John A. Tvedtnes, senior resident scholar with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University, recently authored an article for Meridian Magazine entitled, “Secretive Mormonism.” He had some great comments about the esoteric versus exoteric nature of the LDS temple practices (emphasis is my own):
Commentators frequently refer to Mormon temple rites as the heart of secret goings-on. It is true that some elements of the temple are so sacred that we do not discuss them publicly, but most of what goes on in the temples is well-known.
One need not look far to learn that the most important such rite is the solemnization of marriage for time and all eternity and that vicarious ordinances (sacraments in Roman Catholic parlance) are performed for deceased ancestors, beginning with proxy baptism.
Even the endowment ceremony, the one most commonly held in Latter-day Saint temples, is mostly public knowledge. Most of the teachings presented during that time derive from the Book of Moses, published in the Pearl of Great Price. During an endowment session, we are reminded of our responsibility to obey the basic laws given mankind by God, such as the law of chastity (including fidelity after marriage), the law of obedience to God’s commandments, the law of sacrifice (which culminated in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross), the law of the gospel (salvation through Christ), and the law of consecration of one’s time, talents, and other divine blessings, to building up the Lord’s work on the earth.
Elements that are not discussed openly include ritual elements of temple prayer and the actual endowment or giving of signs, names, and tokens designed to enable one to pass the angels and ultimately to enter the presence of God. These may seem strange to most modern Christians, but they were common in early Christianity, as I have discussed in some of my published articles on ancient temple rites. ((See especially “Temple Prayer in Ancient Times,” in Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, The Temple in Time and Eternity (Provo: FARMS, 1999). Also posted on the Maxwell Institute web site at http://farms.byu.edu/publications/bookschapter.php?chapid=105; “Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices,” in First Annual Mormon Apologetics Symposium: Proceedings (Ben Lomond, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, 1999), also posted on the FAIR web site at http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/1999_Early_Christian_and_Jewish_Rituals_Related_to_Temple_Practices.html; “Priestly Clothing in Bible Times,” in Donald Parry (ed.), Temples of the Ancient World (Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1994).))
Read the rest of this excellent article at Meridian Magazine.
[via A Soft Answer]