Friday, March 9, 2012

What is it like to do baptisms for the dead in the Temple?

So what is it really like to perform proxy ordinances in the Salt Lake Temple? It's not a simple matter to explain--and yet it is all quite simple.

How can one speak the love that suddenly engulfs the heart for progenitors long deceased? We know there is no death. There is no death as the world understands death. Our ancestors live on. We shall meet. 

But this much we can explain: we descend into a large round basin of water and are immersed for another in the name of Jesus Christ (see 3 Nephi 11:23, 27). After changing into dry clothing, we enter a nearby room, where two bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood place their hands on our heads and in the name of Jesus Christ confirm us, for another, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost. Taken together, immersion and confirmation make up one act of baptism, the legal gateway into the Kingdom of God. Even Jesus Christ received the ordinance of baptism; the Holy Ghost descended like a dove.

I cull the following description from my own journal. 

November 10, 2006

Today in the baptistry of the Salt Lake Temple I participated both as proxy and as officiator in baptisms and voice in confirmations. A mother and little girl came into the baptistry office and disappeared down the hall. They walked around a bit. They came into the confirmation room where I was to act as voice in the confirmation of my Danish ancestors. I asked the little girl her name. “Leah.”  She was Leah Jeppsen and had long yellow hair and cherry-red cheeks and a light in her eyes. It was her 12th birthday and the first time she had come to the House of the Lord. After she was confirmed, her mother said to her: “Now you’ve done temple work.” A beautiful day.

Proxy, Parable, and Priesthood: Official Declarations 1 and 2. The Doctrines of Baptism for the Dead and of Priesthood: A Shaft of Light from the Throne of God to our Hearts

I. Proxy, Parable, and Priesthood 
Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declarations 1 and 2

What was true in 1890 stands true today. Let us, then, duly liken the word of scripture given to yesterday’s prophet unto ourselves. To liken is to think "para-bolically": it is to make parables--and it is for those with ears to hear, to hear.

(Private members of the Church may dream in parables but must never shove hands at the ox-borne ark.)

“Press dispatches having been sent for political purposes, from Salt Lake City, which have been widely published, to the effect that [certain parties] “in their recent report to” [other parties] “allege that [baptisms for the dead for unauthorized persons] have been contracted” “during the past year.”

“I, therefore, as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching [members to perform unauthorized or celebrity baptisms nor endorsing doctrines having to do with the history of priesthood availability], nor permitting [that is to say, authorizing] any person to enter into its practice.”

“I hereby declare my [continued commitment or] intention to submit to those [agreements and policies already contracted], and to use [technology and] my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.” 

Again: “Whatever was done in this matter was without my knowledge.” “There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably [note the word well] construed to inculcate or encourage [such baptisms or any doctrinal speculation about priesthood availability], and when any [member] of the Church has used language which appeared to convey any such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from [participating in unauthorized baptisms or teachings].”

Following the signature of Wilford Woodruff to this official declaration, we further learn that the living President of the Church of Jesus Christ is “the only man on the earth at the present time who holds the keys of the sealing ordinances.” Any baptism, confirmation, ordination, endowment, sealing, or even teaching, of which the living Prophet does not approve, and so approving duly confirm or seal, “are of no efficacy, virtue, or force."

For: “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, and expectations, that are not made, entered into, and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed. . . are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in or after the resurrection from the dead ” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:7). President Thomas S. Monson holds the keys of the sealing ordinances today.

Three pointed questions logically follow:

Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name? 

Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed? 

And will I appoint unto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?

The conclusion is clear: "For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed" (Doctrine and Covenants 132: 9-11; 14,

II. The Doctrines of Baptism for the Dead and of Priesthood

Let go the parable and turn to the words of the very same prophet of yesterday, the same prophet who dedicated the Salt Lake Temple on April 6, 1893.

Upon first learning of the doctrine of baptism for the dead, Wilford Woodruff wrote:

It was like a shaft of light from the throne of God to our hearts. It opened a field wide as eternity to our minds.”

“It appeared to me that the God who revealed that principle unto man was wise, just and true, possessed both the best of attributes and good sense and knowledge. I felt he was consistent with both love, mercy, justice and judgment, and I felt to love the Lord more than ever before in my life. . . . I felt to say hallelujah when the revelation came forth revealing to us baptism for the dead.”

The first thing that entered into my mind was that I had a mother in the spirit world. She died when I was 14 months old. I never knew [my] mother” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church--Wilford Woodruff, 185:

III. The 1978 Revelation on Priesthood: A "Fully Sufficient Answer"

We turn now to 4 May 1978 and 1 June 1978 and to the matter of Official Declaration 2, the Revelation on Priesthood:

"At the end of the joint meeting of the Presidency and Twelve on May 4 [1978], when the priesthood policy was discussed, [Elder] LeGrand Richards asked permission to make a statement. He then reported:

'I saw during the meeting a man seated in a chair above the organ, bearded and dressed in white, having the appearance of Wilford Woodruff. . . . I am not a visionary man. . . . This was not imagination. . . . It might be that I was privileged to see him because I am the only one here who had seen President Woodruff in person.' "

1 June 1978, following the Revelation on Priesthood (Declaration 2):

"President Kimball also later said, I felt an overwhelming spirit there, a rushing flood of unity such as we had never had before.' And he knew that the fully sufficient answer had come.

Emotion overflowed as the group lingered. When someone reminded President Kimball of the earlier appearance of Wilford Woodruff to LeGrand Richards in the room, Spencer said he thought it natural: 'President Woodruff would have been very much interested, because he went through something of the same sort of experience' with the Manifesto" (Edward L. Kimball, BYU Studies, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," 52-3; 59).

President Woodruff's favorite hymn was "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," which includes the following thoughts:

Ye fearful Saints, fresh courage take;
The Clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan his works in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

We need not apologize for God's mysterious ways, however embarrassing these may prove to us. Better to suffer so, than to make of God's ways a trivial journey.

Young Joseph Smith struggled for two years prior to receiving the First Vision, and was "upbraided not." And the long pleadings for knowledge about the priesthood chastened the prophetic soul of President Spencer W. Kimball. Yet the revelation came not as a rebuke: Official Declaration 2 speaks five times of blessings; it speaks of privileges and promises and temples. No one was chastened; though--as ever--our ignorance was replaced with added light.

I do not propose to speak to the history of plural marriage nor of the role of the Manifesto (Official Declaration 1) in ending the practice. The above remarks contemplate the doctrine of the keys of the sealing power, whereby approved ordinances alone are made binding and efficacious by the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Even then, the recipient of the sacrament retains full right of reception or refusal.) All other ordinances, no matter where performed or by whom--and no matter the temporary record--are illegal, null, and void in the sight of the Church and in the sight of God. An attempted baptism for the dead becomes a far different thing than an offering or a record "worthy of all acceptation" (Doctrine and Covenants 128:24). 

Initial misunderstandings are only to be expected, but for writers, possibly through neglect of accessible sources, to continue to ignore the plain doctrines about priesthood keys, sealing powers, baptisms, and "a house of order" becomes tantamount to misrepresentation.

The readily available revelations published by the Prophet Joseph Smith over 150 years ago that have bearing on proxy work, or baptism for the dead include: Doctrine and Covenants 110, 124, 127, 128, 132, 137 (and 138: President Joseph F. Smith). See also 1 Corinthians 15:29, the Pauline basis for proxy baptism. Recent articles in the Deseret News treat the latest statements by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about unauthorized baptisms for the dead, including facts about the latest technology to block illegal submissions of names. The real news, of course, is that the dead live on in a world of eternal opportunity and that God continues to speak through His authorized servants today. 

The Latter-day Saint people, who overflow with all but boundless admiration for our Jewish brothers and sisters, are outraged by unauthorized baptisms for the dead. Besides, such illegal actions (and by illegal I mean actions which invoke God's name and authority in vain), instantaneously become yet another club for our non-Jewish critics with which to beat us over the head. The following articles show some understanding of Mormon doctrine within the American Jewish community:

"Outraged by Mormon Proxy Baptism? Not this Jew," 29 Feb. 2010,

Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, 29 Feb. 2012, "Mormon Ritual is no Threat to Jews."