Shortly after completing the sermon on the mount a young man approached Jesus with a desire to be his disciple. He had just one caveat, which was to provide him adequate time to bury his deceased father. Jesus’s response was both fascinating and insightful. In Matthew 8:22 it says:
But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
So I ask what is Jesus saying to this young man? Is Jesus so heartless that he would not allow this young man bury his own father? Or is Jesus speaking more broadly to the urgency of his mission. Is it possible that ministry to the living is more important than ministry to the dead?
Within the LDS theology is the doctrine of salvation for the dead. This theology suggests that we should be anxiously engaged in providing saving ordinances for the dead, in the form of baptism, the endowment, and sealing ordinances. While there is great beauty in this doctrine, I wonder if, when considered in conjunction with the doctrine of the millennium it actually ignores the teaching of Jesus.
I decided to perform a little math on the hours spent in temple service which could in theory be used for other causes. Additionally I decided to calculate the number of years it would require to complete all of the ordinances for everyone who has ever lived on the year. Below is a summary of those computations:
I’ve tried to find the balance in my math between the smaller temples throughout the world and the 11 or 12 large temples in the intermountain west which perform significantly more work. Additionally, I have not incorporated the time spent by the temple presidents, matrons, and ordinance workers. These hours would clearly increase the total number. Finally, I have assumed that during the millennium there would be sufficient places on the earth for ordinances to be performed daily by roughly 5,000,000 people. This would mean that once a day all currently active Mormons would attend a temple for 3 hours and then return to their normal post-millennial duties. (The total would be around 6,000 temples, which would be manageable if we just converted all stake centers and larger chapels into mini-temples during the week.)
Following this logic, it’s safe to assume that globally we’re spending around 10-15 million man hours per year in temple service. This service could be applied elsewhere, because the work required could be completed in merely 211 years of the 1,000 year millennium. I certainly wonder what we will be doing during the rest of the millennium. So I ask, is temple work truly the best way to spend time serving others?