10 Largely Forgotten, but Timeless Principles, in Sustaining Leaders

James F. Stoddard III
L. Hannah Stoddard

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that there is no error in the revelations1 that he received as they were revealed. Therefore, in our day, when it seems that nearly every man or woman has a different understanding of good leadership and how leaders should be sustained, we believe it is imperative to look back to the revelations to clarify these sensitive but unavoidable questions and opinions. Here are some of the questions that float around the Internet:

  • Should we follow the counsel of church leaders if we believe their counsel may be in error?
  • When do church leaders speak for God, and how can you know?
  • How should I sustain my ecclesiastical leaders if I believe they are in error?
  • Is it possible for church leaders to make serious mistakes?
  • Should we treat the teachings of church leaders differently according to their position and station?
  • Are the teachings and directions of the President of the Church infallible?
  • Can a President of the Church fall and become wicked? Should he ever be removed from office?

The following are ten timeless principles that answer many of the current questions brooding in the minds of many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that the Lord has answered these questions with unmistakable clarity in the revelations and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

1. Any person who blindly follows his or her leaders is not capable of acquiring the Celestial Kingdom.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was very concerned, in Nauvoo, that some members of the Church were blindly following church leaders including his own words rather than learning to think for themselves.

President Joseph Smith read the 14th Chapter of Ezekiel—said the Lord had declared by the prophet that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish Church—that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls—applied it to the present state of the Church of ​Jesus Christ​ Latter Day Saints—said if the people departed from the Lord they must fall—that they were depending on the prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves . . .

Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 Addenda, p. 71-72, The Joseph Smith Papers.

The Prophet Joseph Smith also taught that true, inspired leaders teach correct principles and let the people govern themselves.

Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. “How?” responded the gentleman; “to us it is very difficult.” Mr. Smith replied, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

John Taylor, “The Organization of the Church,” The Latter-day Saints Millennial Star, vol. 13, no. 22, November 15, 1851, 339.

President Brigham Young taught that no man is capable of entering the Celestial Kingdom who follows his leaders blindly.

Who has influence over any one of you, to cause you to miss salvation in the celestial kingdom of God? I will answer these questions for myself. If brother Brigham and I shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but brother Brigham and I. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed.

This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation. I am the only person that can possibly save myself. When salvation is sent to me, I can reject or receive it. In receiving it, I yield implicit obedience and submission to its great Author throughout my life, and to those whom He shall appoint to instruct me; in rejecting it, I follow the dictates of my own will in preference to the will of my Creator. There are those among this people who are influenced, controlled, and biased in their thoughts, actions, and feelings by some other individual or family, on whom they place their dependence for spiritual and temporal instruction, and for salvation in the end. These persons do not depend upon themselves for salvation, but upon another of their poor, weak, fellow mortals. “I do not depend upon any inherent goodness of my own,” say they, “to introduce me into the kingdom of glory, but I depend upon you, brother Joseph, upon you, brother Brigham, upon you, brother Heber, or upon you, brother James; I believe your judgment is superior to mine, and consequently I let you judge for me; your spirit is better than mine, therefore you can do good for me; I will submit myself wholly to you, and place in you all my confidence for life and salvation; where you go I will go, and where you tarry there I will stay; expecting that you will introduce me through the gates into the heavenly Jerusalem.

I wish to notice this. We read in the Bible, that there is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars. In the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, these glories are called telestial, terrestrial, and celestial, which is the highest. These are worlds, different departments, or mansions, in our Father’s house. Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold scepters of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.

Do you know what is right and just, as well as I do? In some things you do, and in some things you may not know as well; but I will explain what I mean, in the following words—I will do all the good I can, and all I know how to do, and I will shun every evil that I know to be an evil. You can all do that much. I will apply my heart to wisdom, and ask the Lord to impart it to me; and if I know but little, I will improve upon it, that tomorrow I may have more, and thus grow from day to day, in the knowledge of the truth, as Jesus Christ grew in stature and knowledge from a babe to manhood; and if I am not now capable of judging for myself, perhaps I shall be in another year. We are organized to progress in the scale of intelligence, and the least Saint by adhering strictly to the order of God, may attain to a full and complete salvation through the grace of God, by his own faithfulness.

Brigham Young, “The Privileges and Blessings of the Gospel,” in Journal of Discourses, vol. 1 (London: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1854), 312. Discourse given on February 20, 1853.

President Joseph F. Smith echoed the Prophet Joseph and Brigham Young on blind obedience:

Concerning the question of blind obedience. Not a man in this Church, since the Prophet Joseph Smith down to the present day, has ever asked any man to do as he was told blindly. No Prophet of God, no Apostle, no President of a Stake, no Bishop, who has had the spirit of his office and calling resting upon him, has ever asked a soul to do anything that they might not know was right and the proper thing to do. We do not ask you to do anything that you may not know it is your duty to do, or that you may not know will be a blessing for you to do.

If we give you counsel, we do not ask you to obey that counsel without you know that it is right to do so. But how shall we know that it is right? By getting the Spirit of God in our hearts, by which our minds may be opened and enlightened, that we may know the doctrine for ourselves, and be able to divide truth from error, light from darkness and good from evil.

Joseph F. Smith, “Blind Obedience and Tithing,” The Latter-day Saints Millennial Star, vol. 55, no. 5, January 30, 1893, 79-80.

2. No leader is infallible and therefore should not be followed blindly

We have often read or heard repeated Christ’s instruction to the Twelve: “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell.” Have you ever wondered what the Lord was teaching in these verses? What specifically was the Son of God, while dwelling in mortality, trying to convey? We have participated in many Gospel Doctrine lessons where well-meaning members shared speculation and possible interpretations. 


In truth, the clear meaning of the passage was lost because of corruption until the Prophet Joseph Smith was inspired to restore a certain portion. Turning to the Joseph Smith Translation of Mark, Chapter 9, we discover an inspired commentary that differs from the traditional King James version.

Therefore, if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; or if thy brother offend thee and confess not and forsake not, he shall be cut off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell.

For it is better for thee to enter into life without thy brother, than for thee and thy brother to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Mark 9:40-41, JST

So far, nothing too controversial here! If a neighbor, co-member, or friend falls away or abandons the truth, we must not endanger our own salvation by allowing ourselves to be led by them. We should exercise caution and prudence to ensure that we are not deceived. It would be better to “cut them off” than to become corrupted. This is not a revolutionary concept; we have heard this often. However, there is more to consider, such as, what is the context of these verses? The Savior continues by warning against transgression by individuals in positions of authority—leaders we do not generally suspect.

And again, if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off.

It is better for thee, to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched.

Mark 9:42-43, JST

It is in this scripture that Mark Chapter 9 becomes a bit more controversial. We are warned that if the one who is “thy standard . . . become a transgressor, he shall be cut off.” Who might be this religious “standard”? Whose “walk” do you follow? Who is it that generally shows forth the religious path?

In the context of scripture, our “walk” is synonymous with our obedience to the commandments (Mosiah 4:15, D&C 25:2, 95:12, 2 John 1:6) and our righteous participation in the ordinances (D&C 136:4). When speaking of men “by whom thou walkest,” the Son of God issued an unambiguous warning against appointed exemplars and teachers who are liable to fall. Is it possible that a religious leader for whom we feel admiration and confidence “become a transgressor”? Realizing how easily we can be deceived if we are not protectively on guard, the Savior cautions us not to follow such transgressors “into hell.”

You may also be interested in the article retelling the story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre & freedom fighter Helmuth Hubener, “If Thine Eye Offend Thee” (Part 1 – Blind Obedience? – To Question or Not to Question? That is the Question!) “The Lord in JST Mark 9 was clear, ‘Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another.’ (JST Mark 9:44) These principles are crucial for our day and time. The victims of the Mountain Meadows Massacre cry from the ground, ‘Let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another!’ The story of Helmuth Hubener pleads ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ The implications of truly understanding this fundamental doctrine may alter our eternal destinies as individuals and as a people.” (Read more)

3. Sustaining church leaders when they stumble or are in error

Because no leader is infallible, following any man or group of men (or women) blindly is unwise and may even be dangerous. How does one sustain a leader who is out of the way or in error? The first step is to avoid inappropriate behaviour, such as backbiting, evil speaking, or being critical. Instead, we should be respectful, beseeching heaven in mighty prayer on behalf of the person or group.

The young David who would later become King, and at that time was a man after the Lord’s own heart, provides an ideal example. Picking up the story in 1 Samuel, Chapter 24, King Saul, a man who had initially been chosen by God, and who was at this time still “the Lord’s anointed,” had become a wicked man. He was actively and provocatively seeking the young David’s life. Saul had been pursuing David, but had paused to camp in a cave. The story continues:

Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats.

And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave.

And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily.

And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.

And he said unto his men, The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.

So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul. But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way.

David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king. And when Saul looked behind him, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself.

And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?

Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the Lord had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eye aspared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.

Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it.

The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.

1 Samuel 24:2-12

Sustaining leaders when they are acting inappropriately requires prayer, inspiration and great wisdom.

4. All church leaders are accountable to the members, including the President

The Prophet Joseph Smith stands as the greatest prototype of a righteous leader, excepting the Son of God. Throughout his life, the Prophet abhorred priestcraft and the dangerous practice of leader worship.

On April 6, 1843, at a special conference organized in commemoration of the anniversary of the organization of the Church, the Prophet declared:

It is my object to ascertain the [standing] of the first presidency. (as I have been instructed) I present myself for trial, I shall next present my councillors for trial. . . .

Are you satisfied with the first presedincy [sic], so far as I am concerned, or will you choose another? If I have done any thing [sic] to injure my character in the sight of men & angels— or men & women. come forward [and] tell of it. & if not ever after hold your peace.

Joseph Smith, Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843–14 July 1843, p. 50-51, The Joseph Smith Papers.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was not afraid to acknowledge shortcomings and mistakes in ecclesiastical leadership, humbly announcing before the assembly of Saints,

If I have done any thing [sic] to injure my character in the sight of men & angels—or men & women, come forward [and] tell of it.

Joseph Smith, Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843–14 July 1843, p. 50-51, The Joseph Smith Papers.

Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Restoration and head of the present dispensation—President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a man who has the distinction of being the greatest prophet ever to live, excepting the Son,2 had a better right than any man to frown on criticism. However, even he did not consider himself above the law.

“Joseph returned his thanks — to the assembly. & said he would serve them according to the best of his ability.”

After requesting the Latter-day Saints to present any complaints or concerns, Brigham Young “arose & nominated Joseph Smith to continue as the President of the Church.” President Young demonstrated an unyielding loyalty to Joseph Smith, a theme he continued to exhibit throughout his life, even until his last breath.

Orson Hyde seconded President Young’s motion and then it was put to a vote. For the first time in the history of the Church, the vote was unanimous!

Such a show of hands was never seen before in the church.

Joseph retur[ne]d his thanks—to the assembly. & said he would serve them according to the best of his ability.

Joseph Smith, Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843–14 July 1843, p. 55, The Joseph Smith Papers.

Sidney Rigdon (First Counselor) was then presented “for trial” and sustained.

William Law (Second Counselor) was then presented “for trial” and sustained.

Patriarch Hyrum Smith was then presented and the congregation voted in favor of Hyrum retaining his office.

At the conclusion of these actions, the Prophet Joseph Smith duly proclaimed,

 I do not know any thing agai[n]st the twelve, if I did I would pres[e]nt them for trial.​

Joseph Smith, Journal, December 1842–June 1844; Book 2, 10 March 1843–14 July 1843, p. 55, The Joseph Smith Papers.

The Prophet Joseph understood that he and his fellow leaders were not “above the law.” To Joseph Smith, ‘defending the Church’ did not mean defending his first counselor, his second counselor, or even himself as President.

Defending the Church meant defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and pointing the Latter-day Saints to the Father and the Son. It was in this that the Prophet begged his people to place their trust.

Defending the Church meant defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ and pointing the Latter-day Saints to the Father and the Son.

If the members knew of anything he had done wrong, he asked them to “come forward [and] tell of it” that he might rectify the issue. Joseph Smith understood that holding leaders accountable would not threaten the Church, for the foundation he built was founded on God, and not man.


The Lord has made it unmistakably clear in the revelations that any leader, high or low, can fail in his station. The Lord has even made provision to try leaders, including presidents of the Church.

And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;

And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him.

Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness.

D&C 107:82-84
Why did the Lord call Judas Iscariot as one of his Twelve Apostles?

Too often, many members imagine that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates by some form of “magic,” and that somehow, every leader is perfect, every calling inspired, and every man fulfills his duty. In this imaginary scenario, no agency is exercised and no freedom of choice is allowed. In contrast, the evidence from history testifies that many are called, but many do not live up to their calling.

Would the Lord truly call a man who, in the end, failed his calling?

Why did the Lord call Judas Iscariot as one of his Twelve Apostles?

Was the Son of God deceived by Judas’ true character? Or was He instead reinforcing: “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm . . .”? (2 Nephi 28:31) The Lord knew at the time of the calling that Judas was a devil, or would become so. (John 6:70)

Some of our leaders are placed there to lead us and others of our leaders are placed there to test us.

Sometimes we as members forget that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just as much our church as it is the church of any leader.

Sometimes we as members forget that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just as much our church as it is the church of any leader. Stated another way, we are just as valuable in and accountable for the Church’s progress as the current sitting president is. We may not hold keys to alter or make great changes where they may be needed but we can fulfill our sacred roles in defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

5. Church leaders do not hold stewardship in the family, only in the Church as a whole

It is inappropriate and can even be detrimental, sometimes dangerous, for church leaders in any position, including the President of the Church, to dictate to a family those decisions that rest in the stewardship and authority of the father and mother. Just as a father should not presume to dictate to the President of the Church general church business, likewise, no church leader should attempt to dictate decisions that should be made in the family. Unfortunately, this is becoming more common because principles of stewardship have been forgotten. 

President Joseph F. Smith taught that family decisions should remain with the family while church-wide decisions are appropriately made by general church leadership. Likewise, stake decisions are made by stake leadership, and ward decisions are made by ward leadership.

In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount. To illustrate this principle, a single incident will perhaps suffice. It sometimes happens that the elders are called in to administer to the members of a family. Among these elders there may be presidents of stakes, apostles, or even members of the first presidency of the Church. It is not proper under these circumstances for the father to stand back and expect the elders to direct the administration of this important ordinance. The father is there. It is his right and it is his duty to preside. He should select the one who is to administer the oil, and the one who is to be mouth in prayer, and he should not feel that because there are present presiding authorities in the Church that he is therefore divested of his rights to direct the administration of that blessing of the gospel in his home. (If the father be absent, the mother should request the presiding authority present to take charge.) The father presides at the table, at prayer, and gives general directions relating to his family life whoever may be present.”

Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Deseret Book Company, 1968), 287.

President Joseph F. Smith also insisted that family leadership (including the Celestial principles of patriarchal order) represent eternal and unchanging principles of the Gospel. These principles have been maintained throughout all other dispensations.

There is no higher authority in matters relating to the family organization, and especially when that organization is presided over by one holding the higher Priesthood, than that of the father. The authority is time honored, and among the people of God in all dispensations it has been highly respected and often emphasized by the teachings of the prophets who were inspired of God. The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity. There is, then, a particular reason why men, women and children should understand this order and this authority in the households of the people of God, and seek to make it what God intended it to be, a qualification and preparation for the highest exaltation of his children. In the home the presiding authority is always vested in the father, and in all home affairs and family matters there is no other authority paramount.”

Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Deseret Book Company, 1968), 2.

The principles of the Patriarchal Order are carefully spelled out in the most correct book, the Book of Mormon. These same principles are taught and emphasized in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. While modern culture devalues family order—in preference to social institutions including government, schools, and churches with neverending and unnumbered experts—the word of the Lord on the matter is unchanging.

6. ALL church leaders and members are imperfect and NO ONE speaks for God unless moved upon by the Holy Ghost

It is easy to point fingers or to complain regarding the actions of this member or that leader, but one cannot hide behind the skirts of other individuals. Each of us individually bears the burden of discerning truth from error.3 President J. Reuben Clark Jr. emphasized the responsibility this places on the shoulders of every member, when he taught on how to properly judge:

When are the writings and sermons of church leaders entitled to the claim of being scripture?

I assume the scripture behind this question is the declaration of the Lord in a revelation given through Joseph . . .

And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.

The very words of the revelation recognize that the Brethren may speak when they are not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” yet only when they do so speak, as so “moved upon,” is what they say Scripture. No exceptions are given to this rule or principle. It is universal in its application.

The question is, how shall we know when the things they have spoken were said as they were “moved upon by the Holy Ghost?”

I have given some thought to this question, and the answer thereto so far as I can determine, is: We can tell when the speakers are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” only when we, ourselves, are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.

J. Reuben Clark, “When Are the Writings and Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Being Scripture?Deseret News, July 31, 1954, sec. Church News, 11.

In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith on September 11, 1831, the Lord charged every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the duty to judge and to purge iniquity from the Church:

Behold, I, the Lord, have made my church in these last days like unto a judge sitting on a hill, or in a high place, to judge the nations.

For it shall come to pass that the inhabitants of Zion shall judge all things pertaining to Zion.

And liars and hypocrites shall be proved by them . . .

Doctrine and Covenants 64:37-39

Each of us must evaluate, and from time to time re-evaluate, what we are doing personally to help build the Kingdom of God, in the manner the Lord desires.

Joseph Fielding Smith, who would later become 10th President of the Church and be considered the greatest gospel scholar in the 20th century, took the responsibility of helping the Church to remain pure very seriously. After attending a general church leadership meeting, he privately confided his very real and serious concerns to his journal:

I attended sessions of meetings for the institute teachers, held in the assembly room on the fourth floor of the Church Office Building. I cannot say that I was very greatly edified. Too much philosophy of a wordly nature does not seem to mix well with the fundamentals of the gospel. In my opinion many of our teachers employed in the church school system have absorbed too much of the paganism of the world, and have accepted too readily the views of uninspired educators without regard for the revealed word of the Lord. What to do about it I do not know. It is a problem for the Presidency to consider. It is a very apparent fact that we have traveled far and wide in the past 20 years [since his father’s death]. What the future will bring I do not know. But if we drift as far afield from fundamental things in the next 20 years, what will be left of the foundation laid by the Prophet Joseph Smith?

It is easy for one who observes to see how the apostasy came about in the Primitive Church of Jesus Christ. Are we not traveling the same road? The more I see of educated men—I mean those who are trained in the doctrines and philosophies now taught in the world, the less regard I have for them. Modern theories which are so popular today just do not harmonize with the gospel as revealed to the prophets, and it would be amusing if it were not a tragedy to see how some of our educated brethren attempt to harmonize the theories of men with the revealed word of the Lord. Thank the Lord, there is still some faith left and some members who still cherish the word of the Lord and accept the prophets. Surely the world is ripening rapidly for the destruction, and Satan has power and dominion over his own. If any are saved surely the Lord must soon come and have power over his Saints and reign in their midst, and execute “judgment upon Idumea, or the world.”

Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., and John J. Stewart, The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 210 – 211.

7. This dispensation is to receive the word of God ONLY through Joseph Smith

On the day the Church was organized, the Lord gave a revelation to stand as the charter of the Church, commanding the members and leaders—both present and future—to “give heed unto all his [Joseph Smith’s] words and commandments which he shall give unto you,” promising that if the counsel was followed, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.”4

The institution Joseph Smith restored, using the keys and authority given to him by God, was both true and living. While no leader or member of the Church is perfect or inerrant, to the degree the teachings and revelations of Joseph Smith are followed, we have the divine promise that we will continue to experience success in our efforts.5

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that while we have successive presidents of the Church and other apostles, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words stand preeminent, and that we should regard every other leader as a mere echo of Joseph Smith.

Every dispensation head is a revealer of Christ for his day . . . and every other prophet or apostle who comes is a reflection and an echo and an exponent of the dispensation head. All such come to echo to the world and to expound and unfold what God has revealed through the man who was appointed to give his eternal word to the world for that era. Such is the dispensation concept.

Bruce R. McConkie, “This Generation Shall Have My Word through You,” Brigham Young University Sperry Symposium, January 27, 1979. (also printed in the Ensign, June 1980)

Elder McConkie also taught that the great revelations and important doctrines intended for this dispensation have come through the Prophet, Joseph Smith, and that there will be no great revelations extending beyond the foundation laid by the Prophet Joseph.

There are added revelations we could receive, and I hope will receive as we manage to get in tune with the Spirit. But the great reservoir of revelation for our dispensation—meaning the things that we need to know to govern our conduct in order to gain an eternal life—these things have already been given. And there will not be great added reservoirs of substantive revelation that will come before the Second Coming because of the wickedness of the world. Some of that wickedness spills over and prevails among the Latter-day Saints.


In section 5 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord explained that His word for our day will only come through Joseph Smith.

“This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10). Joseph Smith has given the word, and we echo the message . . .


Does this mean that no revelation has come since 1844 or will come in the future? Absolutely not. We have examples of great revelations coming to Brigham Young (currently D&C 136) and Joseph F. Smith (currently D&C 138). Joseph Smith is the dispensation head, or priesthood leader, over the dispensation. Therefore, spiritual communication to any man or woman is directed by the Prophet Joseph.

In an interview with David Ransom on November 9, 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained,

“. . . we have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith. We don’t need much revelation. We need to pay more attention to the revelation we’ve already received. Now, if a problem should arise on which we don’t have an answer, we pray about it, we may fast about it, and it comes . . . we don’t need a lot of continuing revelation. We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation.”

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Sunday Interview — Musings of the Main Mormon,” interview by Don Lattin, SFGATE, April 13, 1997, accessed December 2018, https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/SUNDAY-INTERVIEW-Musings-of-the-Main-Mormon-2846138.php.

During a Christmas devotional on December 7, 2003, he again reiterated,

“I look to [Joseph Smith]. I love him. I seek to follow him. I read his words, and they become the standards to be observed in guiding this great Church as it moves forward in fulfilling its eternal destiny.”

Gordon B. Hinckley, First Presidency Christmas Devotional, 7 December 2003, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 6

8. There is a difference between power and authority in the Priesthood

Handbook 2: Administering the Church

Another important key is the difference between Priesthood power and authority.

For example, note the instruction given in the official handbook of the Church that brethren are to perform ordinances and pronounce blessings “by the authority of the priesthood.” Notice that there is no mention of “by the power of the priesthood.”

A leader may hold a certain position—he may be given authority—but whether or not he executes that duty with power depends on one thing: personal righteousness. This is true for fathers, bishops, stake presidents, members of the seventy, the Quorum of the Twelve, and even the presidents of the Church. It is the duty of all priesthood bearers to live worthy of their calling but the sad truth is that many do not.

The oft-repeated verses from section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants remind us:

Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

D&C 121:34–36

Is the Son of God warning that many leaders are “called” to positions of leadership, but few live worthy of these callings?

9. Church leaders are only to promote their own teachings or doctrine through persuasion

The worst possible kind of force for which a man or woman can be found guilty is the attempt to induce or require blind obedience or mind control under the color of ecclesiastical authority.

The revelation contained in section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants explains this concept:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

Doctrine and Covenants 121:40-41

There is, perhaps, nothing more Hitler-esque or unrighteous than to forcefully require another individual to turn off his or her brain, and to submit blindly to authority, expecting the individual to do what he or she is told, rather than to think for themselves. Any individual guilty of teaching or requiring the blind obedience of another individual will stand accountable before God, according to His revelations.

Doctrine and Covenants section 134 also echoes the words of the Lord in section 121 by affirming that, “We believe that no government [and especially no church government] can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience . . .”

10. In this dispensation, we have not been commanded to follow any man except the Prophet Joseph Smith. 

As we have mentioned above, on the day the Church was organized, the Lord gave a revelation He intended to have stand as the charter for the Church, commanding the members and leaders—both present and future—to “give heed unto all his [Joseph Smith’s] words and commandments which he shall give unto you . . .” Despite many others’ claims, the revelation is clear that this commandment applies to no leader other than Joseph Smith. Furthermore, there is no place in revelation where the members of the Church are commanded to follow the teachings of any other man, including any other president of the Church.

President Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, taught this principle on many occasions including the following: 

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.

You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.

If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.

Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 203-204.
  1. Joseph Smith, History, 1838–1856, volume F-1 [1 May 1844–8 August 1844], p. 21, The Joseph Smith Papers.
  2. Latter-day prophets testify of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s greatness. LDS Answers. https://ldsanswers.org/latter-day-prophets-testify-prophet-joseph-smiths-greatness/
  3. President John Taylor taught, “I believe it is good to investigate and prove all principles that come before me. Prove all things, hold fast that which is good, and reject that which is evil, no matter what guise it may come in. I think if we, as ‘Mormons,’ hold principles that cannot be sustained by the Scriptures and by good sound reason and philosophy, the quicker we part with them the better, no matter who believes in them or who does not. In every principle presented to us, our first inquiry should be, ‘Is it true?’ ‘Does it emanate from God?’ If He is its Author it can be sustained just as much as any other truth in natural philosophy; if false it should be opposed and exposed just as much as any other error. Hence upon all such matters we wish to go back to first principles.” John Taylor, “Religious Confliction in the World—The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” in Journal of Discourses, vol. 13 (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1871), 15. Discourse given on March 14, 1869.
  4. Doctrine and Covenants 21:6.
  5. See more in L. Hannah Stoddard and James F. Stoddard, Faith Crisis, Volume 2: Behind Closed Doors—Leonard Arrington & the Progressive Rewriting of Mormon History (Salem: Joseph Smith Foundation, 2020), 178-179.
  6. Brigham Young likewise commented, “A person was mentioned to-day who did not believe that Brigham Young was a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. I wish to ask every member of this whole community, if they ever heard him profess to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, as Joseph Smith was? He [Brigham Young] professed to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, called and sent of God to save Israel.” Brigham Young, “The Lord at the Head of His Kingdom,” in Journal of Discourses, vol. 6 (London, 1859), 319. Referring to President Young’s statement, John Taylor remarked, “Brigham Young in saying that He did not profess to be a prophet seer & Revelator as Joseph Smith was, was speaking of men being born Natural Prophets & seers.” Diary of Wilford Woodruff, Feb 11, 1861.
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