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David O. McKay: The Church’s Unique Claim to Divine Authority

Summary

President David O. McKay describes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as unique for its divine authority from God, given through revelation to Joseph Smith. The Church emphasizes unity, brotherhood, and support for all people. It provides education, a fair judicial system, and social welfare, making it a complete social unit and a model of efficient governance. It addresses both spiritual and practical needs, preparing its members for life’s challenges and promoting peace and happiness in society.

Source

Editor’s Note

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Notable Quotes

In considering the Church as a social organization having as one object, at least, the amelioration of social ills and the advancement of mankind, it is well to keep in mind at the outset these other facts: That Joseph Smith did not organize the Church by man’s wisdom but by divine direction, ‘in accordance with the order of the Church as recorded in the New Testament.’

We are saved only as fast as we gain knowledge and wisdom. And again: ‘No man can be saved in ignorance.’

The Church is a means of rendering in order and wisdom mutual service. Jesus Christ is its author and the divine head. He himself while in mortality was the personification and exemplification of brotherhood and spirituality.

If at this moment each one of you were asked to state in one sentence or phrase the most distinguishing feature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what would be your answer? It occurs to me now that my answer would be this: Divine authority by direct revelation. There are those who claim authority through historical descent, others from the scriptures, but this Church stands out as making the distinctive claim that the authority of the priesthood has come directly from God the Father and the Son, by revelation to Joseph Smith”


THE NATURE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH

David O. McKay

WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

An Institution for Service. The Church is a means of rendering in order and wisdom mutual service. Jesus Christ is its author and the divine head. He himself while in mortality was the personification and exemplification of brotherhood and spirituality, and it is he who says to you and to all the world, “Learn of me and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit and you shall have peace in me.” (D. & C. 19:23.) —CR October 1936 p. 105.

More Than a Protestant Body. At one time it grieved me to know that this Church was not numbered among Protestant churches. But now I realize that the Church of Jesus Christ is more than a protest against the errors and evils of Catholicism. This Church was established in the only way in which the Church of Jesus Christ can be established—by direct authority from God. Thus founded, it invites the whole world to come to a Church recognized by God himself, and which offers every advantage that the human mind, the emotions, and desires may contemplate in the fulfilling of the individual mission on this earth. “It is an ever-broadening wave of direct personal influence, destined ultimately to touch and transform all men, so that they, like Jesus, shall become Godlike.” “Mormonism,” as true Christianity, “subdues selfishness, regulates the passions, subordinates the appetites, quickens the intellect, exalts the affections. It promotes industry, honesty, truth, purity, kindness. It humbles the proud, exalts the lowly, upholds the law, favors liberty, is essential to it, and would unite men in one great brotherhood.” —CR April 1927 p. 105.

More Than an Offshoot of Social Ferment. Suppose that the Son of Man said to mankind in the present age, “What seek ye?” What would be the answer? Many would say: We seek pleasure; some, wealth; others, fame and power; but the most thoughtful would answer, We are seeking the light of the ages, as mankind has ever sought. We are seeking a social Utopia. We want a society in which we may be relieved of some of the ills of mankind, free from the troubles and toils of life.

With every progressive age of the world, intellectual, noble-minded leaders have sought for a better way of living than that which was current. The good life, a social Utopia, has been the quest of the ages. To sense the need of reform has been easy; to achieve it has been difficult and often well-nigh impossible. Ideas and suggestions proposed by the wisest of men have seldom been practical, often fantastical; yet in most cases the world in general has been made better by the disseminating of new ideas, even though the experiments proved failures at the time. In this respect the century just past has been no exception.

The first half of the nineteenth century was marked by a general feeling of social unrest. Observant people became dissatisfied with social and economic conditions, and thinking men sought for remedial changes. In France, early in the century, the fanciful theories of Charles Fourier were circulated. He attempted to outline the future history of our globe and of the human race for eighty thousand years. Today his books aren’t even read. Robert Owen founded a commercial society at New Harmony, Indiana. Although supported by a fortune he had amassed by intelligent and frugal efforts, and although he was encouraged by the Duke of Kent, who became his patron, his scheme for the betterment of mankind came to naught in 1827. He returned to England where he tried several similar experiments with the same result.

George Ripley, a Unitarian minister, conceived a plan of “plain living and high thinking.” He had as his associates such able men as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles A. Dana, afterward Assistant Secretary of War in the United States, and John S. Dwight. Ripley’s impulse was really religious rather than economic and “was due to a kind of monastic desire for withdrawal from a sordid world rather than a desire for a new society.” He and his associates became the founders of what was known as the Brook Farm, a “Great Experiment,” as it was called, to make the world an agreeable place to live in. It came to an end in 1846.

“Some of these Colonies,” writes Phillip Russell, “were religious in purpose, others educational, and still others economic; but all, including Brook Farm, were social symptoms—rashes and growths indicating a sick and strained America.”

It has been charged by a cynical writer that the Mormon Church was but one more excrescence of the fermenting body politic of this religious-social reaction. But in considering the Church as a social organization having as one object, at least, the amelioration of social ills and the advancement of mankind, it is well to keep in mind at the outset these other facts:

  1. That Joseph Smith undoubtedly had never heard of Fourier’s phalanxes, the Owen experiment, nor any other scheme, religious or economic, for the bettering of social conditions;
  2. That the six original members were practically unknown, were financially poor, and had no political or social standing; and
  3. That Joseph Smith did not organize the Church by man’s wisdom but by divine direction, “in accordance with the order of the Church as recorded in the New Testament.”

This organization has survived financial panics, social upheavals, and religious turmoil, and today conforms to the best concepts of sociologists as a means of supplying the highest needs of mankind. —CR April 1930 pp. 78-80.

A Complete Social Unit. Do you tell me that that young boy comprehended out of his own wisdom such a complete social unit?

One day a man, standing on the deck of a ship sailing from the north of Africa to Singapore, addressed a Mormon elder and said: “You say your Church is divine. Then there must be found in it the answer to every human need.”

“Yes,” said the young man, “you are right. It should be found.”

In the conversation that followed, they named as essential needs the following:

  • Brotherhood and fraternity.
  • Educational opportunities.
  • A judicial system.
  • Opportunity for social betterment.

In the Church, the priesthood quorums and auxiliary organizations offer fellowship, brotherhood, and religious instruction to men, women, and children.

What about education? Turn to one of those early revelations and find that that boy—may I keep calling him so?—later said: “We are saved only as fast as we gain knowledge and wisdom.” And again: “No man can be saved in ignorance.” Then glimpse the opportunities for education in our schools, in the quorums, in the auxiliaries, for the education of the young, the middle-aged, and the old.

Another was the judicial features. Included in this are the ward teachers, whose duty it is to visit the members of the Church to see that no iniquity exists, no backbiting or evil speaking; it is their duty, furthermore, to see that people are not in want of food or clothing, and to report to the bishopric and the Relief Society, and have that want, if found, supplied. That is really their first duty; but they are also arbitrators. What did Joseph Smith know about arbitration? You and I now hear a great deal about it. Woodrow Wilson tried to establish a court of arbitration for the purpose of preventing war.

Over a hundred years ago that principle was placed in the Church, and you will find it in the Doctrine and Covenants, written a few years after that boy was ridiculed.

The next step in the judicial system is the bishopric’s trial, the high council, the traveling high council [the Council of the Twelve Apostles], the final appeal to the First Presidency—a perfect judicial unit.

The last mentioned by this traveler was the need of economic and social advantages. In this matter tithing and fast offerings might be named as means to supply the financial needs. Then picture the division of the Church into wards and stakes, a ward a church in miniature, a stake a church in miniature. An organization established not by Joseph Smith but by God the Father; for I cannot, friends, believe that that young obscure boy, uneducated, with the meager advantages for learning such as then existed in his community, could of his own wisdom establish an organization which has stood the test of over a century when these other wise attempts by honest and sincere men failed. To it all I have but one answer, and that is that that boy, who will be associated with this countryside for all time, did receive inspiration from on high. —DNCS August 31 1935 p. 6.

A Model of Government. Considered politically, the world is upset at the present time in its opinion as to the best form of government. We are just witnessing the downfall of monarchies. Rising from these monarchical ruins have come democracy, as exemplified chiefly in Great Britain in her dominions and in the United States, and the dictatorship of the proletariat as in Soviet Russia. It is apparent that men are seeking for a better form of government than most nations now have. Will they find it in the government by a dictator or in the government by the people, or in a combination of both?

One clear writer, Mr. Kirkpatrick, the sociologist, says that “Efficiency and progress are favored when the government is such that the local community has a great deal of responsibility of its own affairs and the central government has final authority to introduce those institutions and rules of procedure that have been shown to be permanently useful.”

Now, my fellow workers and thinking honest men of the world, take that fundamental definition of government and see how admirably the Church of Jesus Christ conforms to it. A careful analysis of the organization of the Church reveals the fact that it embodies all the strength of a strong central government and every virtue and necessary safeguard of a democracy.

  1. It has the authority of priesthood without the vice of priestcraft, every worthy man being entitled to a place and a voice in the governing quorums.
  2. It offers a system of education, universal and free in its application—the safety valve, the very heart and strength of a true democracy.
  3. It offers a judicial system that extends justice and equal privileges to all alike, applicable to the poor and to the millionaire.
  4. In its ecclesiastical groupings of stakes and wards and branches and districts, efficiency and progress are enhanced inasmuch as every local group attends to its own affairs, and yet each is so closely united with the central government that every mode of procedure proved useful and beneficial to the people can be adopted without delay for the good of the entire group.

Truly, from the standpoint of enhancing efficiency and progress, the Church of Jesus Christ has that form of government which the nations today are seeking.

This is because it is patterned after that order which Christ himself established. On the sixth day of April 1830, the Prophet Joseph stated that the Church was organized after that order given in the New Testament. —CR April 1930 pp. 80-81.

The Church and the Social Order. Brethren, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has in it all that the world would require. I am not associating political government with our religious government; I am merely pointing out that system of organization established by the revelations of God to man.

The Church, established by divine inspiration to an unlearned youth, offers to the world the solution of all its social problems. It has stood the test of the first century successfully. In the midst of brilliant concepts of men in this twentieth century, who seek conscientiously for social reforms and who peer blindly into the future to read the destiny of man, the Church shines forth as the sun in the heavens around which other luminaries revolve as satellites of minor importance. Truly, it is the creator and preserver of man’s highest values; its real task, the redemption of our human world. “It is the light of truth radiating everywhere in the world, and this light cannot fail to reveal to man, sooner or later, the divine ideals by which man should live.”

God help us and qualify us for the mission of carrying to the world this light. May we labor even more zealously than heretofore for the establishment of a social order in which God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven—a kingdom of God which shall foster the brotherhood of man and acknowledge the Fatherhood of God. —CR April 1930 pp. 82-83.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accepting Christ as the revelation of God to man, believes that Jesus in his life and teachings reveals a standard of personal living and of social relations, which, if fully embodied in individual lives and in human institutions, would not only ameliorate the present ills of society but also bring happiness and peace to mankind.

If it be urged that during the past two thousand years so-called Christian nations have failed to achieve such a goal, we answer that all failure to do so may be found in the fact that they have failed to apply the principles and teachings of true Christianity. —CR October 1937 p. 100.

The Church Fosters the Practical Things of Life

The Latter-day Saints are truly a people who aid one another in the productive life, a life that tends towards the salvation of the human being. By that salvation, I do not mean just a place in the hereafter where all our cares and worries may cease, but a salvation that applies to the individual, to the family, and to society here and now. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the perfect organization of the Church as revealed in this dispensation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, we are aiding one another spiritually by taking advantage of the many opportunities for service in the Church. We are fostering brotherhood by activity and association in priesthood quorums, in auxiliary associations, and in our social gatherings and ward reunions. We are aiding the young people in securing wholesome pleasures, by giving them sweet and wholesome enjoyment under the direction of the priesthood, as it serves particularly in the Mutual Improvement Associations of the Church as well as in other organizations and in the amusements under the direction of the authorities of the ward. The Church is aiding in temporal matters, and a practical benefit is resulting to the people today through the united efforts of the membership of the Church. In such ways, and many others, the Church fosters the practical things of life. —CR April 1915 p. 103.

The Church Fits Men for the Struggles of Life

I am grateful for membership in a church whose religion fits men for the struggle with the forces of the world and which enables them to survive in this struggle.–CR, April 1914, p. 87

The Most Distinguishing Feature. If at this moment each one of you were asked to state in one sentence or phrase the most distinguishing feature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what would be your answer? It occurs to me now that my answer would be this:

Divine authority by direct revelation.

There are those who claim authority through historical descent, others from the scriptures, but this Church stands out as making the distinctive claim that the authority of the priesthood has come directly from God the Father and the Son by revelation to Joseph Smith.

Founded upon that principle, accepting it as absolute gospel, we have clearly defined in our minds some fundamental principles:

First, that God is a personal Being; that he has a spirit-personality.

The acceptance of divine authority by direct revelation also reveals to us the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son in the flesh, for the Father in appearing to Joseph Smith stated in definite words, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”

Correlated with that revelation is another fundamental fact, that the Lord is interested in his people, that the whole human family is related as his children, and he loves them, and that he has authorized men to officiate among the children of the world, to bring them back into his presence.

The Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith and restored authority to establish the kingdom of God on earth, and this is my testimony.

I also testify that divine authority rests in rich abundance upon him whom the Lord has chosen to stand at the head of this work at the present time. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity I have had to sit in council with President Grant and President Clark. I wish every person in this Church might have had the same opportunity to look into President Grant’s noble spirit as I have; to know him as I have had the privilege to know him; to glimpse his unbounded generosity, his love for mankind and particularly for those who are true and loyal to the Church; to realize how fearlessly he stands for right. If you realized these virtues more fully I am sure that when you kneel down to pray there would be a note of thanksgiving in your heart and in your words which perhaps there has not been heretofore.

I would like to pay a tribute to President Clark, a man of sterling integrity, who loves his work above everything else in this world. He is loyal and true, sound and clear in judgment, a valiant servant of the Lord.

I should like you to know that there is a spirit of unity and oneness in the council of the First Presidency, the spirit for which Christ prayed just before he went into the Garden of Gethsemane: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…” (John 17:21.) And as he prayed on that occasion, so I pray now that that spirit of oneness may characterize the leading councils of the Church; nay, may I say, continue to characterize the leading councils of the Church, for I believe that there has not been a time in the history of our Church when there was more unity among these councils than at the present time. I pray that that spirit of oneness may spread throughout all the Church, that it may be characteristic of presidencies of stakes and high councils, bishoprics, ward teachers, and particularly of the quorums and auxiliaries of the Church, that they may all be one, to quote the Savior, as he and his Father are one. God help us to achieve this principle, that our faith in God and in his work may be unwavering, and our loyalty never doubted. —CR April 1937 pp. 121-122.



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