Temple work: century of progress

The 100 years that have elapsed since the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated have been a period of remarkable developments in temple activity.

Sacred temple blessings became available to the saints in many parts of the world, and significant inventions have helped us more easily compile our family histories. These developments have built on the foundations that had been laid during earlier years.Significant developments before 1893

Some of the Lord's earliest revelations had the saints thinking about temples. (Compare Mal. 4:5-6 with D&C 2; see also D&C 36:8, 42:36.) When Joseph Smith first visited Missouri during the summer of 1831, the Lord revealed that the temple in the city of Zion, or the New Jerusalem, would be built at Independence, Jackson County, Mo. (D&C 57:1-3; compare 84:2-3.) Two years later, however, mobs drove the saints from the county; so the construction of this great temple is still future.

The Church's first temple was built at Kirtland, Ohio. The possibility of salvation for the dead was specifically revealed there in January 1836. (D&C 137:4-7.) The dedication of this temple on March 27, 1836, was a spiritual highlight. Another great event happened just one week later when Elijah appeared and restored the sealing keys. (D&C 110:13-16, 128:6-9.)

Baptisms for the dead were inaugurated at Nauvoo in the summer of 1840, and two years later the saints received their endowment blessings. Once again the Nauvoo Saints sacrificed greatly to build their temple. Even though the saints were under pressure to flee for their lives, some 5,500 received their temple blessings before leaving Nauvoo.

While the great temple at Salt Lake City was under construction, the Church dedicated the St. George Temple in 1877, and endowments for the dead were instituted. For the first time saints could return to the temple again and again, refreshing their understanding of the endowment and recommitting themselves to keeping the covenants as they received these blessings in behalf of others. Heretofore the saints had performed vicarious ordinances only for their own relatives, but at St. George, Elder Wilford Woodruff learned by revelation that we may assist one another in accomplishing this work. The Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake temples included specific rooms designed for presenting the endowment, which was now a much more important part of temple activity.

The Salt Lake Temple enters service

After 40 years of construction, the long anticipated dedication of the Salt Lake Temple was a spiritual milestone for the Latter-day Saints. A total of 70,000 people attended the 31 dedicatory sessions that extended from April 6-24, 1893.

The first ordinances were performed in this temple on May 23, 1893. The temple's opening resulted in a more than 50 percent increase in the number of endowments performed each year for the dead. To solve the problem of overcrowding, each stake in the area was assigned certain days when its members were invited to attend the temple. This practice of assigning "stake temple days" would become common during the 20th century. At first there was only one endowment session per day, but by 1920 this number had increased to four. During that decade, evening sessions were scheduled for the first time to meet the needs of those who could not attend during the day.

Being located at Church headquarters, the Salt Lake Temple includes a special council room for the First Presidency and the Twelve. In front are seats for members of the First Presidency. Facing them in a semi-circle are the chairs occupied by members of the Twelve. In this room important decisions are reached - appointment of Church leaders, formation of new stakes or missions, approval of programs or policies, etc. Elder Spencer W. Kimball said that to hear the prophet conclude these decisions with such solemn expressions as "the Lord is pleased," "that move is right," or "our Heavenly Father has spoken," is to know that he truly receives divine revelation. (Instructor, August 1960, p. 257.)

Twentieth century temples

Temples built during the first half of the 20th century reflected the Church's expansion beyond the Mountain West. Following World War II, the pace of international growth quickened. President David O. McKay emphasized the need to build smaller temples to make them more accessible to the saints worldwide. The introduction of well-prepared recordings and films at the Swiss Temple in 1955 made it possible to present the endowment in a single room in several languages at once.

Only 15 temples were in service when Spencer W. Kimball became president of the Church in 1973. During the 1980s, however, there was an unprecedented acceleration in temple building. These included temples in such far-flung places as Korea, the Philippines, Tahiti, Sweden, South Africa, and even in eastern Europe. When all the temples that are currently in the planning and construction phases are completed, the total will reach 54.

There has been a corresponding acceleration in the number of endowments for the dead. The 100 millionth endowment was performed during the summer of 1988.

Developments in family history

After the large Los Angeles Temple opened in 1956, the total of endowments for the dead increasingly exceeded the quantity of names submitted by the saints. Nevertheless, Church leaders wanted the saints to continue receiving the benefits of regular temple attendance. Beginning in the 1960s, therefore, the leaders directed Genealogical Society employees to copy names from microfilmed vital records and make them available for temple work. By the early 1970s three-fourths of all names for temple ordinances were being supplied in this manner.

Name extraction was introduced into the stakes beginning in 1978. Volunteers were called to devote four or more hours each week in taking names from designated records. Once again Church members supplied all the names needed for ordinance work.

While it is our privilege to officiate for others, Church leaders continue to emphasize the responsibility we have to our own direct-line ancestors. In 1987 each Latter-day Saint was challenged to identify at least one relative for whom he could personally perform temple ordinances. (Ensign, August 1987, p. 75.)

In recent years the computer has made available exciting, new family history programs. The Personal Ancestral File (PAF) enables individuals to organize and print genealogical information. FamilySearch, on compact discs at hundreds of local "Family History Centers," quickly makes available an unbelievably vast amount of ancestral data. TempleReady, just now being introduced, enables Church members to instantly clear names locally for temple ordinances.

The importance of temple service

In 1976 two revelations were added to the standard works, now Sections 137 and 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Both teach important principles related to salvation for the dead, and thus support the significance of vicarious temple service.

Speaking at the Jordan River Temple's cornerstone laying, President Ezra Taft Benson reflected on the far-reaching impact of sacred temple ordinances: "The saints in this temple district will be better able to meet any temporal tribulation because of this temple. Faith will increase as a result of the divine power associated with the ordinances of heaven and the assurance of eternal associations. . . . This valley will be preserved, our families will be protected, and our children will be safeguarded as we live the gospel, visit the temple, and live close to the Lord." (Church News, Aug. 22, 1981, p. 8.)

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