Comment #63 by OhMissJulie (emphasis is mine) - I know the prophet is true . . . (Feminist Mormon Housewives)
OK. Here’s how I understand it. The prophet receives guidance and revelation for the whole of the Church. There is a reason that we call them General Authorities. They give general counsel to the general population of the Church. This keeps the Church as a whole on track, and ensures that we stay unified on the macro level, and there are probably a lot of other good reasons for it including some I could name if my head weren’t so foggy at the moment. Personal revelation is just that - it’s personal. It’s revelation for you, just you, only you, and occasionally the people for whom you are responsible, like your children (or your ward if you’re a Bishop, or you’re Relief Society if you’re the RSP, etc.). So when the prophet comes out with his general revelation, it is your job to correlate that with personal revelation. Different kinds of revelation. Everyone should have both, and one cannot take the place of the other.
So, say you have a personal revelation that you shouldn’t consume any more coffee, tea, or alcohol. That’s great and you should follow it; however, it doesn’t apply to anyone except for you until the prophet comes out and says the same thing. Then everyone makes an honest attempt to reconcile the prophet’s words through prayer. They are then accountable for following that revelation. In most cases, they would never have had the opportunity to even receive that revelation had the prophet not had it for them. But let’s say the prophet comes out and says, oh, that everyone should support this amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage in California (for one totally random example). You then seek out personal revelation, and you feel that you should not do that. It doesn’t apply to your life. You are off the hook. Note that in this example the GAs specifically said that every member had to pray and follow their own consciences. You did, so you’re fine.It’s nuanced, and in the religious context for some reason that makes it troubling, but that’s how I understand it. I think we tend to have a naive view of religion, expecting it to provide us with the kind of absolutes that we know full well don’t exist anywhere else. I do believe that the Lord takes His sense of order very, very seriously, though I don’t really get why, and for that reason church-wide “macro” revelations must come through a prophet. Individual application of those revelations, though, comes through more individual means.