Chapter 3 Section C
The Latter-day Saints affirm that their vicarious work in behalf of the dead is required of them by the call of the Lord through direct revelation; and that it becomes the duty and privilege of every individual who accepts the Gospel and enters the Church to labor for the salvation of his dead. He is expected and required by the obligations and responsibility he has assumed as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, so to live as to be a worthy representative of his departed ancestors, in holy ordinance, and to be of clean life, that he may not forfeit his right to enter the sacred confines of the Lord’s House, where alone he may officiate in that privileged capacity.
Let it not be assumed that this doctrine of vicarious labor for the dead implies even remotely, that the administration of ordinances in behalf of departed spirits operates in any manner to interfere with the right of choice and the exercise of free agency on their part. They are at liberty to accept or reject the ministrations in their behalf; and so they will accept or reject, in accordance with their converted or unregenerate state, even as is the case with mortals to whom the Gospel message may come. Though baptism be duly administered to a living man in behalf of a dead ancestor, that spirit will derive no immediate advancement nor any benefit therefrom if he has not yet attained faith in the Lord Jesus Christ or if he be still unrepentant. Even as Christ offered salvation to all, though few there be who accept in the flesh, so temple ordinances may be administered for many in the realm of the departed who are not yet prepared to profit thereby.
It is evident, therefore, that labor in behalf of the dead is two-fold; that performed on earth would remain incomplete and futile but for its supplement and counterpart beyond the veil. Missionary work is in progress there-work, compared with which the evangelistic labor of earth is but a small undertaking. There are preachers and teachers, ministers invested with the Holy Priesthood, all engaged in declaring the glad tidings of the Gospel to spirits who have not yet found the light. As has been shown, this great labor amongst the dead was inaugurated by Jesus the Christ, during the brief period of His disembodiment. The saving ministry so begun was left to be continued by others duly authorized and commissioned; even as the work of preaching the Gospel and administering therein amongst the living was committed to the apostles in the Church of old.
Authority to Labor in Behalf of the Dead
In the closing chapter of the compilation of scriptures known to us as the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi thus describes a condition incident to the last days, immediately preceding the second coming of Christ: �
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.”
The fateful prophecy concludes with the following blessed and far-reaching promise:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
It has been held by theologians and Bible commentators that this prediction had reference to the birth and ministry of John the Baptist, upon whom rested the spirit and power of Elias. However, we have no record of Elijah having ministered unto the Baptist, and further- more, the latter’s ministry, glorious though it was, justifies no conclusion that in him did the prophecy find its full realization. In addition, it should be remembered, that the Lord’s declaration through Malachi, relative to the day of burning in which the wicked would be destroyed as stubble, yet awaits fulfilment. It is evident, therefore, that the commonly accepted interpretation is at fault, and that we must look to a later date than the time of John for the fulfilment of Malachi’s prediction. The later occasion has come; it belongs to the present dispensation, and marks the inauguration of a work specially reserved for the Church in these latter days. In the course of a glorious manifestation to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, in the Temple at Kirtland, Ohio, April 3rd, 1836, there appeared unto them Elijah, the prophet of old, who had been taken from earth while still in the body. He declared unto them:
“Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi, testifying that he (Elijah) should be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse. Therefore the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands, and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.”
One of the fundamental principles underlying the doctrine of salvation for the dead, is that of the mutual dependance of the fathers and the children. Family lineage and the sequence of generations in each particular line of descent are facts, and cannot be changed by death; on the other hand it is evident from the olden scriptures already cited, and attested by the equally sure word of modern revelation, that the family relationships of earth are recognized in the spirit world. Neither the children nor the fathers, neither progenitors nor descendants, can alone attain perfection; and the requisite co-operation is effected through baptism and related ordinances, administered to the living in behalf of the dead.
In this way and through this work are the hearts of the fathers and those of the children turned toward each other. As the living children learn that without their ancestors they cannot attain a perfect status in the eternal world, their own faith will be strengthened and they will be willing to labor for the redemption and salvation of their dead. And the dead, learning through the preaching of the Gospel in their world, that they are dependent upon their descendants as vicarious saviors, will turn with loving faith and prayerful effort toward their children yet living.
This uniting of the interests of fathers and children is a part of the necessary preparation for the yet future advent of the Christ as ruling King and Lord of earth. Joseph Smith thus taught:
“The earth will be smitten with a curse, unless there is a welding link of some kind or other, between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other, and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.”
The Church today cites as authority for its administration of ordinances in behalf of the dead, the special bestowal of this power and office through the ministry of Elijah; and furthermore, the Church holds that the giving of that power marked the fulfilment of Malachi’s portentous prediction. There appears an element of particular fitness in the fact that the minister through whom this great work has been inaugurated in the present dispensation, is none other than Elijah,-who, not having passed the portals of death, held a peculiar and special relation to both the dead and the living. As to the fidelity with which the Church has served under this special commission, the temples it has reared with such sacrifice and self-denial on the part of its devoted adherents, and the ordinance work already performed therein, are sufficient proof.
The importance with which the Latter-day Saints regard their temple work in behalf of the dead naturally produces among this people a vital interest in the genealogical records of their respective families. Ordinance work in the temples, in behalf of any departed person, can be done only as that person may be described on the record, as to name, relationship, time and place of birth and death, etc., by which data he may be fully and certainly isolated and identified. It is a matter of common knowledge that interest in genealogical research has greatly increased in the United States and in Europe during the last seven or eight decades. Genealogical societies have been formed, and individual investigators have devoted great treasures of time and money to the compilation of records showing numerous lines of family descent and the many ramifications of complicated relationship. In all this work the Latter-day Saints profess to see the operation of an over-ruling power, by which their service for the dead is facilitated.
Temples Required for Vicarious Service
While the ordinances of baptism, imposition of hands for the bestowal of the Holy Ghost, and others, such as ordination to the Priesthood, may be performed upon the living in any suitable and proper place, the corresponding ordinances for and in behalf of the dead are acceptable unto the Lord, and therefore valid, only when administered in places specially provided, set apart, and dedicated for these and kindred purposes; that is to say, such ordinances belong exclusively to the House of the Lord. For a very brief period only, and that the earliest in modern Church history, before the people had opportunity to erect temples, did the Lord graciously accept a temporary sanctuary, even as He accepted the Tabernacle of old as a temporary temple during the period of Israel’s wanderings.
In a revelation given to Joseph Smith, the prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, January 19th, 1841, the Lord called upon His people to build a house to His name “for the Most High to dwell therein,” and added by way of explanation and instruction:
“For there is not a place found on earth that he may come and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fullness of the Priesthood;
“For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead;
“For this ordinance belongeth to my house, and cannot be acceptable to me, only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me.
“But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me, and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me.
“But behold, at the end of this appointment, your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment, ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.
“For verily I say unto you, that after you have had sufficient time to build a house to me, wherein the ordinance of baptizing for the dead belongeth, and for which the same was instituted from before the foundation of the world, your baptisms for your dead cannot be acceptable unto me,
“For therein are the keys of the holy Priesthood, ordained that you may receive honor and glory.
“And after this time, your baptisms for the dead, by those who are scattered abroad, are not acceptable unto me, saith the Lord;
“For it is ordained that in Zion, and in her Stakes, and in Jerusalem, those places which I have appointed for refuge, shall be the places for your baptisms for your dead.
“And again, verily I say unto you, How shall your washings be acceptable unto me, except ye perform them in a house which you have built to my name?
“For, for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was;
“Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices, by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places, wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.
“And verily I say unto you, Let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein, unto my people;
“For I deign to reveal unto my church, things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fullness of times.”
This then is sufficient answer to the question as to why the Latter-day Saints build and maintain temples. They have been instructed and required so to do by the Lord of Hosts. They have learned that many essential ordinances of the Church are acceptable only when performed in temples specially erected and reserved for the purpose. They know that within these precincts of sanctity the Lord has revealed many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God; and that He has promised to reveal yet more to man in houses sacred to His name. They have learned that a great part of the mission and ministry of the restored Church is the administration of vicarious ordinances in behalf of the unnumbered dead who never heard the tidings of the Gospel, and that for such sacred and saving service
Temples are a necessity.