(Eric Davis – The Cripplegate) Yesterday, a new prophet of the 16-million-member Mormon church was announced. Ninety-three-year-old Russell Nelson will now serve as the 17th prophet and president of the LDS faith. Nelson was set apart and ordained for the position on Sunday, January 14th, at the Salt Lake City temple. The announcement came in a live-streamed broadcast from the temple yesterday morning. Joined by newly selected First Counselor, Dallin Oaks, and Second Counselor Henry Eyring, Nelson gave a short address followed by questions from various individuals from the press. In his earlier days, Nelson was an accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon, having helped pioneer various advances in the field. He then has served as a Mormon apostle since 1984.
For those less familiar with the process, this brings up a few questions: What is the position of prophet in Mormonism? What is the history behind the position? How is a new prophet chosen? And how does this line up with the 66 books of Scripture?
What is the position of prophet in Mormonism?
The prophet of the LDS faith is considered the head of the true church; that which was established by Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism, is considered to have become the first prophet of the faith in 1830. Smith taught that Mormonism is a restoration of the true church, which had fallen into apostasy long ago. The office of prophet continues within Mormonism since Joseph Smith. The current prophet is also believed to be the President, Seer, Revelator, and Senior Apostle of the true church.
Mormonism’s prophet is similar to what the pope is to Roman Catholicism. Prophets are chosen from the Twelve LDS Apostles. The current prophet is considered to be chosen by God for the position and, as such, possesses the authority of God to direct, control, and govern the church. He is the only person on earth believed to have consent from God to exercise this authority, also known as the keys of the priesthood (LDS Church Handbook of Instruction, 2:2.1.1). As the church’s head, he is considered to receive direct revelation from God on various matters. Mormonism teaches that, “A growing church…spreading across the earth in these complex times needs constant revelation from the throne of heaven to guide it and move it forward.”
Recently, I had a long conversation with two separate Mormon missionaries. One taught that it would not be possible to enter heaven unless we are in subjection to the Mormon prophet. Further, unless an individual practices the ordinances in subjection to, and recognition of, the Mormon prophet, those ordinances are invalid. For example, to be baptized outside of the authority of the prophet would not be considered a legitimate baptism. This is consequential since baptism is essential to the process of salvation in Mormonism.