I Have a Question

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    Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

    As a member of my ward activities committee, how can I help plan fulfilling, worthwhile ward activities?

    Rand A. Christensen, a member of the Yorba Linda Fifth Ward, Placentia California Stake. In September 1977, the Church provided for the calling of ward activities committees to plan and implement cultural arts activities, service projects, and sports and physical fitness programs. “Activities can be an effective tool in accomplishing the mission of the Church,” the Activities Committee Handbook reads. “Committees that plan activities to help Church members come to Christ are a valuable resource to the members they serve.”

    The mission of the Church—bringing people to Christ—is divided into three main areas:

    1. Perfecting the Saints.

    • The Curitiba Brazil North Stake sponsored a children’s day that included a play presented by the stake Young Men and Young Women organizations. The play’s theme centered on obeying parents and respecting nature.

    • Members of the Tucson Arizona North Stake produced a 23-minute video depicting a teenage girl making a difficult decision in a dating situation. The video involved a 25-member cast, including several nonmember youth. Others were involved in writing and production. Two investigators who saw the video were later baptized.

    2. Redeeming the dead.

    • Youth in the Adelaide Australia Modbury Stake delivered 50,000 telephone directories to raise funds to make a 1,500-kilometer trip to the Sydney Australia Temple to do baptisms for the dead.

    • A genealogical seminar at the Roswell Georgia Stake center attracted more than 120 nonmembers.

    3. Proclaiming the gospel.

    • Primary children in the Kahului Hawaii Stake participated in a fun run as a missionary project. The children ran two miles and earned $128 for the purchase of copies of the Book of Mormon. The next day the children wrote their testimonies in the books before distributing them among missionaries in their area.

    • Youth in the McAllen Texas Stake conducted a mass tract-out in nearby towns. The youth asked people if they wished to know more about the Church. Many referrals were obtained, resulting in teaching opportunities for the missionaries.

    Generating ideas for meaningful activities can be easy; just think of what needs to be done for particular individuals in your ward, or what needs to be done in your stake or community. Question others or read the local newspaper for ideas. Then think of an activity that can meet those needs. The more needs met by an activity, the better.

    Within each Church unit are creative, talented, and energetic members and nonmembers. Church activities are natural fellowshipping and missionary tools. The challenge is to involve these individuals in cultural and physical activities and service projects that meet their needs and improve the quality of their lives.

    President N. Eldon Tanner said, “Activities … are a means to a very important end—the building of character and the building of a faith in God. Never let any activity be an end in itself.” (Church News, 6 July 1968, p. 11.)

    When did the use of consecrated olive oil in priesthood blessings originate, and what part does the oil play in the blessing?

    D. Kelly Ogden, assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. The first historical or scriptural mention of anointing with oil dates from the time of Moses. Olive oil was used to anoint the tabernacle of the congregation, the ark of the testimony, and other sacred instruments, as well as to anoint Aaron and his sons. (See Ex. 30:22–31.)

    Olive oil was also used to anoint kings and prophets when they were invested with power, received divine approval, and were consecrated to their holy callings. Samuel used oil when he anointed Saul a captain over the Lord’s people. (See 1 Sam. 10:1.) Samuel later anointed David to replace Saul as Israel’s king. (See 1 Sam. 16:13; Ps. 23:5;Ps. 89:20.) Elijah anointed two kings and the man who would succeed him as prophet. (See 1 Kgs. 19:15–16.)

    Priests who ministered in the temple also used olive oil as part of their ritual offerings. The Messiah, of whom all the prophets testified, was called in Hebrew Mashiah and in Greek Christos, which means “Anointed One” in both languages.

    The use of olive oil for medicinal purposes is illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan, in which the Samaritan bound up the wounds of the assaulted Jew, “pouring in oil and wine.” (Luke 10:34.) Rabbinical sources of the time attest to the belief that oil and wine had curative and antiseptic properties.

    Although Jesus healed many people without anointing them with oil—sometimes even healed a person without touching him or her—it was a general practice for priesthood holders in the Church to anoint the sick with oil. While performing their first missionary labors, the Twelve Apostles “anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” (Mark 6:13.)

    The epistle of James records the most detailed description of priesthood administration preserved for us from ancient times: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

    “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” (James 5:14–15.)

    Why is oil used in administering to the sick? First and foremost, of course, we use olive oil because the Lord has commanded us to do so. The scriptures give us some clues as to why the Lord has so directed us.

    On one occasion, Jesus encountered a man who had been blind from birth. The Savior anointed the man’s eyes with clay and then instructed him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. (See John 9:6–7.) Perhaps the Lord wanted the blind man to be anointed and washed in order for him to be physically involved in the healing process. Likewise, baptism by immersion, the sacramental bread and water, and the laying on of hands and anointing with oil all personally involve the faithful participant in the holy ordinance.

    This kind of involvement seems to be aided by the use of symbols. Throughout the ages, symbols—physical objects, substances, and actions—have been used to represent sacred powers and practices. When we are baptized, water is the physical property, or symbol, involved in the ordinance. The water does not cleanse us from sin; it is the faith and repentance that precede our baptism that allow God to grant a remission of our sins.

    When we partake of the sacrament, bread and water symbolize the body and blood of the Savior. There is no redeeming value in the bread and water—only in what they represent, which is of infinite worth to us.

    So it is with administration to the sick. We apply hands and oil, the physical touch and the tangible substance, but the hands and the oil do not heal. It is faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the priesthood that heals.

    So why is olive oil used?

    Anciently, oil pressed from olives was considered the cleanest, clearest, brightest-burning, longest-lasting of all animal and vegetable oils. It was also the purest of oils and was thus appropriate for holy anointings. Joseph Fielding Smith has written, “We find through all the prophetic writings that olive trees and olive oil are emblems of sacredness and purity.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 1:152.)

    Is a priesthood administration valid without the use of olive oil? Again, it is not the oil that heals a person, but the prayer of faith and the use of priesthood power. In times of emergency, when no oil is available, it is altogether fitting and proper for priesthood holders to administer to a sick or injured person with no anointing. On this subject, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

    “There have been cases, sad to relate, where elders of the Church, through lack of understanding, have refused to administer to the sick under conditions where oil could not be had. It is the privilege and duty of the elders to bless the sick by the laying on of hands. If they have pure olive oil which has been consecrated for this purpose, one of them should use it in anointing the sick, and then they should by the laying on of hands seal the anointing. If no oil is to be had, then they should administer by the laying on of hands in the power of the priesthood and in the prayer of faith, that the blessing sought may come through the power of the Spirit of the Lord. This is in accordance with the divine plan inaugurated in the beginning.” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 3:183.)

    We do not know exactly when oil was first used in priesthood ordinances. It is possible that the pattern was instituted in the days of Adam. What is clear, though, is that priesthood holders administer to the sick in the same way priesthood holders did anciently—through anointing with olive oil and the prayer of faith.

    I have heard that the temple work for the founding fathers of the United States has been done. Is that true? If so, what about the work for their families?

    Thomas E. Daniels, manager of public relations, Church Family History Department, and a high councilor, Salt Lake Holladay Stake. This is a question that many members of the Church have asked. In 1986, some of the staff of the Family History Library’s LDS Reference Unit were assigned to compile and computerize all the existing genealogical data on the founding fathers, to identify their families, and to document completed temple ordinances for each. For purposes of the project, a founding father was identified as one who had signed one or more of the following documents: the Articles of Association (1774), the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Articles of Confederation (1778), or the Constitution (1787).

    Various sources were used to compile the information, including information recorded by Wilford Woodruff. In his journal entry of Sunday, 19 August 1877, Elder Woodruff, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and president of the St. George Temple, wrote: “I spent the evening in preparing a list of the noted men of the 17 century and 18th, including the signers of the Declaration of Independence and presidents of the United States, for baptism on Tuesday the 21 Aug 1877.”

    His journal entry for August 21 reads, “I, Wilford Woodruff, went to the temple of the Lord this morning and was baptized for 100 persons who were dead, including the signers of the Declaration of Independence. … I was baptized for the following names.” He then listed the names of one hundred men (one of whom was shown twice, so actually there were ninety-nine), including forty-five “eminent men” of several nationalities. The baptisms were performed by J. D. T. McAllister, a counselor in the temple presidency.

    Elder Woodruff continued his journal entry: “When Br. McAllister had baptized me for the 100 names, I baptized him for 21, including Gen. Washington and his forefathers and all the presidents of the United States that were not on my list except Buchanan, Van Buren, and Grant.” (The work for these presidents has since been done.)

    “It was a very interesting day,” Elder Woodruff continued. “I felt thankful that we had the privilege and the power to administer for the worthy dead, especially for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, that inasmuch as they had laid the foundation of our Government, that we could do as much for them as they had done for us.

    “Sister Lucy Bigelow Young went forth into the font and was baptized for Martha Washington and her family, and seventy of the eminent women of the world. I called upon the brethren and sisters who were present to assist in getting endowments for those that we had been baptized for today.” (Wilford Woodruff’s journal, typescript, vol. 7, Church History Library; spelling and punctuation modernized.)

    Proxy ordinations and endowments for the men, and endowments for the women, were performed and recorded over the next few days. The library study of 1986, referred to earlier, revealed that there were no sealings of children to parents performed at the time the baptisms and endowments were performed. It was, no doubt, a major task just to research and prepare the list of these men and women. To produce the names of all the spouses and children would have taken a major genealogical research project for which they were not equipped. That task was left for a later time.

    The first public mention of these events was made nearly a month after the baptisms were performed. In an address in the Tabernacle on Temple Square on 16 September 1877, Elder Woodruff first told publicly of the visitation of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. “They waited on me for two days and two nights,” he said,

    “I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them.” (Journal of Discourses, 19:229.)

    The founding fathers’ appearance to Elder Woodruff illustrates the importance of family history and temple work as well as the interest many of those living in the spirit world have in receiving the saving ordinances of the gospel.

    In my Sunday School class we sometimes get off the subject or discuss concepts and ideas that I think are not in harmony with the gospel. What can I do?

    Sandra Dawn Brimhall, a Relief Society board member in the Grant Eighth Ward, Salt Lake Grant Stake. In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are commanded to teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom: “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand.” (See D&C 88:77–81.)

    A purpose of priesthood, Relief Society, and Sunday School classes is to teach the gospel and help class members develop stronger testimonies. Whether or not this goal is realized depends on the teachers and members of each class in the Church.

    In order to teach one another the gospel, we must know the gospel. “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.” (D&C 11:21.)

    When class periods convene each Sunday, teachers and class members should come prepared—by study, prayer, and an earnest seeking of the Spirit—to participate in their respective classes. Regular, careful reading of the standard works helps Church members keep up their guard against false teachings. (See 2 Ne. 3:12.)

    The importance of the presence of the Holy Ghost in teaching situations cannot be overestimated. It means everything! “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.)

    The scriptures have provided us with clear guidelines about what we should teach in Church classes and the manner in which the teaching should be accomplished. They have also indicated what we should avoid.

    “And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 19:31.)

    And from the New Testament comes this counsel: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” (2 Tim. 2:23.)

    If Church members are careful, they can avoid problems and contention. Sometimes, there is a tendency to want to introduce something “new” into class discussions. Often, these novel concepts are merely the philosophies of men and are not in keeping with the spirit of the gospel or in keeping with the manual’s outline of the lesson. We all have a responsibility to speak only that which is true.

    The Holy Ghost can bear witness of what is true doctrine and what is false. The Book of Mormon provides an important guideline on how to judge whether or not a false statement, intentional or inadvertent, is important enough to be challenged.

    “Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil. …

    “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. …

    “But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil.” (Moro. 7:12–13, 17.)

    It is possible that a class member or teacher could be faced with the dilemma of how to stand up for what is believed to be right yet not know how to avoid contention at the same time. It is the Lord’s counsel to avoid contention in class discussions. Winning is not necessary. If it is needed, bring up concerns lovingly, humbly, and with patience. Clarify your interpretation of the statement first, and then present your understanding of the principle in question.

    If the statement is not one that needs to be taken up in class, there are other ways to clear up concerns. Talk to the teacher privately later, again humbly explaining as you go.

    If you are a teacher, sometimes you will face the challenge of class discussion that wanders off the subject or is inappropriate. If a class seems hung up on an unimportant or unrelated question, you have a responsibility to change the subject and suggest the lesson move on.

    If a question arises and no one is sure of an answer, the wisest course is for the teacher or an assigned class member to research the matter and report on it at a later date.