Mormon Beliefs About Temples
In Exodus 26, God instructed the Israelites to build a tabernacle, a portable one they could move with them. They were instructed to build it of the finest materials with excellent workmanship. Later in the Old Testament, we learn about the temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel, permanent structures used for special religious ordinances. In the New Testament, only one temple remained in the Holy Lands. It was the Temple of Herod, which Jesus and the apostles often visited. It was also the scene of the cleansing of the temple. Jesus, on a visit to the temple, found it being treated in a manner that defiled its sacredness. He cleansed the temper and restored the sacred nature of the building.
Today, most churches do not build temples. The Mormons, however, are noted for their temples, which meet the Biblical standards for a temple worthy to be God’s home. Mormon is a nickname for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon temples are found throughout the world, with new ones announced every year.
Like Biblical temples, they are a special place that is different from ordinary chapels and meetinghouses. Temples are closed on Sundays and are not used for regular worship services and activities. These are held in meetinghouses, also known as chapels. Those buildings are open to the public.
Temples, however, are not. To attend the temple, one must be an adult who has been a member of the church for at least one year and is in good standing. A small portion of the temple is open to teenagers who are members in good standing. Children are permitted to enter only when being “sealed” to their families, an ordinance that will be explained later.
Why are Mormon temples closed to the world? Remember the reaction Jesus Christ had when He found the temple being treated disrespectfully. Because it was a sacred place, He was angry to see it treated lightly by some of those attending. For Mormons, the temple is a very sacred place. Only Mormons who have strong testimonies and who have committed to living the gospel are permitted to enter. When Mormons go to the temple, it is a temporary respite from the challenges of the world, a place where everyone shares your faith in God and in Jesus Christ, and a place where you can feel the spirit without distraction from the outside world. Turning it into a tourist attraction open to anyone would be to risk losing that sacred feeling and to risk having those who lack respect for sacred things—even things that are sacred to others but not themselves—desecrate the ordinances and spirit God has commanded we have in the temples.
People come to the temples to do a variety of ordinances. They come to make sacred covenants with God. A covenant is a two-way promise between God and man. God decides the terms of the covenant and it is our responsibility to keep our portion. If we do so, God will honor His part. Mormons covenant to live a Christ-like life, to care for their families, and to serve God and mankind. They do not take a blood oath or shed blood, as some have alleged.
The taking of covenants is one reason Mormons must be members for at least one year before coming to the temple. They need to have a solid understanding of basic gospel principles in order to understand the more challenging concepts taught in the temple. Because making a covenant is a serious thing, it would be unfair to allow the member to make it before he or she was able to keep the covenant. Before baptism, prospective members begin living basic gospel principles in preparation for the basic covenants they make at baptism, increasing their likelihood of keeping those commandments after baptism. After baptism, new Mormons practice living the gospel at a higher level in preparation for the temple. This makes it more likely they will keep their promises to God, and no one who loves God wants to break a promise he made to his Father in Heaven.
In the temple, Mormons learn more about God and Jesus Christ. It can be thought of as the advanced class. You would never sign up for an advanced physics class before you’ve taken the beginner’s course. In the same way, you prepare for the teachings of the temple by first learning the basics.
Mormons can marry for eternity in the temple. Mormons do not believe God ever intended for families to end at death, and in the temple, marriages are made for eternity, not until death leads to divorce. Children born to these marriages are joined to their parents as well. If the parents marry in the temple after the children are born, such as in the case of new converts, the children go into the temple to be joined or “sealed” to their parents for eternity.
Baptisms and other ordinances for those who died without them are also performed in the temple. These will be discussed in an upcoming article.
Mormon temples are sacred places—sacred, not secret. They are not open to the public or discussed publicly because the members promised God they would not discuss them publicly and Mormons keep their promises to God. They are kept sacred for the work of God out of love and respect for Him.