This is my latest talk from church. I hope this touches you the way it touched me as I researched and studied on this topic. It is a very close one to my heart.
In 1837, The prophet Joseph Smith announced a great responsibility for the church. He said, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel.” Exactly seven years later, he said, “The greatest responsibility in this work that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead. The apostle says, ‘They without us cannot be made perfect’ for it is necessary that the sealing power should be in our hands to seal our children and our dead for the fullness of the dispensation of times- a dispensation to meet the promises made by Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world for the salvation of man.”
But how could a prophet of God say that the greatest duty is to preach the Gospel one year, then a few years later say that our greatest duty is to seek after our dead? How are they even related? The first step in understanding how they are related is to understand the definition of family history. Most people, I think, get family history and genealogy mixed up. Genealogy is basically filling out your pedigree chart… Making sure that you know who your great-great-great-great grandfather is and where he came from. Family history, however is defined as “a biographical study of a genealogically proven family and of the community and country in which they lived.” Family history is just that- learning the history of your family. This is done by studying and searching for census records, birth records, ship manifests, etc. to put together the full story of each individual. In family history, we understand that we are learning about people, not just worrying about “finding names”.
For me, family history personally ties me to my ancestors. As I begin to dive into their lives and to verify the information I have, I become attached. I begin to feel as though I am literally searching for someone that I know. There is a great sense of urgency when I begin to search for my family. When we are really doing family history, we are differentiating between one Thomas Bell and the other. We begin to understand a little bit more about culture, and we realize that just because we have a “matching name” we haven’t really found a person… yet.
When you think about missionary work, we think of finding people that are lost and looking for something more, looking for meaning in their life. In this work, we are literally dealing with people’s hearts. Elder Bednar said this, “preaching the gospel and seeking after our dead are two divinely appointed responsibilities that relate to both our hearts and to priesthood ordinances. The essence of the Lord’s work in changing, turning, and purifying hearts through covenants and ordinances performed by proper priesthood authority.”
He goes on to say that, “the word heart is used over 1,000 times in the standard works and symbolizes the inner feelings of an individual. Thus our hears- the sum total of our desires, affections, intentions, motives and attitudes- define who we are and determine what we will become.”
“The Lord’s purpose for missionary work is to invite all to come unto Christ, receive the blessings of the restored gospel, and endure to the end through faith in Christ. We do not share the gospel merely to increase the numerical size and strength of the latter-day Church. Rather, we seek to fulfill the divinely appointed responsibility to proclaim the realty of the Father’s plan of happiness, the divinity of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and the efficacy of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. Inviting all to “come unto Christ” experiencing the “mighty change” of heart, and offering to ordinances of salvation to individuals in mortality not yet under covenant are the fundamental objectives of preaching the gospel.”
As we, as members, are always working for ourselves to do as Elder Bednar said to “come unto Christ”, experience the “mighty change” of heart and seek salvation by continually progressing towards other ordinances, we feel connected to the purpose of missionary work. We understand what we are trying to do, and seeing our brothers and sisters, we feel the need and desire to help others on this journey we will always be on.
Family history is exactly the same. Let’s compare family history to missionary work.
First, Missionaries seek for people to teach; they ask members to help them find people that may be in need of help.
- In family history, we seek for people, we weed out our Thomas Bell from other Thomas Bell’s so we can help each one individually. Members may ask for help to find people to help
Second, Missionaries teach the Gospel to those searching so they can “come unto Christ” and be baptized in his name.
- In family history, when we find our family members, and we take them to the temple to do baptisms for them, so that as they are being taught on the other side of the veil, they can progress, be cleaned, and take Christ’s name upon themselves, just as we have.
Third, Missionaries work with new, and old members to prepare them for other ordinances they must receive in the temple. They help people experience their own “mighty change” of heart so they are prepared to enter into the temple and receive the blessings and ordinances therein.
- When we do family history, our hearts are changed, they begin to turn to our fathers and desire to take them to the temple so they can receive the blessings and ordinances therein.
Missionary work is always happening. It is happening here on the earth every day, and it has been happening on the other side of the veil since the world began. The only difference, is that when missionaries find people here on earth who are ready to take steps and begin to make and keep sacred covenants, those individuals are able to do it themselves. The people on the other side of the veil may have been converted and ready for hundreds of years, but have to wait while we, search for them and diligently discover our family and finally take them to the temple.
D&C 84: 19-21 says: “And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
“Therefore, in the ordinance thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
“And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh.”
Elder Bednar explains these versus as follows: “an individual must first pass through the gate of baptism and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost- and then continue to press forward along the path of covenants and ordinances that leads to the Savior and the blessings of His Atonement. Priesthood ordinances are essential to fully “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” Without the ordinances, and individual cannot receive all of the blessings made possible through the Lord’s infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice even the power of godliness.”
Does this give you a sense of urgency? It does to me. When I just think of the feeling I get in the temple, it is like no other I have ever felt. It is peaceful, it is welcoming, warm, and there is never fear. Faith seems to fill me up and I feel so close to my Heavenly Father. It is something I wish for everyone to experience. I can go out and search for people on the street, or people that I know do not share those blessings that I have received. I can personally teach them and help them come unto Christ. But what about those who have passed on. How are they ever going to feel what we do? We have to personally take their names to the temple. We have to personally do their work for them in proxy. It is literally our responsibility to ensure they have the blessings of the temple.
Knowing this, as I go onto familysearch.org, I do not just look for a green temple by someone’s name. I don’t have to look at my line and think “you know, I won’t ever find anyone here… my grandma has done it for years, her sisters have done and redone it for years as well. How could there possibly be a name for me?” I can always find someone, or at least something to do that will help me understand my family history.
To illustrate my point: the other day, I was on looking at my line to find some prominent church history figures that are in my line, such as Reddick and James Allred. Because I know that my grandparents have been heavily involved in that line for years, and also knowing that Isaac and Reddick are such major figures in Church History, their work should be done. However, looking at Issac, I found a green temple, which for those of you who don’t know, means that there is possible work to be done. As I went in I realized that there were new duplicates, a new “Isaac Allred” created. Even though there is technically no “work to be done” this gives me to opportunity to learn more, research more, and ensure the work is done correctly for my family.
Elder Bednar said, “enabling the exaltation of the living and the dead is the Lord’s purpose for building temples and performing vicarious ordinances. We do not worship in hold temples solely to have a memorable individual or family experience. Rather, we seek to fulfill the divinely appointed responsibility to offer the ordinances of salvation and exaltation to the entire human family. Planting in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; turning the hearts of the children to their own fathers; and performing family history research and vicarious ordinances in the temple are labors that bless individuals in the spirit world not yet under covenant.”
So what does all of this imply? First, “we may give undue emphasis to separate categories of the work of salvation and the associated policies and procedures.” Elder Bednar says “I fear that many of us may focus so exclusively and intensely on specific facets of the Lord’s work that we fail to garner the full power of this comprehensive labor of salvation.”
“While the Lord seeks to gather all things together in one in Christ, we may often segment and specialize in ways that limit our understanding and vision. When carried to an extreme, priority is given to managing programs and enhancing statistics over inviting individuals to enter into covenants and receive ordinances worthily. Such an approach constrains the purifications, the joy, the continuing conversion, and the spiritual power and protection the come from ‘yielding our hearts unto God’. Simply performing and dutifully checking off all of the things on our lengthy gospel “to do list” does not necessarily enable us to receive His image in our countenance or bring about the mighty change of heart.”
Second, the spirit of Elijah is central and vital to proclaiming the gospel. The sequence of events from which Joseph Smith was given the fullness of the gospel points out this significance. In the Sacred Grove, when Joseph saw and spoke with Heavenly Father & Jesus, ushered in the “dispensation of the fullness of times”. Three years later, Joseph has a visitor- Moroni- who first instructed Joseph about the Book of Mormon, then quoted from Malachi “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… 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”.
Isn’t it interesting that Moroni gave instructions concerning the Book of Mormon, then pointed out the importance of the Spirit of Elijah? Does this show more how important both missionary work and family history is for the salvation of the world?
The Book of Mormon is as Ezra Taft Benson said, “the greatest single tool which God has given us to convert the world.” This brings about the change of heart which we discussed earlier. The spirit of Elijah helps to turn our hearts to our fathers, and increased the desire to search out our ancestors.
While researching this topic, I found several videos of missionaries explaining that they actually use family history as a topic to get people interested in the gospel.
I hope that I have proved to you that family history is indeed missionary work. I hope that as you and your family continually pray for missionary opportunities that you will be led to ways to help out your own family and that you have and will have a desire to do your own family history. I know that family history is a commandment given to us by God, and that my doing our family history we will be blessed more than we can comprehend. I would also like to echo what Elder Bednar said- that my not participating in all facets of the gospel, we will never fully realize the full power of salvation. May we be excited and have a continually increasing desire to labor for ancestors. In the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.