Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith Chapter 8

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

President Smith dedicated the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple. In the dedicatory prayer, he gave thanks for the saving work performed in the temple for the living and the dead: “We thank thee, O God, for sending Elijah, the ancient prophet, to whom was ‘… committed the keys of the power of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, that the whole earth may not be smitten with a curse.’ [D&C 27:9.] We thank thee that he was sent to thy servant, Joseph Smith, to confer the keys and authority of the work for the dead, and to reveal that the plan of salvation embraces the whole of the human family, that the gospel is universal in scope, and that thou art no respecter of persons, having provided for the preaching of the gospel of salvation to both the living and the dead. We are most grateful unto thee that salvation is provided for all who desire to be saved in thy kingdom.”

Unlike temples from biblical times, LDS temples are used by worthy living members to perform proxy baptisms for the dead as well as participate in the endowment and perform sealings for time and eternity. Vicarious baptisms on behalf of those who are deceased comprise a great majority of the activity behind temple doors. The endowment involves ceremonies where the members learn about the plan of salvation while making covenants (promises) that, Apostle Russell M. Nelson said, “will qualify you and your family for the blessings of eternal life.” (“Face the Future with Faith,” Ensign, May 2011, 36.). He also said, “The possibility of eternal life—even exaltation—is available to us through our obedience to covenants made and ordinances received in holy temples of God.” (“Prepare for the Blessings of the Temple,” Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (supplement to the Ensign magazine), October 2010, 50).

The endowment takes place shortly before a member goes on a mission or before they are married. “Single members in their late teens or early twenties who have not received a mission call and are not engaged to be married in the temple are generally not recommended to receive their own endowment.” (“Commonly Asked Questions,” Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (supplement to the Ensign magazine), October 2010, 79.)

A sealing takes place in the temple, allowing a Mormon couple to be married for both this life as well as eternity. Thus, Mormon couples are encouraged not to get married for time only in chapels outside the temple. President Harold B. Lee wrote,

“If Satan and his hosts can persuade you to take the broad highway of worldly marriage that ends with death, he has defeated you in your opportunity for the highest degree of eternal happiness through marriage and increase throughout eternity. It should now be clear to your reasoning why the Lord declared that in order to obtain the highest degree in the Celestial glory, a person must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. If he does not, he cannot obtain it.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 111).

Children born to parents who were previously sealed in the temple are “Born in the Covenant” and are automatically sealed together at birth. Parents who were not originally married in the temple can bring their children to be sealed in order to become an “eternal family.” According to one church magazine, “This means that if we are faithful to our covenants, our family relationships will continue for eternity.” (“Prepare for the Blessings of the Temple,” Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (supplement to the Ensign magazine), October 2010, 79). Members are not allowed to talk about the covenants and ordinance ceremonies that take place in the temple because, it says on page 80, they “are too sacred to be discussed in detail outside the temple. . . . Do not be casual when talking about your experiences in the temple.”

However, it must be pointed out that Joseph Smith did not come up with the doctrine of salvation after death until more than a decade after he started the Mormon Church. In his book “This is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2011),  BYU professor Charles R. Harrell writes on page 356,

“In August 1840 the Prophet gave the first sermon on baptism for the dead, and in September 1842 he referred to Hebrews 11:40 for the first time as an explanation for how baptism for the dead joined present and past dispensations….The idea here is that the righteous dead restore their keys so the living can receive the saving ordinance of baptism.”

Trying to use other LDS scripture doesn’t help, as Harrell added,

“Notably, there is no clear indication from Moses 7, Doctrine and Covenants 76, or here that Jesus visited the spirits in prison as a spirit. It wasn’t until Oct 3, 1841 that the Prophet unambiguously declared, ‘Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit while His body [was lying] in the sepulcher, to the spirits in prison.’”

Harrell is quite honest in his assessment, explaining that the doctrine (1) doesn’t come from the Bible (very easily, at least); and (2) doesn’t come from the Book of Mormon, which is the Mormon scripture Smith said was the “most correct book on earth” and that a person “could get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book. Consider Harrell’s analysis:

Referring to Malachi 4:5-6, a passage used by Smith to support his teach, Harrell writes on page 346 that the biblical context “doesn’t appear to have initially contemplated salvation for the dead. Joseph Smith himself had given several other interpretations of this passage—from improving family relations to obeying the words of the ancient partriarachs to restoring the binding power of the priesthood. It is only during the Nauvoo period—beginning in Sept 1842—that Elijah’s mission was understood to be relevant to the doctrine of salvation for the dead.” Could this biblical passage really have so many possible meanings?

Referring to 1 Peter 3:18-20 (Christ was “put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison”): “According to the LDS interpretation, during the three days that Christ’s body lay in the tomb, he [Jesus]  went as a spirit to minister to departed righteous spirits and empower them to preach the gospel to disobedient spirits (D&C 138:28-30) However, he writes beginning on page 350  that “several elements in this passage pose problems with this interpretation.”a.When the NT speaks elsewhere of Christ being “quickened by the Spirit,” it refers to his resurrection from the dead…. If this passage is referring to Christ’s physical resurrection, then it wasn’t as a spirit that he visited the spirits in prison.

    1. In 1 Peter, it was Christ himself who preached to those who “were disobedient. . . in the days of Noah.” (v. 20). This runs contrary to the current LDS view that Christ preached only to the righteous and didn’t personally go among the wicked.
    2. Who were these imprisoned ‘spirits’ and what was the message (1 Peter 3:18-20 doesn’t say it was the gospel) that was preached to them? Most non-LDS scholars maintain that the “spirits” in this verse are not departed spirits of the dead but rather fallen angels who, according to popular legend, had rebelled against God and instigated the great wickedness at the time of Noah.
    3. The word used for “preached” (herusso) “is better translated ‘proclaimed’ and is different from euaglizo, the common New Testament verb from preaching the gospel.”
    4. As far as 1 Peter 4:6 is concerned, Harrell writes that “many scholars think that there is no connection between these two verses [1 Peter 3:18-20], and that the dead here are Christians who have died since hearing the preaching of the gospel.”
    5. The most common passage used by Mormons to support the view that work can be done for the dead in LDS temples is 1 Corinthians 15:29. While saying that this verse gives reason to believe such a practice did take place in New Testament times, Harrell quickly points out that it did not appear that this was a common practice of either Paul or the New Testament scriptures. He accurately explains, “It should be noted that the voice changes from ‘we’ to ‘they’ for this verse only: Else what shall ‘they’ do? And why are ‘they’ baptized for the dead? Then the shift is back to ‘we’—why stand ‘we’ in jeopardy? Could Paul be alluding to a practice that only ‘they’ (not ‘we’) were participating in?”
    6. Concerning the Book of Mormon, “which was published in March 1830, there is no mention of a spirit prison.” He writes, “In the Book of Mormon, repentance must occur in this life.” He also said, “There is no indication in the Book of Mormon that Christ introduced the doctrine of salvation for the dead during his visit to the Nephites—even though, according to LDS doctrine, he had just visited the spirits in prison and opened the door for their salvation. On the contrary, the Book of Mormon people were taught not to worry about those who die without having heard the gospel in this life since they are redeemed automatically through the Atonement. The whole notion of vicarious work for the dead seems incongruous with Book of Mormon theology.”
    7. Concerning sixth President Joseph F. Smith’s vision that he had in 1918 (later canonized in 1975 as D&C 138) that dealt with the redemption of the dead, Harrell finds some major inconsistencies in his vision on pages 365-366. These were:
    1. The very same spirits whom Christ trained to preach the gospel (v. 36) were presumably also among those to whom he gave power to rise with him in his resurrection.
    2. It is also unclear why Jesus would have preached the gospel to the spirits of the righteous when presumably they had already heard and accepted the gospel, having been “faithful in the testimony of Jesus” when in the flesh.
    3. Why would it have been needed to empower them to preach the gospel (v. 30) since righteous priesthood bearers presumably automatically continue their ministry in the spirit world (138:57) Indeed, Joseph F. Smith taught that elders preach to departed spirits by virtue of the “authority conferred upon them in the flesh.”
    4. Finally, there is the unexplained oddity of seeing Moses and Elijah in the spirit world with no acknowledgment that they were translated beings and not spirits (D&C 138:49-50)

In summary, issues needing to be answered by the Latter-day Saint include:

  • Why did Joseph Smith’s teaching take so long to come forth?
  • Why did he make so many interpretations of a passage such as Malachi 4 if it meant that the dead could receive salvation through work for the dead?
  • Why does the biblical material not supporting work on behalf of the dead?
  • Why is the Book of Mormon contradicted in this teaching?
  • Why is Joseph F. Smith’s vision so internally inconsistent?

Teachings of George Albert Smith

In the temple we receive sacred ordinances, including ordinances that bind families for eternity. In order that we might be prepared for [the celestial] kingdom, the Lord, in his mercy, in this latter day restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and placed in it divine authority, and then gave understanding to His children that certain ordinances may be received and performed. For this purpose temples were built and into those temples those who desire a place in the Celestial Kingdom have the opportunity to go and receive their blessings, to enrich their lives and prepare them for that kingdom.

If this is true, we would expect that the Bible would support such a view. However, the Bible never says that human families will reside together into eternity. Of course, those who are believers will be together in the heavenly realm, but to think that husbands and wives will be given the opportunity to have children in the next realm and become rulers of their own worlds is nothing more than speculation.

We are the only people in the world who know what temples are for.

If the LDS religion is truly a restoration of biblical Christianity, it would make sense that today’s temple rites should be similar to what took place in ancient Israel. Yet there are many differences, including:

  • The primary activity at the Jerusalem temple was the sacrifice of animals as atonement for the sins of the people. Worshipers in ancient Israel went to the temple with an attitude of unworthiness before an all holy God. They approached His temple with humility as they looked to have their sins covered. In stark contrast, Mormons enter their temples with a positive sense of worthiness. A person cannot enter a Mormon temple (after it is dedicated) unless he or she is considered “worthy.”
  • The priests officiating in the Jerusalem temple had to be from the tribe of Levi. This was commanded in Numbers 3:6-10. The LDS Church ignores such commands and allows its “temple-worthy” members who have no such background to officiate in its temples.
  • Wedding ceremonies did not take place in the Jerusalem temple, while this is a common practice in modern LDS temples.
  • While it was not a practice ever performed in the Jerusalem temple, baptism for the dead by living members in proxy for those who are deceased is the most common activity in Mormon temples.
  • While there were no marriages performed in the Jerusalem temple, many Mormon families have been “sealed” for time and eternity in LDS temples.

Each [temple] has been built to one great eternal purpose: to serve as a House of the Lord, to provide a place sacred and suitable for the performing of holy ordinances that bind on earth as in heaven—ordinances for the dead and for the living that assure those who receive them and who are faithful to their covenants, the possession and association of their families, worlds without end, and exaltation with them in the celestial kingdom of our Father.

The Jews only recognized the temple located in Jerusalem while LDS Church has built more than 130 of its temples, scattered across the globe. The Samaritans had built their temple in Israel, but it was not considered to be legitimate. If the Mormon Church wanted to “restore” the ways of the temple—after all, it’s a church that is supposed to be a “restoration” of true Christianity—then we would assume they too would only have one temple, which would have to be in Jerusalem.

Grateful should we be for a knowledge of the eternity of the marriage covenant. If in this life only had we hope, we would indeed be of all men most miserable [see 1 Corinthians 15:19]. The assurance that our relationship here as parents and children, as husbands and wives will continue in heaven, and that this is but the beginning of a great and glorious kingdom that our Father has destined we shall inherit on the other side, fills us with hope and joy.

If I were to think, as so many think, that now that my beloved wife and my beloved parents are gone, that they have passed out of my life forever and that I shall never see them again, it would deprive me of one of the greatest joys that I have in life: the contemplation of meeting them again, and receiving their welcome and their affection, and of thanking them from the depths of a grateful heart for all they have done for me.

LDS Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said something very similar in a church promotional video I’ve seen at temple open houses. He said,

“I don’t know how to speak about heaven in the traditional, lovely, paradisiacal, beauty that we speak of heaven—I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife, my children. It would, it would not be heaven for me.”

Some Mormons have mocked the stereotype they have created about the Christian’s view of heaven, assuming it means sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp, and singing hymns to Jesus throughout eternity in a most boring fashion. While this is certainly not a completely accurate picture of heaven, perhaps the Latter-day Saint ought to consider Mormon 7:7 in the Book of Mormon. It reads,

“And he [Jesus] have brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.”

Certainly Christians should invest heavily in their earthly families, but nowhere does the Bible teach that mom, dad, grandparents, children, etc. will live together as a family unit in heaven. Jesus plainly explained the role of marriage and families in heaven in Matthew 22:23-30 and Mark 12:18-27. Answering the question posed to Him by the Sadducees, Jesus answered them, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” Mormon apologist Gilbert Scharffs complains about those using this passage to reject eternal marriage when he writes, “This verse does not say there won’t be any marriage in heaven, only that marriages will not be performed there.” (Scharffs, The Missionary’s Little Book of Answers, 62) This is nothing more than reading into a passage, as no evidence is used to support this point.

In Mormonism, dwelling together as a family unit presupposes that each member of the family was able to follow the whole law during the mortal probation. Only those who are truly obedient will qualify for the benefits of the celestial kingdom. According to tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith, “To enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept. . .” (The Way to Perfection, 206).  For the sake of argument, suppose that keeping the whole law was possible. Where will all the billions and billions of family members from the beginning of time physically reside? Are we to assume that the God of Mormonism continues to reside with his extended earthly family? Does he worship the God who preceded him? And since Jesus is our spirit brother from the preexistence, will he become “Uncle Jesus” to the offspring of a Mormon who becomes a God? Will Heavenly Father be known as “Heavenly Grandfather” to these offspring?

What about those members of a Mormon family who do not qualify for celestial glory? Mormonism teaches that a person can’t reach the celestial kingdom on the coattails of another faithful member; each person must individually qualify. The odds are that most LDS families will be incomplete because some of their loved ones will certainly fail to live up to the proper standards during their mortal probation.

It is a misnomer to say that Christians don’t believe in an eternal family structure since all forgiven humans are a part of God’s family. As such, all redeemed believers will live in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God will be the focus of our attention in eternity, not us. Sadly, Christians will not experience eternity with unforgiven loved ones. However, this same condition applies to Mormon family members who will be denied familial participation due to their unfaithfulness in mortality.

Let us instruct our young people in these matters from their earliest youth, so that when they approach the time of marriage, there will be no question in their minds as to where or how or by whom that sacred ordinance should be performed—and the only place in which it may be performed for time and for eternity is in a temple.

Mormon youth are instructed from the earliest primary classes that marriage in the temple is vital. This is where a couple is sealed together forever. Typically Mormons get married earlier than the rest of the culture because this doctrine is so important to qualify for the celestial kingdom.

I thank [the Lord] for all the ordinances of the House of the Lord that I have received, each one of which has been intended not for me alone, but I have been permitted to receive a portion of that which has been intended for all his children, wherever they may be, if they are willing to receive what he offers to them, without money and without price.

This is inaccurate. After all, not just anyone can qualify to do work in the temple. In order to get married for both time and eternity, a couple must have temple recommend cards. This proves that they are worthy. The local bishop interviews the couple, asking questions pertaining to the faithful wearing of the temple garments, abstaining from coffee, tea, and alcohol, and attending the regular worship services. One additional requirement is that a Mormon family must tithe ten percent to the church. If the couple does not tithe, they are not given the valued recommend. For those who haven’t tithed in the past year or two, there is “tithing settlement,” which is paying back the money owed to the church. Unless the couple agrees to this and begins paying this money, no recommend is given. Thus, it is definitely misleading to say “without money and without price,” as this is just not true. And those from the Church who compiled this book certainly know this is the case.

All of the … temples which have been built or yet will be dedicated, will prove to be a blessing beyond measure to all those who worthily avail themselves of the privilege of using it, both for themselves and for their kindred dead.

The Bible says that there can be no work performed after this life. Hebrews 9:27 says that people are destined to die once and then face judgment, while 2 Corinthians 6:2 declares today as the day of salvation. Even the Book of Mormon disagrees with this teaching, which should be an issue for every Latter-day Saint who holds that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth.  (Or is this just lip service?) Consider what Alma 34:31ff says:

“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and day of your salvation [taken right out of 2 Corinthians 6:2]; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life for men to perform their labors…do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord that withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.”

Verse 36 adds this interesting line: “…the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous…”

Through temple work we make eternal blessings available to our deceased ancestors.

The genealogical society has spent years of time collecting [family history] information, and others spend years of time going into the House of the Lord to be baptized for those who are dead, to have husbands and wives and children sealed to one another, to unite the family as our Heavenly Father has instructed that we should do. It would be well if each of us would ask himself the question: What am I doing about it? Am I doing my part? Our Heavenly Father told the people through Joseph Smith that, unless we performed the work for our dead, we would lose our own blessings, and we would be cut off, and one of the very last things that the Prophet tried to do was to complete a temple in which the people could go and perform work for their dead. That is how important it is. It has to be done by someone.

Mormons spend an enormous amount of resources to do genealogical work so they can perform the necessary ordinances for their ancestors. The idea is that those who never had a chance to hear the Mormon gospel message will have a chance in the next life, as spirits will be in spirit prison awaiting the arrival of spirit missionaries who will provide the Good News. However, many Mormons do this work on behalf of those who died but who had heard the Gospel message in this life, deciding to refuse the offer. Somehow, they think, having this work done in their behalf is somehow valuable. This is not accurate.

In a speech titled “The Seven Deadly Heresies” that he gave at BYU on June 1, 1980, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained:

“There are those who believe that the doctrine of salvation for the dead offers men a second chance for salvation. This is false, false, false. I know a man, now deceased, a non-member of the Church, who was a degenerate old reprobate who found pleasure, as he supposed, in living after the manner of the world. A cigarette dangled from his lips, alcohol stenched his breath, and profane and bawdy stories defiled his lips. His moral status left much to be desired. His wife was a member of the Church, as faithful as she could be under the circumstances. One day she said to him, ‘You know the Church is true; why don’t you be baptized?’ He replied, ‘Of course I know the Church is true, but I have no intention of changing my habits in order to join it. I prefer to live the way I do. But that doesn’t worry me in the slightest. I know that as soon as I die, you will have someone go to the temple and do the work for me and everything will come out all right in the end anyway.’ He died and she did and it was a total and complete waste of time.”

How many sincere Mormons who have done temple work for those who had already heard the gospel know that one of their own apostles called such work a “total and complete waste of time”?

Meanwhile, the 2009 church manual Gospel Principles explains that those who reject the Gospel in this life receive the very bottom of Mormonism’s three levels of heaven. It reads,

“Also in the spirit prison are those who rejected the gospel after it was preached to them either on earth or in the spirit prison. These spirits suffer in a condition known as hell. . . . After suffering for their sins, they will be allowed, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to inherit the lowest degree of glory, which is the telestial kingdom.” (244)

Think of the devotion and the faithfulness of those who day after day go into these temples and officiate for those who have passed to the other side, and know this that those who are on the other side are just as anxious about us. They are praying for us and for our success. They are pleading, in their own way, for their descendants, for their posterity who live upon the earth.

Absolutely no evidence is supplied from the Bible. Speculation should never take precedence over the revealed Word of God.

In conclusion, there is nothing done in Mormon temples that can be considered efficacious in any way. While young Mormons look forward to the day when they can do the work for themselves and their ancestors and older folks long for the day when they can become gods and reunite with families, this edifice  is nothing more than a monument to heresy and has absolutely no benefit for anyone, whether living or dead.


To read more reviews from the George Albert Smith manual, click here.