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.
Bryce: I like your take.
We cannot do without either temples or humanitarian service. We need both. Temple work is SERVICE, but clearly it should spark humanitarian service as well. Why do we build temples? Because they create a synergy for maximizing humanitarian good. They are a source of renewed commitment. In other words, there is a clear NEED for both prayer and action. Mormonism has always been about both.
President Hinckley stated, “That which goes on in the House of the Lord, and which must be preceded by research, comes nearer the spirit of the sacrifice of the Lord than any other activity of which I know. Why? Because it is done by those who give freely of time and substance to do for others that which they cannot do for themselves, and for which they who perform this service expect no thanks or recompense.”
I believe those who are willing to serve in our temples are also those who are most willing to serve the poor, in whatever capacity they may be asked, and with whatever means the Lord may have blessed them.
The Church has several missions. Temple work and Charity and service to the poor and sick are both essential to the building up of the kingdom. I think its as simple as looking to our Savior. Doing his work here on earth and for those that have passed on are both on the agenda.
The most important thing we can do is love God and love neighbor as ourself. Period. How that gets translated among the many other ways to implement this great commandment is merely a footnote or commentary to the great commandment. There are times when it is more important to help the poor than to go to the temple. For example, if we, like the good Samaritan, meet a person who needs our help while we are on our way to the temple, it may well be that helping that person in need is more important than attending the temple that day. Or vice versa.
See, e.g., “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.” – Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a
Very interesting and meaningful use of the term “poor in spirit “. Those in the spirit world who need our help are spiritually poor without the blessings of the ordinances of salvation and exaltation. As you stated in a previous post, the Hebrew word “avad” means to serve and to worship. Therefore, the meaning of temple worship is to learn how to share God’s love in service to others both in and out of the temple. This was an important message in King Benjamin’s temple sermon. President Hinckley said at the Taiwan Temple dedication, “the greatest selfless act of Christian service that we can perform in this mortal life occurs in the temple”.
Thank you for all your insightful comments. I particularly like Isaiah’s take on this in Isaiah 61:1-3:
Christ also quoted this same passage in Luke 4:18-19 with some differences:
By doing the service in the temple we are literally helping bringing good tidings (the gospel) unto the meek (poor), binding up (healing) the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty (preaching deliverance) to the captives, and opening the prison (setting at liberty) to them that are bound (bruised) in the spirit world. We proclaim to these that Christ’s atonement has been wrought and that the redemption of the dead has been organized by the Lord. The temple ordinance work literally brings the oil of joy and the garments of praise to such as accept the Lord’s gospel in that sphere.
An excellent analysis and explanation. I especially liked your points about how the deceased are poor, and how thus our service to the poor is universal and for those on both sides of the veil.
A thought: the Lord’s mission was to bring salvation, and not necessarily physical needs, to the peoples of the world. It is in the Temple that we come closest to doing what may literally be Christ-like work. Like Christ, we provide for the spiritual salvation of others, and do for others what they cannot do for themselves. It is in the Temple, above all, that we are able to be saviors upon Mount Zion, as the Lord has told us to be.
Just my two cents (very insignificant amongst the great comments above).