President of the Church (LDS Church)

This article is about Presidents of the LDS Church. For information about the position of President of the Church in the wider Latter Day Saint movement, see President of the Church.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the President of the Church is the highest office of the church. It was the office held by Joseph Smith, founder of the church. The President of the LDS Church is the church's leader and the head of the First Presidency, the church's highest governing body. Latter-day Saints consider the president of the church to be a "prophet, seer, and revelator", and refer to him as "the Prophet", a title originally given to Smith. When the name of the president is used by adherents, it is usually prefaced by the title "President".

Latter-day Saints consider the church's president to be God's spokesman to the entire world and the highest priesthood authority on earth, with the exclusive right to receive revelations from God on behalf of the entire church or the entire world.

The President of the Church serves as the head of both the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes and the Council of the Church. The President of the Church also serves as the ex officio chairman of the Church Boards of Trustees/Education.


Joseph Smith

The concept that the Church of Christ would have a single presiding officer arose in late 1831. Initially, after the church's formation on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith referred to himself as "an apostle of Jesus Christ, and elder of the church."[1] However, there was another apostleOliver Cowdery—and several other elders of the church, making the formal hierarchy of the church unclear.

In September 1830, after Hiram Page claimed to have received revelations for the church, a revelation to Smith stated that "no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses."[2] This established Smith's exclusive right to lead the church.

In early June 1831,[lower-alpha 1] Smith was ordained to the "high priesthood",[lower-alpha 2][lower-alpha 3] along with twenty-two other men, including prominent figures in the church such as Hyrum Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and Martin Harris.[3][4] As "high priests", these men were higher in the priesthood hierarchy than the elders of the church. However, it was still unclear whether Smith's and Cowdery's callings as apostles gave them superior authority to that of other high priests.

On November 11, 1831, a revelation to Smith stated that "it must needs be that one be appointed of the high priesthood to preside over the Priesthood and he shall be called President of the high priesthood of the Church ... and again the duty of the President of the high priesthood is to preside over the whole church."[5] Smith was ordained to this position and sustained by the church on January 25, 1832, at a conference in Amherst, Ohio.[4][6]

In 1835, the "Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ" were revised, changing the phrase "an ... elder of the church" to "the first elder of this Church."[7] Thus, subsequent to 1835, Smith was sometimes referred to as the "First Elder" of the church. The 1835 revision also added a verse referring to the office of "president of the high priesthood (or presiding elder)",[8] which had since been added to the church hierarchy.

Succession crisis

In 1844, while in jail awaiting trial for treason charges, Joseph Smith was killed by an armed mob. Hyrum Smith, his presumed successor, was killed in the same incident. Smith had not indisputably established who was next in line as successor to President of the Church. Several claimants to the role of church president emerged during the succession crisis that ensued.

Before a large meeting convened to discuss the succession in Nauvoo, Illinois, Sidney Rigdon, the senior surviving member of the church's First Presidency, argued there could be no successor to the deceased prophet and that he should be made the "Protector" of the church.[9] Brigham Young opposed this reasoning and motion as Smith had earlier recorded a revelation which stated the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was "equal in authority and power" to the First Presidency,[10] so Young claimed that the leadership of the church fell to the Twelve Apostles.[11] The majority in attendance were persuaded that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles should lead the church and Young was sustained as "the president of the quorum of the Twelve and first presidency of the church", thereby assuming leadership of the church.[12] Young would not be ordained President of the Church until December 1847, more than two and a half years after Smith's death.

LDS Church president


Thomas S. Monson is the 16th and current President of the LDS Church. As president, Monson is considered by adherents of the religion to be a "prophet, seer, and revelator" of God's will on earth. A printer by trade, Monson has spent most of his life engaged in various church leadership positions and in public service.

Monson was ordained an apostle at age 36, served in the First Presidency under three church presidents, and was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from March 12, 1995 until he became President of the Church.[13] He succeeded Gordon B. Hinckley as church president on February 3, 2008.[14]

Succession to the presidency

In the LDS Church, when a president of the church dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the members of the First Presidency who were formerly members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles rejoin it. The Quorum of the Twelve—which may number greater than twelve with the returning members from the First Presidency—then becomes the presiding council of the church, with the senior apostle as its president.[lower-alpha 4] The President of the Quorum of the Twelve becomes the highest-ranking official in the church, and has always become the next church president.[15] However, this appointment is only made official when the Quorum of the Twelve meets and selects the next president of the church.

Since the late-19th century, the Quorum of the Twelve has moved quickly to reconstitute the First Presidency within days or weeks of the late church president's death. However, Brigham Young presided over the church for three years as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve before the First Presidency was reconstituted after the death of Joseph Smith. The tradition of waiting for two to three years before selecting a new president continued until the 1898 death of the fourth president of the church, Wilford Woodruff. Since that time, the surviving apostles have typically met in the Salt Lake Temple on the Sunday following the late president's funeral, to select and set apart the next president of the church.[lower-alpha 5] At the next regularly scheduled general conference, the membership of the church have the opportunity of sustaining their new leader by common consent, at a special conference session referred to as a "solemn assembly."

Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is important, as the senior apostle presides over the quorum and becomes the president of the church upon the current president's passing. Specific rules have been applied to unusual situations that have arisen over time, including when a member is removed from the quorum by disfellowshipment or excommunication and is later restored to the quorum. It was decided that in these cases, the removed apostle loses his seniority in the quorum.[lower-alpha 6] Later, whether or not an apostle was a member of the quorum and when the apostle was added as a member of the quorum became an important factor.[lower-alpha 7][lower-alpha 8]

If the President of the Quorum of the Twelve has been called to be a counselor in the First Presidency, the most senior apostle not called to the First Presidency is set apart and referred to as the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At the death of the president of the church, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve retains his position in the quorum's membership and the President of the Quorum of the Twelve takes his role as president of the quorum.

Establishing doctrine, infallibility, and opinion

Further information: Revelation (Latter Day Saints)

When the church president is speaking in his official capacity, his words are not considered "infallible".[19] Members of the church are considered not fully justified in their actions if they "blindly" follow the president.[20][21] The church has counseled its members that they should reject statements that contradict what is found in church scriptures, "regardless of the position of the man who says it".[22] Instructions given, or positions taken, by the president of the church can be changed by a future president of the church; due to the Latter-day Saint belief in "continuing revelation", it is accepted that a church president will occasionally revise or clarify instructions of past church presidents. One apostle of the church counseled to "beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence."[23]

Not everything the prophet says is considered to be doctrine. Joseph Smith taught "a prophet is a prophet only when he was acting as such."[24] When the church president declares new doctrine, "he will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church."[25] If the doctrine is not accepted by the church as the word of God, members are not bound by the doctrine,[26] even if it comes from the President of the Church.[27]

When the president of the church speaks, it is not always in his official capacity. At these times, the president may offer opinion and conjecture about topics which may or may not be church doctrine or inspired by God. It may be difficult to know when the president of the church is speaking in his capacity as such and when he is offering personal opinion. Most Latter-day Saints assume that statements made by the president in sermons at a church general conference or other formal church meeting would constitute statements made in the capacity of church president. However, even then, the president may explicitly indicate that he is only expressing a personal opinion.[28] However, because of the accepted principle that a prophet's teachings need not include the declaration "thus saith the Lord" to be considered binding, individual members of the church may feel cultural pressure to follow suggestions from the president of the church just as if they were commandments.[29][23]

Presidents of the church have taught that God will never allow the president to lead the Latter-day Saints astray and that God will "remove" any man who stands at the head of the church who intends to mislead its members.[30] This is not a statement of belief that they are "infallible",[31] but that their errors will not result in "the permanent injury of the work."[32][33][34] Thus, the current prophet can clarify, correct or change any previous teachings.[23]

Counselors to the President

Current counselors in the
First Presidency
Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor

When a new president of the church is selected, he chooses counselors to assist him. Most presidents have had a minimum of two counselors, but circumstances have occasionally required more than two.[lower-alpha 9] Counselors are usually chosen from among the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, although there have been a number of exceptions where members of the church's Presiding Bishopric or persons from the church at large were called to be counselors. Any high priest of the church is eligible to be called as a counselor in the First Presidency. There have also been a few cases where counselors have been ordained to the priesthood office of apostle and became members of the Quorum of the Twelve after already being chosen as counselors in the First Presidency.[lower-alpha 10] There have been other cases where counselors have been ordained to the office of apostle but not set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.[lower-alpha 11] Other counselors in the First Presidency were never ordained to the office of apostle.[lower-alpha 12] Whether or not a counselor in the First Presidency is an ordained apostle, he is accepted by the church as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

Counselors are designated "First Counselor in the First Presidency" and "Second Counselor in the First Presidency" based on the order they were selected by the president. Additional counselors have been designated in different ways, including "Third Counselor in the First Presidency",[lower-alpha 13] "Assistant Counselor to the President",[lower-alpha 14] and simply "Counselor in the First Presidency".[lower-alpha 15] The president and all his counselors constitute the First Presidency, which is the presiding quorum of the church. The next senior apostle to the president of the church is set apart by the president to be the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.


Though there has never been a popular movement in the church to have a president removed or punished, he could theoretically be removed from his position or otherwise disciplined by the Common Council of the Church.[35] The only president of the church brought before the Common Council was Joseph Smith, who was tried for charges made against him by Sylvester Smith after the return of Zion's Camp in 1834.[36] The Council determined that Joseph Smith had "acted in every respect in an honorable and proper manner with all monies and properties entrusted to his charge."[37]

See also


  1. Different accounts of this meeting give the date as June 3, 4, or 6. Bushman considers June 3 to be the "best guess" for the date.
  2. Note that in the Minute Book 2 entry, Smith first ordains Lyman Wight and four other men "to the high priesthood", and Wight in turn ordains eighteen other men, including Smith, "to the high priesthood".[3]
  3. Compare this with the Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood, where Smith first baptizes Oliver Cowdery, and is then in turn baptized by Cowdery.
  4. Seniority is determined by elapsed time since joining the Quorum, not by age.
  5. e.g., as was done in 1973, and described in detail by N. Eldon Tanner to BYU students in 1978[16][17]
  6. e.g., Brigham Young decided that John Taylor was to be President of the Twelve and Wilford Woodruff follow him in seniority due to the readmission to the quorum of Orson Hyde, who had been disfellowshipped in 1846, and Orson Pratt, who had been excommunicated in 1842. Young ruled in 1875 that when Hyde and Pratt rejoined the quorum, they became the newest junior members of the quorum and their previous service was not considered when calculating quorum seniority.
  7. e.g., following the death of Lorenzo Snow, John Willard Young (ordained 1855, never in the quorum) became the senior apostle, and Brigham Young, Jr. (ordained 1864, added to the quorum 1868) the senior apostle serving in the quorum. However, on April 5, 1900, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve unanimously decided that the date an individual became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve was the relevant date for succession purposes, not the date an individual was ordained as an apostle.[18] Thus, Joseph F. Smith (ordained apostle 1866, added to the quorum 1867) became president of the church in 1901, because he was the living apostle who had become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at the earliest date.[18]
  8. In another instance, Ezra Taft Benson left active status in the quorum for a time when he was serving as the United States Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower administration. In this case, however, Benson did not lose seniority in the quorum and he became the president of the church upon the passing of Spencer W. Kimball.
  9. e.g., David O. McKay had five counselors during the final years of his presidency and at one point Brigham Young had eight.
  10. e.g., J. Reuben Clark
  11. e.g., Alvin R. Dyer
  12. e.g., Charles W. Nibley; John R. Winder
  13. e.g., Hugh B. Brown
  14. e.g., John Willard Young
  15. e.g., Thorpe B. Isaacson


  1. "Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ", June 9, 1830; see also: Doctrine and Covenents 20:2
  2. Doctrine and Covenants 28:2,6-7
  3. 1 2 "3 June 1831". [Minute Book 2]. pp. 3–4.
  4. 1 2 Bushman, Richard Lyman (2007). Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 156–157, 202, and 595. ISBN 978-1-4000-7753-3.
  5. Doctrine and Covenants 107:64-65,91-92
  6. "Prophet Seer, and Revelator: Like Unto Moses". Joseph Smith: Life of the Prophet. LDS Church. 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-25.
  7. Doctrine and Covenants 20:2
  8. Doctrine and Covenants 20:67
  9. Roberts, B. H. (ed.), "XVIII", History of the Church, 7
  10. Doctrine and Covenants 107:23-24
  11. Roberts, B. H. (ed.), "XIX", History of the Church, 7
  12. Times and Seasons, 5 [1 November 1844]: 692
  13. "President Thomas S. Monson". LDS Church. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  14. "Thomas S. Monson Named 16th Church President". LDS Newsroom. LDS Church. 2008-02-04. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  15. Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake, "'The Kingdom of God Will Roll On': Succession in the Presidency", Ensign, August 1996, p. 22.
  16. N. Eldon Tanner, "Administration of the Restored Church", Tambuli, September 1978, p. 2.
  17. "Succession in the Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints",
  18. 1 2 Compton, Todd, "John Willard Young, Brigham Young, and the Development of Presidential Succession in the LDS Church", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35.4 (winter 2002): 111–34 at pp. 12829.
  19. Dalton, Lucinda (15 July 1882). "On Mormonism". BYU Special Collections. Woman's Exponent. p. 31. Retrieved 21 January 2016. We consider God, and him alone, infallible; therefore his revealed word to us cannot be doubted, though we may be in doubt some times about the knowledge which we obtain from human sources, and occasionally be obliged to admit that something which we had considered to be a fact, was really only a theory.
  20. Brigham Young taught, "the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord." As quoted in Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 541; See Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book., 1941) p. 135; 64-04, pp. 162–63.
  21. Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places, pp. 162–63, "The Prophet, Seer, and Revelator," Address delivered to seminary and institute teachers, BYU, 8 July 1964.
  22. "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven",
  23. 1 2 3 Ezra Taft Benson, "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet", 26 February 1980.
  24. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:265.
  25. Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, 24–26 August 1973, with Reports and Discourses, 69. OCLC 59671066 ASIN B0017RUZQE.
    "[N]o member of the Church has the right to publish any doctrines, as the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, without first submitting them for examination and approval to the First Presidency and the Twelve" (Proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, dated 21 October 1865, re: The Seer. Printed in Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 2, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965), 238–39).
  26. "The rule in that respect is—What God has spoken, and what has been accepted by the Church as the word of God, by that, and that only, are we bound in doctrine.": B. H. Roberts, Deseret News (23 July 1921) section 4:7.
  27. Harold B. Lee taught that "if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them 'standard'—it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it." (Harold B. Lee, "The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator," Address to Seminary and Institute of Religion Faculty, BYU, 8 July 1964).
  28. See, e.g., Gordon B. Hinckley, "War and Peace", Ensign, May 2003, p. 78, where church president Hinckley indicated that he was expressing his "personal feelings" and "personal loyalties" on the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
  29. Boyd K. Packer, "The Unwritten Order of Things".
  30. Wilford Woodruff, Doctrine and Covenants ""Official Declaration 1".
  31. "The position is not assumed that the men of the New Dispensation—its prophets, apostles, presidencies, and other leaders—are without faults or infallible, rather they are treated as men of like passions with their fellow men." (James R. Clark, quoting B. H. Roberts, Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 4, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1970), p. xiv–xv.).
  32. Boyd K. Packer, "I Say unto You, Be One," in BYU Devotional and Fireside Speeches, 1990–1991 (Provo, Utah: University Publications, 1991) p. 84.
  33. "With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their own problems without inspiration in many instances." Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966) p. 608.
  34. "Revelations from God ... are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit." Dallin H. Oaks, "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit," Ensign, March 1997, p. 14.
  35. Doctrine and Covenants 107:82-84
  36. Joseph Fielding Smith (1953). Church History and Modern Revelation (Salt Lake City: Council of the Twelve Apostles) 2:21.
  37. History of the Church 2:143.
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