Redemption and Revelation

For me, the Church’s teaching about the redemption of the dead through vicarious temple ordinances is the primary doctrine that sets us apart and above all other Churches. Perhaps above all else, this doctrine is sweet to my soul. I believe my deep love for the temple is linked to my reverence for that Doctrine and the sacred work that is done in that hallowed space.

When I was a teenager, I began learning about Christ thanks to the strong influence of Christian friends. As I read the Mesisanic prophecies of the Old Testament, I became convinced that Jesus was the Christ. Yet, I could never get a straight answer regarding what happened to those who had known about Christ or had not been baptized. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that it can’t be that important to accept Christ and be baptized if so many people never would have that opportunity. My loss of faith came about because I could find no satisfying answer to the question of the redemption of the dead.

In October 1975, President Boyd K. Packer spoke about this conundrum that faces most of the Christian world:

Now there is another characteristic that identifies His Church and also has to do with baptism. There is a very provoking and a very disturbing question about those who died without baptism. What about them? If there is none other name given under heaven whereby man must be saved (and that is true), and they have lived and died without even hearing that name, and if baptism is essential (and it is), and they died without even the invitation to accept it, where are they now?

That is hard to explain. It describes most of the human family.

There are several religions larger than most Christian denominations, and together they are larger than all of them combined. Their adherents for centuries have lived and died and never heard the word baptism. What is the answer for them?

That is a most disturbing question. What power would establish one Lord and one baptism, and then allow it to be that most of the human family never comes within its influence? With that question unanswered, the vast majority of the human family must be admitted to be lost, and against any reasonable application of the law of justice or of mercy, either. How could Christianity itself be sustained?

When you find the true church you will find the answer to that disturbing question.

If a church has no answer for that, how can it lay claim to be His Church? He is not willing to write off the majority of the human family who were never baptized.

Those who admit in puzzled frustration that they have no answer to this cannot lay claim to authority to administer to the affairs of the Lord on the earth, or to oversee the work by which all mankind must be saved.

Since they had no answer concerning the fate of those who had not been baptized, Christians came to believe that baptism itself was not critical in importance, and that the name of Christ may not be all that essential. There must, they supposed, be other names whereby man could be saved.

Our intuitive sense of justice and mercy makes clear to us that it simply can’t be that all those who are not baptized here are lost. Such a God would not be one worth worshiping. There is no greater truth that was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, than knowingly  of God’s infinite mercy and compassion.

I say that no point of doctrine sets this church apart from the other claimants as this one does. Save for it, we would, with all of the others, have to accept the clarity with which the New Testament declares baptism to be essential and then admit that most of the human family could never have it.

But we have the revelations. We have those sacred ordinances. 

I’m so grateful for my knowing of sacraes Temple ordinances, and for the opportunity to help redeem my ancestors and participate in the work of salvation.

“Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; …

“Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! …

“Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (D&C 128:22–24.)

Remember How You Felt

Human memory is an incredibly fickle phenomenon. With matters of the spirit in particular, it is so easy to forget the things that we have experienced and believed. Having now, for instance, been a member of the Church for nearly 8 years, it is difficult at times to remember how I thought felt and acted before. Fortunately, I can still remember the incredible joy I felt when I was converted, because I took to heart advice similar to that given by Elder Rasband at conference to strive to remember our sacred experiences. 

When I have counseled individuals such as my friend, I have explored their decisions made over the years which led them to forget sacred experiences, to weaken, and to doubt. I encouraged them, as I encourage you now, to recall, especially in times of crisis, when you felt the Spirit and your testimony was strong; remember the spiritual foundations you have built. I promise that if you will do this, avoiding things that do not build and strengthen your testimony or that mock your beliefs, those precious times when your testimony prospered will return again to your memory through humble prayer and fasting. I assure you that you will once again feel the safety and warmth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sacred memories can powerful tool in the fight against doubt and confusion from the adversary. We need to cast our minds frequently on our sacred moments and treasure them. As we do so, we will have confidence that God is operative in our lives. We will know that we were led by him to have certain experiences. We will have confidence that he will be with us no matter what.

When I remember my sacred conversion experiences, I am filled with incredible joy. Remembering helps me to know that I am still on the right path. It helps me to know that God loves me. It helps to heal wounds and silence doubts. 

On the other hand, Satan can use our memory to cast doubt and to push us away from God. He can draw to our recollection moments where we have fallen short or felt distant from God. He can lead us to doubt those sacred moments. We can and must prevent him from leading us to question or forget what we have felt. 

No Man who Comprehends Falls Away

Priesthood Session during the October 1975 conference was filled with talks about bringing less active members back to the fold and retaining those who are struggling. I especially loved when Elder Marriott G. Romney spoke of the power thatunderstanding our Covenants and our relationship with God can have. He made a rather bold declaration:

No man who comprehends, believes, and lives according to gospel covenants will be inactive in the Church. When one understands the gospel of Jesus Christ—which is the Lord’s new and everlasting covenant—and realizes that he himself accepted it in the spirit world, fought for it in the war in heaven, and entered mortality pursuant to the Lord’s promise that if he here proves faithful he shall inherit eternal life—anyone who understands that has the needed background to understand the covenants entered into here in mortality.
I am persuaded that failure to appreciate the significance of the “new and everlasting covenant” of the gospel is the root-cause for the inactivity of thousands of our Church members. If you pres;id(ents of elders quorums w;ill “teach” your inactive members “according” to the covenant and convert them, you will have little trouble in teaching the covenants entered into in this life. Without such knowledge one has no goal in life, no objective. Therefore, other covenants have no meaning.

Elder Romney boldly promises that no man who understand his Covenants will fall away. But that bold proclamation is filed with truth. Ultimately, most inactivity comes due to a lack of ultimately understanding of the true significance of membership in the Church.

I really do believe that if we truly had an eternal perspective and knew who we are and where we are going, that it would not be hard to be baptized and to remain active.

So often, we know about the plan in abstract and then lose sight of it. We forget it as soon as temptations come. We are fareweather believers in the Plan of salvation. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t good enough. We need the fortitude to overcome struggles and trials. And that only comes through abiding faith and knowledge by the spirit. 

The transformative power of service

Elder Carl B. Cook spoke of the power of service. I loved his focus on the transformative nature of service:

The opportunity to serve is one of the great blessings of membership in the Church. The Lord has said, “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me,” and we serve Him by serving others.

As we serve, we draw closer to God. We come to know Him in ways that we otherwise might not. Our faith in Him increases. Our problems are put into perspective. Life becomes more satisfying. Our love for others increases, as well as our desire to serve. Through this blessed process, we become more like God, and we are better prepared to return to Him.

Service is ultimately how we become more like God. When we put others first, that act transforms and elevates us. We love more and therefore become more like our loving Heavenly Father.

Nor is service simply a temporary activity.

As President Marion G. Romney taught: “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

Heavenly Father’s very essence is service. He does nothing save it be for the purpose of serving us. In doing so, he has great joy but also sorrow at times. I recently read a post from a friend who works with Syrian refugees describing the joy but also the grief that she has experienced. I felt that same potent combination as a missionary. She has tapped into the empathy and charity of the savior. She is drawing closer to Heavenly Father because she is experiencing a modicum of what he experiences.

It’s so easy to put off service and to make excuses that now isn’t a good time in life. Truthfully, with two small children sometimes it really isn’t the right time for me. But nevertheless, we must have an attitude and willingness to put aside the natural man and engage in soul enriching service.

The natural man or woman in all of us is inclined to allow us to excuse ourselves from serving for reasons such as “I am not ready to serve; I have more to learn,” “I’m tired and need a break,” “I’m too old–it’s someone else’s turn,” or “I am simply too busy.”

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in Church and use my talents. I’m grateful for the invitation to try to serve in ways large and small.

Changed by Grace

The Doctrine of Christ teaches us in broad strokes what we must do to return to our father in Heaven. Yet, if we see the steps of faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end as merely a checklist of behavior, then we are likely to miss either the why or the how of the Gospel.

Elder Ashton’s talk on the Doctrine of Christ did not make that mistake. I especially loved how he focused on the process of sanctification or becoming more like our father in Heaven and explained how each of the steps in that process helps us to become more him and like our savior. I especially loved his description about the role of the Holy Ghost in the process.

“As our constant companion, the Holy Ghost gives us additional power or strength to keep our covenants. He also sanctifies us, which means to make us “free from sin, pure, clean, and holy through the atonement of Jesus Christ.” The process of sanctification not only cleanses us, but it also endows us with needed spiritual gifts or divine attributes of the Savior and changes our very nature, such “that we have no more disposition to do evil.” Each time we receive the Holy Ghost into our lives through faith, repentance, ordinances, Christlike service, and other righteous endeavors, we are changed until step by step, little by little we become like Christ.”

All of those little checklist things we do ultimately serves to allow the Holy Ghost into our lives. He is the force that heals, transforms, and changes us. We need to allow him in and show God a willingness to change. The Holy Ghost does the actual work of transformation – if we let him. 

Serving and Becoming Christlike

As a missionary, I experienced something that I have heard many other missionaries express. I experienced an incredibly deep love for the people that I served. At times, even in the face of rejection and scorn, I was able to see people as God saw them. I know that the gift of Christlike charity came because I was serving with all my heart, might, minds, and strength.

Elder Bednar described the process as follows

We come to know the Savior as we do our best to go where He wants us to go, as we strive to say what He wants us to say, and as we become what He wants us to become. As we submissively acknowledge our total dependence upon Him, He enlarges our capacity to serve ever more effectively. Gradually, our desires align more completely with His  desires, and His purposes become our purposes, such that we would “not ask that which is contrary to [His] will.”

Serving Him requires all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. Consequently, selflessly serving others counteracts the self-centered and selfish tendencies of the natural man. We grow to love those whom we serve. And because serving others is serving God, we grow to love Him and our brothers and sisters more deeply. Such love is a manifestation of the spiritual gift of charity, even the pure love of Christ.

I wonder how blessed our communities, and our homes would be if we served with the same degree of intensity once we came home. Somehow it is harder to feel that same fervor and intensity when not serving for 18 months to two years, but when living life. We lose sight of the savior as we slip more and more into the mold of the natural man. Constant and consistent service is the remedy to that tendency. We must give our all in all facets of our life just as we did as missionaries.

Passing through Trials

In recent years, I have frequently heard General Authorities suggest that the time will come when we will face increased persecution for our faith.

That’s a deeply sobering thought. We can increasingly see efforts to kick religious voices out of the public sphere and to label people of faith as bigots. Even adecade ago it would have been hard to imagine the rapid secularization of society.

President Eyring compared the challenges we will face to those endured by the people of Alma. This is an interesting comparison since they were compelled to hide their faith and prevented from external worship of God. So that is a rather troubling comparison But even if things got that bad, President Eyring offered words of inspiration and comfort:

The times we will pass through will have in them hard trials, as they did for the people of Alma under the cruel Amulon, who put burdens on their backs too heavy for them to bear:

“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”

You and I are witnesses that whenever we have kept our covenants with God, especially when it was hard, He has heard our prayers of thanks for what He has already done for us and has answered our prayer for strength to endure faithfully. And more than once He has made us cheerful as well as strong.

Even if we are required to go through great trials and persecution, God will be with us always and he will help us bear the trials cheerfully.