At the end of 2008 I asked what Sunday topics you would like me to cover, and after an entire month of posts I still have only touched on one of them, the Temple Garment. I felt there were two very important things I needed to do first:
- The Plan of Salvation is one of the first things that persons interested in the Church are educated on. It explains where we come from, why we are here, and where we are going. Helping you understand this Plan will hopefully help you understand why the Temple is such an integral part of our belief system.
- Another point of great importance is authority. I believe in the Church because I prayed and worked to gain a testimony of Joseph Smith. I believe Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees at the beginning of the 19th century, and that after that point in time all of the necessary ordinances of the true Church of Jesus Christ were restored once again on the earth.
I have previously discussed LDS Temples and why we have them, and for the next few posts I am going to try to help you understand a little bit better what goes on inside of them.
I realized that for those unfamiliar with the Church, it might be best to explain the Temple by walking you through my own experiences. My first opportunity to enter the temple came when I was somewhere around 12 years old. Once a year, each year, all youth aged 12-18 carpooled with our youth leaders over to the Seattle temple, almost 3 hours away from my hometown.
Before going on this trip, I met with my bishop (congregation leader) and was interviewed for a recommend. These questions dealt with topics such as testimony, integrity, chastity, faithfulness in living various commandments, personal habits, and affiliations. If you are curious about what the interview is like, I urge you to read this talk by Elder L. Tom Perry, who describes his own experience meeting with his bishop to receive a temple recommend. All Church member are asked the same questions, and a recommend is only received after meeting with a Church leader. Recommends do expire after a certain amount of time, and so members must meet with their bishop on a regular basis to be able to attend the temple.
On the day of our annual temple trip, myself and around 40 youth in my ward piled into various minivans and settled in for the long trip (it always felt very long as a kid) over Snoqualmie pass. We all did it with a smile though because being in the temple is such a wonderful feeling. When we arrived we were usually fed donuts and juice as a pre-temple snack, and before we entered we made sure our cell phones were off before we entered because the temple is a very quiet and reverent place.
We visited the temple on these trips to do baptisms and confirmations by proxy, for those who have died without the opportunity to accept the Gospel. Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5). Because God is merciful, he has provided a way for all to have the opportunity to return to live with Him again, no matter what time or place they lived. The New Testament indicates that baptisms for the dead were done during the time of the Apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). This ordinance was restored with the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 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.
The baptismal font in the Seattle temple looked very similar to this:
I waited quietly for my turn, reading the scriptures or writing in my journal while reflecting on how I felt. I loved the feeling of walking down into the pool of warm water, and looking out to see the “forever mirrors” on either side. By setting two mirrors across from each other, a reflection that seemed to go on forever was created, reminding me that the ordinances I was participating in on the behalf of the deceased individual would last eternally if the deceased individual I was being baptized for chose to accept it.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“What a marvelous thing that is that you, an ordinary boy or girl, can stand in the place of some great man or woman who at one time lived upon the earth but who is now powerless to move forward without the blessing that you can give to him or her. … There is no greater blessing that you can have than to stand as a proxy in a great service to those who have gone beyond. And it will be your privilege and your opportunity and your responsibility to live worthy to go to the temple of the Lord and there be baptized in behalf of someone else.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, Apr. 2002, 4.
Some people have misunderstood what we are doing, and think 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 whether to accept the work performed for them. 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.
Many of you may only know of term baptizing for the dead through the news reports done concerning the objections by the Jewish community to this practice. I refer those who are interested in this topic to this article written by Elder D. Todd Christofferson.
I hope this post has helped you understand this practice a little better. It isn’t scary, or weird; it is very beautiful. Baptism by proxy, or baptisms for the dead, are done out of love. As members of the Church we yearn to provide all with the opportunity to experience the happiness we do. We sacrifice our time, energy, and worldly means to enter into God’s holy house and do these things for those who were not previously provided the chance to do so. My heart literally swells when I think of what a marvelous opportunity we are providing our ancestors. I do this because I believe it to be true, and I want all who have ever lived to have the opportunity
I’ve deeply resisted the temptation to paste this entire talk by Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Twelve into this article. If you would like to better understand why we believe in the importance of ordinance work for the dead, please read this talk. Kaitlyn, Kristin, Paula, Kate, Julie, Bean, Skywalker, mhb, Mrs. S, Sophia, phruphru, Cecy, Kalen (that was a long list, thanks for being so supportive friends!) and others who comment frequently on Sunday posts, I cannot recommend this article enough. He uses many New and Old Testament references which I know many of you will find particularly helpful.