The television station KREX Channel 5 from Grand Junction, Colorado, aired a news piece yesterday about the “Sacred Secrets of the LDS Church.”
I think that the news anchors, save being as objective and unaffected as anchors could possibly be, did a decent job of trying to understand what the LDS temple is all about. The members interviewed, on the other hand, I think missed a tremendous opportunity to share more and clarify our beliefs and practices of the temple. Stake President Richard Landes did a substantially better job than Elder Smith in explaining some of the reasons for the temple, but it still left the anchors with misconceptions.
At one point the anchor asks Elder Smith, “What goes on in the temple?”
Our missionary unfortunately replied, “I don’t know how to explain that. . . . I’m going to pass on that one.”
What would this missionary say to an investigator that asked that question? Perhaps it was just nerves, but this is a classic example of what I have been saying on this blog, elsewhere, and again and again. It is one of the sole reasons I started TempleStudy.com. Many of our members are ignorant about how to talk about our temple without violating sacred covenants. Our study is so slim in discussing these things in a respectful, appropriate, public relations, enlightened way, that we are uncomfortable saying anything at all. Even our missionary, as humble and great as he no doubt is, and who was almost certainly hand-picked among many for a television interview, could not give an answer to the simple question “What goes on in the temple?”
We mustn’t have zeal without knowledge, brothers and sisters. We can be so much better prepared than this. If someone asks us what the temple is about, the very pinnacle and culmination of all our worship, and what goes on there, why do we have them, why are they so sacred, why we don’t reveal the most inner details of the ordinances performed therein, is there biblical precedent for the temple, and other related questions, we have to learn to give a better answer than this. We are, unfortunately, a participating party in the promulgation of church misconceptions and misunderstandings, for lack of providing better information. We can do better!
The anchor walked away from these interviews feeling that the “sacraments seem curiously concealed,” that members are “not allowed to discuss what goes on inside once they leave,” that “surrogate” ordinances are performed to give deceased “loved ones a ‘second chance’ at eternity,” and that in our world-wide hearty determination to evangelize the gospel we seem “equally dedicated to ‘concealing’ its inner workings.” I don’t think this helped our position at all.
Could we not have mentioned some of the following?
- The names of the ordinances performed in the temple – baptisms for the dead, confirmation, ordination, washings and anointings, endowment, and sealing
- What each ordinance is meant for
- Why we perform each of these ordinances vicariously for our kindred dead (i.e. not a “second chance”)
- That ritual worship, ordinances, rites, and sacred liturgy permeate the texts of both the Old and New Testaments to such an extent that one prominent non-Mormon biblical scholar remarked, “I am both interested and delighted to see so much of ancient religious tradition, particularly Biblical tradition, taken up into the religious structures and rituals of the Mormons,” and “Someone who does not know much about temples and Mormons building temples should be directed to the Bible.” (Frank Moore Cross in “Between Heaven and Earth” film)
- That marriage and families were instituted by God in the beginning, and are meant to be eternal, not “till death do you part,” and that through the sealing ordinance of the temple, such a reality can be promised, and that we can, literally, be with our loved ones for the rest of eternity
- That the temple represents a connecting point between earth and heaven, between mortals and God, between the profane and the sacred, between sin and sainthood, between dark and light, between the Adversary and God, between our dwelling place on earth and our ultimate potential as heirs of eternal life in God’s presence, and that everything in the temple is symbolic of our journey back to Him, the ultimate at-one-ment
- That the finer details, descriptions, and language of the temple is not shared with others because of its sanctity, its holiness, which must only be given to those who prepare themselves for it, just as one must have faith in Jesus Christ and repent of all of their sins before partaking of baptism (see our discussion about Dogs and Swine and the linked article at MADB)
- That the covenant people of God have been building sanctuaries, temples, sacred structures since the world began, by commandment of God
- That the temple is a place of sacrifice, of offerings, of giving our self-will to God in obedience to his commandments
- That the ordinances performed were instituted by God for the salvation and exaltation of the human family, all children of loving Heavenly Parents
- The the garments are sacred clothing that God commands his disciples to wear as a protection, and to serve as a clear reminder of all the covenants and ordinances that we have entered into in the House of the Lord. Such holy vestments have been worn by God’s chosen people since Adam.
- That the temple is a place where men and women can make covenants with God, two-way promises based on obedience and rewarded with immeasurable blessings, that will allow them to gain perspectives of the very purposes of their earth life
Please excuse my firmness, but we can and must do better. In discussing all of this, one need not violate any covenants made in the temple. All this, and more, has been taught over the pulpit at General Conference. We clearly do not openly or directly discuss the language of the ordinances, the details of the proceedings, the articles of clothing worn, the history of the continued revelation of the rites, or the modes and methods of some of the ordinances. But we can certainly answer the question, “What is the temple all about?” Understanding the temple is one of the greatest challenges and gifts of mankind’s mortal probation. It is the very reason we are here! (D&C 2)
I feel sorry for all those who watched the news last night in Grand Junction, and still have a vague and suspicious conception of why the LDS have temples. It may have even done more harm than good. The temple is one of the very hallmarks and key evidences for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this last dispensation of the fullness of times, and we should not be shy to share, appropriately, about it.
Great commentary Bryce. I think most members are so ill-prepared for the temple in the first place that they are at a loss to even process it or think through it themselves, let alone try to explain it to others.
I’ve encountered many members who understand the endowment as a history lesson that fills in the gaps of the Biblical account, followed by a combination to unlock the vault of heaven.
In contrast, my understanding of the temple leads me to believe that its central message and purpose is that of access to redemption through covenants. If the endowment narrative is considered carefully, it is obvious that it is not attempting any exposé of early earth history, but rather, Adam and Eve are representing humanity, and their journey and progress through the story is meant to be analogous to the progress of men and women through the plan of salvation.
So many get hung up on the symbology associated with covenants that they fail to realize that it’s the covenants, not the symbols, that have the true saving power. The symbols are used to illustrate the place and purpose of covenants in the process of eternity.
My hypothesis about Church members’ discomfort with the temple is that it stems from a strong emphasis on literalness and historicity in the church. We scoff at sects and scholars who view Jesus as a mere good teacher, and assert that he is literally the Son of God. We demonize those who view the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction, and maintain that the Nephite, Lamanite, and Jaredite civilizations actually existed. We mock the notion of an immaterial God, and insist that he is a literal father of our spirits. We write-off those who take a more liberal and allegorical view of the Bible, and assert that it all happened as written (as far as translated correctly, of course).
That may be an overly harsh characterization of the average Mormon, but you get my gist. Belief in literal aspects of the base-level elements of theology seem to be fundamental to LDS orthodoxy. Yet the problem is, with the literalness at the forefront, we often end up glossing over the good teachings of Jesus, the inspired stories from the Book of Mormon, the more abstract and omnipotent aspects of God, and the wisdom that can be gleaned from the Biblical accounts.
With the temple, I was taught very clearly from a very young age that everything in the temple is symbolic. Everything presented therein is a symbol representing something else. The problem is, when a member who has been indoctrinated his or her whole life to interpret things on literal levels enters the temple, the whole “this is symbolic” part of it is like water off a duck’s back. They leave the temple thinking they know exactly how the earth was created, just who did it, what REALLY happened in the Garden of Eden, what other trio made a surprise appearance during the infancy of earth, what REALLY goes on at the true pearly gates, and what people actually wear in heaven. The beauty of the symbols that represent a covenant partnership and the union of humanity and God are dummed down into a hokey-pokey of secret song-and-dance that magically open the gates of heaven.
So you can imagine why a member who leaves the temple with this in mind has a hard time explaining themselves. “They’d never get it,” they think. And they’re right. Because THEY never “got it” either. They just think that their laundry list of check boxes to fill in before getting into heaven got a little longer, but no worries, check check check.
So that’s my rant and a proposed explanation for the problem you’ve indicated here. I think you’re doing a great service to church members with this blog. It’s about time we appreciated our temple doctrines on a more mature and accurate level.
Thanks Zenock for your good comments. You make some great points.
While I do firmly believe in certain literalistic views of Church history and belief, such as a literal Book of Mormon people, a literal physical God, and a literal Son of God, I believe that much can be gained by thinking in allegorical, metaphorical, and symbolic ways. Many things are not as clear cut as they appear on the surface. The temple is the deepest treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge, truth and light, this earth will ever have, but only if we allow it to be. Just going through the motions will never get us there. We must prepare ourselves for revelation while inside and outside that divine edifice, for the ordinances were given by revelation and are only to be understood fully in like manner – by revelation.
I once had a great insight come to me on the parable of the talents and the relationship between covenants and symbols. I agree, that it is the covenants, and not their associated symbols, that have saving power. See my post on the subject. Symbols are reminders of covenants.
I see this as such a big problem. So many never return to the temple because they were not prepared. So many go thru church life half believing because they were not prepared. We lose a lot more people than most of us ever realize. Often a problem with the temple is at the root of why people go inactive.
I prepared for the temple more than most missionaries, but I did not “get it.” And I doubt many missionaries do. They put the endowment in the back of their minds hoping it will make sense one day. How much more power would these missionaries have if they understood the temple?
Of course you can shut me up about it now! 😎
I was at a (not specifically LDS) conference once where they discussed the importance of Temple ritual to the ancients. They went on about the ritualized heavenly ascent and all wondered and marvelled at its significance. Soon after the conference, I went to the Temple and did an endowment session. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that out of all those scholars who were at the conference, who were such experts on the topic, it was lowly me who had the amazing opportunity to go and actually participate in those very rituals that they had pondered.
We often don’t think about what an enormous blessing we enjoy being able to go to the Temple. We have true ancient rituals that others can only imagine, reconstruct, and read about in books. We need to work hard to ensure that the members of the Church understand this and understand what they are doing in the Temple and can explain its importance to others.
Very well said, and I agree that we as LDS do not explain the temple well to non believers……..but you just did for all of us. Thanks for sharing.
Great discussion guys. But you have seen just in an adjacent state to Utah, the total lack of understanding nonmembers have of our temple worship. I have lived for the last 40 years in New York, Maryland and now Delaware. People this far from Utah, are obsessed with two things. The fact that they can’t get into the temple, and why can’t we tell them what goes on in there. Secondarily this whole garment issue is really driving them crazy. They have no understanding about the meaning the temple has to faithful members who attend regularly. And the fact that they can’t get in is more than they can handle.
I also think that this whole FLDS thing has not done us any good when it comes to temple worship.
I think a new openness about the rituals should be promoted, and I’m glad to see that some people here are starting to see that and take that step. There used to be a much greater openness than there is today. People have lost the understanding about what is secret, under covenant, and what is “form.” We should not be afraid to explain that the Endowment tells of the creation, the garden of eden, the temptation and the fall, nor to list the covenants that we take, obedience to God, sacrifice (not referring to animals), to follow the gospel, to consecrate (dedicate) everything we have to God, and to be chaste, as well as to keep secret those things that are secret in the Temple. It is a lack of confidence and understanding about the ordinances that leads people to treat more and more parts of the ceremony as secret, just because they aren’t sure if they can, with propriety, mention them. And many have gone so far now that they are afraid to even mention anything of the goings on in the Temple with any amount of detail at all. This just looks shady and comes across wrong to the public. The FLDS situation, good or bad, is irrelevant if we are open enough about what goes on to eliminate the fear which people hold concerning our ordinances. Enumerating them, their purpose, and explaining the procedure in a basic way, as was done in the Old Testament with their temple work, without revealing anything that we have covenanted not to, is a great way to get people more comfortable with it and recognize it as a valid religious institution instead of the dark secret it now appears to be, blemishing an otherwise seemingly happy group of people.
Thanks for your comments, Jeff. I do believe there is more that we should keep sacred than only those things explicitly mentioned in the ordinances, and if we have the Spirit with us, then we will know what is appropriate to talk about, and when.
Answering Questions about Mormonism » TempleStudy.com - LDS (Mormon) Temple Study Blog
[…] few months ago we showed a TV news story of an interview with a missionary who, how should we say, didn’t quite know how to answer […]
Zenock, have you ever read Joseph Campbell the mythologist? The idea of literalism isn’t just a Mormon product, but a modernist product. We have traded myth and meaning for science and logic. Since the Temple is “symbolic myth,” it comes across to the modern logical mind as incomprehensible. To the earliest of Latter-day Saints the Temple was an extension of things they already understood. It was, and continues to be, a culmination of all that went before put into an ironically literal act. The symbols are not to hide the truth, but to illuminate the abstract. Frankly, if you don’t understand the Temple and its symbols it is because you aren’t listening to the endowment.
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[…] of the sacred nature of the ordinances that members of the Church perform in temples, it can be difficult sometimes for us to describe to others what the temple is and what we do inside. I thought this […]
Is there an active link to the original video on KREX?
I don’t know.