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Following the Brethren
by Mark L. McConkie
Latter-day Saints believe that God gives revelations to living prophets and that their words, when so inspired, are to be received as his (D&C 1:38). It has therefore become common in the Church to say that Christ and his prophets are as one because they represent him (cf. John 17:21-23). This means that prophets, as agents of Christ, announce his gospel, and are one with him in teaching, testimony, and purpose (see Unity). Thus, the scriptural injunction to follow Jesus and the baptismal covenant to obey his commandments also require following his prophets.
Among Latter-day Saints the injunction to "follow the Brethren" derives from this requirement of obedience to Jesus and to prophetic instruction. In this context, "the Brethren" are the General Authorities, particularly the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who are formally sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. The principle involved can be extended to include local priesthood leaders such as priesthood quorum presidencies, bishops and stake presidents, and the presidencies of the women's auxiliary organizationsRelief Society, young women, and primarywithin their respective jurisdictions. This extension of the principle to all Church leaders at every level is based on the recognition that all officers in the Church are entitled to revelation in their callings and on the assumption that they are in harmony with the Brethren. Referring specifically to the prophet who is currently President of the Church, the Lord has instructed members to "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" (D&C 21:4-5).
Latter-day Saints claim a variety of blessings from following prophetic instruction. Not only does following the Brethren unite the Saints, enabling them to advance the purposes of the restoration more effectively, but it also allows them to receive the rewards of such obedience, which include the gifts of the spirit.
Following the Brethren, however, does not imply blind obedience, for every member of the Church is entitled to an individual witness of the Holy Spirit that the leadership of the Church is inspired by God. For this reason, following the living prophet obliges members to live worthy to receive personal inspiration and revelation. It gives contemporary meaning to Moses' desire that "all the Lord's people" be prophets and thus recipients of inspiration (Num. 11:29), and to the Savior's saying that all should "live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God" (D&C 84:44; Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).
Because Church members are entitled to divine confirmation of prophetic declarations, there is no teaching among Latter-day Saints of "prophetic infallibility." As Joseph Smith taught, "a prophet was a prophet only when acting as such" (TPJS, p. 278). Prophets have personal and private opinions, and they are "subject to like passions," as all people are (see James 5:17; Mosiah 2:10-11). However, when acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit in the prophetic role, "whatsoever they shall speak shall be the will of the Lord" (D&C 68:3-4; see Scripture). As the Savior told Joseph Smith, "He that receiveth my servants receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth my Father" (D&C 84:36-37; see also Matt. 10:40; 3 Ne. 28:34).
(See Following the Prophets home page)
Christiansen, ElRay L. "Sustaining the Authorities of the Church." Relief Society Magazine 44 (Feb. 1957):76-79.
Packer, Boyd K. "Follow the Brethren." Speeches of the Year, pp. 1-10. Provo, Utah, 1965.
Stapley, Delbert L. "Respect for Authority." IE 60 (Dec. 1957):914-15, 938.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Following the Brethren
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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