Celestial Marriage & Eternal Exaltation
By Lane Thuet
Exaltation according to Mormonism means gaining a fullness of all God has to offer. It includes reaching the "highest level" of the LDS heaven (called the celestial kingdom), attaining all knowledge available, and becoming a "God" over your own creation. Former LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote that those who attain exaltation "…inherit in due course the fullness of the glory of the Father, meaning that they have all power in heaven and on earth..." (Mormon Doctrine pg. 257). The LDS Doctrine and Covenants also teaches that "then shall they be gods, because they have no end…then shall they be gods, because they have all power…" (D&C 132:16-26). This is the ultimate goal in Mormonism.
One of the requirements to reach this goal is what Mormons call "celestial marriage." Today celestial marriage is simply defined as a marriage in a Mormon temple designed to last not just until death but throughout all eternity. Couples joined in such marriages are considered "sealed" to each other. Their children afterward are automatically "sealed" to them as well. This, they believe, ensures that their family will continue in heaven eternally as a complete unit.
McConkie wrote, "Celestial marriage is the gate to exaltation, and exaltation consists in the continuation of the family unit in eternity. Exaltation is…the kind of life which God lives" (Mormon Doctrine pg. 257). Celestial marriage is an absolute necessity to reach this desired goal. Its importance in the place of salvation and exaltation cannot be overestimated. "The most important things that any member of (the LDS Church) ever does in this world are: 1) To marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority; and 2) To keep the covenant made in connection with this holy and perfect order of matrimony…" (Mormon Doctrine pg. 118).
All Mormon men who desire Godhood are required to marry; if they do not, their leaders have taught that their actions will be displeasing to God. For instance, 10th LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith said, "Any young man who carelessly neglects this great commandment to marry, or who does not marry because of a selfish desire to avoid the responsibilities which married life will bring, is taking a course which is displeasing in the sight of God…There can be no exaltation without it. If a man refuses…he is taking a course which may bar him forever from (exaltation)." (Doctrines of Salvation 2:74).
Those who choose to remain single or do not enter into the covenant of celestial marriage while on earth are no longer in obedience to God or to LDS authorities. They will not advance to Godhood, but will be given menial tasks as angels for all eternity. "Many who practice celibacy do so out of an excessive religious devotion and with the idea in mind that they are serving their Maker. In reality, they are forsaking some of the most important purposes of their creation…" (Mormon Doctrine pg. 119). "Therefore, when they are out of the world they… are appointed angels in heaven… to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law" (Doctrine and Covenants 132:16-17).
We have to wonder, then, about the Apostle Paul or even Jesus Himself. Are they nothing more than "ministering angels" because they remained single here on earth? This would seem to be the case. However, to avoid this difficulty, LDS leaders have taught that both of them were married. In fact, some even taught that Jesus was a polygamist. See Journal of Discourses 1:345, 2:82, 4:259; The Seer, p.172.
Despite the fact that there is no clear record that Apostle Paul was married, McConkie insisted, "…it is interesting to note that it is to Paul that advocates of celibacy turn in a fruitless search to find scripture justifying this unnatural mode of living. Paul himself was married. Of this there is no question. He had the sure promise of eternal life; his calling and election had been made sure - which, according to God's eternal laws, could not have been unless he had first entered into the order of celestial marriage." (Mormon Doctrine pg. 119).
McConkie's assertion is without biblical support. Unlike the LDS Church's emphasis on marriage, Paul said it was good for a man not to marry because it allowed him to put all of his efforts into serving Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 7:7). He never connected singleness with disobedience but acknowledged that such a man would naturally be concerned about providing for his family. This responsibility would hinder him from focusing solely on serving the Lord. When Paul advocated marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, he did so within the context of man's weakness. Since man is weak and often tempted to sin, it would be better that he marry and remain faithful rather than stay single and risk sinning sexually (1 Cor. 7:2-9). Due to the nature of man, then, it is better to marry-thereby becoming whole (Gen. 2:24, 1 Cor. 7:2,9).
While the Bible teaches that it is good for man to marry (Gen. 2:24, 1 Cor. 7:2,9), it is not a requirement for salvation, nor was marriage designed to last for all eternity (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25).
Redefining Celestial Marriage
By Bill McKeever
Mormon temples and the rituals performed in them constitute one of the more important disciplines of the LDS faith. While a great portion of the activity in a Mormon temple is on behalf of the dead (baptisms for the dead, endowments for the dead, etc.), marriage ceremonies for the living, called celestial marriage, also plays a very important role in the LDS view of salvation.
Like many other unique doctrines brought about by the LDS Church, celestial marriage has gone through its share of redefining and development. Today, celestial marriage merely means to be married for time and eternity in an LDS temple. To the 19th century Mormon, celestial marriage was synonymous with plural marriage. Mormon historians concede that celestial and plural marriage were at one time inseparable. According to David John Buerger, "Celestial marriage was applied to and equated with plural marriage until the late nineteenth century" (The Mysteries of Godliness, p.59). Thomas G. Alexander, on page 60 of his Mormonism in Transition, wrote, "Generally, the terms 'new and everlasting covenant' of marriage, 'celestial marriage,' and plural marriage were thought to be equivalent."
When compelled by the U.S. government to abandon plural marriage in the late 1800s, LDS leaders redefined celestial marriage. For example, President Heber J. Grant and his counselors stated, "Celestial marriage-that is, marriage for time and eternity-and polygamous or plural marriage are not synonymous terms. Monogamous marriages for time and eternity, solemnized in our temples in accordance with the word of the Lord and the laws of the Church, are Celestial marriages" (Messages of the First Presidency 5:329).
It doesn't take much of a sleuth to discover that this was a new and different definition. Take, for instance, the following quote by Brigham Young: "You will recollect, brethren and sisters, that it was in July, 1843, that he received this revelation concerning celestial marriage. This doctrine was explained and many received it as far as they could understand it. Some apostatized on account of it; but others did not, and received it in their faith" (Journal of Discourses 16:166). The obvious question that arises from this statement is: If celestial marriage was always just another term for eternal marriage, why would it cause those who understood it to apostatize on account of it? The answer is simple. Celestial marriage was originally associated with plural marriage, which was a difficult concept for even some Mormons to grasp.
Not even Joseph Smith was naïve to think celestial marriage would be easily accepted. The History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.xxxii, records the following: "On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843; Joseph and Hyrum Smith came into the office in the upper story of the brick store, on the bank of the Mississippi river. They were talking on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph, 'If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.' Joseph smiled and remarked, 'You do not know Emma as well as I do.' Hyrum repeated his opinion, and further remarked, 'The doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity and heavenly origin,' or words to that effect. Joseph then said, 'Well, I will write the revelation and we will see.' He then requested me to get paper and prepare to write." It is clear from this discourse that celestial marriage and plural marriage were meant to be synonymous terms. Redefining celestial marriage causes us to ask why Emma would be so vehemently opposed to being sealed to Joseph for eternity. If Mormons want to embrace this redefinition, they need to also explain why Emma was threatened in D&C 132:52-54 should she refuse to "receive all those that have been given" to Joseph.
Brigham Young declared that plural marriage was a requirement for exaltation. On August 19, 1866, he said, "The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy" (Journal of Discourses 11:268). Many fundamentalist groups of Latter-day Saints, a number of which thrive in the state of Utah, continue to follow Young's admonition. They view the current LDS position as proof that the Utah Mormons have denied the faith since the LDS Church excommunicates any member who marries more than one wife at a time. This is not to say that plural marriage is a dead issue in the Utah Church.
It appears that the monogamous relationship currently stressed by the LDS Church is but a brief interlude before polygamy commences again. As Bruce McConkie wrote on page 578 of Mormon Doctrine, "Obviously the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man and the ushering in of the millennium." To be sure, this is one teaching that few investigators will hear while taking the missionary lessons.