Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Principle of Succession in the Church

Last night, my family got together at our favorite Thai restaurant to celebrate Kirk, Adam, Michelle, and my dad's birthdays. Brett & Lisa had watched President Hinckley's funeral, and they were sharing the experience with us. At some point, the conversation turned to the principle of succession in the church, with the two main viewpoints being as follows:

1- The most senior Apostle AUTOMATICALLY becomes the next president of the church. This happens as soon as the previous President dies and the 1st Presidency is dissolved.

2- The most senior Apostle has traditionally always become the next president of the church; however, there is no actual procedure or doctrine. The order of succession is more of a tradition; the Quorum receives revelation from the Lord for who should be the next President.

The discussion became pretty intense because each person was confident of his or her convictions. Finally, the discussion came to more or less of a standstill, and Kirk and Skye started talking about the SuperBowl.

As soon as I had a chance at home, I hopped on to to see what I could find out. Although I could provide no documentation, I had always thought the succession was automatic. I wasn't sure, though, when the new President was to receive the mantle and everything would be come official. My curiosity lead me to this article from a 1996 Ensign.

The whole thing was pretty interesting, but here are some of the more pertinent parts:

2. Seniority: a governing principle of presidency. The factor that determines who presides among the Twelve and who may actively exercise all the keys of the kingdom at the death of the President of the Church is the principle of seniority. In 1835, when the first Quorum of the Twelve was called, seniority was arranged by age. Since then, seniority has been determined by the date of ordination into the Quorum of the Twelve.

"The matter of seniority is basic in the first quorums of the Church," President Spencer W. Kimball explained. "All the apostles understand this perfectly, and all well-trained members of the Church are conversant with this perfect succession program."

In addition to determining presidency, the principles of seniority provide rich, practical blessings in Church administration—wisdom, knowledge, and inspiration that have been acquired and tempered through plentiful experience. The omniscience of the Lord is always manifest in the preparation of his chosen prophets through their many assignments and responsibilities in the Twelve.

"This is a wise procedure," Elder John A. Widtsoe said. "It places at the head of the Church the apostle who has been longest in service. He is known well to the people and trusted by them. He himself knows the procedure of Church affairs. He is no novice to be trained for the position."

3. At the President's death there is no First Presidency over the Twelve. Following the principles taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith, when the President of the Church dies, the quorum of the First Presidency is automatically dissolved and the counselors, if they previously had been in the Quorum of the Twelve, return to their respective places of seniority in that quorum. The senior Apostle, as President of the Twelve, automatically, by virtue of that seniority, becomes the "Presiding High Priest" of the Church and, as such, actively holds and exercises all the keys of the kingdom and "preside[s] over the whole church" (see D&C 107:65–66, 91). "Equal in authority" to the First Presidency, this presiding quorum of Twelve Apostles is as much a Presidency of the Church as the First Presidency is when it is fully organized and operative (see D&C 107:23–24). Likewise, the President of the Twelve at that time is as much the President of the Church in function and authority as when he becomes sustained as such in a newly organized First Presidency.

"There is no mystery about the choosing of the successor to the President of the Church," President Joseph Fielding Smith confirmed. "The Lord settled this a long time ago, and the senior apostle automatically becomes the presiding officer of the Church, and he is so sustained by the Council of the Twelve which becomes the presiding body of the Church when there is no First Presidency."

This article helped to answer some of my questions, but I'm still interested in the subject. If you are aware of other articles, quotes, or books about this principle, let me know.


Anonymous said...

Andrea, Thanks for the comprehensive dossier on succession. Seemed like I understood it at one point inn time (my mission), but with the 20 million different explanations floating around over the last week, I found myself confused once again. This was great.