We have a loving Father in Heaven who desires that all of His children return to His presence. In order to help us accomplish this task, He organized a plan and explained it to us while we were still spirits living in His presence. He told us that He would send each of us to earth for the purpose of gaining a physical body and developing those attributes that we needed. He told us that our time here on earth should be used to prepare ourselves to return to His presence in the
The requirements for obtaining exaltation and entering the highest degree in the celestial kingdom include many ordinances that must be done on the earth. Because billions of people have died without any knowledge of these saving ordinances, Heavenly Father provided a way for all his children to receive them. President Joseph Fielding Smith calls this plan of salvation for the dead "one of the grandest, most reasonable, and soul satisfying doctrines ever revealed to man" (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954-56], 2:143).
We can better understand and appreciate this doctrine by actually participating in the work of salvation for ourselves and our ancestors. One of the most important things we can do is to learn and understand that our Father in Heaven loves each one of us so very much that He sent His Son to earth to die for us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave us the greatest of all gifts when He made it possible for us to return to our Father's presence.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
"And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end, you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).
We can help our Father to bless His children by providing temple ordinances for our ancestors, either by participating in the actual ordinances at the temple or by finding and submitting information so the ordinances can be done by others. In doing this, we are helping to make "the greatest of all the gifts of God" available to those ancestors.
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we must learn certain principles and perform certain ordinances in order to enter the
Our fourth Article of Faith states:
"We believe that the first
principles and ordinances of the Gospel are:
first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third,
Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for
the gift of the Holy Ghost." Celestial Kingdom
Everyone needs these principles and ordinances in order to enter the
, but many people
departed this earth without even hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. God would not be a fair God if He did not
provide a way for all of His children to receive the same blessings. This is the reason why we do family history
work. Our dearly departed ancestors can
learn faith and repentance in the spirit world, but they cannot receive the ordinances
of baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of Holy Ghost there. The ordinances are necessary to enter the Celestial
Kingdom , but they must be performed on
earth. Celestial Kingdom
Jesus Christ taught the importance of being baptized by water and the Spirit: "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the
" (John 3:5). kingdom of God
Many billions of people have lived on the earth and then died without being taught the gospel and receiving these ordinances. If these people never receive earthly ordinances, they will be unable to enter the celestial kingdom, regardless of their righteousness. However, Heavenly Father's plan of salvation applies to all his children, and He has provided a way for these people to hear the gospel and receive the ordinances, even though they were unable to do so when they were on the earth.
We have the opportunity to help those who have died without gospel ordinances through doing family history work. Elder
Royden G. Derrick, who was a member of the Seventy, shared the following family story:
"When I was a young child, our family was anxious for the return of Uncle Orson. My mother had deep feelings about the matter, which she implanted in her children. For some reason I always watched for Uncle Orson to come to the back door of our home. I remember on a number of occasions when a peddler would come to the back door. I would pull on my mother's dress to get her attention and ask, `Is this Uncle Orson, huh?' But the answer was always no.
"… Uncle Orson was born in 1881. Fourteen months later his father died, leaving him without the guidance of a father during those critical early years. When he was 17 years old, he, with a group of other boys his own age, went to Saltair, a dance pavilion on the shores of the
Great Salt Lake. Before the evening was over, they became
drunk and ended up in the county jail.
"The following morning, parents and family members came to the jail house and obtained their sons' releases. Many of them put their arms around their sons and built them into pillars in the community. But unknown to my grandmother, Uncle Orson was released from jail, given a one-way ticket to the Northwest, and told never to return.
"Mother said that on occasions she would hear her mother sobbing in her bedroom during the night. When she went to her mother's side, her mother would say, `I wonder where my wandering boy is tonight.'
"Uncle Orson likely worked in the lumber camps of the Northwest in an atmosphere that was not conducive to living the principles of the gospel. If he were living today, he would be very old. It is most likely that he has gone to the world of spirits by now….
"My good friend, Joseph S. Nelson, died a few months ago at age 86. He was a great missionary during his life. He served four missions…. I've been searching the scriptures to find [what he is doing now] - and here he is:
"`I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead' (D&C 138:57)….
"I have loved Uncle Orson from childhood because I inherited a longing for him. I want so much to buy him a return ticket home to his eternal family….
"I wonder if my good friend Joe Nelson might find Uncle Orson and teach him the gospel truths that his father would have taught him in mortality had he been here to do so" ("Find Them," New Era, Sept. 1981, 4-6).
Doctrine and Covenants 138:30 tells us that missionary work is being accomplished in the spirit world: "But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead."
The gospel of Jesus Christ is taught to the spirits of our departed ancestors. Even if these spirits accept the gospel, they can progress no further unless the earthly ordinances are performed for them here on earth. We can perform these ordinances for them in the temple. This work is referred to as vicarious work. To do something vicariously means that a person does something in place of someone else. The person doing the work or activity for another person is called a proxy. In the temple we can be baptized and receive other ordinances for people who have died without receiving the ordinances. We are the ones who go down into the waters of baptism or who have hands placed on our head, but they are the ones for whom the ordinances are in effect. We do the ordinances, but those who are dead can exercise their agency in choosing whether or not to accept the work being performed.
Ordinances performed for the dead in the temple include baptism, confirmation and bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost, ordaining to the priesthood for the men, endowment, marriage, and sealing of children to parents. Any worthy member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who is at least 12 years old can receive a recommend from the bishop and go to the temple to be baptized and confirmed for the dead. Those who are at least 18 years old and have received their own temple ordinances can return to the temple to receive other ordinances for the dead.
The Lord has declared that we are each responsible for helping our own ancestors to receive the ordinances of the temple. The first step in doing this vicarious work is to find out who our ancestors are. The information we need to know about them in order to do their temple work is each person's name, sex, and at least one identifying date, such as a birth or death date; however, we are encouraged to find as much information about them as we can possibly find. Other helpful information includes birthplace, parents' names, marriage date, spouse's name, and place of death. All this information should be as accurate as possible.
We can gain this information by asking living relatives for information and copies of records that they may have; doing research at family history centers or on the Internet; writing letters to request copies of birth certificates; looking at census records; and going to cemeteries.
When a person has the necessary information on an ancestor, he or she can submit the ancestor's name to the temple. If family members want to do the temple work for their own ancestors, the information is held in reserve for them to do it. If family members are unable to do the work or are unable to do the work in a reasonable length of time, they should release the names so that other members of the Church can perform the ordinances.
In addition to doing the work for our own ancestors, we can assist other people in accomplishing their family history work. After I wrote my first essays about very important people for this blog, I realized that people may be using my blog to find information about their ancestors and I started to include as much genealogical information as I found. When I attend the temple and do not have the name of an ancestor to perform the work for, I often help friends with their family history work. The following story illustrates other ways we can help others with their genealogy.
While 11-year-old Cindie and her father were taking a walk together, they found an old tombstone. They cleared the moss from it and found the following inscription:
Wife of Rufus Deming
died Jan. 5, 1855
in the 56th year
of her age
"Cindie said, `Oh, dad, I can just see what happened. There were Mormon pioneers crossing the plains, and poor Maryann [died], and her husband and children were heartbroken, and they buried her here and sadly left her and went on to Utah. It was so tragic!'"
Cindie's dad replied, "`I don't think so…. The Mormon pioneers didn't pass through
in 1855 or any other time. More likely
she and her family were here as part of the gold rush or to find a good farm or
something like that. But I'm sure you're
right about her family being very sad when she died.'" Lake
Cindie was very excited about the thought of using this information to help Maryann's descendants do her temple work:
"`Oh, dad, I can just see it now: one of her great-grandchildren has been looking for her records for just years and years, and they need her death date, and they're praying that someone will find her tombstone and send in the information to the [Family History] Library.'"
Cindie and her parents spent three days collecting information from local cemeteries. They then compiled a book and sent it to the Family History Library in
. Salt Lake City
"A few weeks later … Cindie came home from school to discover an impressive-looking envelope in the mailbox. Excitedly, she called [her father at work] and read, `The Genealogical Society wishes to thank you for your 41-page booklet, Cemetery Inscriptions of Lake County, California. You have provided important information which we did not have in our collection - information which will no doubt be very useful to many of our patrons in the years ahead. We congratulate you, at age 11, on having your own author card in our card catalog'" (Terry J. Moyer, "An Author Card for Cindie," New Era, May 1981, 14-17).
Even though Maryann Deming was not one of Cindie's ancestors, she was excited to find the tombstone and was inspired by the Spirit to help Maryann's descendents. When we have the spirit of family history work, there is much we can do to help our ancestors and others.
The ancient prophet Malachi wrote, "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" (Malachi 4:5-6).
Our hearts are turned to our fathers as we learn about our ancestors and dedicate ourselves to do temple work for them and for others who have died without the gospel. Our hearts are turned to our children as we teach them gospel principles, keep our journals, and write our own life stories.
By being baptized for the dead, we help them fulfill the principles and ordinances of the gospel. This work blesses us as we obey the Lord's commandment to turn our hearts to those who have died without the gospel.
President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, "By this means [doing temple work for the dead] we may help to save those who have gone before and in our limited way become saviors to many people. How great shall be the satisfaction of the man and the woman who have performed those ordinances for their dead, when they stand in the presence of their dead, and see their joy and hear expressions of gratitude" (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:143).
I testify that doing temple work for our dead ancestors is extremely important. They need us and we need them in order to become perfect. I know that searching for information about our ancestors and doing their temple work brings us closer to them. This means that we already have relationships with them. This earth was created for the purpose of creating eternal families. By doing temple work for our dead, we are sealing families together. I know that families can be together forever through the plan of our Heavenly Father!