On Presidential Succession

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Summary

This talk suggests outlines the history and practice of selecting new presidents of the church. Given on 10 June 2012 in the Sacrament Meeting of the Sterling Park Ward, Ashburn, VA Stake.

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Title Page

On Presidential Succession


A Talk Given in Sacrament Meeting
in the Sterling Park Ward
of the Ashburn, VA Stake


By D. Calvin Andrus
mailto:calvin.andrus@gmail.com


10 June 2012, Version 1.0


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Seven Minute Version

Good morning, brothers and sisters.

Aaronic Priesthood

In the Spring of 1829, Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon from the plates into English. Oliver Cowdery was his scribe. By the middle of May, they translated 3rd Nephi chapter 11, which is about the visit of the Savior to the American Continent. The first sermon the Savior gave was on being baptized. Joseph and Oliver were so intrigued about baptism, they went a few hundred yards down to the Susquehanna River and prayed to know what he should do. In response, a resurrected John the Baptist appeared and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood, with its authority to perform baptisms, to both Joseph and Oliver. So, Oliver had the exact same priesthood authority that Joseph had.

Melchizedek Priesthood

About two weeks later, Joseph and Oliver were on the other side and up river from where they had received the Aaronic Priesthood. They were visited by Peter, James, and John, the three Apostles who presided over the church after Christ's ascension into Heaven. Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on Joseph and Oliver and ordained both of them to the office of Apostle. Again, Oliver had the same authority as Joseph.

Original Quorum of Twelve Apostles

As Apostles, Joseph and Oliver had the authority to organize the church, which they did in 1830. They were only two Apostles, who had authority to administer the church. Joseph was known as the First Elder and Oliver as the Second Elder. If Joseph had died at that time, only Oliver had all the authority to be the successor to Joseph. After four years, it was time to organize the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. That task was given to Oliver Cowdery and the other two witnesses of The Book of Mormon--Martin Harris and David Whitmer. It was they, not Joseph, chose the Twelve. It was also they, not Joseph, who ordained The Twelve to the Holy Apostleship. Thus, all the lines of Priesthood Authority throughout the church go directly back to Oliver Cowdery.

Neither Joseph nor Oliver were members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Once the Quorum was operating, Oliver was named Assistant President, sometimes referred to as Associate President of the Church (see: Joseph Smith, B.H. Roberts (ed.), History of the Church, 2:176). Thus, even after the Quorum of the Twelve was organized, Oliver was next in line to succeed Joseph.

Priesthood Keys

Two years later, in 1836, the temple in Kirtland was dedicated. It was a glorious occasion with a great outpouring of the Spirit. Several ancient prophets visited and restored important priesthood keys. Let me read part of that account. (DC 110: 1, 2, 12-16)

The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber. . . After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north. After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed. After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.

Who is the "we" in this account? Why, it is Joseph and Oliver. Oliver once again received all the keys that Joseph received. Thus it remained, that should anything have happened to Joseph, Oliver was fully invested with all the authority to succeed as president of the church.

A Change at the Top

From this spiritual pinnacle at Kirtland, Oliver started to become disenchanted with Joseph and in 1838 he was excommunicated from the church, thus losing his position as Assistant President. Afterward, Joseph ordained his older brother Hyrum Smith to be the Assistant President. Let me read DC 124:94-95.

And from this time forth I appoint unto [Hyrum] that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph; That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; . . . and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon . . . Oliver Cowdery . . .

From this revelation we learn that Hyrum--as Associate President of the Church--was next in line to become the president, should anything have happened to Joseph.

The Succession Crisis

During the assassination of Joseph at Carthage jail In June 1844, Hyrum was killed first, just a couple of minutes before Joseph. This created what has come to be known as "The Succession Crisis." It was a crisis, because the one who was supposed to succeed Joseph was already dead when Joseph died.

Several persons came forward to take Joseph's place. Sidney Rigdon, who was Joseph's first counselor claimed to be the rightful successor. Some put forward Joseph's young son, Joseph the Third, because he had been given a blessing stating that one day he would preside over the church. One Elder, named James Strang, had received a letter from Joseph allegedly appointing him to be the future leader of the flock. Others believed that Brigham Young, as the senior Apostle, should lead.

John Taylor and Willard Richards, two of the Apostles who were in Carthage Jail with Joseph when he was killed, took temporary leadership of the church. They recalled the rest of the Twelve Apostles who were on missions. Mail and travel were slow. It took about a month for, Brigham Young, to learn of Joseph's death and return to Nauvoo.

In August of 1844, a conference of the church was held to decide the matter. Sidney Ridgon spoke first and made his case. After a recess, Brigham Young spoke and made his case. After Brigham spoke, W.W Phelps was to make a rejoinder to Brigham Young on Sidney's behalf. Phelps, however, changed his mind and spoke on Brigham's behalf. A vote was then taken, and an overwhelming majority favored Brigham Young and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Subsequent to the meeting, a few members mentioned that they were convinced Brigham was the right choice, because for a short time during his speech, Brigham seemed to talk and look like Joseph.

In hindsight, it seems straight forward to us. I think it looked pretty straightforward to most of the members at the time. Though a member of the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon was not an Apostle. Let me read DC 107:22-24.

Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church. The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.

Since that time, the successor has always been the senior Apostle. Could the Lord call someone different? Of course He could. But, he makes that decision every time He calls one of his Apostles home and calls a new one into the Quorum.

Conclusion

Like many of you, I have been witness to the passing of several presidents of the Church. Just as the early saints needed their own witness to sustain Brigham Young, it is incumbent on us to receive our own witnesses to sustain the current president, whoever it might be. In every case, I have been blessed with a witness from the Holy Ghost that the president is the one the Lord has chosen for that time. I bear my witness that Thomas Monson is chosen of the Lord to lead us in this great latter-day work to prepare for the Second Coming.

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Fifteen Minute Version

Good morning, brothers and sisters.

Aaronic Priesthood

In the Spring of 1829, Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon from the plates into English. By the middle of May, he translated 3rd Nephi chapter 11, which is about the visit of the Savior to the American Continent. The first thing Christ invited the people to do was feel the prints of the nails in his hands and feet and the sword scar in his side. After that, the Savior gave a sermon on being baptized. That Christ's very first message was baptism struck Joseph as significant. He was so intrigued that he went a few hundred yards down to the Susquehanna River and prayed to know what he should do about baptism. In answer to his prayer a resurrected John the Baptist appeared and restored the Aaronic Priesthood, with its authority to perform baptisms.

Let me quote what John the Baptist said. He said, "Upon you, my fellow servants, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron." He said servants with an 's' not just servant. So who was there with Joseph Smith? It was Oliver Cowdery, who was the scribe for Joseph's translations. They were there together. So, it turns out that Oliver received the exact same priesthood authority that Joseph received.

Melchizedek Priesthood

About two weeks later, Joseph and Oliver were visiting a town on the other side and up river from where they had received the Aaronic Priesthood. They were recognized by some ruffians who chased them through the woods for most of the night. When Joseph and Oliver were finally safe, they laid down exhausted. They were surprised by a visit from Peter, James, and John, the three Apostles who presided over the church after Christ's ascension into Heaven. Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on Joseph and Oliver and ordained both of them to the office of Apostle.

From John the Baptist, they received the authority to baptize and from the three ancient apostles they received the authority to organize the church. Thus, Oliver had the same authority as Joseph.

Original Quorum of Twelve Apostles

Once the church was organized in 1830, there were only two Apostles, Joseph and Oliver, who had authority to administer the church. Joseph was known as the First Elder and Oliver as the Second Elder. If Joseph had died at that time, only Oliver had all the authority to be the successor to Joseph. After four years, it was time to organize the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. That task was given to Oliver Cowdery and the other two witnesses of The Book of Mormon--Martin Harris and David Whitmer. (There are a few references that indicate Martin Harris and David Whitmer were ordained Apostles, but there is no record to confirm that they were.) They, not Joseph, chose the Twelve. They, not Joseph, ordained The Twelve to the Holy Apostleship. Afterward, Joseph "confirmed" those ordinations. However, the lines of Priesthood Authority that all the brothers in this congregation and throughout the church have go directly back to Oliver Cowdery.

Neither Joseph nor Oliver were members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Once the Quorum was operating, Oliver was named Assistant President, sometimes referred to as Associate President of the Church (see: Joseph Smith, B.H. Roberts (ed.), History of the Church, 2:176). Thus, even after the Quorum of the Twelve was organized, Oliver was next in line to succeed Joseph.

Priesthood Keys

Two years later, in 1836, the temple in Kirtland was dedicated. It was a glorious occasion with a great outpouring of the Spirit. Several ancient prophets visited and restored important priesthood keys. Let me read part of that account. (DC 110: 1, 2, 12-16)

The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber. . . After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north. After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed. After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.

Who is the "we" in this account? Why, it is Joseph and Oliver. Oliver once again received all the keys that Joseph received. Thus it remained, that should anything have happened to Joseph, Oliver was fully invested with all the authority to succeed as president of the church.

A Change at the Top

From this spiritual pinnacle at Kirtland, Oliver started to become disenchanted with Joseph and in 1838 he was excommunicated from the church and lost his position as Assistant President. Afterward, Joseph ordained his older brother Hyrum Smith to be the Assistant President. Let me read DC 124:94-95.

And from this time forth I appoint unto him [Hyrum] that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph; That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the keys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery ....

From this revelation we learn that Hyrum--as Associate President of the Church--was next in line to become the president, should anything have happened to Joseph.

The Succession Crisis

During the assassination of Joseph at Carthage jail, we know that Hyrum was killed first, just a couple of minutes before Joseph. This created what has come to be known as "The Succession Crisis." It was a crisis, because the one who was supposed to succeed Joseph was already dead when Joseph died.

Several persons came forward to take Joseph's place. Sidney Rigdon, who was Joseph's first counselor claimed to be the rightful successor. Some thought it should be Samuel Smith--the first missionary--and who was Joseph's next younger brother. However, Samuel died just one month after Joseph. Some put forward Joseph's young son, Joseph the Third, because he had been given a blessing stating that one day he would preside over the church. Some thought it should be William Marks, who was the Nauvoo Stake President, but he supported Sidney Rigdon. An Elder, named James Strang, had received a letter from Joseph allegedly appointing him to be the future leader of the flock. From what I can tell, however, there was more controversy among the leaders than there was among the members.

John Taylor and Willard Richards, two of the Apostles who were in Carthage Jail with Joseph when he was killed, took temporary leadership of the church. They asked for calm. They recalled the rest of the Twelve who were on missions. It took about a month for the senior Apostle, Brigham Young, to learn of Joseph's death and return to Nauvoo.

In August of 1844, a conference of the church was held to decide the matter. Sidney Ridgon spoke first and made his case. After a recess, Brigham Young spoke and made his case. After Brigham spoke, W.W Phelps was to make a rejoinder to Brigham Young on Rigdon's behalf. Phelps, however, changed his mind and spoke on Brigham's behalf. A vote was then taken, and an overwhelming majority favored Brigham Young and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Subsequent to the meeting, a few members mentioned that they were convinced Brigham was the right choice, because for a short time during his speech, Brigham seemed to talk and look like Joseph.

In hindsight, it seems straightforward to us. As I said, I think it looked pretty straightforward to most of the members at the time. Let me read DC 107:22-24.

Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church. The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.

Since that time, the successor has always been the senior Apostle. Could the Lord call someone different? Of course He could. But, he makes that decision every time He calls one of his Apostles home and calls a new one into the Quorum.

Conclusion

Like many of you, I have been witness to the passing of several presidents of the Church. Just as the early saints needed their own witness to sustain Brigham Young, it is incumbent on us to receive our own witnesses to sustain the current president, whoever it might be. In every case, I have been blessed with a witness from the Holy Ghost that the president is the one the Lord has chosen for that time. I bear my witness that Thomas Monson is chosen of the Lord to lead us in this great latter-day work to prepare for the Second Coming.

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.



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