By J. Kenneth Doty
(This talk is a compilation of several talks on this subject given while my wife, Corinne, and I were serving as co-directors of the family history center in the Portland Oregon East Stake. There were three talks to give to various wards; one given at a Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting; another at a Saturday night session of Stake Conference; and one was our missionary report to our ward at the conclusion of our service mission.)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has repeatedly stressed its “Three-fold Mission” to be: first, proclaiming the Gospel; second, perfecting the saints; and third, redeeming the dead.
It is about the third element of this mission of the Church that I have been assigned to speak about. It is also the subject that, in my observation, seems to be given the least amount of attention. Yet its function and purpose is supported by the fact that it is the capstone of our religion.
We must not overlook the emphasis of this work that was the message of the Angel Moroni in his visits to the Prophet Joseph Smith. You know the story of the fourteen-year-old boy prophet’s first vision in the sacred grove when God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him. That was in 1820. Three years later he again sought the Lord in prayer. Again, at age 17, he was to receive another heavenly visitation. The Angel Moroni appeared to him.
It is interesting to note that Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith a total of five times through that night and into the next day, and that he repeated the same message each time. What was that message? I quote from the Prophet’s own words as he recounted what was spoken to him. “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah, the Prophet… and he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole world would be wasted at His coming.”
That message was repeated to Joseph Smith each of the five times Moroni appeared to him. It was an intense beginning of the training that Joseph was to receive in preparation of the work he was now called to do. He was instructed to return to the Hill Cumorah each year for the next four years before taking possession of the Gold Plates. He was then 21 years of age.
We can only imagine the impact of such miraculous and intense training; to sit at the feet of this angelic person. But coupled with the additional information absorbed in the process of translating the Book of Mormon from those gold plates resulted in a very well-trained Prophet who ushered in the Restoration of the Fullness of the Gospel.
He was always focused on the importance of a Temple. And we should note that a similar focus remains with the ensuing prophets of the Church. Joseph built two and one was destroyed. Today, we have 143 operating temples throughout the world.
The first of Joseph’s temples was the Kirtland temple. The sacrifice of the saints in building this temple brought about the fulfillment of the Angel Moroni’s message. The Prophet Elijah restored the sealing power to this modern prophet. The sealing power that binds in heaven what is bound on earth. Wife to husband. Children to Parents. Making it possible to have a continuous binding link to our posterity and all the way back to Adam and Eve. Families can be forever!
Joseph Smith never deviated from the urgency of temple building. In spite of the persecutions experienced in Missouri, he continued to plan for a temple. Three sites were dedicated. One in Independence, one in Far West, and Adam-ondi-Ahman. I have had the privilege of visiting these sites and especially at Far West I have had the witness of the Spirit that they are still valid, sacred sites for the erection of temples.
The Nauvoo Temple was completed after the death of the prophet, but used only long enough to allow the saints to receive their temple ordinances before beginning their exodus to the west. I testify that those ordinances provided the fire of determination that carried those people across that vast wilderness. We must note that the first action taken by Brigham Young when they arrived at what is now Salt Lake City, was to designate a site for a temple.
I was never more thrilled and more touched by the Spirit than when I witnessed the dedication of the restored Nauvoo Temple. Being dedicated on the anniversary of the Prophet Joseph’s martyrdom, June 27, made it even more touching. It was obvious that the same Spirit was present in Gordon B. Hinckley as he spoke and delivered the dedicatory prayer.
Redemption of the dead, uniting of families, marriage for time and eternity – these are the living emblems and ordinances of the fullness of the Gospel, even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the basis upon which our worthiness and preparedness for attaining the highest degree in the Celestial Kingdom is established and attained. Redeeming the dead should become a burning desire in each of us. To learn who our predecessors were, to prepare their names for ordinances in the temple and then to go to the temple and perform those ordinances for them is the crowning work of the Gospel. It is also the crowning work in our own lives. This is my witness and my testimony.