Have you ever wondered how the next Prophet is chosen in the LDS Church, if the current one were to pass away? Is it the most senior apostle that replaces him? Does God choose? Do they vote on it? Does it have to be unanimous? Or is it more like a Presidential election where the Apostles all have campaigns, and then the members decide? It’s a pretty important question, and you may or may not know the answer. We’ll find out here.
The Short Version:
To keep it short and simple, when the current Prophet of the Church dies (as of this writing, President Thomas S. Monson), the senior apostle becomes the next Prophet and President of the LDS Church.
The Long Version:
On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith Jr. was martyred while incarcerated in Carthage, Illinois. Since the reorganization of the Christ’s Church (D&C 20), Joseph Smith had been the Prophet and leader for the Saints. After he was killed, the Saints had no idea where to turn, or how they were going to choose a successor. Obviously, this caused a lot of confusion. Sidney Rigdon, one of the members who had been in the First Presidency with Joseph Smith, claimed to be the successor to Joseph. Many looked to him, as he had been with the Church almost entirely since it’s reorganization. One of Joseph Smith’s revelations even described Rigdon (as well as another counselor) as “equal” with Smith in “holding the keys of this last kingdom. . . . And this shall be your business and mission in all your lives, to preside in council and set in order all the affairs of this church and kingdom.” (D&C 90:6, 16)
The Lord spoke to the apostles and advised them that they should not alter or make any changes until the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve had returned to Nauvoo, but that they should continue working on the Temple during that time. On Thursday, August 8th, the Apostles called together the Saints and had a Conference. Sidney Rigdon arose and spoke first. He gave his case as to why he should be their next leader. Upon concluding, Brigham Young arose and spoke. As Brigham Young began to speak, it was reported that he cleared his throat just as the Prophet Joseph Smith would do. Others said that Young’s mannerisms and/or gestures were that of Smith’s. Others claimed to have seen the “tall, straight and portly form of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Many claimed that if you were to have closed your eyes and listened, you would have thought Joseph Smith, the Prophet, had been standing right in front of them. In a miraculous manifestation from the Lord, Brigham Young had been transfigured and appeared to the Saints as Joseph Smith.
With Joseph Smith’s death, the First Presidency was dissolved. But that doesn’t mean that the Priesthood Authority was lost once again, as in times of Apostasy. Brigham Young, just as the Prophet before him, held the keys of the Priesthood and had the authority necessary to lead and direct the affairs of the Church. In D&C 107:23-24, a revelation given to Joseph Smith, the Lord explained that the Quorum of the Twelve apostles all held the same authority, none greater or lesser than those of the First Presidency:
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.
In a similar revelation, the Lord also revealed that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles held the same Priesthood keys as the Savior and His apostles held:
And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them; Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fullness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth;
From that point forward, Brigham Young, lead and guided the Saints as their new leader. As time went on, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve was reorganized. Other men were called to fill vacancies. The procedure performed in the early days of the Church still stands today. Should the Prophet of the Church pass away, the First Presidency is dissolved, and those members remain with the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve. The Authority remains with the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Senior Apostle takes position as the new Prophet and leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The “Mormon News Room” has a great article entitled “Succession in the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and lists the process that begins should the Prophet pass away:
“When the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints passes away, the following events take place:
1. The First Presidency is automatically dissolved.
2. The two counselors in the First Presidency revert to their places of seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Seniority is determined by the date on which a person was ordained to the Twelve, not by age.
3. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, now numbering 14 and headed by the senior apostle, assumes Church leadership.
4. The senior apostle presides at a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve to consider two alternative propositions:
i. Should the First Presidency be reorganized at this time?
ii. Should the Church continue to function with the Quorum of the Twelve presiding?
5. After discussion, a formal motion is made and accepted by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
6. If a motion to reorganize the First Presidency is passed, the Quorum of the Twelve unanimously selects the new president of the Church. The new president chooses two counselors and the three of them become the new First Presidency. Throughout the history of the Church, the longest-serving apostle has always become the president of the Church when the First Presidency has been reorganized.
7. Following the reorganization of the First Presidency, the apostle who has served the second longest is sustained as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. When the second-longest-serving apostle has also been called into the First Presidency as a counselor, the third-longest-serving apostle becomes acting president of the Twelve.
8. The president of the Quorum of the Twelve, along with the rest of the apostles, sets apart the new president of the Church through a formal laying on of hands.
Since the Church was formally organized on 6 April 1830, there have been 16 presidents, including President Thomas S. Monson.”
Led by God, not men
Although we have a Prophet on the earth to lead and guide the Church, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Prophet is lead by God, and not by his own motive or gain. The Prophet receives inspiration and direction directly from the Lord, and then relates that to us. The Lord will not permit that a wicked, or unrighteous man, lead his children down the wrong path.
I personally have seen many blessings that come from following the counsels of the Prophets, but specifically from President Monson. I love that man. I know that he is led and guide by a living God, and that as we are willing to follow his guidance and counsels, we won’t have to be faced with the pains and sadness that accompany following the ways of the world.