I have enormous respect for President Boyd K. Packer. To me he is one of the great lights in the church. I know he had a role in the excommunication of seven “intellectuals” years ago, and that controversy remains today. One of those affected was a fellow who attended law school at the same time as I did. I feel for both him and President Packer. I do not feel inclined to criticize him, nor have I. I do wish the breach between my friend and the church were healed.
President Packer has given many important talks in his career. Perhaps one of the most significant was given in the October, 1977 General Conference. In it he made the following explanation of his testimony and of the testimonies of General Authorities. He is speaking of the time when he was first interviewed to be called as a General Authority by President :
President McKay explained that one of the responsibilities of an Assistant to the Twelve was to stand with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as a special witness and to bear testimony that Jesus is the Christ. What he said next overwhelmed me: “Before we proceed to set you apart, I ask you to bear your testimony to us. We want to know if you have that witness.”
I did the best I could. I bore my testimony the same as I might have in a fast and testimony meeting in my ward. To my surprise, the Brethren of the Presidency seemed pleased and proceeded to confer the office upon me.
That puzzled me greatly, for I had supposed that someone called to such an office would have an unusual, different, and greatly enlarged testimony and spiritual power.
It puzzled me for a long time until finally I could see that I already had what was required: an abiding testimony in my heart of the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that we have a Heavenly Father, and that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. I may not have known all about it, but I did have a testimony, and I was willing to learn.
I was perhaps no different from those spoken of in the Book of Mormon: “And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9:20; emphasis added).
Over the years, I have come to see how powerfully important that simple testimony is. I have come to understand that our Heavenly Father is the Father of our spirits (see Numbers 16:22; Hebrews 12:9; D&C 93:29). He is a father with all the tender love of a father. Jesus said, “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God” (John 16:27).
Some years ago, I was with President Marion G. Romney, meeting with mission presidents and their wives in Geneva, Switzerland. He told them that 50 years before, as a missionary boy in Australia, late one afternoon he had gone to a library to study. When he walked out, it was night. He looked up into the starry sky, and it happened. The Spirit touched him, and a certain witness was born in his soul.
He told those mission presidents that he did not know any more surely then as a member of the First Presidency that God the Father lives; that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father; and that the fulness of the gospel had been restored than he did as a missionary boy 50 years before in Australia. He said that his testimony had changed in that it was much easier to get an answer from the Lord. The Lord’s presence was nearer, and he knew the Lord much better than he had 50 years before.
There is the natural tendency to look at those who are sustained to presiding positions, to consider them to be higher and of more value in the Church or to their families than an ordinary member. Somehow we feel they are worth more to the Lord than are we. It just does not work that way!
It would be very disappointing to my wife and to me if we supposed any one of our children would think that we think we are of more worth to the family or to the Church than they are, or to think that one calling in the Church was esteemed over another or that any calling would be thought to be less important.
Recently, one of our sons was sustained as ward mission leader. His wife told us how thrilled he was with the call. It fits the very heavy demands of his work. He has the missionary spirit and will find good use for his Spanish, which he has kept polished from his missionary days. We also were very, very pleased at his call.
What my son and his wife are doing with their little children transcends anything they could do in the Church or out. No service could be more important to the Lord than the devotion they give to one another and to their little children. And so it is with all our other children. The ultimate end of all activity in the Church centers in the home and the family.
As General Authorities of the Church, we are just the same as you are, and you are just the same as we are. You have the same access to the powers of revelation for your families and for your work and for your callings as we do.
It is also true that there is an order to things in the Church. When you are called to an office, you then receive revelation that belongs to that office that would not be given to others.
No member of the Church is esteemed by the Lord as more or less than any other. It just does not work that way! Remember, He is a father—our Father. The Lord is “no respecter of persons.”
We are not worth more to the onrolling of the Lord’s work than were Brother and Sister Toutai Paletu‘a in Nuku‘alofa, Tonga; or Brother and Sister Carlos Cifuentes in Santiago, Chile; or Brother and Sister Peter Dalebout in the Netherlands; or Brother and Sister Tatsui Sato of Japan; or hundreds of others I have met while traveling about the world. It just does not work that way.
And so the Church moves on. It is carried upon the shoulders of worthy members living ordinary lives among ordinary families, guided by the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ, which is in them.
I bear witness that the gospel is true and that the worth of souls is great in the sight of God—every soul—and that we are blessed to be members of the Church. I have the witness that would qualify me for the calling I have. I’ve had it since I met the First Presidency those many years ago. I bear it to you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
I believe President Packer means it when he says his testimony was “the same as I might have in a fast and testimony meeting in my ward.” When someone in a position of Church leadership has an audience with Christ, we hear about it. Joseph Smith told us. Oliver Cowdrey told us. Sidney Rigdon told us. So did President John Taylor, President Joseph F. Smith and David B. Haight. Their calling is to bear a witness of Him. When they have an actual audience, I believe they tell us.
The calling of the Twelve is to “bear witness” of Christ. (D&C 107: 23.) Because of that calling, they must proclaim they have a “witness” even if it could be more correctly described as a testimony born of the Spirit. I accept their “witness” of Christ and believe it is authoritative. However, I do not read into their testimony what they do not put there themselves.
I accept the “witness” of the living Apostles, although it is a rare exception when one has an audience with Christ. In recent talks Elder Scott has gone to some length to testify and describe his own spiritual experiences. I trust in them. I trust him. I believe him to be an Apostle. It is not necessary for an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have a personal audience with Christ.
Years ago Elder Mark Peterson said he did not think it possible for a gentile to receive an audience with Christ. He thought that was confined to pure-blooded Israelites. Since he was a gentile apostle to a gentile church, he did not believe it possible for him to receive such an audience. As I understand it, that is the general view among the brethren. The charge given by Elder Oliver Cowdrey to the Twelve (telling them they must receive an audience with Christ for their ordination to be complete) was discontinued in 1911 by President Smith. It was discontinued because so few had received that audience. But that does not make these men any less apostles.
I trust President Packer. I accept his testimony. I believe it is enough to qualify him for the work, just as President McKay told him. I am impressed with his humility in explaining his testimony in General Conference. It increases my trust in him as a servant of the Lord.