PROVO, Utah The doctrines of turning "the heart of the children to their fathers" (Malachi 4:6) and becoming "saviours. . . on mount Zion" (Obadiah: 21) pertain to work for the dead, "a responsibility of celestial proportions," said Elder Cree-L Kofford.
Elder Kofford, president of the Family History Mission and a General Authority emeritus, spoke at the annual BYU Family History fireside Feb. 25. One of the goals of this mission is to help missionaries and others become personally involved in family research and temple work for their kindred dead.
"You don't get the Spirit of Elijah by talking about it; you get it by doing it," he emphasized.
Because "remembering is antecedent to witnessing" (quoting Steven L. Olsen, associate managing director of the Church History Division), Elder Kofford gave a broad overview of the history of the revelations Joseph Smith received in the early decades of the Church regarding ordinance work for the dead.
Within the decade of the 1820s came revelations and visions leading to the foundation of the Church, said Elder Kofford. The following decade of the 1830s brought revelations to build temples, followed by extreme persecutions and sometimes disobedience by the saints. In 1831, a commandment was received to build a temple in Jackson County. Though land was purchased and dedicated, the temple was never built because of persecution.
"In 1832, the Lord turned His attention to Kirtland, where there was a little more stability and He said to Joseph a second time, 'Build me a temple.' In July 1833, Joseph hadn't built a temple yet. The Lord chastised him severely enough that Hyrum (Smith) and some others took it to heart and in a matter of days had gone to digging footings and the foundation of the temple."
This, the Kirtland Temple, "was an authority-receiving temple and an instruction temple," he said.
"It was dedicated. The Lord came to the temple and accepted it. Elijah came and restored keys in 1836 that was the purpose of that temple."
In 1838, a third temple was to be built at Far West, in Caldwell County, Missouri. "Joseph tried, found land, and openly dedicated it. But (because of persecution) that temple was never built." In addition, the dedicated temple in Kirtland was taken over by enemies, said Elder Kofford.
In the decade of the 1840s, some 15,000 refugees from persecution struggled to Nauvoo, Ill., "carried by their faith. . . . These people had no idea what was about to happen."
These beleaguered saints were commanded to build another temple, and "in 1840, the heavens again opened, and the knowledge of eternal, celestial ordinances was brought forth," said Elder Kofford. First was the doctrine of baptism for the dead, the practice of which developed over time. At first, members baptized hundreds by proxy in the Mississippi River with no witnesses or records. Later, these ordinances were done in a temple baptismal font with a witness who "saw with his eyes, and heard with his ears" and who made and kept careful records. (See Doctrine and Covenants 128:3.)
"In May 1842, something happened that has changed all of our lives," said Elder Kofford, describing the setting of the first temple endowment, presented in the upper room of Joseph's Red Brick Store.
Later, the doctrine of celestial marriage was given in Doctrine and Covenants 131 and 132. The latter section is "one of the deepest, most beautiful, most poignant, fullest sections of doctrine," said Elder Kofford.
A few months before Joseph was killed, he spoke at the southeast corner of the Nauvoo Temple joining the doctrines of "turning the hearts of the children to the fathers" and becoming "saviors on Mount Zion," as he summarized the importance of doing these ordinances in behalf of the dead:
"Now the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal, . . ." the Prophet said on that occasion. "But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them. . . .
"The Saints have not too much time to save and redeem their dead. . . . I would advise all the Saints to go with their might and gather together all their living relatives to this place, that they may be sealed and saved. . . . and if the whole Church should go to with all their might to save their dead, seal their posterity, and gather their living friends, and spend none of their time in behalf of the world, they would hardly get through before night would come. . . ." (History of the Church, 6:183-84).
These doctrines, upon which the family history and temple work of the Church are based, Elder Kofford said, "will distill upon your soul and you will in that time and in that moment have the power to witness to others of the greatness of the work in which we are engaged."
"As you do (work for the dead), it will indeed roll forth out of obscurity, even in the Church, to the headlines of the world. You will become saviors on Mount Zion. You will be partners with God in turning the heart of the children to their fathers and the welding link . . . will indeed be forged."
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