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.)
Other posts based on this session of conference: