Endowments bless the living and dead
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The 100 millionth endowment for the dead was to have been performed sometime in August, although it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when, or in which temple, this milestone may have been reached, according to the Temple Department.
The first endowments for the dead were performed about 111 years ago, but, in keeping with an accelerating rate of temples and temple work, more than half have been performed in the last 11 years.The 100 million endowments have benefited not only the dead, but also those living saints who went to the temple to perform them. President Ezra Taft Benson, speaking at the Jordan River Temple cornerstone laying, reflected upon the far-reaching impact of sacred temple ordinances performed for both the living and the dead:
"The saints in this temple district will be better able to meet any temporal tribulation because of this temple," he said. "Faith will increase as a result of the divine power associated with the ordinances of heaven and the assurance of eternal associations. This valley will be preserved, our families will be protected, and our children will be safeguarded as we live the gospel, visit the temple, and live close to the Lord."
The ordinances for the dead have resulted in a much greater membership of the Church on the other side than here on earth now. President Wilford Woodruff taught that almost all in the spirit world will accept the vicarious ordinances when they are performed for them. (Improvement Era, November 1941, p. 696.) To the ranks of those accepting the gospel in the spirit world must be added the faithful saints who were baptized during mortality and now have passed on.
Performing ordinances for those who had died was also important in the New Testament Church. Those early saints understood that between Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, He had gone to the spirit world and preached the gospel there. (1 Pet. 3:18-20,4:6.) When the Apostle Paul was trying to convince the Corinthians that there truly would be a resurrection, he referred to their practice of baptizing for the dead as evidence. (1 Cor. 15:29.)
Salvation for the dead was specifically revealed once again in these last days at a special meeting in the nearly completed Kirtland Temple Jan. 21, 1836. The Prophet Joseph Smith "marveled" when he saw in vision that his brother Alvin, who had died without baptism, would inherit the celestial kingdom. On that occasion, the Lord stated, "All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God." (D&C 137:4-7.) About 10 weeks later, Elijah appeared and restored the priesthood keys by which ordinances can be bound on earth and in heaven, and by which the hearts of the children would be turned to their fathers. (D&C 110:13-16; 128:6-9.)
Latter-day baptisms for the dead were inaugurated in the summer of 1840. Those ordinances were performed in the Mississippi River until a font could be dedicated in the partially completed Nauvoo Temple. The saints typically performed those baptisms for close deceased relatives whom they had known personally.
The endowment and its ordinances, both for the living and by proxy for the dead, are a significant part of temple service. Elder James E. Talmage described it as a series of instructions that review our progress beginning with the creation, and emphasize the high ideals that will lead us back to God's presence (House of the Lord, pp. 99-100). Beginning in 1842, the saints at Nauvoo received these sacred temple blessings. The first endowments were given in the large meeting room on the second floor of the Prophet's red brick store. He had fitted the room with canvas partitions to represent the various stages in our eternal journey.
Later, as the temple neared completion, the council room in the attic story was similarly arranged. Even though the saints were under pressure to flee for their lives, they felt the urgency to receive their temple blessings first. During their last two months in Nauvoo, approximately 5,500 received their own endowments, including 107 on Christmas Day 1845.
While the great temple at Salt Lake City was under construction, the saints dedicated in 1855 a temporary "Endowment House" made of adobe. It was the first structure to provide a series of rooms especially designed for presenting specific phases of the endowment.
Still, at this time the endowment was given only to the living. President Brigham Young explained that vicarious endowments could not be received in the Endowment House. "No one can receive the endowments for another, until a temple is prepared in which to administer them," he said. (Journal of Discourses, 16:186-187.) This meant that the saints could receive these important blessings and instruction only once, with no opportunity of returning in order to refresh their memories and to enlarge their understanding of the endowment.
Thus, the dedication of the St. George Temple in 1877 opened the way for a significant expansion in temple service. On New Year's Day, President Young, though weak from illness, dedicated those portions of the temple that had been completed. Only 10 days later, the first endowments for the dead in this dispensation were performed.
Another important precedent was also established at that time. Up until then, the saints had performed vicarious baptisms only for their own relatives or friends. While directing the additional unfolding of vicarious service at St. George, Elder Wilford Woodruff became increasingly concerned about the redemption of his own deceased relatives. Not having any family members there with him, he worried about how this could be accomplished and made this a matter of prayer. The Lord directed the local saints to assist him.
A further expansion came during the early twentieth century. Saints living in the mission field far from the temples were given the opportunity of sending names of loved ones to the temples where other proxies would perform the needed ordinances. Church leaders then exhorted the saints living near a temple to take time to perform this unselfish service. In the Salt Lake Temple, for example, there had been only one endowment session per day at first. By 1921, however, the daily total had increased to four.
The Church quickened the pace of its international growth during the years following World War II. President David O. McKay stressed the need to build additional smaller temples to make them more accessible to the saints worldwide.
As the Swiss Temple was being planned, two questions had to be answered: How can the endowment instructions be presented in a smaller space, but with the same impact? How can these ordinances be made available in several languages at a given temple? Both questions were answered in 1955 with the introduction of well-prepared recordings and films to assist in presenting the endowment.
With the growing number of temples, the number of endowments increased. After the large Los Angeles Temple was opened in 1956, the total of endowments for the dead increasingly exceeded the quantity of names bineg submitted by the members. Nevertheless, Church leaders wanted them to continue receiving the benefits of regualr temple attendance. Beginning in the 1960's , they directed Genealogical Society employees to take, or extract, names from microfilmed vital records and make them available for temple work. By the early 1970's, three-fourths of all names for temple ordinances were being supplied in this manner.
Name extraction was introduced into stakes beginning in 1978. Under the direction of local preisthood leaders, volunteers were called to devote four or more hours a week in taking names from designated records. Once again, the Church members in a temple district were able to supply all the names needed for ordinance work. Furthermore, the resulting expansion in the computerized International Genealogical Index helped individuals locate information about their own progenitors more easily.
In 1976, two revelations were added to the standard works, now sections 137 and 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. One contained the Prophet Joseph Smith's vision of the celestial kingdom , and the other recorded President Joseph F. Smith's vision of the Savior's ministry to the spirit world. Both provided support to an appreciation of vicarious temple service.
The 1980's brought an unprecedented acceleration in temple building.
Only 15 temples were in service when Spencer W. Kimball became president of the Church in 1973. The total is now 41.
While it is the privilege of members to officiate for others, Church Leaders continue to emphasize the responsibility individuals have to their own direct line ancestors. In 1987, each Latter-day Saint was challenged to identify at least one relative for whom he could personally perform temple ordinances.
Regardless of whether the vicarious work is done for a relative or not, temple attendance has always been described as a way members can sanctity themselves through service.