The Meaning of the Church of the First-Born

Truman G. Madsen

Truman G. Madsen

I was reading tonight a talk by Truman G. Madsen entitled, “Foundations of Temple Worship,” which he gave at a BYU-Idaho Devotional on October 26, 2004, shortly after the ordination of Elder David A. Bednar to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The talk is excellent, and highly recommended reading (or listening).  There was one point in particular that caused me to have an epiphany (which is an interesting word).  It was on the subject of the Church of the First-born.  This is the church that exists among those who so devote themselves to lifelong faithful service in the kingdom that they receive the higher ordinances of exaltationThe Encyclopedia of Mormonism states in part: 

The Church of the Firstborn is Christ’s heavenly church, and its members are exalted beings who gain an inheritance in the highest heaven of the celestial world and for whom the family continues in eternity….

Even as the first principles and ordinances, including baptism in water and the reception of the Holy Ghost, constitute the gate into the earthly Church of Jesus Christ, so higher ordinances of the priesthood constitute the gate into the Church of the Firstborn. To secure the blessings that pertain to the Church of the Firstborn, one must obey the gospel from the heart, receive all of the ordinances that pertain to the house of the Lord, and be sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise in the Celestial Kingdom of God (D&C 76:67, 71, 94; D&C 77:11; D&C 78:21; D&C 88:1–5; TPJS, p. 237)….

When persons have proved themselves faithful in all things required by the Lord, it is their privilege to receive covenants and obligations that will enable them to be heirs of God as members of the Church of the Firstborn. They are “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” and are those “into whose hands the Father has given all things” (D&C 76:51–55). They will be priests and priestesses, kings and queens, receiving the Father’s glory, having the fulness of knowledge, wisdom, power, and dominion (D&C 76:56–62; cf. D&C 107:19). At the second coming of Jesus Christ, the “general assembly of the Church of the Firstborn” will descend with him (Heb. 12:22–23; JST Gen. 9:23; D&C 76:54, 63).1

This is a very deep doctrine by itself, but there was something that Truman Madsen said about it that added to my understanding.  In speaking of our being reborn in the gospel covenant under Christ as our Father, he said:

That’s the proper use of the word “father” for Jesus, for he says in D&C 93:22, “all those who are begotten through me (through the ordinances) are partakers of the glory of the same (meaning his role as first-born), and are the Church of the First-born.” Imagine.  He has sacrificed for us in order that we can inherit what he alone could have claimed to be, the first-born.  He’s saying, “It will be as if you were; all of the blessings and powers that have been bestowed upon me are now transmitted to you if you are willing to come to me.” “They are begotten through me and are partakers of the glory of the same.”2

In other words, those who become part of the Church of the First-born are not called that just because it is named after the Savior.  They are members of that church because they too become what the Savior is, the first-born, entitled to all the blessings, powers, dominions, inheritances, stewardships, principalities, kingdoms, and thrones that the Savior Himself has received from His Father as part of the rights of being the First-born Son.  Truly we become joint-heirs (Rom. 8:17).  In this way, all those who are exalted will each in turn become the first-born.

How could this be possible, you say?  How could there be more than one first-born?  It seems like an incomprehensible paradox.  It is possible through the miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ, wherein all those who believe in Christ and follow Him, become one with Him and the Father.  In the great Intercessory Prayer Christ prayed to the Father some of the most beautiful words in all of holy writ on the topic:

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:16–26; cf. John 14:23)

Notes:
  1. Barrett, Ivan J., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Church of the Firstborn.” []
  2. Madsen, Truman G. “Foundations of Temple Worship.” []

19 Comments

  1. Rob Osborn
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Some beautiful doctrine there to say the least! I too have marveled at the meanings of the mysteries of things. One thing that still amazes me and is dear to my heart is that we have really corrupted gods ways on earth. We have changed almost everything righteous and holy and have screwed ourselves into all kinds of abominations.

    Here is a little mystery for you to delve into, it is something that sprang upon me quite slowly but really took hold when i went to the temple of Rexburg in their open house walkthrough.

    At the time (and not a coincidence I believe) I was studying the parable of the wheat and the tares and trying to fully understand its meaning. I went with our mutual group one evening to the open house walkthrough. I am sure you are familiar with the wheat being represented throughout the temple. Here I am about to tell you something that makes my hair stand up on end!

    The parable of the wheat and tares is laid out beautifully in the temple. I believe it was done through inspiration and yet those inspired may not know of its hidden spiritual meaning. The temple itself is the “garner” the place of storage- it is where the names of the sanctified are stored. It is where the wheat is stored. The wheat is you and I as we become perfected. Now what is interesting is that according to the temple, the wheat is not ready to be harvested until the marriage sealing room. It is only there in that room where the wheat is in bloom and ready for harvest, everywhere else the wheat is just on its stalk waiting for the eventual harvest. The harvest itself represents the marriage covenant.

    Now as this applies to your church of the firstborn ( I am going way out on a limb here!) post. In the end only the church of the firstborn will exist and all those saved will be harvested wheat (married couples) while the rest (the tares) are burned in unquenchable fire (the devil and his angels burning in the second death). Christs law, according to further revelation (section 132) is what saves us in the end. Part of that law is the law of eternal marriage. Through this law we are saved. This is way advanced doctrine here! We will find as we progress in the path of salvation that just as baptism is a necessary requirement to be saved, so also is the marriage covenant required for our salvation. We are created to become gods and every covenant we make is centered on that mark.

    Us LDS do not realize it but every temple covenant, annointing, washing, etc we receive deals solely with us becoming married and becoming gods ourselves. We should be careful to learn the meanings of the temple covenants we make. every covenant we make deals specifically with us becoming gods- we are making covenants to become gods! When we are washed and annointed we are done so for the sole purpose of becoming gods with our spouses. Our spouses (female, as I am a male) are washed and annointed for the sole purpose of becoming queens and priestesses to their husbands in eternity! The entire endowment is specifically for the marriage ceremony event! Here is the part I find interesting then-

    Every endowed member of the church, married or not, has made covenants to become gods with their spouse! Marriage is a requirement to be saved! Delve into it my brother!

  2. Posted October 24, 2008 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Rob,

    You have interesting comments, and some good insights. But there are some things that concern me.

    First of all, don’t assume “those inspired may not know of its hidden spiritual meaning.” I believe the prophets and apostles know a lot more than they are willing to divulge to those who are not prepared.

    Second, the Church of the First-born is not the only organization where people will be saved. Remember, those who inherit the telestial and terrestrial and first two degrees of the celestial kingdoms have also been “saved.” Those kingdoms too are kingdoms of glory. Only those who will not keep their second estate are the sons of perdition. All others will be saved in varying degrees of glory according to their diligence, faith, and obedience in keeping the gospel law.

    Third, why do you not capitalize the name and title “God”? It is permissible to not capitalize it when referring to us becoming gods, but when referring to our Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, it should be capitalized. However small this may seem, it is one more way in which we honor our Father and Savior.

    Other than these concerns, you a right that marriage is the covenant whereby we enter the gate to becoming gods. This is very sacred doctrine, which must be taken with solemnity and soberness. It is something that we must respect and honor with all our souls, and we must strictly keep the sealing covenants we enter into in order to receive the blessings of the Holy Spirit of Promise. Only when the Holy Spirit of Promise has been given to us will our calling and election be made sure.

  3. Sporgsmal
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    “Firstborn” is a designation bestowed at the time of achieving kingship (see Ps. 89:27). The Church of the Firstborn is an assembly of kings (see Rev. 1:6).

  4. JAK
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Bryce,

    While we are on the topic of “Firstborn”, I had always believed that Jesus Christ was literally the firstborn spirit child of our Heavenly Father but I had an institute teacher tell me that wasn’t necessarily the case. After considering all of the examples in the scriptures of the status of “firstborn” being taken from the eldest due to wickedness and given to a younger sibling, it doesn’t seem unreasonable. Do you have any insights or statements from the brethren on this? Thanks.

  5. Posted October 24, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states:

    In the scriptures Jesus Christ is called the Firstborn. He was the first spirit child born of God the Father in the premortal existence and was in the beginning with God (John 1:1–5, 14). (link)

    Elder McConkie likewise:

    Christ is the Firstborn, meaning that he was the first Spirit Child born to God the Father in pre-existence. (D. & C. 93:21; John 1:1–5; Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15.) He is also the Firstborn from the Dead, which signifies that he was the first person resurrected. (Col. 1:18.) (Mormon Doctrine, 281)

    Daniel H. Ludlow also compiled several statements together:

    God the Father is the Father of the spiritual bodies of every person who has ever lived on this earth, who is now living on this earth, or who will ever live on this earth. We are all sons and daughters unto God so far as our spiritual bodies are concerned, and we are brothers and sisters to each other. Jehovah (I AM; Jesus Christ) was the Firstborn Son of God in the spirit; he is also our Elder Brother.

    Selected Quotations

    “The Lord Jesus, whose witnesses we are, is the Firstborn of the Father, the Firstborn of every creature. He was the Beloved and Chosen One from the beginning.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, May 1977, pp. 12-13.)

    “Now, who is Jesus? He is our brother, the firstborn. What, the firstborn in the flesh? O no, there were millions and millions born in the flesh before he was. Then how is he the firstborn? Because he is the eldest—the first one born of the whole family of spirits and therefore he is our elder brother.” (Orson Pratt, JD 14:241.)

    “There is no impropriety . . . in speaking of Jesus Christ as the Elder Brother of the rest of human kind. That He is by spiritual birth Brother to the rest of us is indicated in Hebrews: ‘Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.’ (Heb. 2:17.) Let it not be forgotten, however, that He is essentially greater than any and all others, by reason (1) of His seniority as the oldest or firstborn; (2) of His unique status in the flesh as the offspring of a mortal mother and of an immortal, or resurrected and glorified Father; (3) of his selection and foreordination as the one and only Redeemer and Savior of the race; and (4) of his transcendent sinlessness.

    “Jesus Christ is not the Father of the spirits who have taken or yet shall take bodies upon this earth, for He is one of them.” (First Presidency, AF, pp. 472-73.) (Daniel H. Ludlow, Companion to Your Study of the Doctrine and Covenants, vol. 2, 1978, 97-98)

  6. JAK
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for clearing that up for me and also for the link to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. I didn’t know that was available online. I will make good use of it.

  7. Posted October 24, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    You’re welcome JAK. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism is a great resource. I’m glad they made it much more accessible and searchable.

  8. Posted October 24, 2008 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Very good post, Bryce! The firstborn is a very important topic.
    I believe that Jesus was the firstborn of God’s spirit children. However, the term “firstborn” can be used in other circumstances, and Christ is called “firstborn” in ways not referring to his order of birth in the spiritual realm.
    Margaret Barker (The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God, p. 24) informs us that: “Son” in temple tradition did not have the meaning it has for us, nor did Firstborn.
    As Sporgmal noted, the title “son” and “firstborn” were titles given to the Israelite king as part of his initiation/enthronement (Ps. 2:7; 89:20, 26-7). Barker notes (p. 25) that “David” was actually a title, indicating the “Beloved” (David meaning “beloved” in Hebrew) son of God.
    God told King David that Solomon would be God’s son and the God would be his Father (1 Chron. 28:6).
    I believe that this designation of “firstborn” and “beloved son” came as the king was “lifted up” and initiated into the higher order of the priesthood which would allow him to be a “king and priest” unto God. Part of this ritual involved the anointing of the king, which made him a Messiah (anointed one) and Immanuel (God with us) (see Barker, p. 23).
    Similarly, Israel was called a firstborn (Ex. 4:22), Abraham (Abr. 1:3), and also just men made perfect through the new covenant (Heb. 12:23).
    Along those lines, Isaac is called Abraham’s “only son” (Gen. 22:2)–when we know that Ishmael was also his son (in fact, his firstborn)–but Isaac was the son of the covenant.
    The pseudepigraphal works are full of this type of imagery as well–1 Enoch 71 has Enoch being declared to be the “son of Man, born into righteousness.” Odes of Solomon 36:1-2, 3, 6 tell of the process of becoming a Son of God while standing in God’s presence.
    Psalm 82 teaches us that the gods/angels are sons of the Most High. The ancients believed that participation in the priesthood integrated you into the heavenly council and priesthood of the angels. While our fallen mortal nature distances us from God, through the priesthood ordinances we regain our former glory and status as “sons of God.”
    Through sacred rites and covenants, like those performed of old, we can become kings/queens, sons/daughters, and “firstborn” of God.

  9. Posted October 24, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Awesome thoughts David! Thank you very much for all your added perspective! Indeed, becoming the “firstborn” was an integral part of the ancient Israelite king initiation.

  10. Posted October 27, 2008 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Did you know the word “firstborn” is actually plural in Hebrews? Check it out. It means “The Church of the firstborn [ones].” Those who are begotten through Jesus become the “firstborn” just as Jesus is.

  11. Posted October 29, 2008 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Bryce, this is a very interesting post. Thanks for this.

  12. Posted October 29, 2008 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    You’re welcome Geoff. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. ChrisS
    Posted February 3, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Very thought provoking post and great food for thought indeed. This is a topic I’ve strived to study and learn more about because it seems it will play a very important role in our lives as we make our way across the veil one day (as in all the scriptures that have been referenced).

    My only thought would be as I read through is that (my humble opinion) everything Christ does points us to the Father, his whole mission was to bring us back to the Father – here I am, do as I do so you can see the Father and you can one day be like Him (a King and a Priest, basically a God, having received exhaltation and all the Father hath).

    So as Christ points us, or leads us, to the Father, the LDS church (Christ’s church) prepares us, or leads us to the Church of the Firstborn (or the Father’s Church – as was pointed out – a Church of God’s, Kings and Priests). We learn of Christ and how to follow him in the church…we learn of the Father and how to follow him in the temple. One builds on the other.

    Pretty amazing the covenants we’ve made and the blessings we have upon us to one day fulfill!

  14. Posted February 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Thank you again for an insightful post Bryce. I thought you might like to read What is an Endowment?.

  15. Lee
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of Christ being the literal Firstborn, I was at a lecture that Nibley gave in the Tanner Building many years ago in which he discussed the tradition of Adam’s first wife being Lilith. Something he said about Lucifer made me go up and ask him specifically about Christ being the literal Firstborn. His response was roughly, “The scriptural examples testify otherwise.”

  16. Posted August 21, 2009 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Here are two other references that may be of interest: Robert Millet’s comments in Holy Order in the Book of Mormon and Heber C. Kimball’s statement in Church of the First Born.

  17. Frostie
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    I was trying to explain to some individuals today that the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter day Saints) is NOT the Church of the Firstborn. There are differences. While the Church of Jesus Christ here on the earth is the Kingdom, it is still a preparatory gospel, to bring souls TO Christ. As noted by several of you above, The Church of the Firstborn denotes those who HAVE gone to Christ — and finished their journey, so to speak.

    If we truly believe in the Articles of Faith, then in the 9th it states, “he will yet reveal many great and important things….” Key word: yet. So — any thoughts would be appreciated. Thx.

  18. Tyler
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Dallin H. Oaks gave some great insight into “Taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ” in his May 1985 Conference talk by the same name, and which I think ties in perfectly with the Truman G. Madsen quote above. The whole talk is great, but I’ll only quote part of it here:

    “Willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ can therefore be understood as willingness to take upon us the authority of Jesus Christ. According to this meaning, by partaking of the sacrament we witness our willingness to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and to receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Savior when he chooses to confer them upon us.

    Another future event we may anticipate when we witness our willingness to take that sacred name upon us concerns our relationship to our Savior and the incomprehensible blessings available to those who will be called by his name at the last day.

    King Benjamin told his people, “There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:17; see also 2 Ne. 31:21.) Peter proclaimed “the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” to the leaders of the Jews, declaring that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10, 12; see also D&C 18:21.)

    The scriptures proclaim that the Savior’s atoning sacrifice was for those who “believe on his name.” Alma taught that Jesus Christ, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, would come “to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.” (Alma 5:48; Alma 9:27; Alma 11:40; Hel. 14:2.) In the words of King Benjamin, “Whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.” (Mosiah 5:9.)

    Thus, those who exercise faith in the sacred name of Jesus Christ and repent of their sins and enter into his covenant and keep his commandments (see Mosiah 5:8) can lay claim on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Those who do so will be called by his name at the last day.

    When the Savior taught the Nephites following his resurrection, he referred to the scriptural statement that “ye must take upon you the name of Christ.” He explained, “For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.” (3 Ne. 27:5–6.) That same teaching is repeated in a modern revelation, which adds the caution that “if they know not the name by which they are called, they cannot have place in the kingdom of my Father.” (D&C 18:25; see also Alma 5:38.)”

  19. Andrew Lacayo
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Rob,
    in regards to your thought about us making covenants with our spouse during the endowment, it depends on how you view the endowment. The men in the room represent Adam, but as well as Christ. Women in the room represent Eve or the Church as a whole, so if you look at the endowment in that light, it doesn’t have to deal with getting married. It is our individual ascent to God. The sealing makes us like God, not just able to live with Him.

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