Doctrine and Covenants 127 contains a letter from the Prophet Joseph Smith dated September 1, 1842, which instructed the Saints to keep records of the baptisms they performed for the dead. About a week later, Joseph wrote another letter concerning the subject of baptism for the dead. Doctrine and Covenants 128 contains this letter, which teaches why we keep records of saving ordinances.
Begin class by displaying a large, clear container labeled mortality and a pitcher of water labeled tribulations. Ask students what tribulations they have experienced or seen others experience. For each tribulation they mention, pour some of the water from the pitcher into the clear container.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 127:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what tribulation Joseph Smith was experiencing in Nauvoo in 1842. Invite students to report what they find.
Explain that in May 1842, Lilburn W. Boggs, the former governor of Missouri who issued the extermination order against the Saints, was wounded by an unknown would-be assassin. Missouri authorities accused Joseph Smith of arranging for someone to murder Boggs and tried to bring the Prophet back to Missouri for trial. Joseph Smith had left Missouri years earlier and was living in the area of Nauvoo, Illinois, at the time. Knowing that if he returned to Missouri he would be killed, the Prophet eluded Missouri officials for a time to avoid being illegally arrested. In January 1843 it was determined that the proceedings to arrest Joseph Smith and extradite him to Missouri were illegal.
Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 127 was a letter Joseph Smith wrote to the members of the Church while he was moving about to avoid unlawful arrest by Missouri officials. This letter was read to the Saints in Nauvoo a few days later.
Show students two balls of approximately equal size, one of which floats and one of which does not. (For example, you could use a hollow, plastic golf ball and a regular golf ball.) Place both balls in the container of water, and ask the following question:
How might these two balls represent the different ways people respond to tribulations?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 127:2 aloud. Ask the class to look for how Joseph responded to tribulations.
Which ball best represents Joseph Smith’s response to tribulation? Why?
How did Joseph know that he would triumph over his tribulations and perils?
According to what Joseph wrote to the Saints, what can help us endure tribulation? (After students respond, summarize their statements by writing the following principle on the board: Trusting in Heavenly Father can help us endure tribulation.)
Invite students to think about a person they know (or have learned about) who was able to endure tribulation because he or she trusted in Heavenly Father. Ask a few students to explain who they thought of and how trusting in Heavenly Father helped this person endure tribulation.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 127:3–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Prophet told the Saints. Invite students to identify and share phrases that are meaningful to them.
Remind students that about a year and a half before Joseph Smith wrote this letter, the Lord had told the Saints that the ordinance of baptism for the dead should be performed in the temple (see D&C 124:30). However, the Lord allowed the Saints to perform baptisms for the dead in the nearby river and streams for a short period of time. The Lord told them that once the temple was ready, the ordinance of baptism for the dead would be acceptable only if performed in the temple. The Saints began performing baptisms for the dead in the Nauvoo Temple in November 1841.
Ask students to think about the last time they participated in baptisms for the dead. Invite them to describe the experience, including whether anyone was sitting near the font during the baptisms.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 127:5–9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for who needs to be present when baptisms for the dead are performed. Invite students to report what they found.
According to verse 7, why is it important that a recorder be an eyewitness to the baptisms?
Write the following incomplete statement on the board: The temple ordinances we perform on the earth are …
Invite students to complete the statement based on verses 5–9. (Students should complete this statement so it is similar to the following truth: The temple ordinances we perform on the earth are binding in heaven.)
What do you think it means that temple ordinances will be binding in heaven?
How might knowing this truth help you to fulfill your responsibility to perform temple ordinances for “your dead”?
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 127:10–12 by explaining that Joseph Smith wanted to teach the Saints more about baptism for the dead, but because he was in hiding he could not do so. He promised to write the Saints additional letters about baptisms for the dead and other important subjects.
About a week after he wrote the letter in Doctrine and Covenants 127, Joseph wrote another letter to the Saints concerning baptisms for the dead. This letter is contained in Doctrine and Covenants 128.
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 128:1–5 by explaining that Joseph taught that local recorders should be appointed to witness and record the ordinance of baptism for the dead. He also taught that a general recorder should be appointed to compile the local records into a general church record.
Show a passport (or a picture of a passport). Ask what kinds of privileges the holder of the passport is entitled to.
Why will another person’s passport not qualify you to enter another country?
What could happen if you tried to enter another country but the information inside your passport was not complete?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:6–7 aloud. Ask the class to look for what records will be used to determine if we qualify to be admitted into God’s presence. Invite them to report what they found. Point out that John and Joseph Smith mentioned multiple records: “the books were opened” and “another book, … which is the book of life.”
According to verse 7, what are the first books spoken of by John? (Records kept on the earth.)
What is the book of life? (The record kept in heaven.)
What is recorded in these books? (Our works.)
What works must be recorded in the books in order to be admitted into God’s presence?
After students have shared their thoughts concerning this question, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into [God’s] presence” (“Covenants,” Ensign, May 1987, 24).
According to President Packer’s statement, what would happen on judgment day if a person’s records showed that he or she had never received the ordinance of baptism?
Write the following phrase on the board: Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Prophet Joseph Smith explained this statement to the Saints. As students report their findings, replace the word bind with the word record and bound with recorded on the board.
What do we learn from verse 8 about recording the ordinances we receive? (You may want to explain that the phrase “propria persona” refers to people who are baptized for themselves and the phrase “their own agents” refers to those who are baptized as proxies.)
Write the following on the board: When an ordinance is performed by and a proper is kept, the ordinance is binding on earth and in heaven.
According to verse 8, what needs to happen in order for ordinances to be binding on earth and in heaven? (As students answer, invite a student to complete the truth on the board as follows: When an ordinance is performed by priesthood authority and a proper record is kept, the ordinance is binding on earth and in heaven.)
What hope can this principle give to those who die without a knowledge of the gospel?
What responsibility do we have to fulfill this principle?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:9 aloud. Ask the class to look for what Joseph Smith said about this principle.
What has the Lord done in every dispensation of the priesthood? (The Lord has authorized at least one of His servants to hold and use the sealing keys of the priesthood.)
According to verse 9, what happens when an ordinance is performed by priesthood authority and a proper record is kept? (It becomes a law on earth and in heaven and cannot be annulled unless the person who receives it lives unworthily.)
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 128:10–11 by explaining that just as the Savior gave the sealing keys of the priesthood to Peter, He has given the keys again in our day.
To conclude the lesson, write the following questions on the board and invite students to answer them in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:
Invite a few students to share what they wrote with the class. You might also want to share your testimony about performing baptisms for the dead.