Power of the Law of Common Consent


The law of common consent is explained in the following scriptures:

LAW OF COMMON CONSENT

“And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7)

Mosiah said, “Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.” (Mosiah 29: 26)

The Lord said, “And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith. Amen.” (D&C 26: 2)

The Lord said, “For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.” (D&C 28: 13)

The Lord said, “And a commandment I give unto you, that you should fill all these offices and approve of those names which I have mentioned, or else disapprove of them at my general conference;” (D&C 124:144)

Now, how much power does this law give the people of the church? Here are some scenarios:

  • Scenario #1: The bishop calls brother Smith to be the new teacher’s quorum adviser. A vote is called and 51% of the people raise their hand in opposition. Does Brother Smith become the new teacher’s quorum adviser?
  • Scenario #2: The bishop calls sister Jones to be the new relief society president. 30% of the people raise their hands in approbation. 10% of the people raise their hands in opposition. 60% of the people do not raise their hands, at all. Does sister Jones become the new relief society president?
  • Scenario #3: The president of the church claims to have received a new revelation from the Lord, which he reads in general conference. The contents are controversial. A vote is taken to approve of the revelation and add it to the scriptural canon. 60% of the people raise their hand in opposition. Does the revelation get added to the scriptural canon?
  • Scenario #4: The members of the Green Leaf 3rd Ward are tired of their tyrannical bishop. They feel he is exercising unrighteous dominion as he attempts to micromanage everything. They want to remove him and decide, amongst themselves, to take a vote in sacrament meeting to that end. One is selected to propose the vote. During the next sacrament meeting, during the voting portion, brother Carlson suddenly stands up and asks that a vote be taken to determine whether bishop Young should be removed from his position over them. At the protest of the bishopric, brother Tenney stands up and seconds the motion of brother Carlson. A vote is taken and 70% of the people vote to remove the bishop (dissolve the bishopric.) Is the bishopric dissolved? What will happen to brother Carlson and Tenney, if anything, for their actions?
  • Scenario #5: After the Carlson and Tenney affair has voted out the bishopric, brother Humphrey stands up and presents the name of brother Johnson as the new bishop, calling for a vote. Brother Johnson is a likable fellow and is voted nearly unanimously as the new (un-ordained) bishop. The people of the ward are adamant that they only want brother Johnson as their bishop and in the ensuing chaos that results when the stake president comes down to “set matters straight,” every non-brother Johnson bishop that is presented is voted down. Must the stake president accede to the wishes of the people, like Samuel, and ordain brother Johnson?

Next Common Consent article: Anarchy in action: congregational nullification

Previous Common Consent article: Is our procedure for sustaining a rubber stamp?

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist

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9 Comments

  1. I am reminded of the story of Martin Harris and the lost manuscript. Often the Lord gives us what we want because we are incessant in our pleas. Just because the Lord gives us something, in this case, doesn’t mean it’s what we need. He allows us to have what we want, along with all of the consequences.

    I am also reminded of my China trip. I asked and I asked and I asked. Finally I was told that if I obeyed the commandments, I would be protected. I never received a yes or no either way. I think the Lord got tired of my asking and knew I would do what I wanted and would allow me to suffer the consequences. Which I did, and it wasn’t fun. Needless to say I am a little more obedient to spiritual promptings now.

    In all these scenarios I think that the people will get what they want, even if it is to their detriment. Does the SP have to ordain brother Johnson? I would say only if he is prompted to. If he was to receive revelation similar to Samuel, then I would imagine he would ordain bro. Johnson.

    If he did ordain bro. Johnson and received no revelation but went only by the consent of the people, is he using his priesthood righteously?

  2. You pose a good question: “If he did ordain bro. Johnson and received no revelation but went only by the consent of the people, is he using his priesthood righteously?”

    About a year ago I had a very strange dream in which I was teaching the elder’s quorum. Upon awakening, I commented on the singularity of the dream to my wife, as it was distinct from normal dreams. We then got the family dressed and went to church. After sacrament meeting, as I was walking down the hallway, the elder’s quorum president saw me and stopped me. He said that brother so-and-so was no longer the eq teacher and that he had prayed about it and felt that I should be called as the new teacher. Needless to say, I accepted the call immediately.

    That eq president was obviously receiving revelation, but I wonder if all calls are revealed to the one doing the calling? I’ve read several LDS blog posts on this subject and it doesn’t seem that all priesthood leaders extend callings to people whose name the Lord has revealed to them. Many times, the term used to describe the call is “inspiration,” not “revelation.” In my own personal experience, revelation and inspiration are two, very different things. The revelations that I have received from the Lord I can write down and publish in a book, with the preface, “Thus said the Lord to me:” But the times that I have received inspiration cannot be recorded like I can record, verbatim (or as well as memory serves me), the revelations I have received. So, revelations can be read by people, wheras inspirations cannot. Inspiring words and inspiring thoughts, in my mind, though highly useful, are not the same as nor carry the same weight as bona fide revelations of the Holy Ghost.

    So, I guess what I wonder is, does a call have to be extended by revelation? Can’t it be by inspiration? And if we allow inspiration, why stop there? Why not allow a call to be extended by desperation? Surely some calls are extended by desperation, as well. Where is the line drawn between exercising priesthood righteously and unrighteously, as pertaining to extending callings?

    Personally, I like how the ancients did things: if they didn’t receive revelation (not inspiration or desperation), they just cast lots and left the lot’s choice be in the Lord’s hands, instead of making the decision themselves based on their inferior, finite, mortal minds.

    One other thing I wonder, is the “Samuel principle” applicable only if a leader receives likewise revelation? In other words, is the “Samuel principle” standing orders, or just an unusual circumstance, an exception to the general rule? Also, is it wrong for a priesthood holder to ordain people who inherantly will be bad leaders or rulers, if the people so want it? I am reminded of the scripture in Daniel 4: 17. If the Lord can put base men on kingdoms, why can’t he do the same in his church through the instrumentality of his priesthood leadership?

    Just some random thoughts generated by your question. One last thought, then I’ll make an end: Your question presupposes that the congregation is wicked and the SP is righteous, and thus to cave in to their desires is to cave in to wickedness. But according to Mosiah in Mosiah 29: 26, it is more likely the majority (the congregation) are choosing correctly and the minority (the leadership) are choosing incorrectly. (This is why the congregation has “veto power” with the law of common consent, to keep wickedness in leaders in check, according to my understanding.) Granted, the scenario I gave is pretty bizarre, but I still think if we are going to presuppose anything, the presupposition should be that there is a problem with the leadership, as this is what Mosiah’s principle teaches.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Well I certainly wasn’t trying to assume anything about the two. Just because the congregation has a dissenting opinion doesn’t necessarily make them wicked. The SP’s calling puts him in charge of matters of stake callings and such, so I was only asking that if he went ahead in that moment – based on common consent – instead of inquiring of the Lord and receiving revelation, would that have been a righteous use of his Priesthood Office?

    I completely agree with casting lots and have often wondered myself why that practice is no longer had among the saints. I guess a calling doesn’t have to be extended based on revelation because a Bishop or Stake Pres. can just feel impressed to call somebody and they will act on it. However, I strongly feel – as we have discussed before – that every sustaining vote should require prayerful contemplation by the members of the congregation. I think it would certainly clear up any problems others might have with so and so being called to be the next such and such. I honestly don’t believe it would be any more of a burden to announce the week before the names that will be up for a sustaining vote for calling X.

    I don’t want to be the one to draw a line pertaining to what is and what is not righteous when it comes to matters of extending callings. My knowledge and understanding of the context of each individual situation is not sufficient to make such a decision.

    Even though we have the gospel, we are still free agents with our own perspective and philosophies about many aspects of life. Therefore, just as it was in ancient times when Paul was constantly trying to set straight what precisely the Gospel was, we have many today who rely on their own understanding concerning matters pertaining to their callings and so on. Will God allow base men to be leaders? Yes, I have witnessed it myself. At one of my “group meetings” a former saint in recovery described his behavior while holding the office of Bishop. I won’t go into detail because it isn’t relevant, but suffice it to say that he did things that were most abominable in the sight of the Lord….MOST abominable. Why was he not released was my question. Why was he allowed to remain in that position for so long?

    While the President of the church or the Apostles might not lead the church astray, nothing was ever said about the individual members. I do see your point about presupposing the problem lies with the leadership though. Thus it is even more imperative that we each seek our own revelation concerning the counsel we are given, extending sustaining votes, etc. Just because our leaders hold a calling, doesn’t necessarily mean that the lot fell to them. Our leaders are there to serve us, not rule us. While we should respect their office, they should also respect our right to receive our own revelation concerning all things pertaining to our own spheres of existence.

  4. I think you and I see pretty much eye to eye on this issue. Each individual should get his own confirmation of the Holy Ghost (manifesting the truth of all things) so that all actions taken in the church are spiritually sound. The SP couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be forced, of course, to ordain someone he doesn’t want, as he has his own free agency. Nor should the members be forced to accept a man or woman they don’t want. But I find the dynamic between members and leaders, each checking and balancing the other, to be by (the Lord’s) design and when one or the other overstep their bounds, problems will result. But it seems to me that in the scriptures, the principle given by the Lord is that when in doubt as to which side is right, the voice of the people (the majority) decide the issue. This is similar to the principle of jury nullification, which no one is taught about anymore. Namely, that a jury that is called to decide whether someone is guilty or innocent of breaking a law, can also decide whether the law itself is just. They become the real judges of both law and facts. The modern sitting judges, of course, will never tell a jury that they have that power, effectively removing it from them (as they can’t exercise a power they don’t know they have), but it is still there and any Ixquick search for “jury nullification” will bring up lots of web sites explaining the principle.

    In the same way, the law of common consent makes any appointment that is both called (by the priesthood leadership) and elected (by the people’s sustaining vote) sure. The requirement is that there is both a calling and an election, otherwise, there is no surety. The Lord does the calling (through his appointed servants) and the people do the electing (voting). The council in heaven with the calling of Jesus to be our Savior by God was followed by a vote, in which he was elected by the majority. Had the majority said, “no”, to Jesus, he would not have been our Savior. The first word is God’s, but the final word is God’s subjects’. Ultimately, it appears that the individual members of the kingdom, as a voice, meaning a majority voice, have been granted the right to decide what happens. We have both the sustaining and veto powers. Do we have more than that? Do we have the calling power? That, I think, was the question posed in scenario #5. If the voice of the people “call” brother Johnson to be their bishop, do they or do they not have the right or power to do so? If they do have such a power or right, then the SP should do as Samuel and hearken unto them. If he does not hearken unto them, when they are legitimately exercising one of their rights, then he is a usurper. If they don’t have this power, then they are usurpers.

    On another topic, brought up by your last comment, I’ve often wondered about the prevalent thought of LDS that the president of the church will never lead us astray. For example, on the Times & Seasons blog, there was a post called Excommunicating the President of the Church (and some possible complications), in which the scriptures were opened up concerning what is supposed to happen when a president of the church transgresses (gasp!). I also recall some time ago reading a pamphlet of the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which the claim by President Faust in his 6 April, 1996, talk, entitled, The Prophetic Voice, that Joseph Smith had said, “No true angel from God will ever come to ordain any man, because they have once been sent to establish the priesthood by ordaining me thereunto; and the priesthood being once established on earth, with [the] power to ordain others, no heavenly messenger will ever come to interfere with that power by ordaining any more… You may therefore know, from this time forward, that if any man comes to you professing to be ordained by an angel, he is either a liar or has been imposed upon in consequence of transgression by an angel of the devil, for this priesthood shall never be taken from this church” was shown to be taken out of context and mistakenly attributed to Joseph. So, based upon the scriptures, I’m not sure that Pres. Woodruff’s statement of the Lord never allowing a pres. of the church to lead us astray, or any of the other statements of GA’s to that effect, is entirely valid.

    I think the safest route is to always do as the Berean saints did, with confirmation of the Spirit, no matter where the information is coming from.

  5. Thanks for the insight. That has been troubling me for some time even though I alluded to the belief in my previous comment. Scriptures have certainly testified that prophets are not perfect and can even commit grievous sin, so I found myself wondering if what President Woodruff stated was actually true. I dare to say that wholly believing such a thing can be quite dangerous. I guess you can see a running theme with all of my comments and the mounds of questions I have. Certain things just don’t seem right to me. That doesn’t mean that I am correct in my questions, but I just want to understand. You are 100% correct that everything should be sought out to receive confirmation by the Spirit. The scriptures don’t say “and by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of some things”…or “most things”…or “this”…or “that”…but “all things”. I interpret that literally as I am sure you do as well, but I can personally see my own shortcoming in seeking the Spirit in all things. However, all of my questions certainly have me seeking that more and more.

  6. Regarding revelation vs. inspiration. The modern-day prophets and apostles view them as the same thing. For instance, in a recent General Conference talk, President Packer discussed that the same Spirit which guides the highest authorities and levels and councils also guides (or can guide) individual members. President Packer has been talking about the Spirit communicating through feelings for years. President Kimball’s lesson in this year’s Priesthood manual is also instructive in this matter.

    I think of them as the difference between a candle and a bonfire, or even a wildfire. Both are fundamentally fire, and have the same sorts of purposes. But in terms of intensity, clarity, heat, fuel, burn rate, consumption, etc., both have significantly different characteristics. Basically, it comes down to a question of scale. I think of inspiration as “revelation lite,” or possibly just a type of revelation. One could consider it a type of spiritual gift, also.

    Regarding sustaining church leaders: one thing that has troubled me some is the story of David, who refuses to slay Saul, even while Saul is pursuing his life. David cannot or will not lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. As you point out, that does not mean that Saul’s teachings were binding upon David. But it is interesting that David would never intentionally harm Saul. At least, that is the implication. And I think that harm includes manipulation and emotional harm as well as physical.

    Great discussion on agency as an important parameter to consider in the situation discussed. Very thought provoking.

    Of course, in a Zion world, persons are of one heart and one mind, and so, we presume, the situation we discuss would not occur. But this is clearly a telestial rather than celestial sphere. Now we are frequently taught that we are to sustain Church leaders unquestioningly, and I find the idea of giving this decision prayerful consideration rather than just an automatic, robotic response quite intriguing.

  7. In other words, is the “Samuel principle” standing orders, or just an unusual circumstance, an exception to the general rule?

    I don’t think that the Samuel rule can work in Scenario 5. I think, in Scenario 4, that the members should be free to refuse a man to be their Bishop, but the same means that always calls a new Bishop should choose his replacement — not the people. I guess that means I would say that Samuel’s rule is an exception — not standing orders.

    Also, I think that even if one person raises their hand in objection, then the setting apart should be delayed because that one person may know of a worthiness issue that the majority of the Ward does not know. In a case like that, I think even with one dissenting vote — a calling could be removed.

  8. Based upon new research I’ve done recently, I now want to answer these questions myself:

    Scenario #1: No. Brother Smith does not become the new teacher’s quorum adviser.
    Scenario #2: No. Sister Jones does not become the new relief society president.
    Scenario #3: No. The revelation does not get added to the scriptural canon.
    Scenario #4: The bishopric is dissolved. Nothing can happen to bros. Carlson and Tenney.
    Scenario #5: The stake president must accede to the wishes of the people and ordain Brother Johnson.

    I’ll give my reasoning and current understanding in a future post.

  9. Common Consent is not an opportunity for members to see if they are guided by the same spirit as their leaders nor is it meant to be an exercise in which members are to try to get their own revelation or inspiration on the proposed action. It’s purpose is not to find out what the Spirit, or the Father, or the Lord thinks or wants. The Lord already knows his own mind and will. If all he wanted to do was share that with us than there would be no reason for a vote and asking for opposing votes.

    Common Consent’s purpose is to determine and give expression to and respect the feelings, rights, limitations and thoughts of the members and not just the majority but also the individual’s. When a leader proposes an action and submits for a vote he is able to see if the action has support or not. How foolish it would be to move forwards with an action that the members can not or will not support The member may not be able to support the action, to do so could tear the Church apart, seriously injure a family or a individual. Members may not want the action. They may be strongly oppose the action. They may know it will be disaster to themselves, their family or to some other member to the Church or one of it’s programs or doctrines. You do not create real unity and support by the leadership ignoring or failing to show and give due respect and involvement in the decisions of the Church as the Lord clearly command and a fundamental and forever standing law of the Church.

    Members are fully in their rights to express their personal opinion, feelings and judgment when they cast their person vote – they are not voting a proxy vote for the Spirit, It is not the Spirit’s vote – it is the individual member’s vote and it is their right to decide for themselves. It is not a loyalty vote and it is not a covenant making event as some have foolishly taught. It is their right to be an agent unto themselves and vote as they (as a mortal in what ever state of imperfection they are in) see fit.

    Early Church history shows it was a very democratic practice commanded and practiced from day one. Many issues received multiple proposals but before they could be voted upon by the body of Church they had to be seconded. Members frequently made proposals. Very few proposals were unanimous. And that the Prophet Joseph is recorded to have voted in the opposed and he was in the minority. Those are two a VERY important facts!

    Unfortunately like all dispensations and people that have come and gone before their have been and are many forces and natural tendencies of the people and leaders that have and will cause a continued and gradual increasing departure and modifications from what the Lord was very specific about and has purposes behind. This is not the first dispensation to abandon and alter Common Consent to the point that it no long reflect Lord’s important intent even in it’s most fundament principles. I will add that many problems in the Church today are out growths of the member’s allowing Common Consent to be diluted to the point members have few if any rights in the Church. Leader have determined that decisions are best left to the leaders and that members involvement can reduce to surveying a committee of members usually made up of lower level leaders and of course their opinions are not binding or have any authority.

    Common Consent is not a opportunity to vote the Spirit’s will. It is an opportunity and right to vote ours – as we right choose for ourselves.


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