I teach in Relief Society and I love it. It is the last meeting of the three hour block where the women meet together. We are able to discuss spiritual things and learn from each other. I learn so much as I study the lesson, and I try my best to present the material to my class without adding in too much false doctrine (unintentionally). Hey, when you have a lay clergy and volunteer teachers, you gotta expect some false doctrine now and again, don't ya? Ha Ha.
Today we talked about the Plan of Salvation. I love discussing the Plan of Salvation which answers the questions Where did I come from? Why am I here? and Where am I going when I die? I love discussing the things that we know and speculating about the things that we don't. I like to think of the gospel this way.... do you remember in math when we learned about finite and infinite numbers? Finite were the numbers we could actually count and infinite were the numbers existed but we couldn't actually count. Even though we all know that there are lots of grains of sand on the beach, we don't know what that number is so it's infinite. To me that means that it's real, but it is just not ours to comprehend.
I believe that the gospel has finite concepts and infinite concepts. The finite concepts we all either get or at least have a chance of comprehending if we are willing to study and search (similar to the help of a calculator!) The infinite concepts are real and true but not understandable by the human brain and no calculator can help. For example:
We lived with our Father in Heaven before we came to this earth. (Finite concept though may need a calculator.)
We were born on earth to get a body and be tested. (Totally finite concept.)
When we die our spirit and our body separate and our spirit goes on to the next life to be judged. (Finite concept.)
Eventually our bodies and our spirits will reunite to form a resurrected body similar to the Savior's and we will live eternally. (Finite concept.)
Where did it all begin? (Infinite concept.)
What does one eternal round actually mean? (Infinite concept.)
Now maybe these concepts are just infinite to me. I don't claim to be the brightest bulb in the family lamp! I love to speculate about the infinite concepts but I don't let them worry me. If we had all of the answers, it wouldn't be much of a test! I didn't coin this phrase but I ascribe to it, "I have many questions, but I have no doubts."
Now, that's not even the pearl that I wanted to share so here's more... Part of the lesson today we talked about baptism for the dead which is the practice in our church of performing baptisms vicariously for those who died without being baptized into the church. We believe that baptism is a necessary ordinance that must be performed by proper authority on earth in order to gain salvation. Since many people never even had the chance to hear the gospel, this ordinance is performed on their behalf and they can choose in the next life whether or not to accept it.
In 1 Corinthians 15:29, we read, "Else what shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" While that scripture indicates that it was a practice that was performed anciently, it is not a common practice among Christian churches today. I am sure that some find it quite odd. Baptism surely sounds like an ordinance that one ought to do for oneself, right?
I came across this talk by D. Todd Christopherson that brought a new perspective to baptism for the dead that I had not thought about. He said,
"The principle of vicarious service should not seem strange to any Christian. In the baptism of a living person, the officiator acts, by proxy, in place of the Savior. And is it not the central tenet of our faith that Christ's sacrifice atones for our sins by vicariously satisfying the demands of justice for us? As President Gordon B. Hinckley has expressed, 'I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle.' "
I had really never thought about the way that baptism for the dead related to the atonement. Hmmm...interesting. Elder Christopherson went on to explain a little more about baptism for the dead:
"Some have misunderstood and suppose that deceased souls 'are being baptised into the Mormon faith without their knowledge' or that 'people who one belonged to other faiths can have the Mormon faith retroactively imposed on them.' They assume that we somehow have the power to force a soul in matters of faith. Of course, we do not. God gave man his agency from the beginning. 'The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,' but only if they accept those ordinances. The Church does not list them on its rolls or count them in its membership."
I have to be honest, some Sundays church seems like a burden to be endured and other days it seems like a glorious opportunity to discuss things that really matter. Today was one of those days!
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