Of Popes, Post-Mortal and Otherwise

April 11, 2005 | 67 comments
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John Fowles’s comment on the Pope (namely, that he “has been a true Christian his whole life and a marvelous example of Christian charity and love to the whole world….I am confident that he will make the right choices in the spirit world”), made at By Common Consent and picked up (out of context) by the Salt Lake Tribune, has inspired a series of sharp exchanges at BCC. The argument there (which is a good one to read through) basically boils down to whether or not the belief that the spirit of Pope John Paul II, now presumably in the spirit world, will or ought to embrace the fulness of the restored gospel and accept vicariously the LDS ordinances of baptism, etc., in order to receive exaltation, exhibits “presumption, arrogance, myopia, and ignorance” (to quote one Sally M.). That is, it’s an argument about the quality and standing of our beliefs.

That’s a discussion worth having. But I’d rather have one about whether or not the presumption it makes about our doctrine is, in fact, true. That is, do we really affirm that the Pope needs to be baptized vicariously and become “converted” in order to achieve exaltation? Because I’m not certain he does.

Central to the self-understanding of the church is the necessity of priesthood ordinances–we are the true church, we are the only church on earth with the keys to act in God’s name, the ordinances of baptism and those in the temple are a gate through which all must walk through in order to return to God’s presence, etc., etc. The time and care which dedicated Mormons have spent working out the implications of this claim, and communicating this claim to the world, is tremendous, and I wouldn’t think of simply dismissing it out of hand. The priesthood plays a role in our salvation, of that I am certain.

What I am not certain of who the “we” in that sentence refers to–because God appears capable of performing saving and exalting acts separate from that which he has specifically required of “us.” My evidence? Doctrine and Covenants 137.

In this vision, received in 1836 and recorded in Joseph Smith’s diary, he sees his brother Alvin, who had died in 1823 at the age of 24, in the “celestial kingdom of God” along with Adam and Abraham. Joseph prevents there from being any confusion on this point–he specifically states that Alvin had “obtained an inheritance in that kingdom,” which Joseph found amazing, since Alvin had died before the priesthood restoration had commenced and “had not been baptized for the remission of sins.” In response to his wonderment, the voice of the Lord came to Joseph, telling him that:

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;
Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;
For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

Now, we take this to be a sign of God’s omniscience and mercy–He will extend the full blessings of heaven to all those who truly and penitently desire it, or would have desired it, if it had been the case that they had able to do so. But it seems to me that it also tells us something else–namely, that God does not wait upon the temporal performance of priesthood ordinances. He will move to judge all His children as He sees their works and their hearts. And what does that mean? Well, as Paul put it in Romans 2:16, God will judge “the secrets of men by Jesus Christ”–or “through Christ Jesus,” as the Revised English Bible puts it. In other words, through Christ’s infinite atonement, we may all be ajudged has having either a heart open to the love of God, or closed to it, and our works (actual or hypothetical) will be dictated by, and will manifest, that which our hearts treasure (Matthew 6:21). Alvin, though he had not been baptized, much less received his endowment (indeed, there is no record of him having ever joined any church), had been a hard and humble worker, a young man of “singular goodness of disposition” in Lucy Mack Smith’s words; Joseph said his eldest brother had shown “no guile,” and had “lived without spot from the time he was a child.” Apparently, if we are to accept Joseph’s vision on its own terms (and if we don’t, what can of worms does that open up?), God agreed with Alvin’s family in an assessment of his heart; Alvin was saved and exalted on the basis of God’s judgment alone.

There are possible criticisms of this conclusion. Perhaps Joseph was seeing the future, after the ordinances had been performed? Perhaps, but he clearly didn’t think so, and so to inject such a supposition into the text requires some prooftexting. Well, we don’t know what position Alvin occupied in the celestial kingdom, do we–perhaps he still needs to be sealed and receive the highest ordinances? He never married, after all. That may be the case. But again, it’s not something which Joseph thought to ask–and given that this revelation wasn’t included in the D&C until 1981, long after such teachings had been established in the church, one must wonder why the leaders of the church at that time apparently weren’t sufficiently troubled by such possibilities so as to leave this revelation out either. Also, please note that Alvin is seen in the company of Adam and Abraham–both married, sealed, exalted beings, presumably. My conclusion is that we must accept that, however much we may be obliged by our membership and our covenants to perform the ordinances which mark the boundaries of our faith (in the same way John the Baptist was commanded to perform an arguably unnecessary baptism in order to “fulfill all righteousness”), God can and does exercise judgment as He sees fit.

So where does that leave the Pope? Well, I don’t know his heart. Perhaps it was secretly filled with anger or sexual perversion or dishonesty. Perhaps he was, in the eyes of God, a greedy, power-hungry, duplicitous individual. Perhaps God will hold him responsible for American bishops’ slow and tortured response to the pedophilia scandal in the U.S.; perhaps he is culpable for millions of arguably preventable AIDS deaths by insisting that his bishops preaching abstinence, rather than condom use, in Africa. I really don’t know. But, on the basis of his writings and works, he seems to have been an exemplary Christian, one which we disagree with in regards to doctrine, but not on the fundamentals of the Good News. Which suggests to me that, well….he’s probably already in. Does he probably still need to learn and progress? No doubt, but I’m not sure there’s any reason to suppose, at least insofar as returning to God is concerned (which is, in the end, what the gospel is all about, right?), that what lays before the post-mortal Karol Wojtyla is qualitatively different from what will lay before the post-mortal Russell Arben Fox. That is, assuming that my heart, when I stand before the Judge, is such that I may be able to get to that high place where I suspect he is, and thus have a chance to compare notes. My gut instinct when confronting that possibility? I should be so lucky.

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67 Responses to Of Popes, Post-Mortal and Otherwise

  1. [...] time believing that the apostasy left Christianity entirely bereft of saving power, and I sometimes wonder if God doesn’t act in a much more immediate way to save (or even exalt) th [...]

  2. John Morley on April 11, 2005 at 12:41 pm

    I want to be clear. Are you simply saying that the pope may move out of spirit prison before the viaroius oridnances have been performed on earth, or are you saying that if the pope was good enough, he doesn’t need vicarious ordinances at all?

  3. Russell Arben Fox on April 11, 2005 at 12:52 pm

    I am saying that if we are to understand that Alvin Smith received an inheritance in celestial kingdom without having been baptized, much less having received any other such ordinances, vicarious or otherwise, then we may need to extend that possibility to every other good Christian who dies without having been baptized or having received such ordinances.

    It is, of course, possible to argue that, since God is outside of time in some sense, and all is “one eternal round” to Him, that He brought Alvin Smith into a celestial inheritance with the knowledge that someone eventually would baptize and endow him, and Alvin would accept at that time. Which means, from our temporal perspective, Alvin’s inheritance was “probationary” or contingent. But I don’t see any textual reason to give D&C 137 that reading; Joseph’s whole message was the the Lord blesses those who would have, all things being equal, been receptive to His blessings, and that’s that. To the extent that we may believe Pope John Paul II to be receptive in the way the Lord found Alvin to be receptive, then it would seem reasonable that we should consider the possibility that he now enjoys Alvin’s fate.

  4. A. Greenwood on April 11, 2005 at 12:58 pm

    Your protestantism is showing again, Russell Fox. Ordinances matter.

    I just don’t see that there’s any a priori reason to think that the ordinances need not be performed for Alvin at some point or that the vision Joseph received corresponded to his current point in time. It seems to me that the vision was atemporal. I think visions usually are.

    This vision was in 1836. Am I wrong, or did the revelations about vicarious work for the dead come later?

    If so, this vision seems to be the promise and the later revelations show how the promise was to be fulfilled.

  5. Kaimi on April 11, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    I think our omnipotent God can choose to bring people into salvation without baptism, if He so chooses.

    I don’t know if He will choose to do so. But I certainly don’t think it’s for us, as mortals, to tell God what He can and cannot do.

  6. Mark Simmons on April 11, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    Russell,

    He also saw his father and mother in that vision, who were both very much alive at the time the vision was reported.

  7. James Gregson on April 11, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    I don’t believe Joseph’s vision of Alvin could have corresponded to his current point of time in that it is my understanding that nobody as of this point in time has inherited the celestial kingdom. Our doctrine is that this earth will be the celestial kingdom and therefore in its current state is not fit for celestial bodies. Therefore, I believe Joseph saw a vision of the future at which point priesthood ordinances would have been performed.

  8. Russell Arben Fox on April 11, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    Adam, Mark, James–what you say about the temporality (or lack thereof) implied by the vision is all true. But the point remains: Joseph understood the vision to mean that his brother had, at that point, as an unbaptized soul, received an “inheritance in the celestial kingdom,” as his recorded feeling of confusion makes clear. We can, of course, argue that Joseph misunderstood the vision, or that it was transcribed poorly. But I don’t think we can say that its plain meaning isn’t that those whom the Lord knows would have lived so as to be heirs to the kingdom will, in fact, be made by Him into heirs of the kingdom.

  9. A. Greenwood on April 11, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    Yes, but how?

    By vicarious ordinances.

  10. Jonathan Max Wilson on April 11, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    Amen to brother Greenwood’s comment.

  11. John C. on April 11, 2005 at 1:31 pm

    But if you place it in its doctrinal context, it is imminently more reasonable to focus on the temporal issues and say that the vision was given in reference to a future ordinance than to imply that God is arbitrary about who he would save. If Christ had to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness, it is very hard to make the argument that this wouldn’t be the case for either Alvin Smith or Pope John Paul II.

  12. Geoff B on April 11, 2005 at 1:45 pm

    I agree with #6, #8, #9 and #10. Russell, there are reasons for all of the ordinances. JPII needs to have them done or else he cannot progress, even as good as he was (and I think he was really a very good Christian man). In my personal opinion, JPII is having a good talk with CS Lewis or Chesterton or Tolkein or St Augustine or Martin Luther or one of the past popes right about now in which one of them is explaining to him why all of these ordinances are necessary. And he’s nodding his head in agreement and celebrating the glory of God.

  13. will on April 11, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Russell, since most of the events that Joseph saw in his vision had clearly not taken place yet (see HC 2), there doesn’t seem to be much support for the claim that Joseph believed that Alvin was in the CK at that point. One could argue that the the Lord’s answer puts the vision squarely in the future: “All those who have died … shall be heirs … Also all those that shall die henceforth … shall be heirs…”

  14. A. Greenwood on April 11, 2005 at 1:52 pm

    Maybe I shouldn’t let this cat out of the bag, but Russell Fox and I are having a contest to see who can get the most comments without a single, solitary person agreeing with us. I thought my ‘On the Seventh Day . . .’ was a sure-fire winner, but Russell Fox is making a strong play right now. The issue is in doubt.

  15. Mark B. on April 11, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    If Christ is the “Lamb slain from the beginning of the world,” there’s no reason to assign our mortal constraints about time to the workings of God in the Celestial Kingdom. After all, as Einstein said, the only reason time exists is to keep everything from happening at once.

  16. lyle on April 11, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    Kaimi:

    I don’t believe that our Omnipotent God would set up two different systems of salvation & require more of some than others to achieve exaltation. Could he choose to? Sure, but then again…he could chose to stop being God, but won’t…right?

  17. Russell Arben Fox on April 11, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    You’re all making a good case for reading this revelation as compatible with everything the church teaches otherwise about ordinances. And I think you’re persuading me. I still feel the very simple and straightforward language of the scripture poses problems for this view, however. For example, the “shalls” which Will focuses on: are they really being employed to describe future events, or are they serving a simple cause-effect relationship? (We need a grammarian here.) If the vision is indisputedly of a future event, and the Lord is implying that by stating that those who would have accepted the gospel shall (in time, after certain conditions are met) be rewarded as if they had accepted the gospel, then why doesn’t He explain the conditions of acceptance? Or even allude to them? Or leave it ambiguous? As I read the scripture, He proclaimed none of those things; instead, after making His “would have-shall be” point, He simply and clearly affirmed, without any reference to ordinances, that He will judge all men by their works and their hearts. (Am I to read “works” as “ordinances”? That’s stretching it, I think.)

  18. lyle on April 11, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    Russell: In what sense is it a stretch to define works as including ordinances? Isn’t that one of the main points of attack that Evangelical’s launch vs. Latter-day Saints? That we rely too heavily upon works; i.e. our ‘authorized’ ordinances?

  19. will on April 11, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    Russell, I think you make a good point, which in my mind speaks more to the nature of revelation than the necessity of ordinances.

  20. Dave on April 11, 2005 at 2:38 pm

    Okay, I’ll agree with Russell that the Pope doesn’t need to be baptized vicariously (with a Mormon baptism) to be saved or exalted. In Romans 2:29, Paul notes that “he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter ….” This supports the notion that temporal ordinances might limit us, but they don’t limit God.

    As to temporality, I think we believe that visions, like Galadriel’s mirror, show things that are, things that were, and things that may shortly come to pass. But there seems to be a general presumption that visions also confer some sort of privileged understanding of the vision on the recipient of the vision. If that’s true, then Russel’s point — that Joseph understood Alvin to have been presently saved in “the celestial kingdom of God” — can’t be met by discussing later development of the LDS doctrine of vicarious ordinances. Instead, you have to explain how (as Joseph understood it) Alvin could be in “the celestial kingdom of God” without those or other ordinances having been performed, unless you are inclined to argue that Joseph didn’t understand his own vision.

  21. Geoff Johnston on April 11, 2005 at 2:40 pm

    Kaimi: I think our omnipotent God can choose to bring people into salvation without baptism, if He so chooses.

    Interesting comment Kaimi. What do you mean when you say salvation here? Salvation in the Telestial/Terrestrial kingdom? Exaltation?

  22. Eric James Stone on April 11, 2005 at 2:42 pm

    Imagine a person who has died without a knowledge of the gospel, but who would have received it with all their heart. That person is in the spirit world, and is presented with the choice of accepting or rejecting ordinances done on their behalf in the temple.

    What are they going to say? “Oh, I receive the gospel with all my heart, but I reject the ordinances done on my behalf because I like my Catholic baptism better?”

    I think the very act of rejecting the necessity of receiving the ordinances is an indicator that a person is unwilling to receive the gospel with all their heart.

  23. will on April 11, 2005 at 2:48 pm

    Dave: …unless you are inclined to argue that Joseph didn’t understand his own vision.

    I have no problem with that theory. There’s certainly scriptural precedent.

  24. J. Scherer on April 11, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Joseph’s vision as outlined in D&C 137 occured in 1836. He saw his parents with Alvin. Joseph Smith Sen. died in 1840 and Lucy Mack Smith died in 1856. The vision no doubt was of a future time. I have no doubt that god could exalt anyone he wanted to inspite of various ordinances, I just seriously doubt that he would contradict what he has taught to us.

  25. Geoff Johnston on April 11, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    I have no doubt that god could exalt anyone he wanted to inspite of various ordinances

    This is the thing I was asking Kaimi about. The conflict here is between what we get and what we are. This subject was discussed recently over at M*. I believe we must choose to become celestial beings and that there is no way for even God to make us that. God will not compel anyone to be righteous (and I’m not sure he even could and remain God) — that was Lucifer’s plan.

  26. a random John on April 11, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Russel,

    What is the point of ordinances then? When are they optional? What is the point of temple work if they are optional? It seems that true Christians will accept the Gospel with a happy heart and the ordinances with humility and gladness. This is similar to asking if Jesus needed to be baptized. What do we know about that?

    But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient

    We now have a mechanism to explain how it is possible for Joseph to see Alvin in the CK. I don’t see how saying that he doesn’t need ordinances is anything other than speculation.

  27. Keith on April 11, 2005 at 3:47 pm

    Because D&C 137 was received in 1836, I’ve always taken it to be a precursor to the other revelations to be received about proxy work. So those who would have received it will be heirs to the Kingdom because they will also receive the ordinances and covenants offered. With regard to how the Church reads the passage, this may also be why 138 is canonized at the same time. Additionally, I remember Elder Oaks teaching that the desires of our hearts never replace an ordinance, and this is especially true if that will be offered to all (and 138 says faith, repentance, vicarious baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost is taught to all).

    I can’t read our teachings about ordinances and covenants (including the clear teachings about the need for all who have reached accountability to be baptised) and the relationship those covetants create between God and the individuals to then dismiss them. This need not be a matter of institutional or individual arrogance, but of holding to the doctrine given and remembering the key place of the covenants. To not hold to this fundamental belief seems to me to give up too much.

    I also take D&C 84: 46-48 to say that if one follows the light of Christ, one will eventually come to the Father and the Father will teach of the covenant. One follows the light and simply keeps following–as I believe John Paul II will do. I can’t accept that the Lord would not ask him to enter, or, better said, offer to him the fulness of the Gospel and the new and everlasting covenant.

  28. The Mirth on April 11, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    How can the pope have exaltation without eternal increase? How can he have eternal increase without being sealed to someone? How can he be sealed without being endowed? How can he be endowed without being baptized or receiving the real priesthood? There is a linear progression that results in what “exaltation” really is that generally is not interrupted. Exaltation by definition is to have eternal life as Heavenly Father has it, and that means to have perfection, a wife, and a load of children that are really his children outside of an earthly state.

  29. Steve Evans on April 11, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    Ahem, poacher, some good ideas here.

    I think that God has clearly identified certain ordinances as essential to entering into the kingdom of heaven. And I think it’s implied in a reading of D&C 137 that Alvin accepted a future baptism on his behalf.

    Can God waive commandments? That’s really what we seem to be asking here. Interesting, but I don’t think so. In fact, I think we believe that God Himself has received similar ordinances on His path to exaltation…

    more when the Snarkmaster returns from vacation.

  30. Seth Rogers on April 11, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    I just want to clarify something here. Are we talking about whether the Pope needs these ordinances according to the Gospel as taught by Joseph Smith, or the Gospel as taught by the modern LDS faith?

    The distinction seems important.

  31. Seth Rogers on April 11, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    Of course God can waive commandments.

    “Thou shalt not kill.”

    “Thou shalt slay the Ammonites.”

    Seems pretty clear cut to me.

  32. Eric Russell on April 11, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    Seth,

    Those are indeed different questions. But do you think they’re different answers?

  33. Gilgamesh on April 11, 2005 at 5:20 pm

    Two comments

    #1 said
    I want to be clear. Are you simply saying that the pope may move out of spirit prison before the viaroius oridnances have been performed on earth, or are you saying that if the pope was good enough, he doesn’t need vicarious ordinances at all?

    In my belief I think exaltation and paradise are two different things. I think the pope is already in Paradise, not Spirit Prison, because all who hear and accept the word of Christ go to Paradise. Now the vicarious work would be required to get into the Celestial Kingdom, which occurs after being in Paradise.

    Kaimi -

    God is not omnipotent in the respect that if he does not obey the law of justice he would cease to be God. (http://scriptures.lds.org/alma/42/13#13) Therefore by requiring ordinances for all to be saved (including Christ), except a few that may not need to do it because, you know, they were good people without them, would place God into the unjust category, which would cause him to no longer be God.

  34. Jack on April 11, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    What of little children who die before the age of accountability? Can they be exalted without receiving the “necessary” ordinances?

  35. Mark Martin on April 11, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    Jack (#33),

    Think of which ordinances are and are not performed in the temple for little children who die before age 8.

  36. Gilgamesh on April 11, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    The little childre issue is a difficult one. There is no canonized definition of what happens. I would assume, however, that they could be “saved” and even resurrected, and introduced to the ordinances in their own bodies prior to entrance into the Celestial Kindgom.

    Personally I feel that they still will need to have an opportunity to choose their salvation or not. It may be a reserved spot, but, if freedom of choice is the reason we exist, according to Alma 29, then they would still need to choose to accept their place in the Celestial Kingdom. Perhaps that choice will come in accepting or rejecting the ordinances offered.

  37. MDS on April 11, 2005 at 5:57 pm

    Joseph did have Hyrum baptized as proxy for Alvin, twice, once in the Mississippi river (1840), and once in the Nauvoo temple baptismal font once it was operational (1841). This seems pretty relevant to a parsing of Joseph’s understanding.

  38. Todd Lundell on April 11, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    Kaimi: “I think our omnipotent God can choose to bring people into salvation without baptism, if He so chooses. I don’t know if He will choose to do so. But I certainly don’t think it’s for us, as mortals, to tell God what He can and cannot do.”

    Of course, us mortals cannot tell God what he can and cannot do. But we can certainly learn what he has told us he can and cannot do. Mormons believe in a God who is “omnipotent” and yet has limited powers (classic example is that he cannot create ex nihilo). There may be commandments he can waive, but there are also laws he too must abide. The law of justice appears to be an example – thus, necessitating the atonement of Jesus Christ.

    So, the question posed is whether the law of baptism is a law that can be set aside by God at his will. Russel poses an interesting reading of D&C 137 and then refutes other interpretations by saying that the “text doesn’t require” such readings. But that response is inadequate. Given our treatment of the priesthood in general, and baptism in particular, I would put the burden on Russel to provide clear evidence that baptism was not required before I threw out our traditional understanding of that law. As has been noted in other comments, Christ himself had to be baptised to fulfill all righteousness. Our temple ordinances strongly suggest that baptism and other ordinances performed by the proper authority are requirements to salvation.

    When those ordinances must be accepted, however, is not at all clear.

  39. Jack on April 11, 2005 at 6:20 pm

    Mark,

    Unless I’m wrong (and I’m never wrong), the only ordinance performed for little children by proxy is sealing.

    Gilgamesh,

    That is the exact train of thought I was on. Of course, the train could go either direction.

  40. John Morley on April 11, 2005 at 9:19 pm

    Amen to post #25. John Paul II was good. But he wasn’t better than Jesus.

  41. Rosalynde Welch on April 11, 2005 at 9:47 pm

    Where have we picked up the idea of “accepting or rejecting” the ordinances, as if there’s a moment of moral choice for the deceased, seated before the spirit world missionaries? Is this scriptural?

    Isn’t it possible that the “acceptance” of the proxy ordinances is simply a natural consequence of the afterlife of a righteous man or woman who has become like Christ during life on earth?

  42. Sumbody on April 11, 2005 at 10:00 pm

    I think needing to be married throws a monkey wrench in that idea: two people’s exaltations tied up in one…

  43. Keith on April 11, 2005 at 10:00 pm

    “Isn’t it possible that the “acceptance” of the proxy ordinances is simply a natural consequence of the afterlife of a righteous man or woman who has become like Christ during life on earth?”

    I don’t think it can be only this. Otherwise, there really is no willful acceptance of the covenant and that covenant relationship is key to becoming sons and daughters of Christ, hiers with him, etc.

  44. Rosalynde Welch on April 11, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    That’s a good point, Keith, and I think your emphasis on covenants rather than ordinances is instructive.

    I’m still wondering, though, where we get the “spirit missionaries” teaching discussions to deceased and giving them the baptismal challenge… Is there more to this than an appealing projection of our current missionary program?

  45. Mike Maloney on April 11, 2005 at 10:17 pm

    I seem to have recently heard again the story of the three young men who carried many of the Martin handcart company across the icy river along with the following pronouncement by Brigam Young. It was something to effect that “this act alone” was enough to assure them life everlasting in the celestial kingdom. Did they have all the ordinances necessary before President Young made this statement?

  46. Keith on April 11, 2005 at 10:20 pm

    We get the idea of folks teaching the gospel from D&C 138 (and numerous other non-canonical statements). Whether they have a different system of missionary teaching, I can’t say. But imagine being taught by Paul, or Alma, or Joseph, or Matthew Cowley, or Neal Maxwell, etc.

    By the way, the emphasis on covenant is key, but we do enter those sacramentally, through ordinances.

  47. Jack on April 11, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    “I’m still wondering, though, where we get the “spirit missionaries” teaching discussions to deceased and giving them the baptismal challenge…”

    Rosylande, I think you’re right that it must be a “projection of our current missionary program”.

    According to the scriptures there were many who were sanctified even before the Savior performed the atonement. Somehow His vicarious act had retroactive power. Wouldn’t the same hold true for those vicarious acts performed in the temple? I think we tend to get a picture in our heads that the folks on the other side are all bottled up awaiting that glorious moment when some schmoe in the flesh will finally get around to doing their ordinances. IMO, they’re able to move forward as if the ordinances were already performed.

    On the other side of the coin, it’s my understanding that at some point in church history there were actually more ordinances performed in the temple than there were names prepared for them. Did they stop them from doing ordinances in the temple? No! They tallied up the work done and then later applied the names as they came rolling in.

    I guess what I’m saying is yes(!) the ordinances are important, but there seems to be a lot of flexibility as to how they actually reach those on the otherside.

  48. Rosalynde Welch on April 11, 2005 at 10:41 pm

    Of course, Keith, right on both points–section 138 and ordinance-covenants.

    And you’re right, too, that section 138 is very specific about the gospel being “preached” and the dead “repenting”: this would require, as you say, a moral choice to enter a covenantal relationship with God. I guess I get a bit hung up on the idea of the dead “converting,” in the way that, say, a Seventh Day Adventist might convert to Mormonism: this doesn’t seem to me a plausible description of what the dynamic will be like, and it seems to be the idea of “conversion” that is distasteful to those outside the Church, as well. But this does not pertain to Russell’s chosem focus.

  49. Eric S. on April 11, 2005 at 11:16 pm

    But Jack,

    I thought the folks on the other side were in cages, like birdies. Isn’t that in the scriptures somewhere? ;-)

  50. Ben H on April 12, 2005 at 12:42 am

    “Isn’t it possible that the “acceptance” of the proxy ordinances is simply a natural consequence of the afterlife of a righteous man or woman who has become like Christ during life on earth?”

    Well, there are some passages one might read as congruent with a story like this. D&C 137:7-9 says, “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 . . . For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”

    In Matthew 25:34-40, Christ teaches that some who are to be found on his right hand will not know that they were serving him.

    3 Nephi 9:20 says, “whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” Here, a full-fledged intention does not seem to be needed for reception of the Holy Ghost. Of course, they have already accepted a covenant here in accepting baptism, so maybe Keith’s point stands untouched by this passage.

    Certainly none of these speak decisively to the question. But the scriptural sources are not terribly specific on the other side, either. D&C 138:16, 18 does talk about the dead “awaiting the advent of the Son of God.” This at least supports the idea that people’s post-mortem experience doesn’t simply flow immediately from their choices and habits in life.

  51. Suzie Petunia on April 12, 2005 at 2:37 am

    “Is there more to this than an appealing projection of our current missionary program?”

    Here is an “appealing projection”: Neal Maxwell and David Haight are JPII’s home teachers in the spirit world. You can just see him smacking his forehead: “Really? The MORMONS were right?!”

  52. Marc D. on April 12, 2005 at 4:18 am

    I don’t believe JPII will change religion in the spiritworld. He knows the church already and has a book of Mormon and that did not change his mind.
    I hear a lot of members in the church say about deceased relatives that they will accept the gospel in the spiritworld. I think this is wishful thinking. If you don’t accept it in this life why would you in the next?

  53. danithew on April 12, 2005 at 6:06 am

    If you don’t accept it in this life why would you in the next?

    Marc D. — If a person experiences death and goes over to the other side, they will then have a sure knowledge of life after death. They may then see people they knew, relatives who had passed on … they may even have a theophany of some sort. Death may just be one of the ultimate spiritual experiences … and everyone gets to experience it. Consequently, I could imagine that many people who never took religion seriously in life who might reconsider their previous stance and want to know more about the plan of salvation.

  54. Marc D. on April 12, 2005 at 7:45 am

    Danithew,

    This is someting Joseph Fielding Mc Conkie said about the spiritworld:

    ‘In principle it should be neither easier nor harder to exercise faith or to repent in the spirit world. Were that not the case, those in that estate could not be judged according to men in the flesh.’

    Can you support your thoughts with any scriptures?

  55. danithew on April 12, 2005 at 8:12 am

    Marc D.,

    It seems practical that experiencing death and possessing awareness thereafter would be an education in and of itself. Those who didn’t believe in life-after-death during physical mortality would have to draw the conclusion they were wrong in their previous assumption.

    I have a relative who recently shared some details of a near-death experience or death experience with me. I’m paraphrasing very roughly but he said to me that at the time he knew he was dead, that he didn’t feel any pain and that he felt happy. Shortly thereafter he was resucitated.

    I’ll have to ponder awhile as to whether or not there are scriptures that back up my previous assertions. I appreciate the invitation to approach the question from that perspective.

  56. Russell Arben Fox on April 12, 2005 at 8:55 am

    A lot of great comments here; reading through this thread has been very thought-provoking. Thanks to everyone for commenting.

    Regarding the interpretation of revelation: it’s interesting to note that the revelation recorded in Joseph Smith’s diary which later became D&C 137 is actually much more extensive than what is included in this section; the original vision included the prophet seeing the twelve apostles, far away “in foreign lands,” in a circle feeling downhearted while the the Savior stood in their midst, Elder McLellen preaching and healing people in the South, Brigham Young preaching somewhere in the deseret, the twelve apostles again (or is it a different twelve?) in the celestial kingdom, and even more. So obviously what we’re dealing with here is a whole range of images and impressions, some perhaps past, some perhaps furture, some perhaps only metaphorical. So obviously there is plenty of reason to be hesitant of mine, or anyone else’s (including Joseph Smith’s own), actual interpretation of any one part of this vision. That being said, I’m not sure that isn’t a problem with practically any revealed teaching which we hold sacred. God almost never speaks to us propositionally; yet, whenever we, as mortals, try to answer questions (like, “What’s going to happen to the Pope now that he’s dead?”), we cannot avoid constructing conclusions on the basis of what we take to be propositions. So while I’m very sympathetic to those readings of D&C 137 which assume that some other teaching (such as one involving ordinances) must be present in our interpretation, in practice we’re all–at least when it comes to address doctrines beyond such explicit matters such as Jesus Christ’s atonement and resurrection–grabbing at straws when we do so. (Not to say that some straws aren’t stronger than others; my particular straw may be quite weak. But there isn’t a qualitative difference in our interpretations, I think.)

  57. Russell Arben Fox on April 12, 2005 at 9:08 am

    Rosalynde and Ben, thanks in particular for focusing in on what we do and don’t know about the actual process of “reception” or “conversion” in the spirit world. That’s an important angle from which to approach this topic, and one I hadn’t thought much about. Clearly, even if we insist that Alvin Smith, and the Pope, must have (or will have to) “accept” ordinances performed on their behalf, it’s not clear what such acceptance constitutes. The fact that, according to the statements of Jesus, some may discover themselves to have been in the service of the Lord even when they didn’t know it (think of the noble and good Calormene in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, who suddenly finds himself brought into heaven by Aslan, being informed that all the time he thought he was serving Tash, he was actually serving God) implies that being “set aside” as one of the sheep of the True Shepherd may not involve the sort of conscious “acceptance” that we usually think of. But by the same token, there does seem to be some “waiting” involved in the spirit world, which implies a sense of one’s place in time and hence a conscious sense of the choices (do you accept or reject this ordinance performed in your behalf) which lay “before” you.

    I would add, Marc, that I’d like to know the scriptures which Jospeh McConkie relied upon to come to his conclusion. It’s not beyond reason to imagine a spirit world that conforms to the same “order” of things we are used to here in mortality, but it definitely stretches the imagination. I don’t see why “justice” has to enter into it–what, are we supposed to be upset if some people, in the next life, repent in the presence of greater light and knowledge than was available here on earth? Who is “done wrong” by such an arrangement? Again, I’m not saying that there’s no reason to think that the next life works mostly or at least significantly like this one (to quote C.S. Lewis again, he came up with some fascinating parallels in my favorite of his books, The Great Divorce), but I’d like to know where the scriptural support for that is, separate from what Rosalynde rightly called our tendency to “project.”

  58. Mark Martin on April 12, 2005 at 9:51 am

    Jack (#38, re: #33, #34),
    Yes, that’s my understanding. In temples we seal deceased children to their parents. We do not baptize them and they are not endowed. (Someday, after this life I suppose, we’ll learn when and how they get to be sealed to a spouse.)

    Mike M (#44),
    I don’t think we should get hung up on “this act alone” wording. “This act alone” may have been sufficient to prove that those three young men would be faithful in all things, which along with receiving the appropriate ordinances and the atonement of Christ, would qualify them for eternal life.

    Ben H (#49),
    “D&C 138:16, 18 does talk about the dead ‘awaiting the advent of the Son of God.’ ”
    Yes, they were awaiting their deliverance, in verse 16, with the Son of God “to declare their redemption from the bands of death.” After Christ’s resurrection, which took place shortly after this joyous gathering in the spirit world, the bodies of many Saints rose from the grave “and appeared unto many.”

    I personally like to believe that the deceased probably feel a real sense of deliverance and joy at the time their ordinances are actually performed (…even if they already have been forgiven and are progressing before receiving the ordinance).

  59. Mark Martin on April 12, 2005 at 10:01 am

    I think the “who’s right” and “converting after learning the Mormons were right” attitude should sound distasteful to all of us. (Thankfully, many have already said as much.)

    I prefer thinking of the dynamic throughout the book of 3 Nephi. Our collective efforts, in and beyond the LDS church, will be much more effective if we focus on helping people be ready to be there when the Savior returns. That does not require membership in our particular church, but it does require living a terrestrial (rather than a telestial) law. Then those who have lived righteously enough to be there when the Savior ministers will be inclined to accept and abide by His teachings, whatever He instructs them to do. I can readily see the Savior sharply rebuking anyone who would point to his/her neighbor then and say, “See, we Mormons were right!” In 3 Nephi 11 and beyond, the Savior instructed regarding proper baptism and ordinations, and the people willingly followed the twelve He had chosen from among them.

    It took two years or so after the Savior’s appearance to the Nephites and Lamanites before all were baptized, but it did happen (and certainly by their own choosing). See 4 Nephi, verses 1 and 2.

  60. a random John on April 12, 2005 at 10:34 am

    Russel,

    I agree that it would be interesting to get some scriptures out of Marc since I’ve always heard something quite different on that topic. Similarly I would love to see some from you that back up your CS Lewis example. I love the Chronicles of Narnia as much as the next nerdy christian kid, but that doesn’t make them canon.

  61. Bryan Robert on April 12, 2005 at 11:06 am

    To say that the Pope in sitting in the Celestial kingdom right now would go against everything that has ever been written in any scripture. In fact I dont think there is any basis for even a discussion on this. Besides the fact that we as LDS members know that he must recieve certain ordinances, as many have stated. He must also be ressurectd and judged. He is eaither in spirit prison, or in paradise. He will need to be ressurected just like everyone else, be judged, then possibly make it to the celestial kingdom.

    I think this applies to JS brother. If he was in the CK at that moment then it would condradict the Bible and the BM and every teaching that we know. That woud mean he did not need to be ressurected, and judged. Also, I think its kinda funny to even bring up the possibility that the Pope could be a person that was so good that God would change all the rules for him. I highly doubt that he was even close to as Christ like as any temple card holding member in the World.

    And for the person that says that because we die then we will be more likely to accept. Well, it seems like that would be true, but then by that logic everyone would accept. Uhh ohh….Jesus is asking me if I want to accept..hmm better do it. Im sorry but I dont think it will be that easy. We are told that we would do what we would hear on earth. If we really want to get down to it. The Pope knew about our church, most likely had many chances to join. I think it is far more likely that he will not make it to the Celestial Kingdom at all, or at least not the highest level. We are taught that the second kingdom is for rightious people that did not accept the gospel. This is the Pope in a nutshell.

  62. Frank McIntyre on April 12, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    According to the scriptures and modern prophets, baptism and ordinances are an essential prerequisite for exaltation. See 2 Nephi 9:21-24. This passage was quoted by Elder Scott here. In the same talk, he refers to essential ordinances.

    Now Russell, I know you live in a constant state of aporia, but there is no evidence that the doctrines of the Church are as fluid as you make out. We do actually have something of a doctrine. Your highly idiosyncratic interpretation of the one scripture simply does not fit well with other passages and requires a temporal assumption which is baldly refuted by the passage’s own context. Lastly, Alvin was baptized by proxy.

    We have tons of similar passages in the New Testament and we always intepret them as implicitly requiring ordinances. Thus, you are tying in to a strain of Protestant interpretation that emphasize grace over works in a way that simply does not fit the teachings of modern prophets.

  63. yddy42 on April 12, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    If the members are obediant to their leaders the work for John Paul II will NOT be performed.

    From http://www.sltrib.com/ci_2651844
    “Mormon leaders claim it [Jewish vicarious baptisms] is due to an unmanageably large list with billions of names and overzealous members who are not following church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s directive to limit their submissions to those in their own family lines. “

  64. Marc D. on April 12, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    Russell,

    I did not claim to have scriptures that say you won’t change your mind in the spiritworld, I just questioned why so many members think that way.
    But since you’ve asked for scriptures, how about these ones:

    D&C 137:7

    ‘Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: 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;’

    This does not talk about those people who have heard about the gospel and said no thanks, this is not for me or I have my church.
    T
    he next scripture gives me the impression that you will still think the same way as you did on earth:

    Alma 34:31-35
    31 Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
    32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
    33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye 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.
    34 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.
    35 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 hath 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.

  65. J. Scherer on April 12, 2005 at 3:40 pm

    Bryan Robert #60,

    Did the Pope really have the same chance you or I did to join the church? Was he ever able to read the BOM with an open heart, growing up in a catholic family and joining the catholic priesthood. While I am a converted catholic, I fully understand how a cathoilc, hindu, muslim or other will never be able to recieve this message while on earth. What about a good southern baptist who is taught about the evils of mormonism from grade school on, does the sin of her predudice fall on her head or on the source of that prejudice. For those of us who have either been born into the covenant or been given the strength to convert to say that others will never attain the celestial kingdom is a disservice to our fellow man. The fact is that we are blessed to have been given the knowlege we have and should show more charity than that. I don’t know if the pope or I will ever attain the celestial kingdom. But it is going to take a boat load of mercy to get me there and I’m not willing to deny that anyone else will recieve that mercy.

  66. Bryan Robert on April 12, 2005 at 4:43 pm

    I have to agree with you on some points J.Scherer. Who is to say whether or not him having heard about it qualifies as his “chance”. I have firends that have grown up baptist..im from Louisiana..that lead very good lives. They have been taught that we are evil of course, and not christian, so converting them is very hard. I really dont think that them hearing about the church from me is their 1 and only chance.

    That however is the million dollar question. We know that everyone will have a chance to accept the gospel here or in death. What qualifies as having had a chance to accept it? I think that it is impossible to know. This is the main reason why we are not suppossed to judge anyone. No one knows where a person will end up. Even if that person is a murderer, or child molester, we still are not suppossed to judge, because we cannot know how they will be judged.

    We do know that people that did not accept the gospel, that were good chistians, will not make it to the celestial kingdom. My only point was that this fits the Pope more than anything else. Also that there should be no debate as to if he is in the Celestial kingdom or not. Any member that believes that he is in the Celestial Kingdom already needs to learn a bit more about their faith. Will he eventually make it their? No one knows.

  67. A. Greenwood on April 13, 2005 at 10:43 am

    “all who have died without a knowledge of the gospel”

    I guess it depends on what “knowledge” means. If it means knowing that there exists a group of people called the ‘Mormons’ and knowing intellectually that these Mormons adhere to a set of practices and beliefs, and that one is not prevented from becoming a Mormon, then, yes, the Pope and a great many others have a “knowledge of the gospel” and have rejected it.

    I’m guessing that “knowledge” means something different, something like having tasted the fruit and knowing on some level that it was good.