Symbolism By Proxy

Some mathematically inclined LDS may get a little frustrated to do the math on “proxy ordinances”. (Proxy Ordinances are baptisms and other rites performed in the Temples on behalf of the spirits of those who lived and died on Earth without doing them while they were here.)  If you do the math, it’s quite possible that LDS aren’t even doing enough proxy ordinances to keep up with the people who are dying each and every day, let alone all those who have gone before throughout time.  This would be like bailing water from a leaky boat, but realizing the water is pouring in faster than you’re bailing.

But if we learn anything from proxy ordinances, it’s that the actual person doesn’t even need to be bodily present for the ordinance. They just need to acknowledge the performance of the ordinance at some time or place, and it still counts.

That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that “proxy ordinances” could count not just for one person, but for whole groups of people. So you could baptize someone “for and on behalf of everyone who lived in the country of Germany from 1749-1773”. Then all those spirits would just need to point to that ordinance and say “Yes, I accept it on my behalf” or “No, I choose not to accept it.”

Maybe we could just do one proxy baptism for the entire human race that died without the chance to be baptized. That’s the wonderful thing about symbolism. It scales really well.


Filed under Doctrines, Teachings, Policies and Traditions

9 Responses to Symbolism By Proxy

  1. Brotherton

    I’m sure the Lord will “sort it all out” in the spirit world.
    If the ordinances are literally required for salvation, the endowment will really need to be shortened. It almost seems uncharitable to do missionary work & convert people here on earth. Why not let them all live their lives in ignorant bliss and do the proxy work when they are in the spirit world?

    • Cinepro

      I had a mission companion who was traumatized by the same thought. The doctrine used to be really specific about the benefits of accepting the gospel in this life, but over the years, that status has been lost, and it seems just as well to get it in the next life.

  2. buraianto

    I think it is necessary that the ordinance is performed for the individual, and not for a group. Part of temple work is to perform the ordinance of baptism, or whatever, but part of the temple work is for us to “resurrect” the memory of the individual in our minds, to create a link of caring between us and the individual. This does not happen when we do blanket ordinances.

    • Cinepro

      That’s an interesting idea, and it may be true for an ordinance like the endowment. But what kind of “link of caring” do we get from doing baptisms for the dead assembly-line style?

  3. Brotherton

    Won’t the Lord just sort it all out in the spirit world?

  4. buraianto

    It is hard to see caring at times when we think of temple work like it’s a bunch of teenagers doing baptisms when they’d rather be at the mall or playing Xbox; and I’m sure that is true in some situations. Still, someone had to do the genealogy. Someone cared enough for his or her ancestors to sift through records, send emails and letters to England (or Japan, or Germany…) and organize that information. That, to me, is even more important than the ordinances themselves, because in the act of genealogy you are saying, “I *want* to be, and will do what it takes to be, sealed to you.”

    I see ordinances like I see weddings: making official what we have already created in our hearts

  5. Cinepro

    I also appreciate the benefits of genealogical research, even if I’m not totally sold on the value of proxy ordinances. I especially think it’s possible to over-romanticize the idea that there is a spirit that wants us to be doing it. It would be interesting, but maybe not encouraging, if we had some sort of feedback letting us know how many proxy-ordinances are actually “accepted” by the spiritual benefactor.

  6. To perform mass proxy ordinances would defeat the purpose of the covenant-making process. Most ordinances are attached to a covenant, and covenants are a private, personal matter, not group therapy.

    It is true that annual births probably far exceed the number of proxy ordinances performed each year, but that is not the point. The purpose of temple work is to provide each participant with the opportunity to perform the endowment again and again, thereby gaining knowledge and experience through repetition.

    The overwhelming majority of ordinance work will be done during the millennium; that is the purpose of the millennium.

    • Cinepro

      I’m not so sure. In a proxy ordinance, the “covenant” is made when the disembodied spirit points to the proxy ordinance and says “Yes, I accept that ordinance done on my behalf.” It should be possible for more than one spirit to point to the same ordinance and say “Yes, I accept that ordinance done on my behalf” because the proxy ordinance is just the physical representation of the covenant; it isn’t the actual covenant itself. And symbolism scales really well.

      Obviously, God cares most about the actual acceptance of the covenant, not the physical part of the ordinance, or else proxy work wouldn’t work anyway. The idea of doing proxy work for spirits is more of a way to exploit a procedural loophole than anything else (it would have worked just as well to teach that physical baptism wasn’t necessary once you have died, only the covenant must be made. It would have been the same means to an end, but since it was already accepted that baptism is necessary for someone regardless of whether they have a body or not, proxy ordinances was a more graceful solution to the problem.)

      Certainly, there may be a benefit to having living LDS do proxy endowments as a way to review the content of the ceremony, but that part is probably optional too. For example, a “baptismal service” for a living LDS is usually about an hour, with songs, talks, an inspirational song or video as the person changes, and a “welcome to the Ward”. But we don’t do an hour-long service for proxy baptisms; it takes about 6 seconds.

      Likewise, there is no reason a proxy endowment needs to take more than a minute or two. The endowment has been getting shorter and shorter for the last 150 years (some early endowment ceremonies lasted all day!), so maybe a decade or two from now it will last 10 minutes.

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