A member of another faith asked me the following question:
In the [LDS] service that I attended, the speaker said that service to the Temple is the most important service that we can provide. Is this opinion common across members of the LDS church? Why is service to the Temple held in higher regard than, say, service to the poor?
This is how I replied:
The temple is extremely important to members of the LDS Church. Like ancient Israel, Judaism, and early Christianity, temples form the center of our religious life. It is the place where sacred ordinances are performed on our own behalf, and on behalf of the deceased, to redeem us and them from sin and help bring us all back into the presence of God. Like many ancient civilizations, the temple creates a space that separates the sacred from the profane. It is literally the “House of the Lord,” where His presence dwells. It is a mirror of heaven.
We serve there only once performing the ordinances for ourselves, but thereafter each time we go to the temple we perform the ordinances on behalf of someone who has died. We do this because we believe these ordinances are required for salvation and exaltation, but many people who lived in the past never had the chance to hear and accept these same blessings. Thus we stand in a vicarious role, making an offering of the blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ to those who didn’t have the chance to accept them during their mortal life. Christ began this ministry among the dead after his death (1 Peter 3:18–20; 1 Peter 4:6). We continue this redemption of the dead since Christ’s organization of it, and through continual revelation to living prophets and apostles. Consequently, our service in the temple is the pinnacle of service to the poor, indeed, the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3; Isa. 61:1–2). There are many who have passed from this world who are, in a very real way, poor, because they had no chance to partake of the saving ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ in mortality, and cannot return to God’s presence without them. We serve millions of people in this capacity all around the world in our temples each day.
Outside of the temple we also do a great humanitarian work. Members of the Church donate 10% of their gross income in tithing to the Church, and also give other donations in fast offerings, time, talents, skills, and other areas. The Church uses some of these donations to assist the poor. Since 1985 the Church has given over $1 billion in cash and material humanitarian assistance, as well as our time and talents, to the poor, disaster areas, hunger and famine areas, disease-stricken areas, and other areas of need all around the world.
Indeed, our service to others is universal, both to those who need it on earth, and to those who have passed to the other side of the veil. Service to God and our fellow man is one in the same, much more than we realize (Matt. 22:36–40; Matt. 25:40; cf. Mosiah 2:16–19).
Also note Bishop H. David Burton’s remarks in the last General Conference here.