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Living Prophets

Latter-day Saints affirm that they are led by living prophets. That belief is an extension of the principles of continuing revelation and personal revelation. All who serve in the church, in all capacities and at all levels, from the local to the global, can receive revelation to guide them in their callings. When we sustain the First Presidency and the Twelve as "prophets, seers, and revelators," we express our trust—and our expectation—that they seek and receive inspiration as they teach and administer the church at the global level.

While the General Authorities, like other people, may have dramatic revelatory experiences at times, they make most of their decisions through a process of prayerful, reasoned discussion. We have faith that the Spirit works through that process. Still, it is always possible for leaders, like anyone else, to mistake their own convictions for inspiration. Understandings of prophetic authority that place church leaders' teachings or policies beyond critical scrutiny expose the church to the dangers of idolatry and unrighteous dominion. Clearly there is a need for order in church governance (D&C 28:13). At the same time, there is a need to recognize that prophets can be misled and that revelation also occurs outside institutional channels.

Joseph Smith taught that all who speak by the Spirit's inspiration are mouthpieces of God (D&C 68:4). In that sense, all people can be prophets—men, women, and children (Alma 32:23).

Prophetic Inspiration and Its Limitations

B. H. Roberts: Constant, never-varying inspiration is not a factor in the administration of the affairs even of the Church; not even good men, no, not though they be prophets or other high officials of the Church, are at all times and in all things inspired of God. It is only occasionally and at need that God comes to their aid.
Defense of the Faith and the Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1907), 1:525

B. H. Roberts: We have here an alleged revelation received by the Prophet, through the "Seer Stone," directing or allowing men to go on a mission to Canada, which fails of its purpose; namely, the sale of the copyright of the Book of Mormon in Canada. . . . The revelation respecting the Toronto journey was not of God, surely; else it would not have failed; but the Prophet, overwrought in his deep anxiety for the progress of the work, saw reflected in the "Seer Stone" his own thought, or that suggested to him by his brother Hyrum, rather than the thought of God. . . . [I]n this instance of the Toronto journey, Joseph was evidently not directed by the inspiration of the Lord.
A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930), 1:165

Gordon B. Hinckley: Any major questions of policy, procedures, programs, or doctrine are considered deliberately and prayerfully by the First Presidency and the Twelve together . . . , with every man having total freedom to express himself. . . . I have seen differences of opinion presented in these deliberations. Out of this very process of men speaking their minds has come a sifting and winnowing of ideas and concepts . . . —the coming together, under the directing influence of the Holy Spirit and under the power of revelation, of divergent views until there is total harmony and full agreement. Only then is implementation made. That, I testify, represents the spirit of revelation manifested again and again in directing this the Lord’s work.

“God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, May 1994, 53

Prophecy Outside the Hierarchy

Matthias F. Cowley: It is expected that every Latter-day Saint is a prophet of God . . . What did Moses say to those who sought his rebuke of some persons that had prophesied in Israel? Why, said he, "I would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets." We ought to be prophets, and we ought to seek the mind and will of the Lord on every subject.

Conference Report, October 1900, 19-20

Bruce R. McConkie: The true Church is or should be made up of prophets without number.

The Millennial Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 326

Todd Compton: Revelation can go upward through the hierarchy itself or come from non-hierarchical to hierarchical positions. Non-hierarchical revelation happens more frequently than we have often noticed. It is a necessary part of healthy decision-making. Non-hierarchical patterns can be found in the scriptures and church history. . . .[T]he story of Emma and the Word of Wisdom shows that inspired insight for the benefit of the church can come to non-hierarchical church members—including women.

"Non-Hierarchical Revelation," Women and Authority (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 185, 197

This website is an independent effort to discern the Spirit's voice in LDS teaching. The site is not sponsored by the LDS Church. Quotations from the teachings of any individual should not be taken to imply that the individual does or would endorse this website or other statements made here.