REXBURG, Idaho — The world has recently observed "a divine, sacred, solemn and orderly transfer of authority to exercise all priesthood keys from one prophet to another — a clear and continual legacy of succession," said Elder Gary E. Stevenson on Jan. 23.
“What we have witnessed these past weeks has only occurred 17 times in this dispensation,” he said.
Speaking to Brigham Young University–Idaho students during a devotional held on the Rexburg, Idaho, campus, Elder Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared his thoughts about this “tender time” in the history of the Church, during which one prophet passed away and another was ordained.
Elder Stevenson expressed his love and respect for President Thomas S. Monson, a man he described as “one of earth’s grandest inhabitants,” and recognized that more than 31,000 people paid tribute to President Monson the day of his viewing. In addition, thousands attended President Monson's funeral and even more watched the live broadcast online.
Elder Stevenson explained the process of calling a new prophet — saying that upon the last heartbeat of President Monson, the mantle of apostolic leadership passed to President Russell M. Nelson, who is now the senior living Apostle of God on the earth.
Drawing from the words of President Spencer W. Kimball following the death of President David O. McKay, Elder Stevenson said, “The work of the Lord is endless. Even when a powerful leader dies, not for a single instant is the Church without leadership, thanks to the kind providence who gave his kingdom continuity and perpetuity. As it has already happened [16 times] before in this dispensation, a people reverently close a grave, dry their tears, and turn their faces to the future.”
Quoting Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Elder Stevenson explained that as the President of the Church passes away, the First Presidency is then dissolved and the mantle of leadership goes to the senior apostle and to the Quorum of the Twelve as a body. In effect, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the First Presidency until a formal reorganization takes place.
“The period of time between the death of a standing prophet and the reorganizing of the First Presidency is referred to as an ‘apostolic interregnum,’” Elder Stevenson said. “Following the deaths of the first three presidents of the Church, this in-between period between presidents was approximately two to three years respectively. However, from Lorenzo Snow until the present day, the apostolic interregnum period has been 12 days or less.”
A practical example of this precept was demonstrated during the twelve days between the death of President Monson and the sustaining of President Nelson as President of the Church, Elder Stevenson said.
“In order not to delay mission calls, with the dissolution of the First Presidency, who sign the call letter, these letters were sent out under proper authority, on Quorum of the Twelve letterhead, under the signature of President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”
Elder Stevenson shared a video segment of President Nelson's announcement to the members of the Church regarding the new First Presidency where President Nelson described that when a prophet dies, there is no mystery about who is next to be called to serve in that capacity. There is no electioneering or campaigning, rather, it is a “divine plan of succession put in place by the Lord Himself.”
“At the end of the most recent interregnum period on Sunday morning, Jan. 14, just over a week ago, the Council of the Twelve met in the upper room of the Salt Lake Temple in a spirit of fasting and prayer, under the presiding direction of President Russell M. Nelson, acting as Senior Apostle and President of the Quorum of the Twelve,” he said.
“In this sacred and memorable meeting, seated by seniority in a semi-circle of thirteen chairs, following a well-established precedent in unity and unanimity, hands were raised to first sustain the organization of a First Presidency and then to sustain President Russell Marion Nelson as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
The Quorum of the Twelve then gathered in a circle and placed their hands upon the head of President Nelson, to ordain and set him apart with the next most senior apostle acting as voice. President Nelson then named his counselors, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve and the Acting President of the Twelve.
Following similar sustaining votes, President Dallin H. Oaks, President Henry B. Eyring and President M. Russell Ballard were each set apart to their respective offices by President Nelson.
“This was a deeply sacred and special experience with an abundance of the Spirit in attendance,” Elder Stevenson said. “Brothers and sisters, I offer to you my absolute witness that the will of the Lord, for which we fervently prayed, was powerfully manifest in the activities and events which took place that day.”
Just as President Monson was “one of the grandest inhabitants to grace this earth,” so is President Nelson, the leader taught.
“He's been profoundly prepared and specifically tutored by the Lord to lead us at this critical time in the world’s history,” Elder Stevenson said. “What a great blessing is ours to have President Nelson as our loving and devoted prophet — the 17th President of the Church in this the final dispensation.”
Sharing his witness as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Stevenson spoke of President Nelson’s high energy level and sharp mind.
“He has visited 133 countries in his lifetime,” Elder Stevenson said. “Just last year, he has visited 16 countries and 11 states. In November last year, he traveled to seven countries including Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia. His outreach is to all, young and old. In the same way that each of his 10 children, 57 grandchildren and 116 great-grandchildren feel that they are his favorite, so it is with each of us. I think this is because of the genuine love and concern he has for everyone.”
Whether in his Church callings or in his operating room as a world-renowned heart surgeon — who helped develop the heart-lung machine used in the first open-heart operation on a human being in 1951 — President Nelson exemplifies Christlike leadership, Elder Stevenson said.
“President Nelson has an exceptional way of teaching others and offering correction in a positive, respectful and uplifting manner,” Elder Stevenson said. “He is the embodiment of Christlike leadership. My young brothers and sisters, this exemplifies that even in the most difficult professions and circumstances where you may find yourself, you can conduct yourselves and lead in accordance with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no reason or need for you to stoop down to the practices and standards of the world. President Nelson is a living example of this in every situation.
“What a great blessing it is for us to now sustain President Russell M. Nelson who in magnifying his numerous roles throughout his life: student, father, professor, husband, doctor, priesthood leader, grandfather, Apostle, did so then — and continues to do so — in such a Christlike way.”