Merrill C. Oaks
Athlete, Musician,
Opthalmologist, General Authority
Brigham Young High School
Class of 1954

Merrill C. Oaks, BYH Class of 1954
Merrill C. Oaks, BYH Class of 1954

Merrill Clayton Oaks was born on January 12, 1936 in Twin Falls, Idaho. His parents are Dr. Lloyd Oaks and Stella Harris Oaks. Dr. Lloyd Oaks died in 1940 of tuberculosis, leaving his young wife and three children: Dallin H. Oaks, eight at the time; Merrill; and their younger sister, Evelyn Oaks, now Mrs. H. Ross Hammond of SLC.

Merrill was just four years old when his father passed away. For many years afterward, his mother raised her three children as a single parent, assisted by her own parents.

“My testimony started at home with my mother,” says Elder Oaks. “She was a great human being and a great teacher. When she would pray, her conversation with Heavenly Father would be so direct and personal that I almost wanted to open my eyes to see if He was standing there listening.”

Oaks spent most of his youth in Provo.Like his older brother, Dallin, he was a student at Brigham Young High School in Provo, where he excelled at basketball, and football. He was honored as an All State Athlete. He also played in the BYH band, was Drum Major, and was named to the All State Orchestra. He was a member of the BYH House of Representatives. He graduated in 1954.

He spent most of the summers of his youth on the farm of his Grandfather Harris, south of Payson.

He served a mission in Ontario, Canada, where, he says, his testimony “really blossomed” as he bore witness of the gospel and saw it change others’ lives.

He went on to receive a bachelor of science degree at Brigham Young University in 1960 , and it was there he met his future wife, Josephine Ann Christensen, from Payson, Utah. They were married in September 1958. Her parents are McKay Christensen and Josephine Johnson Christensen, married in 1937 by Elder David O. McKay in Salt Lake City.

Oaks earned a medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1963, interned at the University of Kentucky, and specialized in ophthalmology (eye surgery) at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

“If you let it, a medical education can challenge your testimony,” Elder Oaks says, “but after you work through that, you’re left with such a tremendous respect and awe for the human body and how it functions. You see God’s hand in its design and know that it did not happen by accident.”

Josephine also graduated from BYU in 1960 with a BS degree in child development, family relations, and elementary education. She taught nursery school in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and has served as the president of the Utah County Medical Auxiliary, later chairing the community program Parent Skills Workshops in conjunction with Provo Schools Adult Education. Her profession is a homemaker.

Through the years Elder Merrill Oaks has had the opportunity to travel throughout the world to instruct other doctors and medical students in ophthalmology. Often Sister Oaks and some of their children have accompanied him on these trips, which have included destinations such as Bahrain, China, and India.Merill and Josephine Oaks are the parents of 9 children.

Merrill practiced ophthalmology in Provo for 29 years and served as president of the medical staff at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and president of the Utah Ophthalmology Society. He retired from the practice of ophthalmology in 1995 when he was called to serve as a mission president.

Elder Oaks served twice as a bishop and has been a stake high councilor, counselor in the stake presidency, stake president, and president of the Washington Seattle Mission.

In the April general conference of 1998, he was called as a General Authority in the Second Quorum of Seventy. Assignments included area presidency of the Southwest, Philippines, and Utah North areas. He was released in the October general conference of 2004 and currently serves as a Gospel Doctrine teacher and as a sealer in the Bountiful Temple. When asked how the gospel has affected his life, he replies, “The gospel is my life. I know that this is God’s work with absolute certainty.”

Along with supporting her husband in his various callings, Josephine has also served as a ward and stake Primary president, ward Young Women’s president and counselor in stake Relief Society. She has conducted stake aerobics classes since her BYU certification as an instructor. Josephine studied the organ privately and served in that capacity wherever she has lived. She was Utah’s Young Mother in 1972 and then the National Young Mother of America.

Adapted from the : Elder Merrill C. Oaks of the Seventy" in the Ensign, May 1998, and several subsequent biographical notations.

The Living Prophet: Our Source of Pure Doctrine

by Elder Merrill C. Oaks
Of the Seventy

This address was given in the 1998 General Conference of the Church

The Church is founded on continuing revelation to a current, living prophet.

Just over two years before his death, the Prophet Joseph Smith published the Articles of Faith. The ninth article of faith states, "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." I will speak concerning the final sentence, "He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." This principle of continuing revelation is an essential part of the kingdom of God. (See Prayer, Fasting, and Revelation home page)

In the fourth and fifth verses of the Doctrine and Covenants section 21, the Lord declared to the Church their obligation to heed the guidance of His prophet:

"Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

"For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith."

The Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon and received the revelations laying the foundation for the restored Church. He had premonitions of his own death and hastened to confer on the Quorum of the Twelve all the priesthood keys. In the words of Wilford Woodruff: "And thus addressing the Twelve, [Joseph] exclaimed, 'upon your shoulders the kingdom rests, and you must round up your shoulders, and bear it; for I have had to do it until now. But now the responsibility rests upon you'" (Times and Seasons, 5:698).

Revelation and guidance from heaven did not end with the death of Joseph Smith. "Many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" have been revealed through those who succeeded him as President of the Church. In the words of President Spencer W. Kimball:

"Since that momentous day in 1820, additional scripture has continued to come, including the numerous and vital revelations flowing in a never-ending stream from God to his prophets on the earth. . . .

"There are those who would assume that with the printing and binding of these sacred records, [and he was speaking here of the four standard works] that would be the 'end of the prophets.' But again we testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord" ("Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets," ENSIGN, May 1977, 78).

We have large amounts of written historical material available to us, including sermons of early Church leaders. These give us background that help us understand the early events of the Restoration and the situations that existed in those days. This year we have the privilege of studying teachings of the prophet Brigham Young in priesthood and Relief Society meetings. There are wonderful continuity and agreement of these teachings and those of our more current prophets.

As the policies and procedures of the Church are refined by continuing revelation and inspiration, there are those who become disturbed by any changes. Some literally hunt for situations where earlier Church leaders or members made statements which are not in complete harmony with our understanding and practices today. The mind-set of some is that anything coming from an earlier time must be more correct.

I would offer the following thoughts on such matters: (1) Some of the procedures of the Church were not completely developed early in this dispensation and have been amplified and clarified by subsequent prophets. (2) Our protection from erroneous doctrine lies in an overriding belief in continuing revelation to the current prophet.

President Harold B. Lee spoke of this by relating an experience:

"Years ago as a young missionary I visited Nauvoo and Carthage with my mission president, and we were holding a missionary meeting in the jail room where Joseph and Hyrum had met their deaths. The mission president related the historical events that led up to the martyrdom and then he closed with this very significant statement: 'When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, there were many saints who died spiritually with Joseph.' So it was when Brigham Young died: so it was when John Taylor died. Do revelations given to President John Taylor, for example, have any more authority than something that comes from our president and prophet today? Some Church members died spiritually with Wilford Woodruff, with Lorenzo Snow, with Joseph F. Smith, with Heber J. Grant, with George Albert Smith. We have some today willing to believe someone who is dead and gone and to accept his words as having more authority than the words of a living authority today" (Stand Ye in Holy Places [1974], 153).

President Lee amplified this by telling of his response to a man who was disturbed at a new policy of the Church which was different from one established in the time of Joseph Smith. He said to this questioning brother:

"'Have you ever thought that what was contrary to the order of heaven in 1840 might not be contrary to the order of heaven in 1960?' He had not thought of that. He again was following a dead prophet, and he was forgetting that there is a living prophet today. Hence the importance of our stressing that word living" (Stand Ye in Holy Places, 153).

In summary, the Church is founded on continuing revelation to a current, living prophet. "Many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" have been revealed, and more are yet to be revealed through the living prophet. Beginning with Joseph Smith and continuing on to his successors as President of the Church, the ongoing stream of revelation has perfected our understanding of the gospel. The understanding of doctrines is more complete as taught by the Church today than at any prior time in this dispensation. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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