passing, the process for calling a new prophet was set in motion. Two weeks later, on January 16, President Russell M. Nelson was set apart and ordained as the 17th president of the Church. Fittingly, in a talk he gave in 2014 (when he was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) he spoke about what it means to be called and sustained as a prophet of God.  

“All leaders in the Lord’s Church are called by proper authority,” President Nelson said. “No prophet or any other leader in this Church, for that matter, has ever called himself or herself. No prophet has ever been elected. . . . You and I do not “vote” on Church leaders at any level. We do, though, have the privilege of sustaining them.”

President Nelson explains that to sustain a prophet means to “recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us.”

But how is a prophet chosen? At a basic level, the process has three straightforward steps:

  1. When the current prophet dies, the First Presidency is automatically dissolved. The former counselors in the First Presidency resume their places, in order of seniority (how long they’ve been Apostles), in the Quorum of the Twelve Articles.
  2. The senior Apostle among them is called and ordained to be the next prophet and president of the Church.
  3. He calls two counselors to serve with him in the new First Presidency.

Of course, each step has more details, the most important of which is that, ultimately, the prophet is selected through revelation and agreement among all the Apostles. With an understanding of this process, members can exercise faith, believing that President Nelson is the new prophet. Then, if they ask God for personal confirmation that President Nelson was divinely called, they will receive it through the Spirit.

To learn more about the process of calling and sustaining prophets, read President Russell M. Nelson’s full talk: “Sustaining the Prophets.”

Source: General Conference

—Lauren Buchanan, Mormon Insights

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To hear Elder D. Todd Christofferson‘s explanation of how a prophet is called, watch the LDS Church press release “New First Presidency Speaks to Members Worldwide.”

Gain further information about the process by reading the article “The Lord Calls His Prophets.”

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  1. “Then, if they ask God for personal confirmation that President Nelson was divinely called, they will receive it through the Spirit”

    What happens in the case Apostles don’t get this confirmation?

    • R Black thank you for taking the time to read my article. That’s a really good question. There are logical and spiritual elements involved when it comes to calling a prophet. But, bottom-line, a new prophet is called by a logical, straightforward process: seniority. President Nelson was next in line behind President Monson in terms of the number of years he’d been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Next in line right now is President Oaks, who will be the next prophet after President Nelson. Heavenly Father is entirely in charge of who becomes the prophet; for example, President Packer and Elder Perry were above President Nelson in terms of seniority, but they both passed away. Meaning, they’d done all that Heavenly Father needed them to do–he didn’t need them to become the prophet. He needed President Nelson to be the next prophet.

      I think the crucial part of the statement you quoted is “if they ask God.” So, yes, it’s a logical process, but it doesn’t have to be purely logical. If the apostles–just like any other member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–desire to receive a personal, positive confirmation about the current prophet, they need to ask. Heavenly Father will tell them and us. But we need to ask. And in the meantime, if we aren’t asking or we aren’t receptive to the Spirit because of our own human nature, Heavenly Father has a plan in place (the seniority plan) for calling a prophet that doesn’t necessarily hinge on whether we receive a confirmation right away or not.

      Hope that helped! Thanks again for your question.

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