Sunday, April 06, 2008

Constructive Thoughts: Sustaining the Prophet

Yesterday in General Conference the family, with the rest of the worldwide Church, had the opportunity to take part in a solemn assembly.

“A solemn assembly, as the name implies, denotes a sacred, sober, and reverent occasion when the Saints assemble under the direction of the First Presidency. Solemn assemblies are used for three purposes: the dedication of temples, special instruction to priesthood leaders, and sustaining a new President of the Church.” (David B. Haight, Solemn Assemblies, Ensign, Nov. 1994 at 14.)

Such a solemn assembly--for the purpose of sustaining a newly called Church President and other officers of the Church--is a rare opportunity, one that has happened only a couple handfuls of times in the history of the modern Church of Jesus Christ. As a part of the process, the different priesthood quorums--starting with the First Presidency--stand and indicate their willingness to sustain the President of the Church as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Then all the members of the Church stand and do the same. The other leaders of the Church are then sustained in their various offices and callings.

This got me to thinking about the word sustain.

[Aside: I have to admit to a certain preference to using a copy of Webster’s 1828 dictionary. Webster, a master linguist, understood the power of words, understood their definitions, and understood the need for precise word usage in day-to-day communication. He understood that this was necessary for continued independence. Over time, the English language has changed repeatedly and, in many instances, has become corrupt. Many words don’t mean what they originally meant so it is possible to become completely confused when reading the classics.
Yeah, so, I’m weird.]

The 1828 Webster’s defines “sustain” in this way:

1. To bear; to uphold; to support; as, a foundation sustains the superstructure; pillars sustain an edifice; a beast sustains a load.
2. To hold; to keep from falling; as, a rope sustains a weight.
3. To support; to keep from sinking in despondence.
4. To maintain; to keep alive; to support; to subsist; as provisions to sustain a family or an army.
5. To support in any condition by aid; to assist or relieve.

When we sustain the President of the Church as a prophet, seer, and revelator, we are not “casting our vote” or showing our approval at the Lord’s choice. By definition we are promising to uphold and support him, to keep him from falling, to maintain him, and to support in any condition with our aid.

“[I]t not only signifies that we acknowledge before God that he is the rightful possessor of all the priesthood keys; it also means that we covenant with God that we will abide by the direction and the counsel that come through His prophet. It is a solemn covenant.” (Id.) Part of this covenant is a promise to uphold the prophet by our confidence, our faith, and our prayers. THIS is how we maintain him, how we support him in any condition, how we bear him up and keep him from “sinking in despondence.”

It is a sacred responsibility; I found myself thinking as I raised my right arm: “Do I know that he is a prophet of God? Do I KNOW it? Can I support him, pray for him? Can I follow his direction and do I know that God’s word will be spoken through him?"

Again, it is not simply a vote of support, a vote of confidence, or a vote of popularity. It is a promise--a covenant--with God to follow His word through His prophet.

When we raise our hands, it is because we are willing to accept and bear witness about “the knowledge we have and the testimony we have [of] our prophet and our leader. We not only raise our hands in saying we sustain but that we follow his direction, that we listen, that we counsel, that we pray about it, that we’re mindful of what comes from the lips of the prophet.” (David B. Haight, Sustaining the Prophets, Ensign, Nov. 1998 at 35.)

Members of the Church have been taught that such sustaining may appear to some as a somewhat perfunctory exercise. It is, however, “an act of grave and serious importance, an act required under the revelation of the Lord. . . . ‘[W]hen we lift up our hands in this way, it is in token to God that we are sincere in what we do, and that we will sustain the parties we vote for. . . . If we agree to do a thing and do not do it, we become covenant breakers and violators of our obligations, which are, perhaps, as solemn and binding as anything we can enter into.’” (Gordon B. Hinckley, God Is At the Helm, Ensign, May 1994 at 53. (Citations omitted.))

Two of the Church’s thirteen Articles of Faith come to mind, specifically numbers five and six.

5 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.

6 We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

President Thomas S. Monson has been called of God, by prophecy, and has received the laying on of hands by the Lord’s apostles, those who are in authority to do so.

We also have the same organization in these days as existed in the Church at the time of Christ. We are led by a prophet. A modern-day prophet of God. His mouthpiece. Through him the world receives continuing revelation. We have apostles who are witnesses of the Living Christ.

I am grateful for this knowledge, and grateful that we have these offices restored upon the Earth. What a marvelous idea it is that we have a Prophet who receives revelation directly from our Heavenly Father regarding our day. We have a Prophet who, as in days of old, calls the world to repentance and proclaims the Gospel without fear, without coercion, and stands to show us the way to return to our Heavenly Father and our eternal reward.

And how marvelous is it that this choice is not foisted upon us, but that we can each have a chance to raise our hands, pledging our support, and promising to do our part to hold him up. To bear witness of him and his role.

To sustain him.

I did.

I do.

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