“Could you tell me a little about the history of our temple baptismal fonts? Why are oxen used to support the fonts?”
Answer/Brother Emil B. Fetzer
The baptismal fonts in the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are beautiful and yet unique and singular in design. They take their basic pattern from the historical and ancient design of the so-called “sea” of the great temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem as described in the Bible.
These baptismal fonts are not only unusual in design and appearance, but they are also used for a very sacred purpose not generally known to the world outside of the Church. The purpose was revealed by the Lord through his prophets to fulfill his plan and all righteousness.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine gives an excellent statement on the necessity for living, worthy, authorized members of the Church to perform the baptismal ordinances for those who have departed this life. “Indeed, so unvarying is the eternal law which states, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5), that this holy baptismal ordinance must be performed vicariously for accountable persons who departed this life unbaptized but who would have complied with the law had the privilege been afforded them. Hence we have the doctrine of baptism for the dead.” (Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, 1966, p. 71.)
“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:29.) The Lord through revelation commanded that this work was only to be done in his holy temples. (See D&C 124.)
The “sea” or brazen laver of the great temple built by Solomon is accounted for in some detail in the Bible. (See 1 Kgs. 7:23–26.) In essence this record states that the “molten sea” was 15 feet in diameter, in the shape of a hemisphere—therefore 7 1/2 feet deep and 45 feet in circumference. Under the brim on the outside were two rows of ornaments cast on the surface. The bowl was placed upon 12 oxen cast of metal. (Undoubtedly these represented the 12 tribes.) Three oxen faced to the north, three to the west, three to the south, and three to the east, and their hind pads were inward, under and supporting the bowl. The metal of the bowl was a hand breadth thick. The brim was fashioned as a brim of a cup, with a lily flower design upon it. The bowl contained water equivalent in volume to that of two thousand baths. In the book Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus there is an unique description of this “sea” on page 175.
In modern times the first temple built in this dispensation was constructed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, during the years 1833 to 1836. No baptismal font was included in its design as the revelation on baptism for the dead had not yet been given to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This temple was the site where tremendous revelations were given to the Prophet by the Lord; they were of utmost importance in restoring the fulness of the gospel and in establishing His kingdom here upon the earth.
The second temple constructed by the Church was built in Nauvoo, Illinois. The cornerstones were laid on April 6, 1841, and the temple was dedicated on May 1, 1846. The Lord commanded the Saints, through revelation, to erect this temple for the purpose of revealing keys and powers of the priesthood and for the salvation of the living and the dead.
In this revelation the Lord states among many other things, “For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead.” (D&C 124:29.) Therefore, a very important feature of this temple was the baptismal font.
The Prophet Joseph Smith in 1841 described the first temporary wood font as follows: “[The font] is constructed of pine timber, and put together of staves tongued and grooved, oval shaped, sixteen feet long east and west and twelve feet wide, seven feet high from the foundation, the basin four feet deep, the moulding of the cap and base are formed of beautiful carved wood in antique style. The sides are finished with panel work. A flight of stairs in the north and south sides lead up and down into the basin, guarded by side railing.
“The font stands upon twelve oxen, four on each side, and two at each end, their heads, shoulders, and fore legs projecting out from under the font; they are carved out of pine plank, glued together, and copied after the most beautiful five-year-old steer that could be found in the country. …
“The oxen and ornamental mouldings of the font were carved by Elder Elijah Fordham of New York.” (History of the Church 4:446.) At a later date this font was replaced by one carved out of solid stone but of similar design. An excellent model of this font is on display at the Nauvoo Visitors Center as are stone fragments of this stone font.
Fonts, following the general design of the Nauvoo font, are in each of the temples built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Keeping to the general pattern the design architects have made interesting variations and have used different materials and finishes. The St. George Temple font is a close reproduction of the Nauvoo font, but is, however, constructed of metal and weighs nine tons. President Brigham Young presented this font to the Church. All of the older temples of Utah—Salt Lake, Manti, and Logan—have fonts fashioned of metal. The font at the Arizona Temple is finished in terra cotta. The fonts in the temples at Idaho Falls, London, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Los Angeles are of cast metal, some of golden bronze and others of white bronze. Most of the fonts of recently constructed temples such as Alberta, Oakland, Ogden, Provo, and Washington are made of white marble cast stone with stainless steel liners in the font basins.
During the period of time that the Ogden and Provo Temples were being designed, I had the rare and, for me, awesome privilege and opportunity of receiving guidance and counsel in meetings with the First Presidency of the Church on specific details and requirements of the temple designs. One of the items there discussed was the design of the baptismal fonts. A review of the fonts of all previously built temples was made, and it was mentioned that these were patterned after the “sea” of the great temple built by Solomon and that the oxen represented the 12 tribes. It was emphasized that this design motif was not imperative to the validity of the ordinance. More important would be that the font be proper, clean, beautiful, and of a size adequate to accommodate baptism by immersion performed by those having authority from God through the holy priesthood. They did give permission for the temple fonts at Ogden and Provo to be designed according to the traditional pattern, since these were to be large, full-sized temples. The font basins for these two temples are round and are supported on the backs of 12 oxen equidistantly spaced around the circumference of each of the fonts.
It is possible to contemplate that in the future when many temples will be built, as has been foretold, the design of valid and beautiful baptismal fonts in smaller-sized temples need not necessarily follow the traditional design. Rather, these fonts could be similar to the beautiful fonts presently used in meetinghouses and stake centers for the baptism of persons as they enter into Church membership and fulfill the requirements of this important and sacred ordinance in life.
“Is it necessary to give up your own culture when you join the Church?”
Answer/Brother Kenneth H. Beesley
This is not a new question. It was raised on several occasions during the New Testament period as the gospel was extended to the gentiles. In this dispensation also, the early Saints faced this question as the gospel was taken to the American Indian and missionary work expanded into England, Europe, and the Pacific. The question as to whether it is necessary to give up your own culture when you join the Church has recently been highlighted as membership growth has become more international and more local missionaries are being called.
Before we can answer this question, it is important to distinguish between gospel principles and customs, traditions, or local mores. We need to recognize that joining the Church should be a total commitment; and when prior customs or traditions are in conflict with gospel principles, then accommodation is appropriate. This would apply equally to a truck driver in Salt Lake City or a camel driver in the Far East.
While it is not necessary to abandon a person’s culture when he joins the Church, there are certain things of the world that do need to be given up. We learn from the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 121:35) that many individuals are not chosen “because their hearts are set so much on the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
“That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”
We remember that in the days of Christ, new converts were told, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19.)
This implies a oneness in spirit and in compliance with gospel principles. It does not imply a uniformity in language, dress, diet, politics, or preferences in sports. But while we still retain our individual customs and culture, we also become of one family when we agree to take upon ourselves the name of Christ through baptism.
President Kimball has recently emphasized that as we expand our efforts to take the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, we must understand their differences and build bridges.
In summary, then, it is not required for an individual to give up his own culture when he joins the Church, but we need to remember that the Lord has said, “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9.)
“Should we pray with our dates before going out, while out, or when we come home?”
Answer/Sister Ardeth G. Kapp
Whenever prayer is offered with a sincere heart in a reverential, worshipful manner, it is appropriate, and as you seriously consider the intent of your prayer, you will become aware of those circumstances most suited to communication with your Father in heaven.
Further questions concerning when one should pray could be asked to help you find your own right answer. What is the intent and purpose of having prayer with a date? Just because it seems like a good habit? To strengthen a boy-girl relationship that is very special? A request for protection in relation to travel? A personal yearning to be more confident, with ability to speak more freely? It may be a request to be endowed with the power to resist and avoid all temptation and be protected from the adversary, or maybe to comply with the words spoken by President N. Eldon Tanner to “remember who you are and act accordingly.”
If, however, the only reason for prayer is to let your date know you are a “righteous” person, there are other ways of sharing your testimony and commitment that may be even more effective. Consistently high standards will speak loudly in your behalf. You will reveal your spirituality and your faith in your attitude, your speech, and your conduct.
Whenever a prayer is offered on a date, whether kneeling in your home or in the mountains, the important thing is to have faith and be in tune so that after your prayer is offered you are prepared to listen for and expect an answer. This is beautifully illustrated by the testimony of a young girl who attended summer camp. During her camping experience it was suggested by one of the leaders that the girls might want to find a private spot in nature where they could be by themselves and talk with God. Some weeks later in a fast and testimony meeting, Becky stood up and told about how she had found a private spot, knelt down in a quiet, wooded area surrounded by tall pines and a few quaking aspens, and offered a simple prayer: “Father in heaven, do you know I’m here?” She went on to tell how she waited and waited, and as a breeze fluttered the leaves, she opened her eyes to see the rays of sun filter through the trees. She said a feeling came over her, and with deep emotion these were her words, “You may not think it was anything, but I knew He knew I was there.”
The Lord has directed his children to pray “always that they faint not; and inasmuch as they do this, I will be with them even unto the end.” (D&C 75:11.)
He has further instructed us, “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.” (D&C 10:5.)
As we think about praying with friends, we should know that He has said, “You must pray vocally before the world as well as in secret, and in your family, and among your friends, and in all places.” (D&C 23:6.)
Anticipation of a date brings with it some unknowns. Life is a path untraveled, and hurdles can loom across one’s way unexpectedly. Situations may come that you are not prepared to handle. Having committed yourself to your Father in heaven to do the best you can, you may then request added strength and protection for situations you may not be able to handle alone, such as discouragement, disappointment, and danger, as well as all other temptations found in the many vile winds that are blowing to thwart your progress and distract you from the path that will lead you to your ultimate destination.
As you choose to make prayer a vital part of your daily life, you are opening the door or responding to the invitation to establish that relationship, that communication, that powerline with God, who knows you and knows your needs and the yearnings of your heart even before you pray. “For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matt. 6:8.)
In preparation for a date or any other occasion, there is a strength and feeling of protection and well-being that comes from a very personal private communication addressed to the Father and in the name of Jesus Christ. As we learn to listen for those promptings of the Spirit in answer to our prayers, we draw strength from communication with our Heavenly Father.
Young people who are conscientious about their private prayers and then come together for a date can be sure they will each bring to that association a sweet spirit and influence.
A prayer together before, during, or after a date is not usually necessary, and in some cases could cause misunderstanding or embarrassment if both parties did not share the same regard for such an experience. And it is well to note that prayers on the occasion of a date are worthless if, following the prayer, you deliberately allow yourselves to be found in situations where the Spirit of the Lord will not be present. These prayers become a mockery to God, and God will not be mocked. “For I, the Lord, am not to be mocked in these things.” (D&C 104:6.)
Many wonderful friendships grow out of the dating years, and young men and young women have a powerful influence on each other for good or ill. The association with a boy or girl who has private prayers regularly and strives to live accordingly will be a strength to all who share the influence of that friendship. At that time when two people begin to think seriously of each other and the possibility of planning an eternal companionship develops, then the need to learn to pray together and unitedly supplicate the Lord is essential. It is this awareness of each other’s spiritual potential and relationship with the Savior that reveals the most important attributes required of one who may become your eternal companion.
As you seek earnestly for direction you will want to remember the admonition given in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” (D&C 112:10.) And finally, in paraphrasing the words of Becky’s testimony regarding prayer, “There may be some who will not think it is anything, but you will know that He knows that you are there.”