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 exaltation. The 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)