The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was originally founded by Joseph Smith believed to be a prophet of God. After his death he was followed by Brigham Young and after Brighams death it was followed by John Taylor.

This pattern of a prophet dying and then a new one being called appears to be repeated again and again in the LDS church.

What is the usual process that is followed for calling a new prophet?

How is the decision made and by whom?

Were there any prophets called by a different process or unusual circumstances?

  • Actually, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was not founded by Joseph Smith but rather he restored the church in these last days. The church existed in ancient times and was gone due to apostasy which was restored again through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 10:34
  • @JohnRobertson The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints WAS founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. The church that existed in ancient times from the old world was Eve of 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The Eve of the new world is indeed a resurrection of the Eve of the old world, but you have to put it in that perspective for it to make complete sense. This is why God commanded Eve to "multiply and replenish" (do missionary work) the "earth". The cycles of Biblical creation are cycles of human civilization. Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 0:13

3 Answers 3


The Church had been initially organized in 1830 with Joseph Smith as the first Elder and Oliver Cowdery as the second. In 1832, Joseph Smith organized a First Presidency and appointed two counselors. One of these was Sidney Rigdon, The other was excommunicated in 1833 and his replacement disappeared about 1837. Oliver Cowdery had been appointed Assistant President; when he was excommunicated in 1838, Joseph Smith's brother Hyrum Smith was appointed to the position. Other counselors had been appointed, but most of these had either died or left the church.

Following the death of Joseph Smith, it was not entirely clear who should lead the church. One of the two principal claimants at a Church conference called within a few months was Sidney Rigdon, who made a claim based on his long service as counselor to and spokesman for Joseph Smith, although he had become somewhat disassociated from the main body of the Church. The other was Brigham Young, who claimed that the office of leadership should have gone to Hyrum Smith who had been killed along with Joseph, but that the next highest authority was the Twelve apostles, of which he was the senior and president. The conference accepted the leadership of the apostles, and rejected that of Sidney Rigdon. Three years later, in 1847 after returning from the pioneering expedition to the Salt Lake Valley to Iowa where most of the members of the Church were in temporary quarters, Brigham Young proposed reorganization of the First Presidency, with himself as the President of the Church.

Since that time, established practice and doctrine has it that the President of the Church is the supreme authority in the Church, below Christ himself. He is assisted by two (or occasionally more) counselors whom he selects. These form a First Presidency and are the highest governing body.

The next highest body is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These are sustained and accepted by members of the Church as "Prophets, Seers, and Revelators" when they are called and ordained as apostles.

When a President of the church dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the counselors resume whatever position they had prior to their call to the First Presidency. They have almost always been apostles and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but there have been a few exceptions. This quorum is then the interim highest governing body, until such time as they, after prayer and by revelation, decide to reorganize the First Presidency. The man chosen as President of the Church has always been the senior living apostle (as determined by continuous length of service). It would be a major departure from the established order for anyone else to be named.

  • This depiction overlooks something significant that I would like to offer. Joseph and Oliver being appointed unto the office of Elder in the high priesthood established a Priesthood body. Adam was first created and then a "rib" was drawn from his side from which Eve was formed. Bodies of flesh and bone are groups of people. Adam is the Priesthood body and Eve is the Church body of the new world. History is repeating itself as we go from world to world to world, which are cycles of human civilization. Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 0:03

How is a New Church President Called?

It's interesting to realize that the Church and its members don't call a prophet, they call a president. It is by the laying on of hands and the bestowal of keys that the President of the Church becomes the Lord's Prophet.

And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses — Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church. (D&C 107:91-92)

Understanding how a new president is called requires understanding how authority works in the general councils of the Church. It is a testimony of the Restoration that the Lord has provided for this process.

If the President is dead, who has authority to lead the Church?

The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned. (D&C 107:23-24)

The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named. (D&C 107:25-26)

The First Presidency automatically dissolves with the death of the president, just as every presidency in the Church is automatically dissolved with the death and/or release of its president.

This means that in the absence of the President and the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is automatically the presiding authority of the Church until a new President can be called and a new First Presidency organized.

In the case of an extreme emergency (such as the improbable death of all the Apostles), the Quorum of the Seventy are equal in authority with the Twelve and can restore both the Twelve and the First Presidency of the Church.

But, to exercise this authority, the quorums must act unanimously. (Conditions were provided should the quorum in its entirety could not meet, which makes sense in the 1800s with quorum members traveling internationally.)

And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other — A majority may form a quorum when circumstances render it impossible to be otherwise — Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men. (D&C 107:27-29)

And with that authority, the Twelve can call a new President

While these verses explain that the quorums have authority when acting unanimously, they don't specifically grant authority to reconstitute the First Presidency. The Lord provided for this.

It is the duty of the Twelve, also, to ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church, agreeable to the revelation which says: To the church of Christ in the land of Zion, in addition to the church laws respecting church business — verily, I say unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts, there must needs be presiding elders to preside over those who are of the office of an elder; and also priests to preside over those who are of the office of a priest; and also teachers to preside over those who are of the office of a teacher, in like manner, and also the deacons — wherefore, from deacon to teacher, and from teacher to priest, and from priest to elder, severally as they are appointed, according to the covenants and commandments of the church. (D&C 107:58-63)

Which includes...

Then comes the High Priesthood, which is the greatest of all. Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church; or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church. From the same comes the administering of ordinances and blessings upon the church, by the laying on of the hands. (D&C 107:64-67)

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has the authority to call and set apart a new president to the Church and the First Presidency. They do this by laying on hands and giving the new President the keys of presidency, revelation, seership, translation, and prophecy, which they have being equal in authority from the preceding President according to verses 91-92, which we have already read.

But, who do they call?

Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods. Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church. (D&C 107:21-22)

The Twelve have the authority to call anyone who is ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. However, since the call to Brigham Young in 1847, the tradition of the Quorum has been to extend the call to the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

But if any member of the Melchizedek Priesthood could be called, why do we call the senior Apostle?

It actually took a few presidents to clearly establish the tradition of calling the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. We would need to read some citations from the Journal of Discourses to cover that, but it actually isn’t unreasonable that the Quorum settled on this tradition.

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God; yhat your incomings may be in the name of the Lord; that your outgoings may be in the name of the Lord; that all your salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with uplifted hands unto the Most High. (D&C 88:119-120)

The Church has the authority to organize itself to meet its needs and thus the Quorum of the Twelve have the authority to determine the rules of succession so long as they meet the commandments of scripture. As the D&C teaches, we need not be commanded in all things (D&C 58:26-28). It's better that we make choices for ourselves, and the Twelve decided to automatically extend the call of President of the High Priesthood to the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, providing for a predictable and orderly transition of authority within the Church when a President passes away.


An important thing to recognize in attempting to properly and fully address this question is there is a distinction between the offices of responsibility of the Lord's Anointed Prophet and the President of the Church. They are entirely separate hats, so to speak.

Joseph Smith Jr. was one person who wore both hats. Prior to the organization of the church body, there was a priesthood body organized as well. Even though people could be members of both bodies, they are indeed distinct bodies. Entrance into these bodies is a process of entering into the associated covenants. There are distinctly different covenants involved when a person becomes a member of the church and when a person joins the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood bodies.

Joseph Smith Jr. was the president of both the masculine priesthood body as well as of the feminine church body. The masculine priesthood body was called for in Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants and it was called the School of the Prophets and its president was the Lord's Anointed Prophet. This is more precisely understood as the individual to whom God would give the gift to receive the oracles.

This office of Lord's Anointed Oracle is the same as was anciently held by Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and so on. This is the body of authority that has responsibility over the kings and the priests. This is why Jesus came to John the Baptist in order to have his right to be revered as a King and a Priest recognized and to receive his anointing as such. A similar relationship existed between Jethro and Moses as well.

This office of Lord's Anointed is not something that man has any say in whatsoever. God only ever has one man serving in this capacity at a time. And, it is whoever God calls and speaks to. It is upon the people to hear the words spoken through the oracle and to get their own witness or confirmation that God is speaking through them. This is why under the ancient law if a man presumed to do this and was found to be deceived and/or dishonest in the matter the punishment was very severe. Also, once a man served in this capacity he would remain such for all the remainder of his life and often times there would be specific instructions from God on who the successor would be. In other cases there wouldn't be any successor because of the unrighteousness of the people and/or the oracle.

Where things became to appear that the office of the president of the churh and the office of the Lord's Anointed Prophet were one and the same is from DC 90:3-5 where Joseph Smith Jr. is told who the successor to hold the oracle shall be. He was told the oracle would go to another, even the church. So, rather than being given to an actual individual, the oracle would go to the body of the church collectively. Therefore, so long as it remained worthy of the gift, the president of the church would also be the successor to the office of the Lord's Anointed Prophet and be the oracle. Therefore, upon the passing of Joseph Smith Jr., the process the church uses to call a new church president is also the defacto process by which the oracle would be passed on.

The basis upon which a new presiding high priest is selected to become the president of the church is that he is "chosen by the body" and "upheld by the faith, confidence and prayers" of the saints. In other words, it was the body of high priests who gathered together and held some kind of a convention to determine how this was done. Apostolic seniority was the process decided upon by the body of priesthood brethren and so this is what has been used ever since to determine who the new president of the church would be, which also had ramifications upon who the oracle would be as well. Therefore, not only was Brigham Young the rightful president of the church, he was also the rightful successor of the office of Lord's Anointed Oracle.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .