When a new Apostle is called, he becomes a “Special Witness of Jesus Christ”. These special witnesses seem to be exclusive only to Apostles (or General Authorities). Yet Peter taught in Acts 10:34: “God is no respecter of persons”. If that is true, than would that mean it would be possible for every person to receive that same “special” apostolic witness of Jesus Christ?
There is a difference between Special Witness, the title/calling, and ‘special witness’ the event. It is indeed possible for anyone to receive a personal visitation from the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ Himself declared:
. . . If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)
Those of us who live righteously and keep Christ’s commandments may, in this lifetime, experience a visitation from him, which would constitute a special witness. However, these witnesses are private, they are for us alone, we are not called upon to share them with the world. Additionally, any visual witness one receives is secondary to a witness from the Holy Spirit. The eyes may deceive us, but the Spirit of God bears witness to the truth of all things.
Gordon B. Hinckley once taught:
After they are ordained to the holy apostleship and are set apart as members of the Council of the Twelve, they will be expected to devote themselves primarily to the work of the ministry. They will place first in their lives, above all other considerations, the responsibility to stand as special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world. (Special Witnesses for Christ – April 1984)
In an interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks he said:
Brother Turley: Another claim we see sometimes here is that current apostles have no right to run the affairs of the Church since they do not meet the New Testament standard of Apostles because they do not testify of having seen Christ.
Elder Oaks: The first answer to this claim, I think is that modern Apostles are called to be witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world. Doctrine and Covenants 107:23. This is not to witness of a personal manifestation. To witness of the name is to witness of the plan, the work, or mission, such as the Atonement, and the authority, or priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Which an apostle who holds the keys is uniquely responsible to do. Of course, Apostles are also witnesses of Christ, just like all members of the Church who have the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is because the mission of the Holy Ghost is to witness of the Father and the Son. In addition, while some early apostles and other members of the Church have had the sublime spiritual experience of seeing the Savior, and some have made a public record of this, in the circumstances of today, we are counseled not to speak of our most sacred spiritual experiences. Otherwise, with modern technology that can broadcast something all over the world, a remark made in a sacred and private setting can be sent abroad in violation of the Savior’s commandment not to cast our pearls before swine.
In another interview with Elder David A. Bednar he states:
Religious Educator (RE): Elder Bednar, what does it mean to you to be a special witness of the name of Christ in all the world?` (see D&C 107:23)
Elder Bednar: The role of an Apostle today is the same as it was anciently (see Acts 1:22; 4:33). Our commission is to go into all the world and proclaim “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (see Mark 16:15, 1 Corinthians 2:2). An Apostle is a missionary and a special witness of the name of Christ. The “name of Christ” refers to the totality of the Savior’s mission, death, and resurrection—His authority, His doctrine, and His unique qualifications as the Son of God to be our Redeemer and our Savior. As special witnesses of the name of Christ, we bear testimony of the reality, divinity, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His infinite and eternal Atonement, and His gospel.
RE: If you were to use the apostleship as a pattern for Latter-day Saints in general, in terms of their faith, testimony, spiritual growth, and closeness to the Savior, what do you envision?
Elder Bednar: Many people may consider the leaders of the Church to be dramatically different somehow—no physical ailments, no family challenges; totally smooth, wonderful lives. The Brethren are not exempted from hardships and difficulties. There is opposition in all things for everyone.
Some people also may imagine that Church leaders obtain revelation in ways that are fundamentally different from others—receiving direct, immediate, and specific answers, and then going forward easily to lead and do what is required. The true pattern for leaders and for members basically is the same—pressing steadfastly forward with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—and as one does so, guidance and answers typically come “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30).
Remember, Nephi went to Jerusalem to obtain the plates of brass not knowing beforehand the things that he should do (see 1 Nephi 4:6). Following the example of Nephi and the leaders of the Church, it is requisite that members face the complex, demanding challenges in the world today, always striving to do their very best. President Hinckley counseled, “If you do your best, it will all work out” (Ensign, October 2000, 73). That is the pattern. Summarized in my own words: “Be good, honor your covenants, keep the commandments, and your steps will be guided, your utterances will be inspired, yet the majority of the time you will not necessarily know in the moment that you are being guided and inspired.”
The Apostles are called to be Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ in their responsibility to proclaim to the world the absolute reality of His existence. Just as being a prophet, seer, and revelator for the world is an exclusive aspect of the Apostolic calling, so is the responsibility to fulfill the calling requirements of a Special Witness of Christ. Yet all of us may still receive a personal and special witness of the Savior.