I was asked this question:
“If the first presidency and the twelve really operate much like the lay members do, how then do you reconcile the MEANING of the words: Prophet; Seer; and Revelator. Aren’t these gifts unusual and set apart for the highest positions of the church? Wouldn’t one necessarily receive visions and dreams to qualify as a Prophet, Seer, or Revelator? How else would one SEE into the past, or the future, let alone clearly understanding the present? How do you reconcile the current revelatory state of the leadership with the meaning of the words, prophet, seer, and revelator?”
Inside the Church the current interpretation is that the “office” has associated with it a “title” set out in scripture. The “office” of the President of the High Priesthood (D&C 107: 65-66) , who is the President of the Church, also bears the “title” of “prophet, seer and revelator.” (D&C 107: 91-92.) The current interpretation of these verses is that the possessor of the office is entitled to the title of “prophet, seer and revelator” by virtue of office alone. Therefore, nothing more is needed in current church usage other than possession of the office, which alone gives the possessor of the office the title accorded to the office. So, no, our current terminology does not require something other than office.
It is possible to read the words of the verses differently, of course. First, the words we have adopted as they appear in scripture are not actually “prophet, seer and revelator” but are instead: “a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet.” Those are different words and include in the phrase “a translator” in addition to “seer, revelator and a prophet.” We have dropped the word “translator” from the title we now use.
Second, it is possible that the following words may be viewed to mean something different than the way we currently read them, “to be like unto Moses— Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet,” (D&C 107: 91-92). They could be read to mean that before you fill the office of President of the High Priesthood you must first locate “a seer” who is also, by definition, “a revelator” and “a translator” who is undoubtedly therefore “a prophet” and, having found such a person, you are to sustain him into the office. The office doesn’t make the man, but the Lord makes a man into such an instrument, and having done so then the church is to put him into the office. There are of course those who have these gifts. Many of them have no church office involving priesthood, because they are female. They may possess gifts, but they are disqualified for office. Then there are men who possess such gifts, but they may be living in South America, serving in a small branch, and completely unnoticed by the leadership, and therefore, never called.
The problem with the second point is that it invites near chaos. You would have dozens, hundreds or perhaps thousands of people who would step forward and make the claim that they are entitled to the office. Ambitious men who are either deceived or, worse still, cunning and dishonest, would seek to gain the office to further their ambitions. Such a parade of the deluded or the dishonest would be foisted upon the Saints every time the President died. Therefore, no matter how much merit you may think the second interpretation holds, it would be far more problematic to implement than the current interpretation and method.
The advantage of the current system is that the man who fills the vacancy is distinguished by how long he has held the church’s office of Apostle. Generally that means an elderly man, often suffering from the decline of advanced years and poor health. That means you are likely to have a man whose ambitions and exuberance are tempered by the maturity of age and the wisdom that comes from long life’s experience. It gives stability to the decision, as well as the person chosen.
If the second approach were to be adopted, then the choice would need to be made by the serving President before he left office (died), by making the choice of his successor as part of his official service. This is the method that the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith. (D&C 43: 3-4.) Joseph attempted this, but the one he chose to succeed him died with him (his brother Hyrum). So the office was left vacant and we had to sort it out.
There is another method that we haven’t tried, so far as I know. That would be to use “lots” to choose from every male in the church. This method was used to fill Judas’ vacancy in the original Twelve in Jerusalem. (Acts 1: 21-26.) The description there is ambiguous, but was intended to be random, unpredictable and not just a vote. It was a recognized way to choose someone. (See, e.g., 1 Ne. 3: 11.) It has been used to sort through the entire nation of Israel when all twelve tribes were assembled. Someone had stolen an idol, resulting in the withdrawal of the Lord’s Spirit from them in battle. The result was defeat for Israel and the death of many men. They needed to find the one who committed the offense. So they had to choose from the entire gathering of all twelve tribes. Beginning at the tribe level, they sorted through to find the right tribe (Judah). Then proceeded to sort through the tribe to locate the larger family involved (Zarhites). Then went through the family to find the individual involved (Achan). The whole thing is in the scriptures. (Joshua 7: 13-23.)
Such a system was uncontrolled by man, done by lot, completely random, but produced the right person. Left to God, it obtained God’s answer. Did with the sons of Lehi, and with the vacancy in the Twelve in the Book of Acts, too. There is no reason why such a system wouldn’t generate the Lord’s choice today.
If the President died without a successor having been designated, then random choosing using a lot system would put the choice in the Lord’s hands. But I suppose we don’t have the stomach to try it, particularly when we already have a system that seems to work for us.
Your question raises the issue of “authority” or office on the one hand, and “power” or gifts of the Spirit on the other hand. You should read President Packer’s talk in last General Conference for a recent statement by a respected church leader on that subject. I think I’ve commented on that talk enough already. As I re-read it this week I was again stirred by President Packer’s sagacity. I believe he is being candid, honest and giving the Saints the absolute best advice and counsel he can at this time.
Interesting subject. Something worth contemplating. Perhaps there will come a time when we are able to implement the system in D&C 43. Or when we put the Lord’s hand to work by using lots to choose a President. Though I do not expect to see any change made during my life.