Beginning with Adam’s first conversation with God, the people who have lived here on Earth have benefitted from prophets. Prophets are priesthood holders who are authorized to speak for God. Many people are familiar with such Old Testament prophets as Moses or Noah.
Prophets are necessary in order for us to learn the commandments and to understand the teachings of God. Adam received teachings from God, but he was not the last prophet. God continued to send prophets to enlarge our understanding of gospel principles and to teach us how to cope with specific situations in our own time. Some teachings from prophets were meant to be followed or taught forever; others, such as the commandment to build an ark, was meant only for a specific situation or time.
Prophets helped to prepare the people of the world for the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. They were given prophecies that would help them recognize Him when He came, and taught the gospel to a level that would allow them to be prepared for His coming. When Jesus Christ began his mortal ministry, He too became a prophet-the greatest prophet of all time. As God’s only begotten Son, He had a much closer relationship to God than any other prophet.
After His death, the apostles Jesus had chosen carried on the work and received prophecy for the church. However, when they were gone, prophecy also left the earth. No one was authorized to receive prophecy on behalf of the entire church, a time referred to as the Great Apostasy.
This apostasy ended when Joseph Smith was chosen to become the first prophet of the latter-days. These are the final days before the return of the Savior, and just as prophets were called to prepare us for the first coming of Christ, they are again on the earth to prepare us for the second coming. God has promised that with this restoration, the world will never again be without a prophet.
The Mormons are led by a prophet today. An orderly system that leaves God entirely in charge makes certain we are never without a prophet, and to ensure prophets won’t be chosen through negotiations or votes. The church is led by the prophet, two counselers, and a quorum of twelve apostles. They are ordered based on when they were chosen to become an apostle. At the death of the prophet, the First Presidency (the prophet and his counselors) is dissolved. Each person returns to his place in the quorum and the most senior person then becomes the new prophet and selects new counselors. This leaves God entirely in control, since He controls the length of a person’s life.
Following this pattern, Thomas S. Monson is the current prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as Mormons. In this role, he is the only person alive who can receive revelation for the entire church.
Every person can receive revelation for himself and for whatever he is responsible for. For instance, a father can receive revelation for his children, and a Sunday School teacher can receive revelation concerning how to teach her class. A bishop (a Mormon lay pastor) can receive revelation about how to lead his congregation. Only a prophet, however, can receive revelation for the entire church.
Mormons are taught that when they’re seeking to know what God wants them to know, they must look to the most recent prophet who has spoken on the subject. Otherwise, they might find themselves building an ark when it’s not going to rain. Although doctrine doesn’t change, practice does-as in the case of the ark. The doctrine is to follow the warnings God sends. The practice was to build an ark. Today, we still follow God’s warnings, but we don’t build arks because it’s a different time and our needs are different. So, while prophets throughout history, both in ancient times and in current times, have taught many things, it is the teaching of the most recent prophet we follow.
Many Christians today honor and follow the prophets of the Old Testament, and the Savior and His apostles. However, they find it somehow unsettling to have a prophet who is alive, even though the people of the Old and New Testament were expected to listen to their prophets while they were still alive. Today, people like their prophets to have been dead and buried for many centuries.
Theodore Tuttle said, “It is an easy thing to believe in the dead prophets. Many people do. For some mysterious reason there is an aura of credibility about them. It is not so with the prophet who lives among us, who must meet life’s everyday challenges. But it is a great thing to believe in the living prophets. Our salvation is contingent upon our belief in a living prophet and adherence to his word. He alone has the right to revelation for the whole Church. His words, above those of any other man, ought to be esteemed and considered by the Church as well as by the world. One day this truth will be understood.” (A. Theodore Tuttle, “What Is a Living Prophet?,” Ensign, Jul 1973, 18)
Jesus Christ spoke of this very problem. He said, “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” (Mark 6:4. In other words, we feel more secure with distant, impersonal prophets. But as Jesus understood better than most, a prophet is a prophet even if he lives next door to you. The only requirement is that he was personally chosen by God, and not by man.
Thomas S. Monson is today’s prophet. While he does not have a long beard, a white robe, or a staff, he is as much a prophet as was Moses or Noah because, like these Old Testament prophets, he was chosen by God.