Why did Christ convert so few people in his three-year ministry? Did the Holy Ghost not yet testify of His work?
Dr. , Professor of history and ancient scripture, Brigham Young University
The number of Christ’s converts seems few, judged by the conference that chose a new apostle in Acts 1. There the disciples are numbered: “… the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty.” (Acts 1:15.) As one reads of thousands of converts in following chapters, it seems that Christ’s personal work was not very fruitful. Yet this is a false impression, for the sustaining of Matthias took place in Jerusalem, where Christ had spent less time than in other parts of Palestine. That meeting probably represents only the faithful at Jerusalem, plus the apostles and Christ’s immediate family.
Another statistic expands our conception of Christ’s work. Paul detailed one of the resurrection appearances: “He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:6.) The first resurrection messages commanded “my brethren” to “go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.” (Matt. 28:10.)
The follow-up was a resurrection appearance at “a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.” (Matt. 28:16.) Because 500 individuals would probably be in some type of meeting, possibly this is the occasion when they saw the Lord. In any event, it is quite clear that the appearance to 500 would be in Galilee, the major scene of Jesus’ preaching. Since “500 brethren” were clearly missionaries holding priesthood assignments to testify of Christ, there would be at least three or four times that number of additional members in northern Palestine (women, children, and nonmissionary males).
At the outset of the ministry John the Baptist is portrayed as a powerful success in baptizing, but it was reported that “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John.” (John 4:1.) The above statistical hints from Judea and Galilee would suggest perhaps 3,000 Christians after Christ’s three-year ministry. That is probably the number gained by the Latter-day Saints during the three years of 1829–1832; some 4,000 members at the end of three years of formal organization (1830–1833) would still be a comparable figure in the growth of Christ’s church during his lifetime.
But in both eras a fraction of those who heard the message really paid the price to become full members of Christ’s church. Could one sacrifice without knowing the truth by the Holy Ghost? Even before formal Church organization and first confirmations, the power of the Holy Ghost was with the latter-day church. At the baptism of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, they came out of the water prophesying and rejoicing because “we were filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 42.) In other words, the power of the Holy Ghost was upon the restored Church prior to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith explained the baptism of Cornelius on this same principle, which also operated during the ministry of Christ. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. by Joseph Fielding Smith, Deseret News Press, 1940, p. 199.) Although the formal bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost was made by Jesus as “he breathed upon” the apostles after the resurrection (John 20:22), he stressed during his lifetime that hearers could know his words only because “it is the Spirit that quickeneth.” (John 6:63.)
This does not contradict John’s remark that “the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39.) As President Joseph Fielding Smith stressed, the apostles during Christ’s life “had special manifestations of the power of the Holy Ghost, but did not enjoy the gift itself” until after the resurrection. (See Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, vol. 1, p. 46.) The same is obviously true of all potential converts of Christ. Reasons other than the lack of spiritual witness caused the numbers to be few compared to the total population. These reasons were outlined by the Savior himself in the parable of the sower: some allow Satan to harden their hearts, some are afraid of various forms of persecution, and some are more concerned with money and worldly cares than they are with living the gospel. The question of why Christ did not convert more should be asked in the present tense, for it is also about us: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (Luke 13:24.)
We are a recently retired couple and are interested in the re-emphasized missionary thrust of the Church. We haven’t heard lately of any older couples going on a mission from our area. What is the desire and position of the Church concerning older persons and couples going on missions?
President , First Council of the Seventy
Couples render invaluable service in the mission field, and there is a constant need for missionary couples to be called. However, care should be used in recommending couples.
Missionary work is rigorous and demands good physical health in order to effectively perform the day-to-day work expected from missionaries. If the medical report gives any indication that either husband or wife might not be equal to the demands of fulltime missionary work, then it may be wise to call them to serve as missionaries in the stake or in some other special capacity.
Couples should not be recommended if the call would necessitate them leaving unmarried or dependent children. They should defer fulltime missionary service until such time as they have no dependent children.
Occasionally there is a need for couples to serve in specialized activities such as agricultural missionaries or Health Services missionaries. In these cases, it is still necessary that they have good physical health and are able to carry on vigorous proselyting activity. It is also necessary that in these special missionary callings the couples would be prepared and able to perform regular proselyting work when called upon to do so.
Again we want to emphasize that there is a real need and demand for couples to serve as missionaries. We know that within the wards and branches of the Church are many able-bodied couples with no family responsibilities who could qualify to so serve. We hope that leaders will encourage these husbands and wives to respond to the call and find the real joy of missionary service that many are enjoying at the present time.
I understand that the Genealogical Society does research independently of the research done by members of the Church and that the names thus collected are sent directly to the temple. What does this mean about my responsibility to find my ancestors and prepare names for temple work?
Elder , Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and President of the Genealogical Society
The Genealogical Society does not do genealogical research work, for that is the responsibility of individual Church members as they go about the work of identifying ancestors and charting their family relationships. This is the real meaning of “genealogy work.” We do have the responsibility to assist Church members as they fulfill their obligation to do the temple ordinance work for their ancestors.
With the dedication of the Washington Temple, the Church now has 16 temples in operation. During the year which closed August 31, 1974, there were 2,564,037 endowments for the dead performed. The Brethren would like to see this number doubled, for temple attendance is one of the best methods of increasing our spirituality. It is for this reason that the First Presidency has charged the Genealogical Society to provide enough names to keep the temples in operation. The system we developed in response to the request is called the controlled extraction program. As can be seen from the accompanying graph, the members of the Church today are producing only 34 percent of the names used in temple ordinance work. The remainder are supplied by controlled extraction.
We take the records of individuals which are most readily obtained (these are the parish and vital statistical records) from our library. We extract them twice, using different operators, so that one operator can check the work of the other. If any discrepancies are found, these are resolved and the clean record is fed into the computer for processing for the temple.
We give first priority in processing for the temple to the records submitted by Church members, and we only fill in as needed with society-produced names. Thus, if patrons submit names to be processed through the Society, their names are given preference and society-produced duplicates are rejected.
Of course, many names submitted by the members of the Church are rejected as duplicates because the work has already been done. At the present time the rejection rate for patrons because of duplication is running about 23.9 percent. For names gathered by the Society under the controlled extraction program, the duplication rate is 19.3 percent.
The rejection rate of patron’s names could be reduced if they would consult the Society’s annual publication, Parish and Vital Records Listings, which gives information concerning which records have been processed in the controlled extraction program. In addition, a monthly supplement is printed and is available at Genealogical Society libraries.
In addition to the above loss from duplication, 11 percent of the names submitted by members of the Church are returned without any processing because the proper standards listed in the Record Submission Manual have not been followed.
In choosing registers for controlled extraction, the Society tries to choose those areas (England and New England) where the duplication rate from patron input is very high, in order to save people searching the same records time after time to see if an ancestor’s name appears. By doing the whole record where the rate of duplication is high, all names can be entered and the results printed out in alphabetical order where they can be searched with a minimum of effort.
The Society only handles those registers which are most easily searched. We do not input wills, probate and notarial records, land and military records, census records, etc. These can only be searched by Church members doing thorough genealogical research.
When we take patrons into the archives and show them how to use the family group record forms on file, they are filled with joy to find family members listed. When they discover in the temple records index bureau that the work was done by other members of the family, they are overjoyed to know the work has been done. Why, then, do some Saints feel hurt when they find we are doing work for them that saves them time and money?
Probably the reason is that we haven’t saved them anything. By not following directions, many Church members have already expended time and effort in searching out a name only to find it has already been submitted and temple work completed on it. Had they checked with us first as we ask, they could have saved both time and money. How much easier it is to look up names in an alphabetical list in a minute or so than it is to hire someone to do the work or to sit down yourself and go through a register—name by name and page by page—to see if an ancestor is listed.
Our responsibility before the Lord and to our ancestors is to see that their temple work is done. Whether we do it, or whether someone else does the temple work is immaterial. Our task is to check to see that every one of our ancestors has received these saving ordinances. It takes genealogical research to make this determination. By using the archives, supplemented by the information from the temple records, one can build a pedigree chart of the family and see if the temple work has already been done.
Nothing, then, could be more helpful to the Saints than to have all the tedious spadework in church and vital records done for them at reduced cost through the controlled extraction program. It is not a handicap, but a blessing to the Saints.
The goal of the Genealogical Society is to keep the temples supplied with names. As this graph shows, the number of names researched by the Society goes up when the number of names generated by patrons goes down; the number of Society names goes down when the number generated by patrons goes up. The general trend is towards an increase in the total number of names submitted to temples through the Society.