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Cover image via Mormon Channel.
Longing to Belong
I had an experience with my eldest cousin when I was nineteen that has fundamentally shaped my understanding of latter-day restored temples ever since. Being the youngest of my paternal cousins by several years, I was always frustrated when the whole family gathered because my brothers and cousins would hustle off together and have some fine adventure that I was too small or inexperienced or something to be able to participate in appropriately or safely. As much as I loved and looked up to my brothers and cousins, I simply was not able to be with them at the very times I longed to. Poignant feelings arose even though I knew they weren’t trying to keep me out. During my adolescent and teen years this desire to be included in their group continued. However, while I was often present at reunions, farewells, homecomings and receptions, I still knew that I was not really a part of their world.
A week before entering the temple to receive my endowment, I was visiting at an uncle’s home and chanced to see my eldest cousin. He invited me to go with him to purchase his daughter’s birthday gift at a local sporting-goods store. As we visited in the car I mentioned that I would be attending the temple shortly in preparation for serving a mission. To this he replied – purposefully, but not dramatically – that I would now be “joining the brotherhood of the cousins.” This statement struck me forcefully. Sensing my reaction, he explained that the “real brotherhood of the cousins is only enjoyed by those who have received their temple ordinances.”
As I contemplated this I began to feel a significance of the temple that I had not perceived before. I started to see the temple as the gateway to the relationship that for so long had eluded me. This thoughtful and observant cousin had recognized not only my desires to belong, but also the true means that Lord has given us to accomplish it. His thought-provoking statement has since caused me much reflection about the impact the temple can have on our most cherished relationships.
As the years have passed, the desires for brotherhood with my cousins has become necessarily less significant than my longing to be truly united to my wife and children. In turn, the desires to be ultimately reunited with my Father and my Brother have exponentially increased. It is certainly the case that when I attend the temple and participate in the ordinances there, I can feel their proximity and a communion with the Spirit that is sweet beyond words (D&C 97:15-16; 109:13).
More Nearly Approaching the Savior’s Sacrifice
Additionally, consider the impact of our temple service on our relationship with the Lord taught in this statement by President Hinckley:
I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle (fireside in Birmingham, England, 29 Aug. 1995; cited in Ensign, January 1998, 73).
When we sacrifice our sins to be worthy and our time to attend to the work for those who have passed, it is our privilege to “more closely approach” that marvelous and miraculous work that Jesus accomplished for us all!
Purpose of Temples
Joseph Smith enlightened the early members of the Church, who were only beginning to understand the breadth and scope of the restoration, that temples were are the very heart of the Lord’s work on the earth.
What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world? The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation ; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose. It was the design of the councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and laws of the priesthood should be predicated upon gathering of the people in every age of the world. It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings, etc.” (Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church 5:423-24; emphasis added).
There are three main objectives to the temple as explained here by the Prophet. First, the Lord will reveal “the ordinances of his house.” It is only in this “House of the Lord” that we can participate in these prescribed ordinances. Among other virtues (D&C 84:19-22), these sacred rites are apparently critical to our future entrance into Heavenly Father’s presence. President Brigham Young stated the power of the temple this way:
Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” (Discourses of Brigham Young, compiled by John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, page 416).
Second, Joseph taught that the Lord would reveal the “glories of his kingdom” in the temple. Historically, the Kirtland Temple dedication – in answer to the dedicatory prayer (D&C 109:36-37; compare Acts 2:1-4; also History of the Church 2:427-28), was attended by many spiritual outpourings, amounting to a latter-day Pentecost. According to Orson Pratt,
God was there, his angels were there, the Holy Ghost was in the midst of the people, the visions of the Almighty were opened to the minds of many; they saw the heavens opened; they beheld the angels of God; they heard the voice of the Lord; and they were filled from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet with the power and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. In that Temple the people were blessed as they never had been blessed for generations (JD 18:132).
“During a fifteen-week period, extending from 21 January to 1 May 1836, probably more Latter-day Saints beheld visions and received gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy than during any other period in the history of the Church. Contemporaries reported that members beheld heavenly beings during ten meetings, that many saw visions during eight of these meetings, and that Latter-day Saints beheld the Savior on five occasions (Milton V. Backman, The Heavens Resound, 285).
Truly significant spiritual outpourings marked those days and weeks in early 1836. However, each person who attends the temple and partakes in the Lord’s sacred ceremonies can also be afforded a resplendent view of the eternities that is beyond compare. It is in the temples that we get some hint of Paul’s meaning when he said,
“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
These temple pronouncements and promises dazzle us with their possibilities as literally as the rays reflecting from the chandeliers in the celestial room and the echoes of eternity mirrored from across its sealing room altars. While the scriptures tell us that celestial inheritance will be glorious, it is only in the temple that we receive specifics as to what that glory and our lives will be like there. The Lord’s plan for our future inheritance will cause all who have ears to hear and eyes to see to “feel [His] power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that [He] has sanctified it, and that it is [His] house, a place of [His] holiness. A house of glory and of God” (D&C 109:13, 16).
Third, Joseph noted that in the temples the Lord will “teach the people the way of salvation.” The ancient American prophet Nephi conceived of our salvation in terms progressing along a path or road. One enters this path to eternal life by passing through the gate of baptism, just as the Savior exemplified (2 Nephi 31:5-10). Once inside the path we are to “press forward” and “endure to the end” (2 Nephi 31:20). Earlier in his record, Nephi’s brother Jacob hints at the possibility of another gate – one at the end of the path. “The way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. And whoso knocketh, to him will he open” (2 Nephi 9:41-42). Elder Maxwell has commented,
Being confused about the two gates – repentance and baptism by water and fire, the first gate, and the end of the straight and narrow trail, the second and final gate – can be cleared up by reading the scriptures and feasting upon the words of Christ. One cannot read very far in the scriptures without realizing how much God has concentrated on giving us guidance for the journey between the two gates (Press Forward, 73.)
Our formal journey of discipleship begins at baptism and symbolically reaches its mortal apex at the temple’s veil. It is through the clear commandments and covenants of the temple that we learn the laws that we must live in order to progress. It is our privilege to recognize and follow the model in our own eternal progression as role-played by our first parents in the sacred rites of the Lord’s house.
This path between the two gates is our mortality.
Vision of the Structure
As with the Mosaic portable Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-9; 26:1-30) – which informed the subsequent structure of the three major Old Testament structures (Solomon’s: 1 Kings 6:1-9; Zerubbabel’s reconstruction: Ezra 3, 6; and Herod’s reconstruction: LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 781) – the Lord had a specific design for the Kirtland Temple. “Therefore, let it be built after the manner which I shall show unto three of you” (D&C 95:14; see vv. 14-17). Those three men were Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams. Brother Williams “described this experience to workers at the temple:
Carpenter Rolph said, “Doctor [Williams], what do you think of the house”? [Williams] answered, “It looks to me like the pattern precisely.” He then related the following: “Joseph [Smith] received the word of the Lord for him to take his two counselors, Williams and Rigdon, and come before the Lord, and He would show them the plan or model of the house to be built. We went upon our knees, called on the Lord, and the building appeared within viewing distance, I being the first to discover it. Then we all viewed it together. After we had taken a good look at the exterior, the building seemed to come right over us, and the makeup of the Hall seemed to coincide with that I there saw to a minutiae (reported by Truman O. Angell, “Journal”, cited in Elwin C. Robison’s The First Mormon Temple: Design, Construction, and Historic Context of the Kirtland Temple, Brigham Young University Press: Provo, UT, 1997, 8).
Years later, Elder Orson Pratt offered the following:
When the Lord commanded this people to build a house in the land of Kirtland, he gave them the pattern by vision from heaven, and commanded them to build that house according to that pattern and order; to have the architecture, not in accordance with architecture devised by men, but to have every thing constructed in that house according to the heavenly pattern that he by his voice had inspired to his servants (Journal of Discourses, 14:273; cited in Robison, 24).
We may note, also, that the Salt Lake City Temple was also revealed to Brigham Young in vision. Said he,
I scarcely ever say much about revelations, or visions, but suffice it to say, five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the Spirit the Temple not ten feet from where we have laid the Chief Corner Stone. I have not inquired what kind of Temple we should build. Why? Because it was represented before me. I have never looked upon that ground, but the vision of it was there. I see it as plainly as if it were in reality before me (Journal of Discourses, 1:133).
Restored Keys Authorized the Mission of the Church
In the Kirtland Temple Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received priesthood keys from ancient authorities. These modern prophets testified that after the sacrament service they “retired to the pulpit, the veils being dropped, and bowed in solemn and silent prayer” (D&C 110 Heading; also HC 2:435-436), the Lord himself had appeared and “accepted this house” (D&C 110:7) and that Moses, Elias, and Elijah appeared and “committed” (D&C 110:11-12, 16) keys and dispensations to them.
It is clear that Moses restored the authority to gather Israel. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written about the role of Moses in the latter-day gathering of scattered Israel.
How shall Israel be gathered? First will come the conversion and gathering of the tribe of Joseph. Then Joseph [Ephraim and Manasseh] shall gather the other tribes. It will not be an easy work. Every lost sheep must be taught the gospel; every new convert must believe the Book of Mormon; all must repent and forsake the world and come voluntarily, often in the face of great opposition, into the latter-day kingdom of the God of their fathers. Missionaries must labor with zeal and in the face of great odds. They must “push the people together.” And who shall do this work? Moses says: They are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” (Deuteronomy 33:17.) And such is an apt and accurate definition of the missionary force of the great latter-day kingdom. Moses – mighty, mighty Moses – acting in the power and authority of the holy order, gathered Israel once. What is more fitting than for him to confer upon mortals in this final dispensation the power and authority to lead latter-day Israel out of Egyptian darkness, through a baptismal Red Sea, into their promised Zion? (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 528-29).
In this way we can see that Moses committed the keys for the preaching of the gospel, which is the only way that His children can “come unto him” and gather to His Church (for a more detailed discussion of the potential difference between simply “preaching” and the more comprehensive “gathering” see Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:152-53; also, vol. 1:131-34; also Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 220).
Elias restored, or opened, the dispensation of Abraham’s gospel. Many have wondered who this “Elias” was and what the gospel of Abraham is. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith felt that it was Noah (Conference Report, April 1960, 72; yet see “Elias” in the LDS Bible Dictionary, 663; also Mormon Doctrine, 219-220). Elder McConkie has defined the gospel of Abraham as:
The authorization to use the priesthood to perfect eternal family units, even as this commission and covenant was had by Abraham and those who followed him (Millennial Messiah, 119).
Obviously it was the commission, the mission, the endowment and power, the message of salvation, given to Abraham. Thus the gospel of Abraham was one of celestial marriage. And as a consequence, the righteous among all future generations were assured of the blessings of a continuation of the seeds forever, even as it was with Abraham of old (D&C 132.). (Mormon Doctrine, 219-20).
In sum, the gospel of Abraham amounts to having access to the blessings of exaltation that he and his immediate posterity have already achieved (see D&C 132:29, 37). This gospel, interestingly named after this mortal model (see Abraham 1:18-19), has the power to perfect its adherents and exalt them. Much like the Melchizedek priesthood bears its name (D&C 107:2-4), this gospel of Abraham is none other than the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the conclusion of this Kirtland spiritual feast, Elijah appeared and restored the sealing power. This enables earthly ordinances and performances to be valid in the next life – which includes the ability to perform proxy work for the deceased. It was not until earlier in 1836, when Joseph was shown his deceased brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom, that Joseph became aware that the gospel affords any hope for the dead who have not entered into the gospel ordinances during their mortality (D&C 137:1-9). It would be several years before actual ordinance work for the dead would be performed in Nauvoo. Joseph’s first public mention of vicarious baptisms for the dead was at the funeral of Seymour Brunson, 15 August 1840 (see HC 4:179). The Prophet gave the full articulation of proxy work in a letter to the saints in September of 1842, which is now recorded as D&C 128 (see v. 18 specifically).
It is easy to see how all three of these manifestations have funded the Church’s understanding of and authority to perform its mission. “The three-fold mission of the Church is to perfect the saints, proclaim the gospel and redeem the dead [and it] has one central goal, and this is to bring souls unto Christ” (Church News, October 10, 1987, 21; also Elder James E. Faust, Ensign, March 1988, 70). Moses’ authority facilitates the gathering. Once gathered, Elias’s restoration enables the perfecting. Once gathered and progressing toward perfection, Elijah’s keys inspire us to serve our dead – “approach[ ing ] the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior himself” – by providing for them that which they cannot do for themselves. “For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers – that they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (D&C 128:15). It is in these glorious restored temples that all of the blessings our Father has seen fit to reveal to us can be received in their fullness.