Gordon B. Hinckley’s scripturally-based legacy

President Hinckley accomplished a whole lot during his years as President of the Church. Many times in elder’s quorum a teacher or elder has testified of his prophetic mission and asked the assembled elders what they considered evidence to his calling. Typical answers have always been the enormous temple building expansion program, or the perpetual education fund, or the building of the conference center, or the change in the missionary discussions, etc.

For me though, of all the many changes that the church has undergone under his leadership, the very first change is the one that has always stuck in my head. On April 1st, 1995, in the Priesthood Session of General Conference, in an address which was later entitled and printed in the Ensign magazine, This Work Is Concerned with People, President Hinckley made the announcement that all Regional Representatives were to be released and a new office was to be created, called an Area Authority.

Here is the portion of that talk that dealt with the announcement of the new office of Area Authority:

Now in the ongoing of this work, administrative changes sometimes occur. The doctrine remains constant. But from time to time there are organizational and administrative changes made under provisions set forth in the revelations.

For instance, twenty-eight years ago the First Presidency was inspired to call men to serve as regional representatives of the Twelve. At the time that was a new calling in the Church. The Presidency stated that this was necessary because of “the ever-increasing growth of the Church” which made “evident a greater need to train our stake and ward leaders in the programs of the Church that they in turn might train the membership in their responsibilities before the Lord.”

At that time there were 69 regional representatives. Today there are 284. The organization has become somewhat unwieldy.

More recently the Presidency were inspired to call men from the Seventy to serve in area presidencies. As the work grows across the world it has become necessary to decentralize administrative authority to keep General Authorities closer to the people. We now have such area presidencies well established and effectively functioning.

It is now felt desirable to tighten up the organization administered by the area presidencies. Accordingly, we announce the release—the honorable release—of all regional representatives effective August 15 of this year. To these devoted and able brethren we express our deep appreciation for the tremendous work you have accomplished, for your loyalty, faithfulness, and devotion in advancing the cause of our Father in Heaven. I cannot say enough of good concerning these men. They have sacrificed their time and their resources. They have gone wherever they have been asked to go, whenever they have been asked to go. They have greatly assisted stake presidents and bishops with wise counsel and direction, with skillful training and instruction. We thank them one and all and pray that through the years to come the Lord will bless them with the satisfying assurance that each of them made a significant contribution to the work and that their labors have been accepted by Him.

Now we announce the call of a new local officer to be known as an area authority. These will be high priests chosen from among past and present experienced Church leaders. They will continue with their current employment, reside in their own homes, and serve on a Church-service basis. The term of their call will be flexible, generally, for a period of approximately six years. They will be closely tied to the area presidencies. They will be fewer in number than have been the regional representatives. We are guided in setting up this new corps of area officers, as were our Brethren before us in the calling of regional representatives, by the provision contained in the revelation on priesthood, section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants. After directions to the Twelve and the Seventy, the revelation states:

“Whereas other officers of the church, who belong not unto the Twelve, neither to the Seventy, are not under the responsibility to travel among all nations, but are to travel as their circumstances shall allow, notwithstanding they may hold as high and responsible offices in the church” (D&C 107:98).

Now, I repeat that these changes will not be effective until August 15 of this year.

All emphasis above is mine. What struck me was that President Hinckley called to our attention that the inspiration behind the calling of the new office of area authority, as well as the previous office of regional representative, never went beyond the bounds set forth in the scriptures.

In my daily or weekly interactions with other LDS, inevitably whenever I bring up that “every member of the church is bound to the scriptures and even the prophet himself is bound to the scriptures, and cannot go beyond what is written there,” meaning that there must be scriptural authorization or provision, as Presidnt Hinckley called it, the idea is generally scoffed at. For most LDS that I’ve talked to, it is believed that a prophet can do what he wants, when he wants, as he is guided by the Lord himself and has no scriptural bounds or limitations.

Nevertheless, any time an action might go beyond the scriptures, an appeal to the law of common consent is made by the prophets. In other words, using the law of common consent, prophets can do what is not in the scriptures themselves. Thus we get the Word of Wisdom becoming a commandment 18 years later by a vote of the church despite it being revealed “not by way of commandment.” But barring the law of common consent, which can authoritze non-scriptural actions and even canonize new scripture, all prophets are bound to the scriptures and are careful both to not go beyond those bounds and to point to the scriptural provisions for justification of what they do.

That is not to say that prophets never go beyond the scriptural bounds, or never attempt to do so without the common consent of the church. We already know that “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (See D&C 121: 39.) This applies equally to religious authority, as to other types of authority. We also know that the Lord has said:

And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood; and their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him. Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. (D&C 107: 82-84)

And even Abinadi has said::
Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed. (Mosiah 15: 13)
So, even prophets are not immune to unrighteous dominion, meaning going beyond the bounds set forth in the scriptures. But President Hinckley opened up his administration beautifully, with an appeal to the scriptures as justification for his actions, setting the tone for the coming years, and it made quite the impression on me.

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