One thing which sets Latter-day Saints apart from other Christian denominations is the building of temples. In these temples, important life-saving ordinances like baptisms are performed for those loved ones of our family who have passed on beyond the veil without the opportunity to receive them. Until a few years ago I had not really grasped a good understanding as to why this was such a vital part of the Lord’s work on the Earth.
A few years ago, I had a look in the publication ‘True to the Faith’ which outlines a number of Church doctrines, principles and policies. First, it talked about how stories from your family history can increase your love and admiration for your ancestors and be inspired by them. This is also found in the Book of Mormon – in Helaman 5:6 we read of one father (Helaman) speaking to his sons saying “Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.” Nephi and Lehi were named so in the hopes that the memory of their ancestors would encourage them to make right choices, just as they had. This can be a motivating reason for us to engage with family history. However, there is a much more important reason.
There is a welding link which occurs when our ancestors have necessary ordinances performed for them. Many people have passed on from this life without even a knowledge of the Gospel – without a knowledge of Jesus Christ. I had a discussion with a non-member about this very important principle. He had ordered a Book of Mormon so he could try and disprove it (a positive start). He knew about the principle being discussed and said that surely, those people would be given a way to be saved without baptism or temple worship because God is a just God – it would only be fair. I then realised, with great assistance from the Spirit, that what he said actually showed temple worship is indeed vital. I asked if he believed John 3:5 which is Christ teaching everyone had to be born of water (baptised) and of the Spirit (confirmation). He did, so I asked, therefore, if God was a just God then he wouldn’t make an exception, he would require the same of all his children? He also agreed. Our Heavenly Father does require baptism and other ordinances from His children to enter His kingdom (that is scriptural) but there is a way for those who didn’t receive a chance to have baptism – temples! That was the first time I begun to understand the great importance of family history work.
One line in True to the Faith (pg 63) really stood out, saying “Your effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice – you perform a saving work for others that they cannot do for themselves.” Notice it does not say our work is equal to the Saviour’s, in fact it explicitly says our efforts ‘approach’ the Saviour’s – He makes everything possible through His Atonement. However, we can receive great blessings from being a part.
In fact the Prophet Joseph Smith stated in D&C 128:15 “…For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as…they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without our dead be made perfect.” Obviously our efforts help to bless our ancestors and help them progress. However, what is little mentioned but should be is the effect it has on the worker (us). We have a responsibility but when we help to make this an accomplishment, we receive blessings in our lives.