Monday, January 28, 2008

Succession of Prophetic Leadership in the Church, Work Beyond the Veil

I'm working on a Family Home Evening lesson on how things work when a prophet dies. First [edited] here is the Church's official explanation about this process (I had looked for this when I wrote the original post, but couldn't find it).

I also found this talk that I thought was interesting and helpful. (It was given around the time that Harold B. Lee passed away unexpectedly.) I thought it was worth sharing.

A few highlights follow:

Now, this is the pattern; this is the system. Succession in the presidency happens in an orderly and systematized way, because the Lord has conferred upon the members of the Council of the Twelve all of the keys and powers and authorities that have ever been held in any dispensation or any age of the past. Every key is given to each apostle who is set apart a member of the Council of the Twelve. But because keys are the right of presidency, they lie dormant, as it were, in each man unless and until he becomes the senior apostle and is thus in a position of presidency to direct the labors and the work of all others. Therefore succession occurs, as it were, automatically....

Speaking of the transition from the leadership of President Lee to President Kimball, Elder McConkie says:

It was not required, nor was it requisite or needed, that the Lord give any revelation, that any special direction be given. The law was already ordained and established. God does not look down each morning and say, "The sun shall rise." He has already established the law, he has set the sun in the firmament, and the sun operates in harmony with established law in its rising. And so it was with the transfer of leadership from President Lee to President Kimball.

When the President of the Church passes on, the First Presidency is disorganized, and the mantle of leadership--the reins of presidency--go to the senior man left and to the Council of the Twelve as a body; in effect the Council of the Twelve then becomes the First Presidency of the Church and so continues unless and until a formal reorganization takes place. These words I read to you from President Joseph F. Smith:

There is always a head in the Church, and if the presidency of the Church are removed by death or another cause, then the next head of the Church is the Twelve Apostles, until a presidency is again organized of three presiding high priests who have the right to hold the office of First Presidency over the Church; and, according to the doctrine laid down by President Wilford Woodruff, who saw the necessity for it, and that of President Lorenzo Snow, if the President should die, his counselors are then released from that presidency, and it is the duty of the Twelve Apostles to proceed at once, in the manner that has been pointed out, to see that the First Presidency is reorganized, so that there may be no deficiency in the working and order of the priesthood in the Church of God. [Conference Report, April 1913, pp. 4–5]

I love the conviction he communicates at the end of his talk:

The destiny of the Church is guaranteed and assured. The only problem that ever can arise is with individuals--whether individuals will walk in the light and do the things that they must do to be in harmony with the Church and to reap and inherit its blessings.

In doing a little more searching, I found a few thoughts from our beloved President Hinckley on the topic of prophetic succession. When he was second counselor to President Kimball, he spoke of this phenomenon:

None other can or will take his place for so long as he lives. When he passes, there will be another ready, a man who, through long years of experience and service, has been trained, has been tested, has been schooled and refined and prepared to fill that sacred and awesome responsibility.

I wonder if he comprehended then that he would someday carry that 'sacred and awesome responsibility' as prophet.

I was struck as I read President Hinckley's biography at how the Lord had been preparing him for this calling all of his life. Truly he was a prophet of God!

And yet, he knew as prophet that someday he would be called home. He spoke of this fairly recently as well, and it stuck with me. In the October 2006 General Conference, he said:

The Lord has permitted me to live [aren't we all so grateful for that?!?]; I do not know for how long. But whatever the time, I shall continue to give my best to the task at hand. It is not an easy thing to preside over this large, complex Church. Nothing escapes the attention of the First Presidency. No major decision, no expenditure of funds is made without their approval. The responsibility and stress are great.

But we shall carry on as long as the Lord wishes. As I said last April, we are in His hands. I feel well; my health is reasonably good. But when it is time for a successor, the transition will be smooth and according to the will of Him whose Church this is. And so, we go forward in faith....

There is much to reflect on here. Our lives are in the Lord's hands -- all of our lives! We can each take comfort in His personal care. Our days are known to the Lord.

The Church is in the Lord's hands as well. I take great comfort in the way the Lord has built in an order that will not leave us leaderless for one moment.

I also love to hear our leaders testify of how involved they are in the decisions made. "Nothing escapes the attention of the First Presidency. No major decision, no expenditure of funds is made without their approval."

One other concept that I love to ponder at times like this is how the work is rolling forth on both sides of the veil. Death really is not the end, although it carries with it some sorrow for the loss of those left behind. But still, I think we can take comfort in the doctrine of the continuation of life beyond the veil.

Elder McConkie said:

[W]e have no difficulty in accepting [the death of the prophet] and in understanding that he is going forward in the Lord's work in another sphere.

President Hinckley also made a statement about how those who pass on continue the work of the Lord, shortly after Elders Haight and Maxwell passed away.

As we open this great conference we note the absence of Elders David B. Haight and Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Each of them served long and very effectively. We mourn their passing. We greatly miss them. We extend our love to their dear ones. We are confident that they are carrying on this great work on the other side of the veil.

All of this is comforting, but also sobering, for who we become in this life will be who we are in the next. President Hinckley, in his typical clarity and candor said:

This life is a part of eternity. This is one stage of our eternal lives. When we die, we will go on to purposeful, active, challenging living. The life on the other side of the veil will be somewhat like the life here. If we have been clean and decent and good here, we will go on in that same spirit. If we have been rascals, we will go in that same spirit. I believe that. I believe in the eternity of life. It is as much a part of my belief as anything that I know of, that this is not the end, that there will be another life, that we will be accountable to God our Father and to our Lord Jesus Christ, that we will have work to do, and that sometime we will all participate in the resurrection. That is my hope, my faith, my testimony” (interview with Ignacio Carrión, El País newspaper, 7 Nov. 1997).

Finally, I loved this testimony from our dear President Hinckley:

I want to give you my testimony of this work, and I want to say it in such a way that you can remember that I said it. I know this work is true. I know that God our Eternal Father lives. I am thankful for the knowledge that He loves us as His children. I am grateful that I feel in my heart a great love for Him. I know He lives, my Father in Heaven. I can scarcely comprehend the wonder of it all. He who is the Creator and Governor of the universe knows me, knows you, each of you children here today. He knows you, He loves you, He is concerned for you. I know that Jesus is my Redeemer, my Lord, my Savior. I know that. I can’t comprehend the full meaning of the Atonement, but I know that through His sacrifice He has made it possible for you and for me to live eternal lives of growth and knowledge and understanding and work, regardless of whether it’s on this side of the veil or on the other side of the veil” (sacrament meeting, Promontory Branch, Tremonton Utah South Stake, 15 Oct. 1995).

There is much to ponder at times like this. I love this work, I love our leaders. I am grateful to know the Lord is at the helm of the Church and of our lives, if we will let Him be.

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