For my Come, Follow Me lesson this week, I studied Doctrine and Covenants 27 and 28. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized on April 6, 1830. Section 27 was received by the Prophet Joseph Smith in August 1830, and Section 28 was received by the Prophet in September 1830. As the Church of Jesus Christ was in its infancy, there were many questions that arose for which Joseph sought answers from the Lord.
One of the questions that arose was a query about who could receive revelation for the Church. The Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ continued to unfold, and the concept of revelation was a new one for the Saints. They knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith could receive revelation for the Church, but they wondered if others could also receive heavenly guidance for the Church.
A member of the Church named Hiram Page had a stone through which he said that he received revelations concerning the order of the Church and the building of Zion. Several members, including Oliver Cowdery, were wrongly influenced by the so-called revelations. Just before an appointed conference, the Prophet Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord about the matter and received the revelation now known as Section 28.
1 Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given.
2 But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
3 And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.
4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;
6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
7 For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.
The Lord kindly told Oliver Cowdery that revelation follows proper lines of authority. The Lord told Oliver that his role as the second elder of the Church was not to receive revelations or to write commandments for the Church, nor was he to command Joseph Smith, who stood at the head of the Church. Instead, Oliver was to follow the example of Aaron who faithfully supported Moses.
Like Moses, Joseph Smith was the Lord’s prophet, and it was to Joseph that the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom in his day. Nevertheless, Oliver was promised that he would be led by the Holy Ghost and would be given power and authority to teach the doctrines that were revealed to Joseph.
This may have been an unpleasant experience for all concerned, but it taught an important lesson: There is order in the Church, and the Lord appoints only one person to receive commandments and revelations for the guidance of the Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith spoke about this proper order of revelation.
It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; … if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit or instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 197-98). On a later occasion he declared, “The Presidents or [First] Presidency are over the Church; and revelations of the mind and will of God to the Church, are to come through the Presidency. This is the order of heaven, and the power and privilege of [the Melchizedek] Priesthood. It is also the privilege of any officer in this Church to obtain revelations, so far as relates to his particular calling and duty in the Church” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 197). (As quoted in Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual – Religion 324-325 )
There is only one person who stands at the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that person is the President of the Church as well as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. This is the person through whom the Lord speaks to His Church. However, people at all levels of the Church can receive revelation to help them in their individual callings. Then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks outlined how this order of revelation continues in the Church today.
Our Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order, where his servants are commanded to “act in the office in which [they are] appointed” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:99). This principle applies to revelation. Only the president of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. For a family, it is the priesthood leadership of the family. Leaders receive revelation for their own stewardships. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her stewardship – such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church – you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord (“Revelation” [Brigham Young University devotional, Sept. 29, 1981], 7, speeches.byu.edu). (As quoted in Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual – Religion 324-325).
The president of the Church receives revelations for the Church, the stake president receives revelations for the stake, and the bishop receives revelation for the ward. All members and other people can receive revelation to guide them in their individual stewardships and lives. God is a God of order. He does not do anything haphazardly. This order is one way we can determine who has authority to receive revelation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and for other offices in the Church.