These questions were answered by apostle and mission president John A. Widtsoe for the benefit of readers of the Millennial Star:
Q. Did Joseph Smith practice plural marriage?
A. Yes. The revelation permitting plural marriage, dated July 12th, 1843, was taught by the Prophet to several persons, including his own brother Hyrum, who have testified to the fact that the Prophet had more than one wife. Several honourable women have testified under oath that they were wives of the Prophet. There are more than one hundred affidavits to the same effect, by persons “Mormon” and non-“Mormon,” who lived in Nauvoo in the life of the Prophet, on file in the office of the church Historian.
It is an historical fact, not questioned by anyone except those who have personal reasons for so doing.
Q. Should the congregation kneel when the blessing is asked upon the Sacrament?
A. The manner of administering the Sacrament is as follows: “The elder or priest shall administer it; and after this manner shall he administer it – he shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer.” (Doc. and Cov., 20:76.)
The common English meaning of the word “with” is “in company of” or “among”; and it is in this sense that the word is used here. The Elder or Priest shall kneel “with” the congregation present, when the Sacrament is blessed. The revelation is directed to the officiating person and declares that “he shall kneel”; not that “they shall kneel.” the person officiating acts for and represents the congregation. Each one present cannot do all that is done by the officiating Priest of elder.
No harm would result if the congregation also knelt, but it would add nothing to the force of the blessing; it would cause confusion at a time when every thought should be concentrated upon the covenant to remember and serve the Lord; and it has not been the practice of the Church. It is in full harmony with the revelation if the congregation remain seated, in absolute quiet, while the kneeling Elder or Priest blesses the Sacrament, and while it is being distributed.
Q. Did Joseph Smith ordain anyone to be his successor in the presidency of the Church?
A. There is no evidence that the Prophet Joseph Smith ever ordained any person to succeed him in the presidency of the Church. His recorded acts indicate on the contrary that he held that the organization of the Church would provide amply for the filling of any vacancies that might occur in the divinely authorized offices of the Priesthood.
Had the Prophet selected someone to be his successor, it would probably have been his eldest son, bearing his name. This son, however, disclaimed any such ordination. …
Had Joseph the Prophet so ordained his son, or anyone else, it would have been known among the people and properly recorded. …
The Prophet Joseph Smith understood well the order of the Church, and knew that upon his demise the authority to conduct the affairs of the Church would rest upon the Twelve Apostles.
Q. Was the Church rejected because the Nauvoo Temple was not completed within a set time?
A. Such a question is merely unworthy quibbling about sacred things, and is scarcely worth attention. A remarkable revelation on temple work was received by the Prophet Joseph Smith on January 19th, 1841. (Doc. and Cov., 124.) In this revelation was a commandment given to build a temple in which baptisms for the dead, which up to that date had been performed in the neighbouring river, should thereafter take place.
The revelation says, “I grant you sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead can not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment, ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.” (Doc. and Cov., 124:31-32.)
The meaning is clear. The Church must provide a holy place in which to do the work for the dead, and it must perform work for the dead, else the Church will not be acceptable to the Lord. In other words the principle of salvation for the dead through the vicarious efforts of the living is of paramount importance.
Upon the receipt of this revelation, the Church proceeded without delay to erect a temple at Nauvoo, and in the midst of many difficulties, including the loss of the Prophet and Patriarch, the Temple was completed and publicly dedicated on May 1st, 1846. In this Temple, before the Church was forced to move west, baptisms for the dead and endowments for the living were performed. … By this willingness to obey, the Saints were made more acceptable to the Lord, who had not set a specified number of months or years for the completion of the task, but had promised “sufficient time.” The Temple was completed, dedicated and the required holy work done therein. What more could be asked?
Q. Why were Brigham Young and others baptized after entering the valley of the Great Salt Lake?
A. during the long, hard journey across the plains to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, President Young was forever impressing upon the members of his company, who could not be brought under the sheltering influences and discipline of a branch or ward in a stationary locality, the necessity of absolute righteousness. He also foresaw that the rough frontier life, and the difficulty of providing ample spiritual protection for the people during the trying days of conquering a wilderness, would lead to many minor irregularities and might cause larger errors of action. Especially did he sense that, with the people, he stood before an herculean task, the conquest of the Great American Desert, which could be accomplished only by the help of the Lord; and divine favour could be expected only by a pure and righteous people.
Therefore, on August 6th, 1847, ten days after the arrival of the first pioneers in the Valley, he and the apostles present, feeling their deep need of the help of the Lord, and also setting an example to all, renewed their religious obligations and covenants by the symbol of baptism. Many, if not all of the company, followed the example of their leaders. Many of those who came West later were baptized, though it was always a matter for individual choice, a personal acknowledgment of willingness to serve the Lord to their full ability.
The baptisms thus performed were only renewals of covenants already made with the lord. There was never any question of the validity of the former baptism, or a need of baptism for membership in the Church. the only baptism of Brigham Young into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was that performed by Eleazar Miller on April 14th, 1832.
Q. What is the status in the Church of Christ of the temple ordinances and the doctrine of salvation for the dead?
A. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has built temples from the beginning of its history. During the life of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples were constructed, and others projected but not built because of the opposition of wicked men.
The temple ceremonies, the so-called endowment, were taught by the Prophet himself. In his history he records under date of May 4th, 1842, that he that day gave the endowment to seven of the leading brethren, including Brigham Young. (History of the Church, Vol. 5, p. 1-2.)
During Joseph Smith’s last years, he gave much instruction concerning the necessity of doing vicarious work for the dead. He taught that the work of the Lord would be defeated and “the whole earth would be utterly wasted” at the coming of Christ, if this work were not performed. (See Doc. and Cov., 2.) On other occasions he wrote, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” (Times and Seasons, Vol. 6, page 616.) “Those Saints who neglect it, in behalf of their deceased relatives. do it at the peril of their own salvation.” (Times and Seasons, Vol. 2, p. 578.)
There is no more important principle in the gospel. The Church of Jesus Christ always accepts and practices it. It is an indispensable doctrine.