A couple weeks ago, my brother was married in the temple in Bountiful, Utah. Temples are an important part of my beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so I thought I’d take some time to explain what they’re about and answer some common questions.
First, though, a brief note. To understand our temples, you must understand that our religion is not just a codified series of moral guidelines. We believe that God is a real, physical being who communicates with us and blesses us as we follow his teachings. We also believe that each of us has a spirit which continues to live on after our death. The temple binds us to God eternally, far beyond our brief time here on Earth. If you try to understand the temple while ignoring these things, the things we do in the temple will make very little sense.
|Bountiful, Utah temple. Click to see more photos.|
Outside the temple
|“Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord.”
Temple in Madrid, Spain
|Fountain at the Oakland, California temple|
Inside the temple
Temple ordinances (ceremonies)
|That’s my brother and sister-in-law. They’re awesome.|
The most celebrated ordinance held in the temple is eternal marriage. Mormons believe that a marriage under proper authority in the temple is effective not only “until death do you part,” but throughout eternity. Mormons are known for a strong emphasis on the family, and this is part of the reason why—we believe that family life is not just a transient phase while we’re here on earth, but rather an essential part of our eternal future. In the temple, couples are “sealed together” for time and all eternity, creating a new family unit that will last forever.
Another ceremony held in the temple is known as the endowment. It includes instruction about the pre-mortal existence of man, the creation of the world, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and their path back to God’s presence. As with many scriptural accounts, the lessons to be learned from the endowment are not necessarily the literal ones in the text. Just as Christ wasn’t teaching us that we should all literally build our houses upon rocks, the endowment isn’t really instruction about how to live in the Garden of Eden. It’s symbolic, a metaphor for our own lives. During the endowment, we make covenants (promises) to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and to participate in his Church.
After we have received ordinances for ourselves, we can also go to the temple to receive ordinances for the dead. This may seem unfamiliar, but it’s a beautiful concept. Religious ordinances (baptism, endowment, marriage, etc.) enable us to live with God again and to receive tremendous opportunities and blessings. Without these ordinances, we cannot ever receive all that God wants to give us. However, there are many, many people who have died without ever having the opportunity to participate in these ordinances. It might seem that millions upon millions of God’s children are condemned by no fault of their own.
|Baptistry in the Salt Lake City temple|
But God cares about all of his children. We believe that those who never had an adequate chance to learn about Jesus Christ and his teachings in this life will have that opportunity in the next life, being taught by those who have previously learned it. But learning is not enough; ordinances such as baptism are required for our eternal progression, and it’s rather difficult to baptize a spirit. So, after we (the living) have received these ordinances for ourselves, we can go to temples as a proxy for those who have died, and participate in various ordinances on their behalf. We are especially urged to do this work for our own ancestors, offering them the same opportunities that we have received. Baptisms for the dead, endowments for the dead, and even marriages for the dead are all performed in the temple in order to extend the blessings of each ordinance to those who have gone before.
It would be incorrect, though, to say “Well, we’ve done a baptism for Gertrude Hazelswatch (born in 1628), so now she’s a Mormon too.” When we participate in temple ceremonies on behalf of the dead, we are only offering up the physical part of the ordinance. Each deceased person continues to live on as a spirit, and the baptism we perform on their behalf means nothing unless that person accepts the associated commitments. If they do not accept the commitments associated with baptism, they are not bound by them and the baptism means nothing. However, we cannot know who will accept or reject these commitments, so we offer them to as many as we can and hope that they will accept it.
Visiting the temple
There’s also a temple nearing dedication in Phoenix, Arizona. Open House dates have not yet been announced, but it will probably be late 2014.
If you’re not going to be able to catch an open house, you might be interested in stopping by a visitor’s center. There are 143 temples in operation around the world, including many throughout North America, and most temples have visitor’s centers that are open 7 days a week. You can find a list of temples here.