Not long ago, a young mother whom I know well told me that she was greatly disturbed by something a member of the Quorum of the Twelve had said. This young woman loves the Church and the Lord, but she was upset. She didn’t like what this Apostle had said, all while being upset at herself for being upset, and she was wrestling to reconcile her feelings. Her concerns led to quite a discussion.
As we talked, the conversation predictably turned to the issue of following prophets. “Sheri,” she said, “some of my friends—in fact, quite a few of my friends—say prophets have made mistakes in the past and so we should assume they are making mistakes today. I have heard those comments so often that I don’t know what to believe anymore. What do you believe? Do you think prophets are infallible?”
If infallible means perfect, then no, prophets are not perfect. Only one perfect Being walked this earth, and that person was Jesus Christ. . . .
Prophets, seers, and revelators are dealing with the normal pressures, proclivities, and vicissitudes of mortality. They too are trying to overcome the natural man through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. They are no doubt much further along the covenant path than most of the rest of us, but they are still on the path—which means they too are continuing to learn and grow. . . .
Some may wonder about various Church policies that have changed over time. Were the earlier policies wrong? I don’t know. But it seems just as likely—if not more so—that changes in policy reflect the maturing of the Church itself, not to mention its members. . . .
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If prophets, seers, and revelators are fallible, just as we are, why then should we trust them to lead us? Because they are the least fallible leaders on earth. In addition to the priesthood keys they hold, the unique organizational structure of the Church protects us as members. When a man is ordained as an Apostle, he receives all of the restored keys of the priesthood that the Lord presently allows to be exercised on the earth. Priesthood keys are what distinguish an Apostle from any other leader, or any other person, on earth. They make it possible for him to see around corners. . . .
Following prophets makes sense because, when it comes to leaders and exemplars, they are without peer. They may not be perfect, but they are perfectly consecrated. No leaders on earth come closer to perfection in terms of their motives and the counsel they provide for navigating perilous times. . . .
Thus, the question about whether prophets are infallible or not is perhaps not the most compelling question for those desiring to understand who prophets are. . . . Let us consider six questions about prophets, seers, and revelators that, taken together, provide insight into who they are, what their divine mandate entails, and the unique ways they are able to help us.
QUESTION 1: Who, exactly, are prophets, seers, and revelators?
ANSWER: They are ordained Apostles called as “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world.”1 Their charge is to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”2 They are “living witnesses” of the Savior’s “divine mission.”3 As was said of John, they are not the Light but are sent to “bear witness of that Light.”4 Prophets always testify of Jesus Christ. . . .
The Lord controls who is ordained an Apostle. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you,” Jesus told the original Twelve.5 There is no electioneering or campaigning. Only the President of the Church is authorized to appoint a new Apostle, and he does so as the Lord directs him. The Lord then controls through life and death which Apostles live long enough to become the senior Apostle. . . .
Prophets, seers, and revelators are prepared, called, guided, tutored, mentored, and directed by the Lord, who is the Head of the Church.
QUESTION 2: Is there anyone you would trust to give you better, more inspired advice—meaning counsel unaffected by personal agenda—than members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?
ANSWER: Can you identify any journalist, talk-show host, celebrity, politician, or athlete whose counsel and advice you feel is more sound and informed than that of the fifteen men ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators? How about any entrepreneur, billionaire, professor, scholar, theologian, university president, or think-tank expert? Or the winner of the Nobel Prize, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, or the Pulitzer Prize? Or any blogger, podcaster, YouTube celebrity, or star of stage, screen, Hulu, or Netflix?
I have tried to identify someone who would fit this description, and I simply cannot. Throughout my life, I have rubbed shoulders with very influential and celebrated leaders, CEOs, scholars, writers, journalists, diplomats, and politicians. Further, my job requires me to consume a lot of content—everything from books, magazines, podcasts, movies, and news to a steady flow of posts and tweets on various social media platforms—and I have my preferred authors, commentators, and “experts” on any number of issues. But I cannot think of anyone I would listen to instead or ahead of the living prophet and the fourteen other men also ordained as prophets, seers, and revelators. . . .
No other influencers can see what seers can see or do what seers can do. No other influencers have access to the power of God in the way that a seer does. Even those the world has elevated to positions of power do not have the spiritual capacity, foresight, and discernment of seers, through whom “God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles.”6
Seers look outward, to help those they serve. Influencers tend to look inward, meaning their aim is to attract followers. Even the most principled “experts” want something from us: our vote, our business, our money, or some kind of support. They all have personal agendas.
Prophets of God do not. . . . An Apostle’s only agenda is the Lord’s agenda—which is to help as many as possible find, choose to enter, and then stay on the covenant path. . . .
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QUESTION 3: What leaders are more trustworthy than prophets?
ANSWER: One of today’s biggest crises is that too many people do not know where to look for truth. . . . Whether the question at hand concerns COVID or any other compelling issue, it can be difficult to know what is true. Authorities on every conceivable topic are instantly available online. And unfortunately, in an effort to attract audiences and followers, too many leaders and influencers resort to a tactic the Book of Mormon warns us about repeatedly—flattery. . . .
Flattery means telling people—whether they be constituencies or family and friends—what they want to hear. And it is one of the most seductive ways to gain followers.
Look at any anti-Christ in the Book of Mormon, or, for that matter, any people seeking followers for themselves. In every case, such a person is a master of flattery. . . .
Politicians use flattery to get your vote. Companies use it to sell you things you don’t need. Influencers use it to get you to support them and their agenda. No doubt flattery helped create the mists of darkness Lehi saw in his vision of the Tree of Life.7 Beware of those who tell you what you want to hear. Scrutinize their motives.
Prophets, on the other hand, rarely mince words. They teach truth, even when it is not popular. President Ezra Taft Benson often began messages with, “I am not here to tickle your ears.”8 . . .
Those who use flattery want something from us—our money, our vote, our business, our loyalty, even our friendship. They want us to like them and support their agenda. . . .
The two surefire antidotes to flattery are the gift of the Holy Ghost and living prophets. “The Holy Ghost,” said Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “not only helps us recognize plain truth but plain nonsense!”9 The same can be said of prophets. Their words cut through and dissect the countless philosophies promoted online and elsewhere—regardless of how persuasive they may seem—and identify what is true and what is not. Prophets teach us how to build our lives “not after the manner of men.”10 The Holy Ghost and living prophets are the best protection against latter-day flattery. They are the most trustworthy sources of information and inspiration for our day.
QUESTION 4: Are there any other positions of high influence in the world that are devoid of electioneering, campaigning, self-promotion, bias, ladder-climbing, and the influence of other men and women?
ANSWER: It is difficult to find any other leaders whose appointments have not been influenced by voting, aspiration, personal preference, or lobbying.
In stark contrast, only one person on earth has the authority to call an Apostle—the President of the Church. And he is under a mandate to receive direction from the Lord Jesus Christ about who is to be called. As a result, those called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles uniformly express surprise about their calls as well as deep feelings of inadequacy. . . .
It is reassuring to know that those called to the highest, holiest offices in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not seek or expect the position but are willing to answer the Lord’s call to serve.
QUESTION 5: Do you know fifteen smarter men who care about you more and who have purer motives?
ANSWER: Have you ever looked at the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sitting on the stand at general conference and wondered why they do what they do? In today’s vernacular, What’s in it for them?
It isn’t money, popularity, comfort, fame, or ease. For decades beyond retirement age, these leaders board airplanes and fly around the world to the most remote locations for one reason: they have “none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of [our] souls.”11 Laying down one’s nets and giving all to follow the Lord Jesus Christ exacts a heavy price—from both the Apostles and their families. . . .
Apostles are under divine mandate to teach truth, even when truth is unpopular or politically incorrect. Though they are often pressured by critics and self-appointed “watchdogs” to change the Lord’s doctrine to make it more palatable to the masses today, the doctrine does not belong to them and is not theirs to change. They are often accused of being out of touch, but it would be difficult to find any group of leaders anywhere who are more in touch with the realities and complexities of life. . . .
Prophets, seers, and revelators have but one motive: to teach and testify that the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed once again on the earth, that it is filled with godly power, and that it will help all who listen find and stay on a covenant path designed to eventually return us to the presence of our Heavenly Father. . . .
Prophets, seers, and revelators do all that they do for the Lord, for the Church, and for us. It is not for personal gain. I know of no leaders whose motives are more untainted by the pressures of the world.
QUESTION 6: Are there any other leaders of whom the Holy Ghost unfailingly bears witness?
ANSWER: I have been in the presence of prophets many times as they have ministered to the Saints around the world. . . . I’ve been in stake centers bursting at the seams with all who could squeeze into the building as well as smaller gatherings of missionaries in remote locations, all waiting eagerly to hear from the President of the Church.
The setting and size of the audience does not matter. The same thing always happens. When the President of the Church enters the room or arena, a profound spiritual presence sweeps across the congregation. Tears flow. And the Spirit testifies of the reality of a prophet. This happens every time. . . .
Why do dignitaries from around the world, including distinguished religious leaders in their own right, feel drawn to prophets, seers, and revelators? Why is it that we feel something unique when they speak or walk into the room?
It is because they are not like any other leaders on earth, and the Holy Ghost is eager to bear witness of those who hold keys. It is the presence of all restored keys, vested in prophets, of which the Spirit bears witness so profoundly when a prophet enters the room.
Thankfully, we do not have to be in the actual presence of a prophet to gain a spiritual witness of his divine mantle. Those who desire to know if fifteen prophets walk the earth, and who pray with “real intent,”12 can know for themselves that this is true.
This knowledge is vital because prophets, seers, and revelators help us in ways no other leaders on earth can. Because of their unique ordination and the spiritual privileges that accompany the priesthood keys they hold, prophets seers, and revelators are the most dependable source of truth on earth.
1. Doctrine and Covenants 107:23.
2. Mark 16:15.
3. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (Deseret Book, 1939), 177–78.
4. John 1:8.
5. John 15:16.
6. Mosiah 8:18.
7. See 1 Nephi 8:23-24.
8. See Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (Deseret Book, 1987), 399.
9. Neal A. Maxwell, “Behold, the Enemy Is Combined,” Ensign, May 1993.
10. 1 Nephi 18:2.
11. 2 Nephi 2:30.
12. Moroni 7:9.
Experience more stories of prophetic wisdom and foresight by reading the full text for Prophets See around Corners.