Chapter 13: The Temple—The Great Symbol of Our Membership

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015

“It is the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church worthy to enter the temple.”

In Mormonism, the temple is required for a person to have a chance at exaltation and godhood. Mormon leaders such as Hunter want the members to think that what takes place in Mormon temples follows a biblical precedence. This is not true. As one church manual claims, “the Church today teaches the same principles and performs the same ordinances as were performed in the days of Jesus.” (Gospel Principles, p. 98). However, it also quotes the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 19:19–20) to show that “sacrifice of blood was ended” after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70 and that God now “requires a different kind of offering.”

So while the offering of blood sacrifices of animals was one of the main functions of biblical priests, the manual states that committed followers of God should become, as Paul said in Romans 12:1, “living sacrifices.” And it adds, “If we are to be a living sacrifice, we must be willing to give everything we have for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Ibid., p. 151) If the LDS religion is truly a restoration of biblical Christianity, it would make sense that today’s temple rites should be similar to what took place in ancient Israel. Yet there are many differences, including the following:

  • The Jews recognized only one temple located in Jerusalem, while the LDS Church has dozens of temples scattered across the globe.
  • The priests officiating in the Jerusalem temple had to be from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. This was commanded in Numbers 3:6–10. The LDS Church ignores such commands and allows its “temple-worthy” members who have no such background to officiate in its temples.
  • Wedding ceremonies did not take place in the Jerusalem temple, while this is a common practice in modern LDS temples.
  • While there were no marriages performed in the Jerusalem temple, many Mormon families have been “sealed” for time and eternity in LDS temples.
  • While it was not a practice ever performed in the Jerusalem temple, proxy baptism for the dead by living members of the LDS Church is the most common activity in Mormon temples.

In Mormonism, having the right to enter one of the 150 Mormon temples is crucial. It is here where the members can be qualified to become gods and attain exaltation in the next life. I maintain that the main reason why the Mormon Church has tripled the number of temples (from 49 in 1993 to 150 in 2016) in the past quarter of a century has to do with money. After all, members cannot receive a temple recommend card unless they follow basic guidelines. A church manual explains:

To enter the temple, you must be worthy. You certify your worthiness in two interviews—one with a member of your bishopric or your branch president and another with a member of your stake presidency or the mission president. Your priesthood leaders will keep these interviews private and confidential. In each of the interviews, the priesthood leader will ask you about your personal conduct and worthiness. You will be asked about your testimony of Heavenly Father and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and you will be asked whether you support the general and local leaders of the Church. You will be asked to confirm that you are morally clean and that you keep the Word of Wisdom, pay a full tithe, live in harmony with the teachings of the Church, and do not maintain any affiliation or sympathy with apostate groups. If you give acceptable answers to the questions in the interviews and if you and your priesthood leaders are satisfied that you are worthy to enter the temple, you will receive a temple recommend. You and your priesthood leaders will sign the recommend, which will allow you to enter the temple for the next two years, as long as you remain worthy. (True to the Faith, p. 172)

Notice, tithing is a fixed requirement. Those who don’t tithe do not have access to the temple. With that as the background, consider Mormon 8:32 in the Book of Mormon. It reads:

 Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.

I find this verse to be ironic. In Mormonism, a person cannot be truly forgiven without doing work in the temple. To get into the temple, paying money is necessary. Isn’t this verse a condemnation of the very existence of the Mormon Church?

Teachings of Howard W. Hunter

We are encouraged to establish the temple as the great symbol of our membership.

At the time of my call to this sacred office [President of the Church], an invitation was given for all members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants.

When I contemplate the temple, I think of these words:

“The temple is a place of instruction where profound truths pertaining to the Kingdom of God are unfolded. It is a place of peace where minds can be centered upon things of the spirit and the worries of the world can be laid aside. In the temple we make covenants to obey the laws of God, and promises are made to us, conditioned always on our faithfulness, which extend into eternity” (The Priesthood and You, Melchizedek Priesthood Lessons—1966, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1966, p. 293).

It is the Lord Himself who, in His revelations to us, has made the temple the great symbol for members of the Church. Think of the attitudes and righteous behaviors that the Lord pointed us toward in the counsel He gave to the Kirtland Saints through the Prophet Joseph Smith as they were preparing to build a temple. This counsel is still applicable:

“Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119). Are these attitudes and behaviors indeed reflective of what each of us desires and seeks to be? …

… To have the temple indeed be a symbol unto us, we must desire it to be so. We must live worthy to enter the temple. We must keep the commandments of our Lord. If we can pattern our life after the Master, and take His teaching and example as the supreme pattern for our own, we will not find it difficult to be temple worthy, to be consistent and loyal in every walk of life, for we will be committed to a single, sacred standard of conduct and belief. Whether at home or in the marketplace, whether at school or long after school is behind us, whether we are acting totally alone or in concert with a host of other people, our course will be clear and our standards will be obvious.

The ability to stand by one’s principles, to live with integrity and faith according to one’s belief—that is what matters. That devotion to true principle—in our individual lives, in our homes and families, and in all places that we meet and influence other people—that devotion is what God is ultimately requesting of us. It requires commitment—whole-souled, deeply held, eternally cherished commitment to the principles we know to be true in the commandments God has given. If we will be true and faithful to the Lord’s principles, then we will always be temple worthy, and the Lord and His holy temples will be the great symbols of our discipleship with Him.

Each of us should strive to be worthy to receive a temple recommend.

It is the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church worthy to enter the temple. It would please the Lord if every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend. The things that we must do and not do to be worthy of a temple recommend are the very things that ensure we will be happy as individuals and as families.

When I read about how “worthiness” is a requirement for the temple, I cringe. The very thought that a person could even claim to be “true and faithful to the Lord’s principles” is audacious. It’s certainly not the biblical standard. In fact, the primary activity at the Jerusalem temple was the sacrifice of animals as atonement for the sins of the people. Worshippers in ancient Israel went to the temple with an attitude of unworthiness before an all-holy God. They approached His temple with humility as they looked to have their sins covered. In stark contrast, Mormons enter their temples with a positive sense of worthiness. A person cannot enter a Mormon temple (after it is dedicated) unless he or she is considered “worthy.”

In an account given in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus was approached by members of the Sadducees, the Jewish religious party that did not believe in a bodily resurrection from the dead (Matt. 22:23–33; Mark 12:18–27; Luke 20:27–38). Trying to trick Him, these leaders presented what appears to be a hypothetical situation involving seven brothers. When the oldest brother died, he left a wife and no children. According to the Mosaic law, the next oldest unmarried brother took the woman for his wife. However, the second brother died, as did the third through seventh brothers. Before they died, each of them had married the oldest brother’s wife, making her a widow seven times over.

In Mark 12:23 they asked, “In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” Jesus chastised His inquisitors in verse 24, saying they did not know the Scriptures. Verse 25 reads, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” At face value and as it has been historically interpreted, Jesus appears to be saying that heaven will be much different from life as it is known on earth. While the gifts of sex and procreation are important parts of the earthly life, these will not be a part of the afterlife. The joys in store for the believer are incredibly more magnificent than the temporary pleasure of sexual or familial fulfillment.

In addition, there will be no need to procreate in heaven. Thus, while it appears we will be able to recognize fellow believers in heaven, there is no indication that we will be eternally paired with a particular mate. Historically, Christians view all believers as part of God’s great family rather than millions of smaller groups. This reminds me of Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector as recorded in Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The story takes place at the Jerusalem temple. One man claimed to be worthy. The other claimed he was not. Which one did Jesus commend? And yet what does the Mormon Church require for a person to get a temple recommend? How many Mormons have seen the hypocrisy of the temple recommend? For more on this topic, go here.

Our Heavenly Father has clearly outlined that those who enter the temple must be clean and free from the sins of the world. He said, “And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it; … But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples” (D&C 97:15, 17).

Actually, Hunter has this wrong. A temple was a place where sinners came to have their sins forgiven. This is why the main activity in the temple was sacrificing animals. This is what “atonement” was all about. For believers in the New Testament, it can be understood that all sins—past, present, and future—were forgiven at Calvary. But forgiveness is possible only when it is understood that we approach the throne as unworthy sinners rather than somehow suggesting that we were able to attain God’s standards.

It might be interesting for you to know that the President of the Church used to sign each temple recommend. That’s how strongly the early presidents felt about worthiness to enter the temple. In 1891 the responsibility was placed on bishops and stake presidents, who ask you several questions concerning your worthiness to qualify for a temple recommend. You should know what is expected of you in order to qualify for a temple recommend.

You must believe in God the Eternal Father, in his Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. You must believe that this is their sacred and divine work. We encourage you to work daily on building your testimony of our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit that you feel is the Holy Ghost testifying to you of their reality. Later, in the temple, you will learn more about the Godhead through the revealed instruction and ordinances.

You must sustain the General Authorities and local authorities of the Church. When you raise your arm to the square when these leaders’ names are presented, you signify that you will sustain them in their responsibilities and in the counsel they give you.

This is not an exercise in paying homage to those whom the Lord has called to preside. Rather, it is a recognition of the fact that God has called prophets, seers, and revelators, and others as General Authorities. It is a commitment that you will follow the instructions that come from the presiding officers of the Church. Likewise you should feel loyalty toward the bishop and stake president and other Church leaders. Failure to sustain those in authority is incompatible with service in the temple.

You must be morally clean to enter into the holy temple. The law of chastity requires that you not have sexual relations with anyone other than your husband or wife. We especially encourage you to guard against the enticements of Satan to sully your moral cleanliness.

You must ensure that there is nothing in your relationship with family members that is out of harmony with the teachings of the Church. We especially encourage [youth] to obey [their] parents in righteousness. Parents must be vigilant to ensure that their relationships with family members are in harmony with the teachings of the gospel and never involve abuse or neglect.

To enter the temple you must be honest in all of your dealings with others. As Latter-day Saints we have a sacred obligation to never be deceitful or dishonest. Our basic integrity is at stake when we violate this covenant.

To qualify for a temple recommend, you should strive to do your duty in the Church, attending your sacrament, priesthood, and other meetings. You must also strive to obey the rules, laws, and commandments of the gospel. Learn … to accept callings and other responsibilities that come to you. Be active participants in your wards and branches, and be one your leaders can depend on.

To enter the temple you must be a full-tithe payer and live the Word of Wisdom. These two commandments, simple in their instruction but enormously important in our spiritual growth, are essential in certifying our personal worthiness. Observation over many years has shown that those who faithfully pay their tithing and observe the Word of Wisdom are usually faithful in all other matters that relate to entering the holy temple.

These are not matters to be taken lightly. Once having been found worthy to enter the temple, we perform ordinances that are the most sacred administered anywhere on the earth. These ordinances are concerned with the things of eternity.

These are a lot of rules and regulations. Could the Mormon please point to the Bible to show how any of these requirements were necessary for sinners to bring their sacrifices to the temple? As I point out throughout this entire response, there are no such commands to enter God’s presence.

Doing temple work brings great blessings to individuals and families.

What a glorious thing it is for us to have the privilege of going to the temple for our own blessings. Then after going to the temple for our own blessings, what a glorious privilege to do the work for those who have gone on before us. This aspect of temple work is an unselfish work. Yet whenever we do temple work for other people, there is a blessing that comes back to us. Thus it should be no surprise to us that the Lord does desire that his people be a temple-motivated people. …

Where does the Bible say that God intends for Christians to be a “temple-motivated people”? Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jewish temple worship lost its significance with His followers, as a new covenant was established. Hebrews 8:12–13 states, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more. In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

The old system no longer is needed, as Hebrews 9:11–15 explains:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

According to the Bible, there is no need for further animal sacrifices. Temple work was fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is for these reasons that Christians do not participate in temple ceremonies. What takes place in Mormon temples has no historical precedent, for LDS leaders have turned the temple into something it was never intended to be. For more on this, check out this story from Lynn Wilder.  

… 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.

The idea that work for the dead in the temple is somehow efficacious for those who no longer live is a man-made preceptl. Despite the emphasis on this doctrine, Christianity teaches that salvation is offered to the living. The Bible is very clear in Hebrews 9:27 that judgment follows this life. Further hope of attaining favor with God is lost at death. In fact, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2 that “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Although Mormons like to reference 1 Corinthians 15:29 to support baptism for the dead, there is no evidence that Christians actually participated in a rite that is similar to that practiced by Mormons. While biblical scholars have noted that heretical groups such as the Cerinthians and Marcionites practiced a form of baptism for the dead, Paul separated himself from such as these when he said, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” If baptism for the dead was, as D&C 128:17 puts it, the “most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel,” it seems odd that Paul would not include himself as a participant; Paul neither condones nor condemns the practice, referring to it as nothing more than an illustration to support his point of resurrection of the body.

Another interesting point comes from D. A. Carson, a research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He wrote:

When something is mentioned only once, it cannot be given the same weight of importance as the central themes of Scripture. . . . When something is mentioned only once, there is more likelihood of misinterpreting it, whereas matters repeatedly discussed are clarified by their repetition in various contexts. (“Did Paul Baptize for the Dead?” Christianity Today, August 10, 1998, p. 63)

BYU professor Charles R. Harrell makes an interesting observation about this teaching:

There is no indication in the Book of Mormon that Christ introduced the doctrine of salvation for the dead during his visit to the Nephites—even though, according to LDS doctrine, he had just visited the spirits in prison and opened the door for their salvation. On the contrary, the Book of Mormon people were taught not to worry about those who die without having heard the gospel in this life since they are redeemed automatically through the Atonement. The whole notion of vicarious work for the dead seems incongruous with Book of Mormon theology. (“This is My Doctrine,” p. 361)

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.

At what point in the temple ceremony is the “significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ” emphasized? Having listened to as well as read the ceremony’s details, I’d like to know. It’s just not there.

Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience.

“Our ultimate earthly goal”? Shouldn’t the goal of authentic faith be getting to know Jesus and glorifying Him in every aspect of our life. Instead, Mormonism has turned its unbiblical temple rituals into the centerpiece of its gospel. As Galatians 1:8-9 says, a wrong gospel is an abomination and should not be followed, regardless of how nice the leaders and its members are.

Several things are accomplished by our attendance at the temple—we comply with the instructions of the Lord to accomplish our own ordinance work, we bless our families by the sealing ordinances, and we share our blessings with others by doing for them what they cannot do for themselves. In addition to these, we lift our own thoughts, grow closer to the Lord, honor [the] priesthood, and spiritualize our lives.

None of these things are taking place. Rather, Mormons are going through the motions and doing something that God never commanded. A Mormon may feel good about going through the temple, but his or her work here will never take the place of what Jesus can do in a person’s life: Forgiving sins through faith. Too many Mormons think their good works (including those done in the temple) will appease a just God. It reminds me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Temple attendance creates spirituality. It is one of the finest programs we have in the Church to develop spirituality. This turns the hearts of the children to their fathers and the hearts of the fathers to their children (Malachi 4:6). This promotes family solidarity and unity.

“Creates” and “develop spirituality”? I think temple attendance more fosters pride than an authentic spirituality, as least the type of spirituality that pleases God.

Let us hasten to the temple.

Let us share with our children the spiritual feelings we have in the temple. And let us teach them more earnestly and more comfortably the things we can appropriately say about the purposes of the house of the Lord. Keep a picture of a temple in your home that your children may see it. Teach them about the purposes of the house of the Lord. Have them plan from their earliest years to go there and to remain worthy of that blessing. Let us prepare every missionary to go to the temple worthily and to make that experience an even greater highlight than receiving the mission call. Let us plan for and teach and plead with our children to marry in the house of the Lord. Let us reaffirm more vigorously than we ever have in the past that it does matter where you marry and by what authority you are pronounced man and wife.

In an account given in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus was approached by members of the Sadducees, the Jewish religious party that did not believe in a bodily resurrection from the dead (Matt. 22:23–33; Mark 12:18–27; Luke 20:27–38). Trying to trick Him, these leaders presented what appears to be a hypothetical situation involving seven brothers. When the oldest brother died, he left a wife and no children. According to the Mosaic law, the next oldest unmarried brother took the woman for his wife. However, the second brother died, as did the third through seventh brothers. Before they died, each of them had married the oldest brother’s wife, making her a widow seven times over.

In Mark 12:23 they asked, “In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” Jesus chastised His inquisitors in verse 24, saying they did not know the Scriptures. Verse 25 reads, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” At face value and as it has been historically interpreted, Jesus appears to be saying that heaven will be much different from life as it is known on earth. While the gifts of sex and procreation are important parts of the earthly life, these will not be a part of the afterlife. The joys in store for the believer are incredibly more magnificent than the temporary pleasure of sexual or familial fulfillment.

In addition, there will be no need to procreate in heaven. Thus, while it appears we will be able to recognize fellow believers in heaven, there is no indication that we will be eternally paired with a particular mate. Historically, Christians view all believers as part of God’s great family rather than millions of smaller groups.

It is pleasing to the Lord for our youth to worthily go to the temple and perform vicarious baptism for those who did not have the opportunity to be baptized in life. It is pleasing to the Lord when we worthily go to the temple to personally make our own covenants with Him and to be sealed as couples and as families. And it is pleasing to the Lord when we worthily go to the temple to perform these same saving ordinances for those who have died, many of whom eagerly await the completion of these ordinances in their behalf.

Once again, biblical citations are suspiciously missing. Why? Perhaps it’s because the Bible never advocates such practices.

To those who have not received their temple blessings, or who do not hold a current temple recommend, may I encourage you in humility and love to work towards the day that you can enter into the house of the Lord. He has promised those who are faithful to their covenants, “If my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place” (D&C 124:45). … I promise you that your personal spirituality, relationship with your husband or wife, and family relationships will be blessed and strengthened as you regularly attend the temple.

It seems the entity most benefitted by having more temple recommend holders is a church that gets a huge increase in tithe-paying congregants. My accusation on this point may seem harsh. Someone may even suggest that it’s unprovable, and that would be correct. Pragmatically, however, building temples with strict requirements seems to be a bottom-line commandment more than antying having to do with improving the members’ “personal spirituality.”

Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which is provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. 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 should be holy unto us.

The Old Testament temple was a place where sacrifices were made on behalf of the sins of pious Jews. The blood of the slain animal symbolized propitiation (appeasement for God’s anger) and expiation (cancellation of sin). Blood sacrifices included burnt, sin, trespass, and fellowship offerings of several kinds of animals; bloodless sacrifices involved grain offerings and libations. Forgiveness was received through the faith of those who offered these sacrifices.

The temple and its priesthood foreshadowed the coming Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, to whom Hebrews 4:16 says Christians can now go to obtain mercy. Because Jesus is alive forevermore, there is no need for a human high priest. This office has been filled. The blood that was shed in the temple ceremonies foreshadowed the work that would be performed by Christ Himself. Hebrews 9:26 says that “he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Hebrews 10:14 vividly depicts how Christ “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

To conclude, the temple of Mormonism has nothing in common with the temple of the Bible. For Hunter to suggest that God is pleased with this “house of the Lord” and state that this is a “holy” place is a misguided attempt to keep the people in an obedient line. Latter-day Saint, free yourself from human regulations and come into a relationship with the King of all Kings.

To read other reviews of the Howard W. Hunter manual, click here.