• Note how Joseph Smith and the early Saints grew in their understanding of the doctrine of baptism for the dead.
As the Saints moved forward with this sacred work, “it soon became apparent that some had long records of their dead, for whom they wished to administer,” recalled Elder George A. Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. “This was seen to be but the beginning of an immense work, and that to administer all the ordinances of the Gospel to the hosts of the dead was no light task. Some of the Twelve asked Joseph if there could not be some shorter method of administering for so many. Joseph in effect replied: ‘The laws of the Lord are immutable; we must act in perfect compliance with what is revealed to us. We need not expect to do this vast work for the dead in a short time.’”
• Think about how the Saints might have felt when they first learned of salvation for the dead.
It seems apparent by their actions that they early saints were both excited about the work and also felt a great responsibility to it.
• What were your feelings when you first participated in ordinances for the dead?
I grew up in the Denver area before we had a temple here and our youth group used to take long bus trips to Manti to do baptisms for the dead. It was always a wonderful experience. The first time that I went, I was a bit overwhelmed by all the names there were to do – and by how fast the ordinance worker could say the words before dunking me in again for the next person on my list… there was barely time to catch my breath!
On many occasions, I experience a sensation that seemed to send both chills and warmth from the top of my head all the way down to my toes and I knew, in that instant, that someone was very happy that I had performed this service for them.
The doctrine of salvation for the dead shows the greatness of God’s wisdom and compassion.
• How does the doctrine of salvation for the dead show God’s compassion and mercy?
(Excerpt from: Why These Temples? by President Gordon B. Hinckley):
Was there ever a man who truly loved a woman, or a woman who truly loved a man, who did not pray that their relationship might continue beyond the grave? Has a child ever been buried by parents who did not long for the assurance that their loved one would again be theirs in a world to come? Can anyone believing in eternal life doubt that the God of heaven would grant His sons and daughters that most precious attribute of life, the love that finds its most meaningful expression in family relationships? No, reason demands that the family relationship shall continue after death. The human heart longs for it, and the God of heaven has revealed a way whereby it may be secured. The sacred ordinances of the house of the Lord provide for it. But all of this would appear to be unfair indeed if the blessings of these ordinances were available only to those who are now members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The fact is that the opportunity to come into the temple and partake of its blessings is open to all who will accept the gospel and be baptized into the Church. For this reason, the Church carries forward an extensive missionary program in much of the world and will continue to expand this program as widely as possible, for it has the responsibility, under divine revelation, to teach the gospel to “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” But there are uncounted millions who have walked the earth and who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel. Shall they be denied such blessings as are offered in the temples of the Lord? Through living proxies who stand in behalf of the dead, the same ordinances are available to those who have passed from mortality. In the spirit world these same individuals are then free to accept or reject those earthly ordinances performed for them, including baptism, marriage, and the sealing of family relationships. There’s no compulsion in the work of the Lord, but there must be opportunity. This vicarious work constitutes an unprecedented labor of love on the part of the living in behalf of the dead. It makes necessary a vast undertaking of family history research to find and identify those who have gone before. To assist in this research, the Church coordinates a family history program and maintains research facilities unmatched in all the world. Its archives are open to the public and have been used by many who are not members of the Church in tracing their forebears. This program has been praised by genealogists throughout the world and has been utilized by various nations as a safeguard of their own records. But its primary purpose is to afford members of the Church the resources needed to identify their ancestors that they might extend to them the blessings that they themselves enjoy. They in effect say to themselves, “If I love my wife and children so dearly that I want them for all eternity, then should not my deceased grandfather and great-grandfather and other forebears have opportunity to receive the same eternal blessings?” And so these sacred buildings are scenes of tremendous activity, quietly and reverently carried forward.
• In what ways can this doctrine “enlarge the understanding” and “sustain the soul”?
There is so much to learn and understand about the Gospel and the Lord’s Plan of Salvation for us. Only by studying the scriptures and the words of the prophets will we be able to “enlarge our understanding” of these things.
The answers to our questions and the comfort they bring to us can “sustain our souls” and increase our faith in Heavenly Father’s love for us both collectively and individually.
This great plan of redeeming our dead solidifies this loving bond with our Father by helping us to know that every single one of His children is special and is given equal opportunity to live with Him for eternity.
We become saviors on Mount Zion by performing sacred ordinances for the dead.
• What does it mean to be a savior on Mount Zion?
“But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah.”
• Why do you think it is impossible for our deceased ancestors to be made perfect without us?
(Excerpt from Gospel Library – Gospel Topics on LDS.org, Baptisms for the Dead):
Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth. Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Even Jesus Christ Himself was baptized (see Matthew 3:13–17). Many people have lived on the earth who never heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ and who were not baptized. Others lived without fully understanding the importance of the ordinance of baptism. Still others were baptized, but without proper authority. Because He is a loving God, the Lord does not damn those people who, through no fault of their own, never had the opportunity for baptism. He has therefore authorized baptisms to be performed by proxy for them. A living person, often a descendant who has become a member of [the Church], is baptized in behalf of a deceased person. This work is done by Church members in temples throughout the world. Some people have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed, deceased persons are baptized into the Church against their will. This is not the case. Each individual has agency, or the right to choose. The validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to accept and follow the Savior while residing in the spirit world. The names of deceased persons are not added to the membership records of the Church.
• Why do you think it is impossible for us to be made perfect without them?
John A. Widtsoe (“The Worth of Souls,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, p. 189.):
“In our preexistent state, in the day of the great council, we made a[n] … agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan. … We accepted it. Since the plan is intended for all men, we became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but … saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work. The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation.” “That places us in a very responsible attitude towards the human race. By that doctrine, with the Lord at the head, we become saviors on Mount Zion, all committed to the great plan of offering salvation to the untold numbers of spirits. To do this is the Lord’s self-imposed duty, this great labor his highest glory. Likewise, it is man’s duty, self-imposed, his pleasure and joy, his labor, and ultimately his glory.”
God has placed upon us a great responsibility to seek after our dead.
• What is our great responsibility to “seek after our dead”?
(Read excerpt from: Michael Otterson, “In Search of My Dad - Online,” Ensign, Oct 2009, 58–61):
All Done? Some say, “My family history is all done.” Others say, “Uncle Fred is doing it all.” That’s a bit like saying, “I don’t go to Church, but that’s okay because Uncle Fred goes for me.” The fact is that we need to be personally engaged in family history so our hearts will be turned to our fathers. Then we will forge that welding link between our ancestors and us that is so important to the Lord. Think about it. We each have four grandparents and that doubles each generation. In 10 generations we have 512 “grandparents” – not counting the thousands of other family members they bore. In 16 generations, we have nearly 33,000 direct ancestors. Our family history hasn’t all been done – I guarantee it.
Elder Theodore M. Burton, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, “Genealogy: A Personal Responsibility,” Ensign, Jan 1973, 52:
Stated, …in simple words, I say to every member of the Church that you have a personal, individual responsibility to become engaged in priesthood genealogical activity. The real impact of the priesthood genealogy program is one of individual responsibility. The actual work must be performed by individuals, not by organizations. What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business, so I must say that this work is your individual responsibility and each of you, as an individual, must become converted to this work as a personal responsibility. It is not my responsibility alone, nor that of your stake president, nor that of your bishop alone. It is not confined to the high priests. Neither is genealogy and temple work reserved for older people. It should not be put off until you retire or become too old and infirm to do anything else. Some persons have asked me, “Just what is my personal responsibility in this work?” I answer that your individual responsibility is to be, or to become, worthy to enter the temple of God to participate in ordinances of salvation for yourself and for others. Youth are to be baptized in behalf of the dead. Young adults are to receive an endowment of power and to be married in the Lord’s appointed way. Wives are to be sealed to husbands and have their children sealed to them for all eternity. Thus, just as you can be saviors for the living through active missionary work, so you are to qualify yourselves to become saviors for those who are dead who rely on you for help and assistance.
• What can we do to help children appreciate their family heritage and participate in temple and family history work?
What Young Adults Can Do (from Michael Otterson, “In Search of My Dad—Online,” Ensign, Oct 2009, 58–61):
I doubt there are many young adults who aren’t familiar with how to use a computer. The same isn’t true for many of their parents or grandparents. So I want to encourage you as young adults to do three things next time you are in their home. 1. Download. If your parents or grandparents have a computer with an Internet connection but don’t have an electronic family history program on their hard drive, go to www.familysearch.org and download a free copy of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) or other family history software for them. It will take you only a few minutes. 2. Tutor. If they have never done any family history work, sit down with them and get them to enter their own names into the software. Enter husband, wife, and children—no more for the moment—and just add the names, birth dates and places, marriage dates and places, and death dates and places. That will take about 20 minutes. Then encourage and help your parents or grandparents to gather up any written family history information from shoeboxes, scraps of paper, and pedigree charts and to begin entering it into the computer. In the weeks to come, help them with this goal. Once information is in an electronic format, you will be able to access the power of the Internet and amazing things can begin to happen as you search for your family history. If you do not know how to access this information from the Internet, a Church family history specialist should be able to help you. 3. Interview. If you can, use a digital recorder or digital video camera and ask your parents about their early lives and what they remember of their parents and grandparents. Do this in multiple sittings, but get it while you still have the blessing of living parents and grandparents. If you don’t have that opportunity, then try to gather this information from aunts and uncles or anyone of the previous generations. If you don’t do it, those memories will pass out of existence. Becoming involved in family history as young adults will turn your hearts toward your ancestors, enrich your temple experiences, and help to unite your family together forever.
Pose the following questions to the class:
• What experiences have you had as you have learned about your ancestors?
• How has your love for your family and your faith in God been strengthened as you learned about your ancestors?
• How has performing temple ordinances for your ancestors influenced your feelings about them?
Family Search Basics and FREE genealogical software available at FamilySearch.org
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), “Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, July 1997, 73:
“I hope that everyone gets to the temple on a regular basis. I hope your children over 12 years of age have the opportunity of going to the temple to be baptized for the dead. If we are a temple-going people, we will be a better people, we will be better fathers and husbands, we will be better wives and mothers. I know your lives are busy. I know that you have much to do. But I make you a promise that if you will go to the house of the Lord, you will be blessed, life will be better for you.”