Mormons stand out from many other religions because they have a modern prophet. The Bible demonstrates a powerful need for continuing revelation and proves that God never intended for revelation to end permanently.
When Joseph Smith became the first prophet of the restoration, the Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) returned to a tradition that began with Adam and continued, although not in an unbroken pattern, until the apostles were gone.
Mormons are led by a prophet, two counselors, and twelve apostles. This meets the Biblical guideline that God’s church must be built on a foundation of apostles and prophets:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20)
God Himself promised He would not do anything without first informing us through His prophets:
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7)
Mormons have an unbroken line of prophets. When a prophet dies, his counselors, who are also apostles, return to their place in the apostles. The senior apostle—the one who has served the longest—becomes the new prophet when it is determined that it is time to reorganize. This leaves the choice entirely in God’s hand, since He controls life and death.
Today’s prophet is Thomas S. Monson. He, like all Mormon prophets, come from ordinary church membership. Just as God called prophets in Biblical time who were just ordinary people, He does so today as well. There is no professional clergy and Mormon leaders come from a wide range of career fields. Thomas S. Monson, for instance, was from the printing industry. Their training comes from volunteer positions in the Church and from personal study.
While prophets do, from time to time, receive important new revelation, most of the time their responsibilities involve serving as special witnesses of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. They are called, as are the apostles, as prophets, seers, and revelators.
The spirit of revelation is given to all people. We can all receive personal revelation concerning those things that are within our sphere of responsibility. A mother can receive revelation on raising her children. A manager can receive revelation on the best way to manage his staff. A child can receive revelation on how to do better in school. However, a mother can’t receive revelation about how her next-door neighbor should raise her children, since that isn’t her responsibility. In the same way, a Mormon teacher of young children can receive revelation for teaching her own class, but not about how to change the entire Primary program for the entire church.
The prophet, then, is the only person who can receive revelation for the entire church, since only he has responsibility for it all. This is the way it has always been. When the church, after the death of Jesus Christ, began arguing about whether or not circumcision is necessary, it was settled by Peter, who explained a revelation he had received. He was the only person authorized to make that decision and when he did, the debate ended. Had there been no one with that authority, it is likely the debate would have gone on for years, been put to a vote, and led to some apostles going in one direction and some in another. Chaos could have ensued and the fledgling Christian Church could have dissolved too soon. Only the presence of a prophet saved it.
The Mormon prophet also serves as the president of the church, much as Moses was the leader of his people in both spiritual and temporal things. He ensures the church is always moving in the direction God has chosen, makes procedural decisions, and oversees other high-level leaders. Anything new and important must be put before the counselors and the apostles to provide accountability.
Because of this brilliantly-planned process, created by God, there is no confusion or dissension among faithful, believing Mormons. A Mormon who has prayed to know if Thomas S. Monson is truly the prophet is not following him in blind faith—he is simply acting on personal revelation from God. Mormons are instructed to pray to know if the prophet really is the prophet. Potential converts are asked to do this before committing to baptism and those raised in the church are also taught to do it.
If at any time a Mormon hears a teaching from a prophet that he isn’t sure about, he is encouraged to pray and ask God himself if it is true. Although members can’t originate doctrine, they can confirm it through prayer. A church truly led by God has nothing to fear from personal revelation.
God’s church is a church of order and having a prophet makes it so.