Restoration of tradition of temples: a distinct contribution of prophet

One of the most significant and distinct contributions of the Prophet Joseph Smith was to restore the tradition of temples which included ordinances, covenants, knowledge and blessings. Sacred truths relating to these holy places had been lost for so many generations and were so different from contemporary religious thought that the Prophet was faced with a serious challenge of knowing when, where and how to unfold temple principles and practices to Latter-day Saints.

As the Prophet learned line upon line and precept upon precept, he gradually unfolded to others all essential characteristics relating to temples. And shortly before the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his beloved brother Hyrum, the Prophet conferred upon nine of the twelve apostles knowledge and authority relating to temples and conferred upon them the responsibility to continue the program he had restored.The first temple built under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith was constructed in Kirtland, Ohio. This temple was a special building, a house built for the Lord and under His divine guidance. Following visions and revelations that included details of design and purpose, the First Presidency, which included Joseph Smith and his counselors, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, directed the construction and utilization of that House of the Lord.

For three years, between 1833 and 1836, amid unusual poverty and persecution, Latter-day Saints sacrificed to complete a sacred edifice. The Lord responded to their commitment by pouring out blessings upon these people. Many rejoiced as they were blessed with an indescribable peace and partook of other gifts of the Spirit. Many received the ministration of angels. Many sang with a heavenly choir.

During this 1836 pentecostal season, the Prophet learned the principle of salvation for the dead and many received a partial endowment, a special gift of knowledge and power. Although this first temple was a "house of prayer, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order,

andT a house of God," Latter-day Saints were not prepared to receive at that time a more complete endowment or additional knowledge of temple ordinances and worship.

D&C 88:119; 109:8; Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan, Joseph Smith and the Doctrine and Covenants (Deseret Book Co., 1992), pp. 103-110.T

Amid a rising tide of persecution, Joseph Smith and many others were forced to abandon their homes in 1838 and leave their beautiful temple. More than 1,600 Latter-day Saints followed the Prophet westward.

Meanwhile, during the 1830s, the Prophet, before and after his exodus from Kirtland, identified a number of sites in Missouri for the building of temples. In August 1831 Joseph indicated a place where a temple was to be built in Independence, Mo. Two years later, he presented plans for a future City of Zion which included 24 buildings. These "temples" were to be used by priesthood quorums for a variety of purposes. In April 1838 Joseph unfolded a revelation that specified that another temple was to be built at Far West, Mo., according to a pattern unfolded by the Lord.

Although information regarding plans for temples in Ohio and Missouri, was unfolded by the Prophet in various revelations, the designs of these early temples were different from modern temples because their purposes were different. As President Brigham Young explained, the Kirtland Temple, the only temple built by Saints during the 1830s, had no font nor preparations to give endowments for the living or the dead." [Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth (Bookcraft, 1989), pp. 33-40. See also Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple (Bookcraft, 1980), p. 43.]

Before modern temples could be constructed in Missouri, Latter-day Saints were forced to abandon the communities where they had established their homes. In 1839, without fully understanding the reason for their actions, many Latter-day Saints complied with the instructions of the Prophet Joseph Smith and commenced gathering near a great horseshoe bend in the Mississippi. This gathering in and near a community that was called Nauvoo was essential in order for Latter-day Saints to build a temple and to gain a greater understanding of the purpose of these sacred buildings.

One word that aptly summarizes not only a significant contribution of Joseph Smith but also the experience of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo is the word "temple." When one considers nearly every theme relating to the Nauvoo experience, such as the gathering, settlement pattern, economy, organizational development, doctrinal development and forces of oppression, the word "temple" dominates or is a significant aspect of the discussion. If one were to identify the most enduring contributions of Joseph Smith or the most significant developments of the Nauvoo period, he or she would include the word, "temple."

Nearly all distinct teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and nearly all organizational developments in the restored Church that occurred between 1839 and 1844 were related to the temple.

During the Nauvoo experience, the Prophet unfolded uncommon (not taught by any other religious leader of his age) beliefs relating to celestial marriage, the character of the Godhead and man's relationship to God (such as pre-mortal life and our being spiritual children of our Father in Heaven, Christ being our elder brother, and the Father and Son having bodies of flesh and bones). Joseph also unfolded in Nauvoo additional knowledge regarding salvation for the dead and initiated a program of redeeming the dead. Moreover, in the early 1840s he taught distinct doctrines regarding the mission, keys, and sealing power of Elijah and taught the Saints that one of their major responsibilities was to seek after their dead. Every year, between 1840 and 1844, the Prophet delivered major discourses on that theme and before his martyrdom associated Elijah's mission with temple ordinances.

As the Prophet unfolded distinct teachings relating to the temple, he introduced temple ordinances for the living and the dead. In addition to the principle and practice of baptism for the dead, the Prophet unfolded in Nauvoo the full endowment, the same endowment that is available in modern temples today. He also introduced the ordinance of sealing husbands and wives, and children to parents. Blessings which Latter-day Saints received in Nauvoo were associated with sacred ordinances, making covenants and serving others.

While Joseph was unfolding a series of distinct doctrines, he was expanding the organization of the Church. During the early 1840s: three major organizational developments took place in Nauvoo, the creation of wards, the formation of the Relief Society and increasing the responsibilities of the Council or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. All these developments were associated with the temple.

In 1842 the first ward organizations were created, and this institution gained increased importance prior to the exodus of 1846. Before the early 1840s the Prophet had organized branches and stakes. After the Illinois legislature approved the Nauvoo charter, the city council organized Nauvoo into four political wards, and these wards were given responsibilities to assist in the building of the Nauvoo Temple. Bishops were called to serve in each ward and one of their primary responsibilities was to care for the poor. (History of the Church 4:517.)

As the demands of the bishops intensified and as the need for laborers to help build the temple increased, the high council, according to a division made by the temple committee, divided Nauvoo into ten ecclesiastical wards. Bishops were also assigned to preside over each ecclesiastical ward. (HC 5:119-20.) Although these leaders continued to administer to the needs of the poor, their responsibilities included providing workers for the temple. Before these leaders left for the West, some called counselors to assist them in their duties; some fostered religious services within the boundaries of their wards; and some organized quorums of deacons, teachers, priests, and high priests. (HC 5:249, 263; 6:263; 7:325, 351, 388, 411.)

During the same year that the first ecclesiastical wards were constituted, Joseph Smith organized (on March 17, 1842) the Relief Society according to priesthood patterns that had been revealed to him. For the first time in the early history of the restored Church women were given offices in the Church. This organization was different from all other benevolent women's societies. It was constituted under the direction of the priesthood.

The Relief Society was not only organized to help bishops care for the poor, but to foster virtue and to prepare women spiritually. On March 30, 1842, Joseph spoke to the sisters of the Relief Society in the upper floor of the Red Brick store (where the women were initially organized and where they were holding weekly meetings).

"None should be received into the society but those who were worthy," he said on that occasion. "One principle objective of the institution was to purge out iniquity."

(Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Eliza and Her Sisters (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books), 1991, pp. 1-4, 41; Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, comp. and eds., The Words of Joseph Smith, Religious Studies Center: BYU, p. 110.)T

Recognizing that his mission would not be complete without preparing others to administer the same temple ordinances he had restored, during the winter of 1843-1844 the Prophet Joseph Smith met with nine of the twelve apostles (those who had served in the British mission) and a select group of other faithful Saints, including many sisters, and bestowed upon them temple blessings and taught them temple procedures. He also conferred upon the apostles all the keys of the priesthood which had been bestowed upon him and gave them the charge to continue the work restored through him.

Following the martyrdom, the Twelve pledged to continue the program of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and these leaders made the temple a central symbol of that commitment. Under their direction, the Nauvoo Temple became a holy house where thousands of Latter-day Saints received blessings restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith. (Ronald K. Esplin, "Joseph, Brigham and the Twelve: A Succession of Continuity," 1981 BYU Studies 21:314-20, 329-30.)

Shortly before his death, the Prophet expressed genuine interest in finishing the temple. "Hurry up the work, brethren," he used to say. "Let us finish the temple; the Lord has a great endowment in store for you." He urged the Saints forward continually, preaching unto them the importance of completing that building, so that therein the ordinances of life and salvation might be administered to the people. "Then," said he, "the Kingdom will be established, and I do not care what shall become of me." (Journal of Discourses 13:49, George Q. Cannon, December 5, 1869; William Adams, Autobiography, typescript, BYU, pp. 14-15.)

On June 27, 1844, after the tradition of temples had been restored, the Prophet and Patriarch sealed their testimonies with their blood. The increasing number of modern temples that dot the earth stand as visual witnesses of one of the most significant and enduring contributions of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

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