From “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith” we read:
“President Joseph Smith stated that the Twelve will have no right to go into Zion, or any of the stakes, and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof, where there is a standing high council; but it is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the Church. When the Twelve are together, or a quorum of them, in any church, they will have authority to act independently, and make decisions, and those decisions will be valid. But where there is not a quorum, they will have to do business by the voice of the Church. No standing High Council has authority to go into the churches abroad, and regulate the matters thereof, for this belongs to the Twelve. No standing High Council will ever be established only in Zion, or one of her stakes. When the Twelve pass a decision, it is in the name of the Church, therefore it is valid.”
This is quite profound. It is so different to the way we are used to thinking that we must go over it in some detail to understand it.
“President Joseph Smith stated that the twelve will have no right to go into Zion, or any of the stakes, and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof, where there is a standing high council”
Right away this is dramatically different than the way we are used to thinking. We are used to thinking that when an apostle visits a stake then that apostle has the right to do whatsoever he will, because he is an apostle. But he has no right to undertake to regulate the affairs of any stake which has a high counsel organized. That means he can’t go in and start making callings or releases, or tell a stake how it needs to be doing things. He has no right to regulate their affairs. This is quite different than what we expect. The rest of this quotation will flesh out the full meaning significantly.
“…but it is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the church”.
So where there is no standing high council, a single member of the twelve can go and regulate whatever matters he sees fit.
Next we get a critical clarification.
“When the Twelve are together, or a quorum of them, in any church, they will have authority to act independently, and make decisions, and those decisions will be valid.”
The twelve can act independently if they have a sufficient numbers together to form a quorum, or if they are all together. I am not sure what the minimum number to form a quorum is. Offhand the number seven sticks in my head, but that is probably wrong.
But the important thing is the meaning of that word “independently”. They can act independently, meaning they can act without reference or without regard to anyone else. If sufficient numbers of the twelve are formed together that they form a quorum then they can simply make decisions without reference to anyone or anything else, and those decisions are valid as far as God is concerned. This is, incidentally, the principal significance of the notion of a quorum.
Next we get another crucial clarification.
“But where there is not a quorum, they will have to do business by the voice of the Church.”
Here we have a completely different notion put forth. One we have abandoned to our wo and dismay. If only we understood this, how much better off we might be. Here we have a completely different, and far more wonderful notion of what it means to do business by the voice of the church.
The ideas we have in our heads about what it means to do things by the voice of the church is as follows. We currently think that we have a big monarchy, and then a bunch of little monarchies underneath it. We think that there is someone in charge at the local level, and that when there is something to be done, or someone to be called, only that local leader HAS THE RIGHT to receive inspiration about what is to be done and who is to be called, etc… Thus when he puts forth someone for a calling, since we do not have the right to receive revelation on the matter, our options are to either sustain that person, or to prove that we are spiritual warts by not sustaining that person. After all, we don’t even have the right to receive revelation on the matter.
But no. Quite fascinatingly, it isn’t supposed to work that way at all. It is much closer to the constitution actually. It is closer to the Book of Mormon idea of the people taking the accountability for their sins upon their own heads by being acccountable for their own governance.
The point is that in the government of God, where there is a stake that is sufficiently developed to have a high council, the members themselves are supposed to be living rightly enough to know by the Holy Ghost what is right for themselves. The relationship between local leaders and the church is supposed to be much more like the constitution, in that leaders can propose a calling or a direction, but the members are supposed to actually represent the voice of the church. They are to ratify that action taken by the leader as being, in their own minds, consistent with the Holy Ghost as they perceive it. Or they are to NOT ratify it, if in their own minds it is not consistent with the Holy Ghost, EVEN IF ONE OF THE APOSTLES THEMSELVES is putting the matter before them to sustain. For that is the meaning of Joseph Smith’s words.
It can hardly be emphasized sufficiently how different these two pictures are. In the modern practice, the belief is that the members have no right for revelation about those matters necessary to direct their own ward, and that they are to accept the direction of their Bishop or Stake President as being God’s direction because that is the only person who even has the right to receive the Lord’s will on that matter.
But the correct version is much more like what is found in the constitution. The leaders can state what they believe their inspiration on a matter to be. But it must be ratified by the voice of the church. Note how different this is. It is a matter of revelation and direction coming to a blind congretation which they have no right to correct simply based on who is given a calling, as compared to a congretation, knowing the most about their own situation and NATURALLY HAVING THE RIGHT TO INSPIRATION ABOUT THOSE THINGS WHICH DIRECTLY IMPACT THEIR OWN WARD AND STAKE then have to ratify the actions of those leaders as being right by the Holy Ghost as they discern it. Or to not ratify those actions. If there is no real obligation on them to ratify it or to not as they feel like the spirit and their knowledge directs then it is not really being done by the voice of the church.
This latter is so much more obviously the way of God that the two have no comparison with each other. This is the sort of principles found in the constitution and in the Book of Mormon attempts at free government, but reworked to involve the ability of those people to receive light through the Holy Ghost. Here, the people of the church, who have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost all have the right to receive revelation on those things that most impact them. Here we see the proper balance between the local leader and the memberships.
The two are like a worn out dirty rag and a cloth cut from the robes of heaven in comparison. In one, the leader has the responsibility to find the voice of the Holy Ghost, and the members, living worthy of the Holy Ghost, have the responsibility to discern and to ratify, or to not ratify, his words as representing the will of God to them.
In the other, men are bound down to folly. The mere idea that members have no right to inspiration on those matter which they are supposed to sustain, or not sustain, is laughably wrong. It is an apostate tradition we should purge from among us. It has no part or place in the halls of Godly worship. No right for revelation on who will be called to preside over their own families? How can they sustain or reject something they have no right to revelation on?
The problem we face now is that the members are not generally living worthy of the Holy Ghost. The balance is thrown down because the members are not living of that light they should have to be saints.
Our modern notion of running the church by the voice of the people is a hollow farce, for we do not actually have members that believe they have the right not to sustain any position that is put before them. They think they have no right to revelation on them, and so they don’t vote against even the most ridiculously wrong choices for who to call or what to do. This is not running the church by the voice of the people. It is a farcical satire of running the church by the voice of the people. All say “aye” but you have no right to say “nay” unless you can prove the person to be wicked for you have no right to inspiration on the matter and you are a spiritual wart if you disagree.
How low the wickedness of our membership has brought us down. If we as a people were living as we ought to have the Holy Ghost, I think the proper balance would have been maintained. I assume it fell apart as the membership proved that they did not have the Holy Ghost. But the proper solution to that is to start kicking people out of the church for not living the standards God set until those who remain are those who will, not to abandon the proper relationship and correct meaning of the revelations.