Latter-day Saints believe that God has an interest in talking to man, and does so through His prophets, whether ancient or modern. The Bible contains a record of God's dealings with prophets in the past, as do the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. Modern scripture, such as the Doctrine and Covenants, contains a record of God’s dealings with prophets in modern days.
As of January 2018, the current prophet is Russell M. Nelson.
What is a Prophet?
The title "prophet" is closely connected with the word "prophecy." Most people think of prophets as select individuals chosen to prophesy. Prophets do prophesy, but that is only one of their functions. In the Bible, there is a record of prophets raised up to ancient Israel. Prophets were called then, for the same reasons they are called today—to teach the commandments of God, to instruct people how to live those commandments, to call people to repent and improve, and to bear witness of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The witness they bear of Christ is a personal witness, born of personal experience with the Savior. Prophets were and are messengers, bringing God's will decreed in Heaven for people on earth. Prophets are teachers and expounders of heavenly truths. They receive those truths through close communion with the Lord.
A prophet is a revelator. He receives revelations from the Lord. These revelations have to do with the prophet's stewardship. An example of prophetic stewardship can be found in the ministry of John the Baptist. He was a revelator, called to serve as a forerunner to the ministering Christ, to lead people to Him. He received his knowledge of Christ mostly through revelation. He preached and served in a very small area of Judea, within the confines of his calling and stewardship. Later, the apostle Paul was given a stewardship to preach to the Gentiles. This he did, and he received a revelation, according to that realm of service. Much of what prophets teach is of a practical nature, geared to the current condition of the people they serve. This is why the world always needs prophets, and why God has chosen to send prophets to modern society. Said the ancient prophet Amos: "Surely the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).
A prophet is chosen by God as His authorized representative. The fifth Article of Faith says, "We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof." This authority is all-important. A man cannot call himself to the prophetic ministry.
A "seer" sees with spiritual eyes. Because he sees the meaning of God's message to mankind, whether the message comes from scripture or from personal revelation, he can clarify and interpret the message for mankind. A seer can prophesy; he can see into the future and into the past, if God wills it. Moses saw all of mankind: "And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:8 ). The president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a prophet, seer, and revelator.
When the Lord calls a prophet, he chooses a man who is already wise:
- Men are called to prophetic office because of their humility and their willingness to be in the hands of the Lord as clay in the hands of the potter. Yet a man called to the prophetic office is almost without exception of high native endowment, often with large experience in life, and possessed of wisdom and sound judgment. That is, the prophet, though but a man, is an able man" (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 257).
Book of Mormon Prophets
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ accept as holy scripture the Book of Mormon. This inspired record recounts God’s dealings with His covenant people in the Western hemisphere for about a thousand years, from approximately 600 BC to AD 400. The record describes the call, charge, and message of many prophets, all following the biblical model for messengers from God.
The concept of prophetic records being in a book other than the Bible is undoubtedly foreign to many Christians. Latter-day Saints believe that such a concept is consistent with Christianity, however, because God loves all His children, and it makes logical sense that He would select messengers (prophets) to minister to those children, as well. It is important that such selection would exhibit the same characteristics as the selection of prophets in the Bible—and members of the Church feel that such consistency is evident in the Book of Mormon.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah told of a future time in the history of the world when the words of prophets would "speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust" (Isaiah 29:4).
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is part of the fulfillment of this prophecy by Isaiah. It was written on metal plates so that the record could be buried and preserved, and was translated by the prophet Joseph Smith in 1829. Those who read it with sincere intent to learn about Jesus Christ find that it does ring true. They learn that those Book of Mormon prophets foresaw the turmoil and confusion of our day, and gave us messages of hope, faith, and inspiration concerning how to draw closer to Jesus Christ as individuals and families.
The first prophet in modern times was Joseph Smith , and his call, charge, and message is consistent with the pattern established for prophets in the Bible. Joseph Smith's particular stewardship was to restore the fullness of the gospel for the "Last Days," to preside over the "dispensation of the fullness of times." Since the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, an unbroken series of prophets have led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
- Brigham Young (1847-1877)
- John Taylor (1880-1887)
- Wilford Woodruff (1887-1898)
- Lorenzo Snow (1898-1901)
- Joseph F. Smith (1901-1918)
- Heber J. Grant (1918-1945)
- George Albert Smith (1945-1951)
- David O. McKay (1951-1970)
- Joseph Fielding Smith (1970-1972)
- Harold B. Lee (1972-1973)
- Spencer W. Kimball (1973-1985)
- Ezra Taft Benson (1985-1994)
- Howard W. Hunter (1994-1995)
- Gordon B. Hinckley (1995-2008)
- Thomas S. Monson (2008-2018)
- Russell M. Nelson (2018-)
These prophets have dedicated themselves to their appointed mission of helping the people of the world prepare for eternal life and for the second coming of Jesus Christ, delivering the message that the Lord would have delivered. The living prophet continues to receive revelations, selects leaders by the spirit of prophecy, and serves as the principal teacher of the Church.
Some who claim that there have been no prophets since the death of Christ's apostles also claim that there is no need for a prophet today. But prophets are the voice of God to reveal "new programs, new truths, new solutions" fitting for the current condition of mankind ("Prophets and Seers of Ancient Times, LDS Old Testament Institute Manual).
- "[T]here is again a living prophet on the earth speaking in the name of the Lord. And how we need such guidance! Our times are turbulent and difficult. We see wars internationally and distress domestically. Neighbors all around us face personal heartaches and family sorrows. Legions know fear and troubles of a hundred kinds.
- Referring to the prophet and apostles who lead the Church: [N]ever in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. It is no trivial matter for this church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world." (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "Prophets in the Land Again," Ensign, November, 2006, 104–107.)
The Spirit of Prophecy
"The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10). Everyone who receives a witness from God that Jesus is the Christ has been blessed with the spirit of prophecy. He receives this witness independent of his study or the arguments or proofs provided him by man. Moses said: "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Numbers 11:29) Moroni (a Book of Mormon prophet) said: "Ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:7 ). Moroni's invitation—to ask God if the gospel is true—is the same invitation offered by Mormon missionaries around the world. In the Book of Mormon, in Mosiah 5 (1–3), it says, "We, ourselves, also through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things."