Joseph Fielding Smith - It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My word, and teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man's doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards of doctrine, only in so far as they accord with revealed word in the standard works.
Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted." (Doctrines of Salvation, v. 3, p.203-204)
Harold B. Lee - If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speaks a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth. (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 544)
Harold B. Lee – We can know when a man speaks as a prophet. Now, when does a person speak as a prophet? Do you recall that oft-repeated revelation in which the Lord said:
And, behold, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood [and he is talking of General Authorities], whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth-
They shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation. (D&C 68:2-4.)
This is so when a General Authority is speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Someone has rightly said that it is not to be thought that every word spoken by our leaders is inspired. The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in his personal diary: "This morning I visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that 'a prophet is always a prophet'; but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 278.)
It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write. I don't care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard Church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator - please note that one exception - you may immediately say, "Well, that is his own idea." And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it. We can know or have the assurance that they are speaking under inspiration if we so live that we can have a witness that what they are speaking is the word of the Lord. There is only one safety, and that is that we shall live to have the witness to know. President Brigham Young said something to the effect that "the greatest fear I have is that the people of this church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord" (see Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 135).
A prophet may not always speak as a prophet. We had a bishop from down in Florida that had a great problem. A third of his total ward membership had been trying to buy a large piece of property, twenty-six thousand acres. They had obligated themselves to a bank and an insurance company and things hadn't gone right, and now the bank and the insurance company were going to foreclose. The property was worth twice as much as they had borrowed, but somebody had to bail them out. So this good bishop called the First Presidency's office and said, "I'd like to come to Salt Lake. I'd like to see if we can do something to save my people." This good bishop, good old Southerner that he was, came with all the papers. He just neglected everything else pertaining to his business, because he wanted to save his people. And so for two hours the First Presidency listened to him, and I sat there and I said, "No, we can't do that. We can't invest the Lord's money in that property. It can't be done. No, I can't see a way out. We'd get into more trouble." I could see all these difficulties, and so he was sent on his way back home. The President of the Church had said no. But before the next morning came, I knew that the President of the Church hadn't been speaking by the Spirit of the Lord. And when I met my counselors the next morning I said, "Where's the bishop?" And they said, "Oh, he's left on an early morning plane back home." And I said, "Well, I've had a complete change. I've done some praying; I've done some thinking. We mustn't let that bishop go down there without sending somebody down to see if we can help him. I don't know whether we can or not, but we can't send him back with just saying, 'No, there's nothing we can do to help you.' We've got to see if there's not some alternatives." We've had some brethren down there this last week trying to see if we can find a way by which part of the land might be purchased for what is all owing on the balance and save them sixteen thousand acres of their property. Now, I don't know what they're coming back with, but I knew that I hadn't spoken by the Spirit of the Lord the night before. But I knew before the next morning what the Lord was trying to say to me.
Now, do you see the difference of what I'm trying to say to you? Sometimes we can speak just as a man. But when we get the Spirit of the Lord we may think differently, and so it's our responsibility when we stand in holy places that we speak by the Spirit of the Lord and make as sure as we possibly can that we're speaking as the Lord directs us to speak.
Prophets may speak their own opinions at times. There have been times when even the President of the Church has not been moved upon by the Holy Ghost. There is, I suppose you'd say, a classic story of Brigham Young in the time when Johnston's army was on the move. The Saints were all inflamed, and President Young had his feelings whetted to fighting pitch. He stood up in the morning session of general conference and preached a sermon vibrant with defiance at the approaching army, declaring an intention to oppose them and drive them back. In the afternoon he rose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address the tempo of which was the exact opposite of the morning sermon. (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 540-542)
Mark L. McConkie - Thus it is that prophets are entitled to personal opinions just like any other man (Alma 40:20; 1 Corinthians 7:25), and sometimes have differences among themselves. They even make mistakes (Galatians 2:11). Orson Hyde, for instance, once preached a sermon that contained some false sentiments. Joseph Smith was present, and following the meeting said, "I told Elder Hyde that I was going to offer some corrections to his sermon this morning," and, to Elder Hyde's eternal credit, Elder Hyde replied, "They shall be thankfully received." In the afternoon meeting Joseph spoke and "then corrected Elder Hyde's remarks, the same as I had done to him privately" (Nelson, 1979, p. 215-16). Similarly, we have in our history an account of Brigham Young preaching something in the morning session of a conference and returning in the afternoon session of the same conference and saying "this morning you heard what Brigham Young thinks about this subject, and now I would like to tell you what the Lord thinks about it." He then reversed the position he had taken in the morning session (McConkie, 1966a). (Remembering Joseph, Personal Recollections of Those Who Know the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Company, 2003, no pg number available.)
N. Eldon Tanner - I would like to explain to you exactly what took place following the unexpected death of President Harold B. Lee on 26 December 1973. I was in Phoenix, Arizona, to spend Christmas with my daughter and her family, when a call came to me from Arthur Haycock, secretary to President Lee. He said that President Lee was seriously ill, and he thought that I should plan to return home as soon as possible. A half-hour later he called and said: 'The Lord has spoken. President Lee has been called home.'
President Romney, Second Counselor, in my absence was directing the affairs of the Church, and was at the hospital with Spencer W. Kimball, President of the Council of the Twelve. Immediately upon the death of President Lee, President Romney turned to President Kimball and said, 'You are in charge.' Remember, the Prophet Joseph Smith had said that without the President there was no First Presidency over the Twelve.
Not one minute passed between the time President Lee died and the Twelve took over as the presiding authority of the Church.
Following President Lee's funeral, President Kimball called a meeting of all the Apostles for Sunday, December 30, at 3 P.M. in the Salt Lake Temple Council Room. President Romney and I had taken our respective places of seniority in the council, so there were fourteen of us present.
Following a song, and prayer by President Romney, President Kimball, in deep humility, expressed his feelings to us. He said that he had spent Friday in the temple talking to the Lord, and had shed many tears as he prayed for guidance in assuming his new responsibilities and in choosing his counselors.
Dressed in the robes of the holy priesthood, we held a prayer circle; President Kimball asked me to conduct it and Elder Thomas S. Monson to offer the prayer. Following this, President Kimball explained the purpose of the meeting and called on each member of the quorum in order of seniority, starting with Elder Ezra Taft Benson, to express his feelings as to whether the First Presidency should be organized that day or whether we should carry on as the Council of the Twelve. Each said, 'We should organize now,' and many complimentary things were spoken about President Kimball and his work with the Twelve.
Then Elder Ezra Taft Benson nominated Spencer W. Kimball to be the President of the Church. This was seconded by Elder Mark E. Petersen and unanimously approved. President Kimball then nominated N. Eldon Tanner as First Counselor and Marion G. Romney as Second Counselor, each of whom expressed a willingness to accept the position and devote his whole time and energy in serving in that capacity.
They were unanimously approved. Then Elder Mark E. Petersen, second in seniority in the Twelve, nominated Ezra Taft Benson, the senior member of the Twelve, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. This was unanimously approved.
At this point all the members present laid their hands upon the head of Spencer W. Kimball, and President Ezra Taft Benson was voice in blessing, ordaining, and setting apart Spencer W. Kimball as the twelfth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Then, with President Kimball as voice, N. Eldon Tanner was set apart as First Counselor and Marion G. Romney as Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. Following the same procedure, he pronounced the blessing and setting apart of Ezra Taft Benson as President of the Quorum of the Twelve." (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 43–44, quoted in TLP, 7-5.)
NOTE: # of counselors in the 1st Presidency – Besides President Kimball having a 3rd counselor, David O McKay had 3 counselors in 1961, 3 again for 1 day in 1965, 4 in 1965-1968 and 5 from 1968-1970.
Joseph Smith had up to 6 counselors at a time. Brigham Young had 3 in 1866-1873, 8 in 1873-1875 and 7 from 1875-1877.
Also, there were several instances where counselors were not ordained apostles.