Saturday, March 25, 2006

Purpose of the Temple

Why do we go to the Temple or even have them? It would be easy to just read the many articles from General Authorities illuminating the answers. Perhaps that would be the best way to learn. My purpose is to catagorize the reasons for a quick reminder of why Temple attendance is important. A few will be my own ideas independant of any previous statements.

Introduction into spiritual adulthood. As has been explained before, many people who go for the first time find the experience strange. It can be a shock to the spiritual expectations from years of church attendance. Most of Latter-day Saint worship is restrained and holds little ceremony. It can be very disorienting to suddenly find yourself in a highly stylized and symbolic service.

I think there is a reason for this, and one that is overlooked by newcomers and initiated alike. Many cultures have ceremonies that mark the time of adulthood. Many of them are unlike anything the person has gone through before. The idea is to test the strength of an individual for the harsher realities of life. Finishing the ordeal teaches the person becoming an adult about themself. The Temple is similar, only there is a spiritual rather than a physical reorientation. The participant has left the old life and entered a new one.

Finding the Kingdom of Heaven within ourselves. Many have compared the Temple to the Gate of Heaven, where you enter into the Spiritual realm of God. Hugh Nibley has said a temple represents both the center of the Universe where the physical and spiritual unite. It is at the Temple that we are reminded of both our place and our potential in the vastness of Eternity. We follow Adam and Eve from the Garden of Immortality and stagnation, the growth and sacrifice of Mortality, and finally to the Exaltation and Eternal Life of the Celestial World. Our mission and destiny is brought to rememberance. We are promised the possibility of becoming the seed of the Son of God.

Making Covenants and symbolically utilizing the Atonement. Latter-day Saints are a covenant people. Like many other Christians, we are asked to take upon us the name of Christ. It is in the Temple that we most boldly take on the blessing and the challenge to become more like Christ in our conduct and faith. We make promises to remain moral individuals, and Loyal to Christ and what we consider to be His Church on Earth. In return, and through symbolic actions, we are able to progress and change through the Atonement of Christ toward Exaltation.

Bring Salvation to others. The most important purpose of the Temple is to bridge the gap between the living and the dead. Modern prophets, starting with Joseph Smith, have emphasised this aspect of Temple service. Joseph Smith explained it best in Doct.& Cov. 128 when talking about work for the dead:

17 And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

18 I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.

when the purpose of the Temple is realized, both in the work and in ourselves, the Kingdom of God will become stronger. Both the living and the dead will have a greater hope in Christ and His Atonement. The dream of Zion will possible when more Latter-day Saints take the Temple seriously for what it is; a House of God for the Salvation of His Children.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Readings for Understanding the Temple

Continuing with this month's theme of understanding the Temple more fully, I have made a list of my favorite sources. As you can see the list has been broken up into two catagories. The first group is writings by Mormons and the other is not. Please be warned: all these books are heavy reading. The usual introductory recommended is not listed.


My Father's House: Temple Worship and Symbolism in the New Testament
by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel

The Gate of Heaven by Matthew B. Brown

Temple and Cosmos by Hugh Nibley

The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount: A Latter-day Saint Approach by John Welch

The Lost Language of Symbolism by Alonzo Gaskill


The Great Angel by Margaret Barker

The Revelation of Jesus Christ: The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place (Revelation 1.1) by Margaret Barker

You can find more information about Margaret Barker at Thinly Veiled where there is a list of her works with excerpts.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The Sacred and Profane: The Nature of Religion by Mircea Eliade

Images and Symbols by Mircea Eliade

More information can be found at
Resources for Understanding the History
and Symbolism of LDS Temples
for a larger comprehensive list.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Garden of Eden and Evolution as One

This is a post I made as a guest blogger over at The Blogger of Jared about how Evolution and the Garden of Eden might be related. There are some points that I might return to later, such as the idea that the fall brought death; the thorniest issue. You can read other people's responses at the link, or add your own here.

To put it simply, I believe in Evolution as part of the Creation. I also believe in The Garden of Eden, complete with real persons named Adam and Eve. This presents a serious conundrum. Part of our problem is that we are trying to put a round block into a square peg. The two things of The Garden of Eden and Biological Evolution just don't seem to go together. When we try reconciliation, it only ends up messing with one or the other. The importance or existence of one of the two becomes seriously questioned. Assuming that both are correct, how can they be made to co-exist? For years I have been doing a little theological speculation thought experiment on the subject. From my research I have come to a tentative conclusion that they can relate.

First, we must realize that scientific understanding of Creation is not too different from the Scriptural explanations of how it all started. The first day was about the creation of the elemental forces of the universe, particularly light (Gen 1:1-5). The second day talks about the Earth's planetary formation. The land and water are separated from each other, with water probably becoming liquefied below and gaseous above (Gen 1:6-8). After this, the Scriptural account becomes more scrambled from what we know scientifically. Most of the out of order information has to do with the development of time (Abraham 4:13-17). It is more of a conceptual than a creative development, finding uses for what has already been formed.

It is at this point that a very sketchy presentation of Evolution can be read in the material. The first mention of living things is plants, rather than animals (Abraham 4:11-12). This seems consistent with what is known of Earth's development. Plants were the first living things to develop on land. Animals followed later. Reading about the development of animal life can be interpreted to support the idea that life originated in the oceans, as Evolutionary theory postulates:

And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters were to bring forth abundantly after their kind; and every winged fowl after their kind. And the God's saw they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good. (Abraham 4:21)

The Scriptures then state that every creature will bring forth after their kind. For those who don't believe in Evolution, they see this as an indication that changes can't happen. A lion can't bring forth a bear. It wouldn't be after their kind. However, the theory of Evolution doesn't say that is possible either. Any developments would be dependent on the sharing of DNA between two parents. Drastic mutations would hurt the chances for survival. Besides, fossil discoveries seem to provide strong evidence that life has never been static. To me it is about reading two different versions of the same event. God simply didn't fill in the details.

At this point the Garden of Eden must be introduced. Reading of Adam and Eve seems to be a refutation of all that went before. I don't believe that is completely true. Perhaps they have little to do with each other. They both happened, but not for the same reasons. Evolution was in one corner developing life and The Garden in another changing human nature.

The Garden of Eden was most likely the first Temple on the Earth (see The Gate of Heaven by Matthew B. Brown, pg. 26 - 33), and by nature separate from the rest of the planet. Some similarities to the Temple are the Presence of God, a central location, a place where sacred rivers run (see Rev. 22:1), having precious materials that High Priests wear, and etc. It is clear from reading the Scriptural account that the Garden of Eden was a specific place. Modern Revelation has located the Garden of Eden having been in Jackson County Missouri. Like the City of Enoch, it no longer exists on the Earth and might have been taken up to Heaven.

Eventually, although it would have to near the end of Evolution, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. It was at this time when the Lord God made coats of skin and clothed them (Moses 4: 27), sending them back to "till the ground from whence he was taken"(Moses 4:29). Adam and Eve had once again become part of the world we know. Pres. Brigham Young said that Adam was born like any person. Perhaps Adam and Eve were taken from the Evolutionary process, made a Son and Daughter of God through Temple ordinances, and returned back when they had become spiritually prepared for a life of choice.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Discovering the Sacred in the Temple

Years ago I first entered the Temple as an emerging adult about to enter the mission field. Although many memories of that experience are vague, there were some thoughts and feelings that are not forgotten. Like many who enter for the first time, it is never what was imagined even after careful (and proper) research. It was strange to see and participate in such a richly symbolic activity. I think, however, that first shock is for a purpose known as initiation. Many cultures have unique and demanding rituals that bridge the gap between the child and adult world. Two reactions are possible. The first is fear of the unknown and never going back. The other, and the one that brought me back, was a need to understand. Years later, I would like to leave some suggestions how to get more out of Temple attendance.

Do not be afraid to return. This should go for all those who might attend for the first time, or have not gone back. Spiritual rewards will outstrip any discomfort from the unusual experience. There are some things in life that must be carefully cultivated in order to enjoy. Learning from the Temple takes time, patience, and prayerful contemplation. Searching the Scriptures is essential to coming to understand the symbolism and meaning behind the experience.

Become familiar with Covenants. We take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ at the time of Baptism. This includes a covenant to obey the Commandments of God:

15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.

16 And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me.

- Alma 7:15-16

The Temple contains similar covenants we have made at the time of our Baptism. They are split into three different areas. The first is covenants we make as individuals. the second set of covenants we make in regards to family responsibilities. The last set of covenants has to do with our membership in the community of Saints. Become familiar with the Ten Commandments and that we should love God and neighbor. Finally, we should do more than recite covenants, but live them with faith. The more covenants we keep, the more blessings we reap.

Recognize the meanings of symbols. Surprisingly, most of the symbolic meanings found in the Temple experience are spelled out in either words or relationships. Watch carefully what happens and listen for any narrative explanations. The key to undestanding a great deal of the Temple is knowing we are the central focus. It is a representative journey from pre-mortal existance to our return to Heavenly Father through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This is where a good understanding of Scripture is most helpful, noticing the various allusions to scriptural teachings introduced in new and personal ways.

Use the less understood parts to your advantage. Memory is a vital purpose of the Temple experience. It seeks to bring to mind our place in the Universe and Plan of Salvation. If you do not understand something, try to at least remember it during the rest of the time. It could end up relating to another thing you do undestand, bringing meaning to both. Even if you still don't understand it, focus on what you do know and remember what you don't for later. Part of the joy of continually going to the Temple is that we learn something new each participation.

These are, from my experience over the years, important steps to gaining a sacred respect for the Temple. It takes more than a passive response to become spiritually invigorated by the rich texture that is the Temple.

Let us truly be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. We should hasten to the temple as frequently, yet prudently, as our personal circumstances allow. We should go not only for our kindred dead but also for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety that are within those hallowed and consecrated walls. As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience . . .

. . . All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God’s presence without them. I encourage everyone to worthily attend the temple or to work toward the day when you can enter that holy house to receive your ordinances and covenants. As the prophets have said, the temple is a place of beauty; it is a place of revelation; it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It must be holy and important to us.

- Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 2

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mormon Spirituality

Many years ago I had wondered what constituted a Mormon spiritual life. The question was brought about by critical comments that the LDS religion was mostly materialistic with its emphasis of an Earthly Kingdom of God and rejection of spirit/body dualism. Usually this criticism comes from those who either believe in "faith only" salvation or believe spiritual matters should mostly be separate from secular concerns. Research on the subject has brought me to a conclusion that might sound too much like a truism than a profound discovery. Mormonism teaches that true spirituality comes from self-sacrifice in the service toward others.

Almost from the start, the concept of self-sacrifice as spiritual power has been a central Mormon teaching. What can be considered the first Priesthood manual stated:

Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. For from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It is through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life. And it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.

- Lectures on Faith, N.B. Lundwall Ed., pg 58.

The question is, to what end do we sacrifice? Christianity in general, and Jesus Christ in particular, has stated that giving of ourselves for others is the greatest form of worship. Letting go of our own wants, needs, and desires leads us closer to God and Salvation. Matthew Ch. 25: 40, 45 states:

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

These are statements of action. The fate and fortunes of Eternity rests on what each of us do to others. We can be kind, generous, helpful, forgiving, and other positive things or we can do the opposite. Service becomes more than just an action of faith, but the very process of faith. King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon was perhaps even more blunt in connecting service with worship in his famous sermon to his people:

16 Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

18 Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?

19 And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

Both Jesus' statements and King Benjamin's statements about service seem to suggest a royal duty for the subjects to serve others. We are, more or less, doing the will of God as Lord and King. Any less than this is actually a type of ingratitude or, in Jesus' example, disloyalty and spiritual treason. This is, in effect, a point that Abinadi was making to the Priests of King Noah. They had flaunted their positions and completely rejected the true reasons for having Priesthood authority. Instead, they try to make Abinadi into a fool by quoting Isa. 52:7 with its declaration that prophets will have positive messages. In return, Abinadi argues ( see Mosiah Ch. 15 ) only those who serve God and follow his Commandments are worthy of giving positive messages. And the only way to follow God's Commandments is by having Faith in Christ, the Son of God and Father of Prophets, who the Priests of Noah have rejected.

Faith in Christ through Service to others is the central tenent of Mormon spirituality. As LDS President Hinkley stated:

Without sacrifice there is no true worship of God. I become increasingly convinced of that every day. "The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave his life," and we do not worship unless we give-give of our substance, give of our time, give of our strength, give of our talent, give of our faith, give of our testimonies.

-Elder Gordon B. Hinkley, BYU Speaches of the Year, Oct 16, 1962.

It is time to adjust more than just our priorities. We should, as Latter-day Saints, adjust our attitude toward building the Kingdom of God. This includes doing our duties, whatever our callings, with happiness and a sense of worship. Preaching the Gospel, Perfecting the Saints, and Redeeming the Dead are acts of Faith that lead to our own Salvation. We draw closer to God by doing more for others. Service is the definition of Mormon spirituality that the theology ultimately points.