The Nauvoo Temple 1840’s Dedication: Inimitable or Invalid?By: Guest
This is the first guest post from our frequent commenter Rigel Hawthorne.
After reading the recent W&T post about regarding Denver Snuffer’s conclusions on the Nauvoo Temple dedication, I wanted to go back and examine the events. The Nauvoo Temple dedication was certainly singular in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ongoing doctrinal revelation, increasing population growth of the membership, and external pressures resulted in ‘outside-the-box’ action to bring the ordinances of the temple to an anxious church membership.
The urgency of this goal originated with none other than Joseph Smith. Even prior to instructions being given in the Red Brick store, there were washings and anointings in the Kirtland Temple. The dedication of the Nauvoo Temple occurred in 7 parts, yes 7 parts! I have listed the parts in order of their occurrence and described the events surrounding each part.
Part 1 occurred on November 8, 1841. Under the direction of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young dedicated the baptismal font. 13 days later, even as construction of the temple proceeded, the first baptisms for the dead in the Nauvoo temple were performed.
Part 2 occurred on October 5, 1845, almost 4 years after Part 1. On this day, Sunday services were being held on temporary floors, with temporary benches and pulpits. The opening prayer is described as follows:
I [Brigham Young] opened the services of the day by a dedicatory prayer, presenting the Temple, thus far completed, as a monument of the saints’ liberality, fidelity, and faith, concluding: ‘Lord, we dedicate this house and ourselves to thee.’
This Sunday service was in preparation for General Conference. This was not meant to be the formal temple dedication. Brigham Young had advised by letter a couple of months earlier that the dedication of the temple would be April 6, 1846.
Part 3 occurred on November 30, 1845, when Brigham Young (accompanied by members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Presiding Bishops, Patriarch and Stake President, President of the Seventy and Temple Committee), dedicated the attic story of the temple. The description of the dedication is limited to the following:
I then offered up prayer and dedicated the attic story of the Temple and ourselves to God, and prayed that God would sustain and deliver us his servants from the hands of our enemies, until we have accomplished his will in this house.
Administration of endowments would follow, beginning December 10, 1845.
Part 4 occurred on January 7, 1846, when the altar for administering sealing ordinances was dedicated by Brigham Young. Sealings of husbands and wives apparently began immediately, and sealings of children to parents would follow 4 days later.
Part 4 occurred on February 8, 1846. This dedication followed the conclusion of ordinance work in the Nauvoo temple. (15, 626 proxy baptisms, 5,083 endowments, 2,420 couples sealed, 369 deceased spouses sealed). The twelve knelt around the altar, dedicated the building to the Most High, and asked for His blessings on their move to the West. It was asked that He enable them to, someday, return to finish the lower portion of the temple.
In spite of this departure, labor on the temple continued. On March 27, 1846, Orson Hyde wrote to Brigham Young, advising him that the temple would not be ready to dedicate on April 6, 1846, as had been Brigham Young’s plan. On March 15, 1846, 14 men who were laboring in the temple met together for prayer in the attic story and experienced heavenly manifestations, which some called a pentacostal night. These manifestations included speaking in tongues, visions, appearances of heavenly beings, and the appearance of flames on the temple that did not consume the building.
Painting was taking place in the building’s main floor interior on April 6, 1846. Due to this work and rainy weather which made meeting in the grove undesirable, the Saints who remained in Nauvoo met in the basement of the temple for an unofficial ‘General Conference.’ Announcements were published soon thereafter that 3 days of dedication services would begin on May 1, 1846.
Prior to this public dedication, however, Part 6—a private dedication, occurred on April 30, 1846. 26 participants, including Elder Wilford Woodruff and Elder Orson Hyde met together with the intention of holding the dedication early in the event that the public dedication would be disrupted by mob activity. Joseph Young, brother of Brigham Young offered the dedicatory prayer. The men occupied the priesthood stands, suggesting that the stands were finished in the style similar to what was built in the Kirtland Temple.
Part 7, the 3 day public dedication took place on May 1-3. The first two days were open to all visitors. The 3rd day was open only to the Latter-day Saints, and it was reported that attendance on that third day was 5000. The May 1 dedicatory prayer, given by Orson Hyde, was recorded in minutes taken by Thomas Bullock:
Holy and Everlasting Father, before Thee this morning we present ourselves and acknowledge Thy mercy that has been extended to us since we have been on Thy footstool, and for this opportunity of dedicating this house. We thank Thee that Thou hast given us strength to accomplish the charges delivered by Thee. Forgive us our sins and the sins of thy people. Thou hast seen our labors and exertions to accomplish this purpose. By the authority of the Holy Priesthood now we offer this building as a sanctuary to Thy Worthy Name. We ask Thee to take the guardianship into Thy hands and grant that Thy Spirit shall dwell here and may all feel a sacred influence on their hearts that His Hand has helped this work. Accept of our offering this morning, and that soul that blesses this temple let blessings rest on his posterity to the latest generation, and that soul that shall practice evil against this temple and Thy House, set Thy face against him and let evil take the portion of his inheritance. Administer to Thy people and let Thy honor and glory fall on our heads, not in the eyes of men but in the day when the world shall become Thy dominion. May we have the honor to tune the lyre that Thou hast redeemed us from every nation and made us holy and pure and that we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It must needs be that offenses come, we offer it as the fruit of our labors and may the oppression under which they groaned be to our good. We ask that the angel of mercy may be round about this temple and that light may descend upon us and let us pass to the courts of the heavenly. Let Thy Spirit rest upon those who have contributed to the building of this temple, the laborers on it that they may come forth to receive kingdoms and dominions and glory and immortal power. Accept of us we pray Thee, inspire every bosom to do Thy will, cause that truth may lead them for the glorious coming of the Son of God when you come in the name of the King, the Lord of Hosts shall be the King. Gather us in Thy Kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
It seems that the Saints were tenacious in safeguarding that ordinances were not performed without the pertinent dedication. The various elements that would have been dedicated in one sweeping dedication were covered, though not in the fashion we would later deem as typical. A pentocostal experience took place, but preceded the dedication of the finished temple. One might wonder why it was even necessary to return for the 6th and 7th dedications. Orson Hyde explained:
If we move forward and finished this house, we should be received and accepted as a church with our dead. But if not we should be rejected with our dead.
It was as if the final dedication was viewed as ratifying the other individual dedications and, retroactively, the work that had taken place under those dedications. Orson Hyde and Wilford Woodruff both taught that the Nauvoo Temple qualified for acceptance as a church with our dead. Denver Snuffer teaches that it did not. He says that criteria for rejection was met.
As I have never performed physical labor to build a temple, never directly exerted muscle or tired my back or risked life and limb, I tend to tread carefully on judging the events that took place or criticizing the pace of the construction. As to evidence of a ‘curse’ following the pioneers because of the so-called rejection, I counter that evidence of a non-cursed status is abundant. My ancestors who were endowed and sealed in February 1846 have a posterity reaching 6 generations that have also made temple covenants. If curses are consequences that separate us from God, having a posterity that has been born in covenant and chosen to make temple covenants seems to fulfill the very goal that was the driving force for laboring to build and use the Nauvoo temple.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Snuffer that the Nauvoo Temple was rejected by God?