Sunday, July 21, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #30 Baptism for the Dead



D&C 124, 127, 128

VICARIOUS ORDINANCE WORK IN EARLY CHURCH HISTORY

Love this gorgeous photo of the Nauvoo Temple doors
I found on DeviantArt
The Funeral of Seymour Brunson
D&C 124:127-130. I give unto you my servant Brigham Young to be a president over the Twelve traveling council; Which Twelve hold the keys to open up the authority of my kingdom upon the four corners of the earth, and after that to send my word to every creature. They are Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, William Smith, John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, George A. Smith; David Patten I have taken unto myself; behold, his priesthood no man taketh from him; but, verily I say unto you, another may be appointed unto the same calling. The 11 living apostles are named, and the Lord states that he has received David Patten, the apostle killed at Crooked River, unto himself and that he still retains his priesthood on the other side of the veil.

D&C 124:131-132. And again, I say unto you, I give unto you a high council, for the cornerstone of Zion—Namely, Samuel Bent, Henry G. Sherwood, George W. Harris, Charles C. Rich, Thomas Grover, Newel Knight, David Dort, Dunbar Wilson—Seymour Brunson I have taken unto myself; no man taketh his priesthood, but another may be appointed unto the same priesthood in his stead; and verily I say unto you, let my servant Aaron Johnson be ordained unto this calling in his stead—David Fullmer, Alpheus Cutler, William Huntington. The high councilors are named, and the Lord states that he has received Seymour Brunson of that council, unto himself, and that he also retains his priesthood on the other side of the veil.

Seymour Brunson was a veteran of the war of 1812, who gave his life in the service of God. He was baptized at the age of 30 by Soloman Hancock. (The one who wrote the cute little poem, “Once I was a Methodist, Glory Hallelujah…”) He immediately served a mission, and was sad to observe the persecution of those he baptized. After he moved to Kirtland, he experienced this type of thing firsthand. “He was physically attacked and captured by mobbers, and only narrowly escaped by putting his shoes on backward to mislead his pursuers and treading lightly through the snow.” Eventually he made it through the persecutions to dwell in safety in Illinois, but he chose to return to Missouri to try to help Parley P. Pratt escape from prison. He was not successful, but by being on this journey, he was able to help the Joseph Smith Sr. family get safely ferried across the Mississippi to Illinois. He only lived two more years after the Missouri persecution. He served on the Nauvoo high council, in the Nauvoo Legion, as a colonel in the Hancock County militia, and as a body guard for Joseph Smith. In July of 1840, he became overly chilled after herding cattle, got very ill, and died on the 10th of August in the home of Joseph Smith. He was 40 years old.

What is so interesting to consider when reading those two passages of scripture which we just read, is that in Heber C. Kimball’s account of Seymour’s death, he said, “Seymour Brunson is gone. David Patten came after him. The room was full of angels that came…to waft him home.”

Seymour was very well-loved and had many mourners. The procession to the gravesite, according to Brother Kimball, was a mile long. Joseph Smith chose this very poignant occasion, attended by a very large crowd, honoring a faithful servant of the Lord, to introduce a wonderful doctrine: Baptism for the dead. How marvelous that he chose this occasion! Those in attendance were lifted from sorrow to great joy. Vilate Kimball said that she had never seen anything more joyful than the funeral procession to Seymour Brunson’s burial, “on account of the glory that Joseph set forth.” (All this information from Susan E. Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 36-38)

Probably every person at the funeral had experienced the death of an immediate family member, more likely the deaths of several immediate family members. And the Church having been organized only 10 years, many of these had not received baptism before they died. Baptisms for the dead began immediately, before any order could be established, because the joy and enthusiasm of the people was so impatient. Following the funeral sermon, Jane Neyman asked Harvey Olmstead to baptize her in the Mississippi River in behalf of her son Cyrus, who had died at the age of 14. Many others did the same. Vilate Kimball wrote in a letter to Heber C., “Since this order has been preached here, the waters have been continually troubled. During conference there were sometimes from 8 to 10 elders in the river at a time baptizing.” (Jeni & Richard Holzapfel, editors, A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, p. 179) Wilford Woodruff recorded that the brethren barely had time to eat or rest, since they were constantly in the river, baptizing people for their loved ones who had died. Emma Smith was among the first to participate. She had received word that both her parents had died, so she was baptized for them, as well as her uncle, her sister and several aunts. (Gracia N. Jones, Emma and Joseph: Their Divine Mission, p. 222) Later, the guideline was set forth that you had to be the same sex as the person whose work you were doing, so those who were not done that way were redone.

Commandment to Build a Temple
The following January, 1841 was when Section 124 was received, in which the saints were commanded to build the Nauvoo Temple for the performance of baptisms for the dead. D&C 124:28-31. For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood. For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead— For this ordinance belongeth to my house, and cannot be acceptable to me [outside a temple], only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me. But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. Outdoor baptisms for the dead continued until October 3rd of that year when Joseph said that they now needed to wait until they could do it in the temple. The baptismal font was dedicated the next month.

Elijah Fordham, Builder of the Font
July 22, 1839 was the day of miraculous healing at the site of the future town of Nauvoo. Many, many of the saints were deathly ill with malaria. Joseph Smith called upon the Lord in mighty prayer, and went forth to heal all those that he and his wife were caring for in their home and in tents in their yard. Then he continued on through the makeshift community and into Montrose. He went to Brigham Young’s and healed him; he called Wilford Woodruff along after passing by his door. Without a word, they crossed the city square and entered the house of Elijah Fordham. Elijah was within minutes of death; he was speechless and unconscious. After rousing him and speaking with him briefly, Joseph commanded him in the name of Jesus of Nazareth to rise up and walk. Elijah immediately was healed, and jumped up out of bed, kicking off his foot poultices, asked for some bread and milk, and after consuming it, put on his hat and continued along with them down the street to heal others.


The baptismal font in the basement of the Nauvoo Temple was mounted on 12 oxen and built of Wisconsin pine by Elijah Fordham. Apparently his healing blessing “stuck,” as he outlived all those who were there to witness it. He died in 1879 in Wellsville, Utah.

 Just for fun:  a picture of my husband and me with our first five children, standing on the remains of the baptismal font at the Nauvoo Temple foundation site in 1997.
Who knew then that it would be back before these kids were grown?
Below: the rebuilt font

 Our youngest four children at the entrance
to the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple in 2006.

Samuel Rolfe, Temple Carpenter and Assistant Doorkeeper
D&C 124:142. And again, I say unto you, Samuel Rolfe and his counselors for priests, and the president of the teachers and his counselors, and also the president of the deacons and his counselors, and also the president of the stake and his counselors. 

Thomas B. Marsh, an apostle who had become a bitter apostate over a pint of cream, upon returning to the Church with a broken and repentant heart, quoted David from the Bible and said, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Black, p. 189) Well, Samuel Rolfe was the personification of that desire. In fact, he was not even a doorkeeper in the house of God, he was an assistant doorkeeper of the Kirtland Temple. He was not a prominent figure in church history. But he was always steadily serving where he could. When in December of 1835, the Prophet Joseph was in financial distress, several of the brethren gave him money. The Prophet was so grateful, he itemized them and their donations in his History of the Church and wrote along with it, “My heart swells with gratitude inexpressible when I realize the great condescension of the heavenly Father, in opening the hearts of these my beloved brethren to administer so liberally to my wants. And I ask God, in the name of Jesus Christ, to multiply blessings without number upon their heads…And whether my days are many or few, whether in life or in death, I say in my heart, O Lord, let me enjoy the society of such brethren.” Elijah Fordham and Samuel Rolfe are both on that list, Elijah having given $5.25, and Samuel $1.25. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 2:327) At the time, Samuel was a carpenter, working on the Kirtland Temple.

When the saints began the Nauvoo Temple, Samuel was called to be one of the full-time carpenters there as well. The Nauvoo Temple was finished and dedicated room by room and story by story. The baptismal font, which Elijah Fordham had built, was in the basement to symbolize dying before being reborn, and therefore it was the first part completed. A very unusual blessing took place there for Samuel Rolfe. He was seriously afflicted with a “felon,” an acute and painful inflammation of the deeper tissues of a finger. This would, of course, be a real problem for a carpenter working on the temple.  Samuel Rolfe apparently did not keep a journal, nor did any of his descendants write his history, as far as we know, but according to Edward Stevenson’s biography, Samuel Rolfe was promised that if he would dip his finger in the baptismal font, he would be healed. He did so, and was healed.

Just before Joseph’s death, he asked for volunteers to go west scouting for a new home for the Saints. Samuel was one of the few who volunteered. Because of the martyrdom, they did not go. Instead Samuel served as a bishop in Winter Quarters, and a captain of a pioneer company. He died in Utah at the age of 72. (Black, p. 250-251)


The Triumph of the Nauvoo Temple
Samuel Rolfe and Elijah Fordham are two of the many, many early Saints who did a great work behind the scenes. The Nauvoo Temple itself did not last. Although ordinances were performed in each room as it was finished and dedicated, the entire temple wasn’t finally dedicated until May 1st, 1846, after most of the saints had already left Nauvoo, and as you can see by the For Sale sign, it was placed on the market that very month. A few years later, an arsonist burned it down, and the stones were gradually carted away to be used in other buildings in the area.

But it was not a tragedy, it was a triumph. Because of the temple-building efforts of Samuel and Elijah and the others, many members of the Church were able to have the great joy of receiving their temple ordinances, and being baptized for their deceased family members before they headed out west. It would be 31 years before there would be another temple on the earth.  (St. George, Utah)

GENEALOGY AND ORDINANCE WORK IN OUR DAY

One Genealogist’s Dream
Fast forward to the year 2001.  On February 20th, in Lindon, Utah a church member named Natalie Harris had a remarkable dream. She saw a lone black man. Turning and looking back, she saw a huge line of black people. She said, “I go up to the man leaning against the wall and say, 'I know what you want,' and then I turn and all of the people come running toward me.” She woke up then, with an overwhelming feeling of love. She got right up, went to her computer genealogy database with some names she had heard in her dream and found an ancestor who had a large plantation and many slaves. She knew those were the people she had seen in her dream, begging her to do their work and connect their families.

She had a very busy week and couldn’t get right on it, so she made a promise in prayer that she would start doing the research in one week. In the meantime, she asked around among her genealogy friends about how to find records of slaves. No one knew.

February 27, 2001 was exactly one week from the day she had had her dream and made her promise. She sat down at the computer to start the work and was interrupted by a phone call from her husband, who was “absolutely flabbergasted.” On his way into work he had heard the press announcement that the Church had completed their research on the Freedman Bank records, and was now releasing a CD with names of 484,000 former slaves to anyone who wanted to buy it for $6.95!

The Freedman’s Bank Savings and Trust Company was a charter after the Civil War to help former slaves and black soldiers with their new financial responsibilities as freed men. Unfortunately, due to mismanagement and fraud, the bank collapsed nine years later, adding more tragedy to the lives of the African-Americans. But a wonderful treasure trove remained in the records of that bank. Not only were the depositors’ names and finances recorded, but the names of their spouses, children, parents, in-laws, and other relatives, including details about who had been sold away into slavery elsewhere. There were even oral histories taken.

How the Freedman Bank CD Became Available
KBYU wanted to do a documentary series on genealogy and entitle it “Ancestors.” They appealed to PBS to get a grant, but the woman in charge of the grants thought there would be no audience for a series on genealogy. To surmount this problem, KBYU decided to present her with her own genealogy, so she could see how fascinating it could be. They assigned an employee, Marie Taylor, to do this genealogy, but Marie found it to be incredibly difficult because the woman was African-American. Marie searched everywhere for the information, but it wasn’t until she came across the Freedman Bank records that she found the links she needed. The woman was moved, and KBYU got the grant.

Darius Gray

Marie, however, was just getting started. She had found that reading these Freedman Bank records was like translating Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. They were extremely difficult to wade through, but Marie could see how incredibly valuable they were.

 An example of a record from the Freedman Bank

She enlisted Darius Gray, a prominant Church member with African-American ancestry, to help her to find a way to index this information and make it available. It was going to take an enormous amount of work, so they looked for groups who would help them, and one group after another fell through. Finally, they turned to the South Point Family History Center. Anybody know where that is? The Utah State Penitentiary.

 This photo from lds.org, Prisoners Rescuing Prisoners

They called upon the prisoners to volunteer to help with this huge name extraction, and the prisoners clamored to work on the project.

It took 11 years and the labor of more than 550 prisoners. Those who volunteered and qualified were required to attend church meetings of their choice, read the scriptures daily, and pray morning and evening. They called themselves the “spiritual parole board,” as they felt they were letting prisoners go free. But they themselves were also being freed. Recidivism (or relapse into crime) among those who worked on this project plummeted. Commonly inmates take a personality profile when they come into prison. One man’s profile was so different after he had worked on the project for a while that he didn’t test as the same person! Another prisoner who begged to work on the project had received a blessing the night before he left home for prison in which he was promised the prison would become a temple to him.

The symbolism doesn’t stop there: The project was finished on Independence Day 2000.

The CD was released to the public in February of 2001 to commemorate Black History Month. The original 10,000 CDs sold out in days and another 20,000 were pressed. Darius Gray said, “The whole thing reminds me of an old Negro spiritual: “When the Lord Gets Ready, You’ve Got to Move.” An executive at the Distribution Center said, “I don’t know of any other time during my years here that we have ever released a product that has given our telephone operators the kind of impressions and feedback from our customers, both member and particular non-members, that this product is producing. We have people literally weeping on the phone and wanting to know who we are, what other products we have, why we do this type of thing, why it doesn’t cost more money.” (This information on the Freedman Bank story comes from Maurine Proctor, "Let My People Go: The Healing Stories Behind the Freedman Bank Records," at Meridian Magazine)

Our Great Commission to Free the Prisoners
The Utah State Prison inmates at the South Point Family History Center join Samuel Rolfe and Elijah Fordham as backstage workers who each did a little bit, within their own capacity, to redeem the dead.

When Joseph Smith gave that sermon at Seymour Brunson’s funeral, he quoted the words of Paul to the Corinthians regarding baptism for the dead. Other than that little bit of vicarious work mentioned there by Paul, the redeeming of the dead has been left almost entirely to our dispensation. It wasn’t until Christ preached to the spirits in prison after his death that the missionary work among them commenced. Then, here on the earth, the Great Apostasy occurred, and not until the Restoration through Joseph Smith could the ordinances for those converted in the Spirit World be begun.

Is it surprising at all, then, to realize that although Priesthood ordinances and offices were revealed line upon line as the Church grew and developed, the importance of the work for the dead was pressed upon the young Joseph Smith by the Angel Moroni before a temple was built, before the Priesthood was restored, before the Church was organized, even 4 years before he took the golden plates from the hill? Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in his bedroom three times in one night preparing him for the great work of the Restoration, giving him instructions and quoting scriptures, and each time, the first scripture he quoted was Malachi 4:

JS-H 1:36-39 – “After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus: For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

D&C 128:17 “And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”  

Challenge
The work for the dead is the most glorious subject of the gospel. Why? Because this doctrine shows so clearly the love and mercy of God for all of his children.  This glorious gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of second chances.
  
Every bit of research and ordinance work you do (even your own ordinances!) welds this link. Each family night lesson you teach about an ancestor, every photo you put in an album (or a shoebox – but labeled!), every family reunion you drag your kids to, every Memorial Day gravesite visit, every journal entry knits this eternal project together. I hope you can see how many things are are already doing in the spirit of Elijah. Pat yourself on the back and continue! If you feel you could do more, pick one additional thing that you will do this year and get started.

D&C 127:4 – And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts.

3 comments:

4kidsandcrazy said...

Thank you! These stories were awesome and really made my lesson great.

Heather said...

I can't thank you enough for these awesome stories. I cried the whole time I prepared this lesson - the power of the Freedman Bank Records stories were awesome and I am very excited to share them with my ward on Sunday. Thank you for sharing your amazing talents with the rest of us!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your detailed research and stories. When I came upon these, it was truly an answer to prayers. I will be using them in my Sunday school class, but also on a stake youth trip to Nauvoo. I know everyone who hears them will gain a deeper understanding of ordinances and covenants and the sacrifices that the early saints made. Thank you!!!!