Chapter 16: Marriage—An Eternal Partnership

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 Howard W. Hunter

Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and is intended to be eternal.

This is an assumption that is made with no scriptural support. While it sounds warm and cozy, the Bible says marriage—though a wonderful institution here on the earth—is not something intended for heaven. It never even infers that this is ever “intended to be eternal.” A BYU professor agrees with me:

… the concept of eternal marriage isn’t found anywhere in the Book of Mormon or other Latter-day scripture prior to 1843. It was in Nauvoo, in the summer of 1843, that Joseph Smith formally introduced the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (D&C 132), which initially entailed plural marriage (Charles R. Harrell, ‘This is my Doctrine’: The Development of Mormon Theology, p. 318. Ellipsis mine).

If “marriage between a man and a woman” (not women, though “celestial marriage” was defined with a polygamous mindset in the 19th century) is meant to be “eternal,” then we have to ask why it was never mentioned in the ancient scriptures of Mormonism? If the word “eternal” has any meaning whatsoever, shouldn’t this be considered a major problem?

The Lord has defined marriage for us. He said, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

In an earthly sense, this is exactly right. Let’s give a little background to thie doctrine of marriage according to Mormonism. “Celestial marriages” of LDS couples for “time and eternity” take place in the temples. This is an important teaching, since “only in the temple can we be sealed together forever as families.” At the October 2008 general conference, Apostle Russell M. Nelson said,

To qualify for eternal life, we must make an eternal and everlasting covenant with our Heavenly Father. This means that a temple marriage is not only between husband and wife; it embraces a partnership with God (Ensign, November 2008, p. 93).

Marriages performed outside of the temple are considered binding only “until death.” Gospel Principles states,

Only in the temple can we be sealed together forever as families. Marriage in the temple joins a man and woman as husband and wife eternally if they honor their covenants. Baptism and all other ordinances prepare us for this sacred event. When a man and woman are married in the temple, their children who are born thereafter also become part of their eternal family (p. 235).

Children born to a couple married in the temple are automatically “sealed” (known as “born in the covenant”) to their parents for eternity. Those couples not married in the temple will not only lose the right to be together after death, but they have no “claim upon their children, for they have not been born under the covenant of eternal marriage” (LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, p. 193). Those not born “under the covenant” of celestial marriage must have their families sealed in a separate temple ceremony. Hunter once wrote:

If children are born before the wife is sealed to her husband, there is a temple sealing ordinance that can seal these children to their parents for eternity, and so it is that children can be sealed vicariously to parents who have passed away” (Ensign (February 1995), p. 2).

Although continued good works are essential according to LDS leaders, Mormonism teaches that a person must be married in the temple to have a chance at exaltation. Nelson said,

On occasion, I read in a newspaper obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when, in fact, they did not choose the eternal option. Instead, they opted for a marriage that was valid only as long as they both should live. Heavenly Father has offered them a supernatural gift, but they refused it. And in rejecting the gift, they rejected the Giver of the gift (Ensign, November 2008, p. 93. Italics in original).

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks agreed, saying,

Under the great plan of the living Creator, the mission of His Church is to help us achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom, and that can be accomplished only through an eternal marriage between a man and a woman (Ensign, January 2011, pp. 25-26).

 It is believed that there is a danger in “delaying marriage” since “all normal people should plan their lives to include a proper temple marriage in their early life and to multiply and have their families in the years of their early maturity” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 195).

Life’s greatest partnership is in marriage—that relationship which has lasting and eternal significance.

With a knowledge of the plan of salvation as a foundation, a man who holds the priesthood looks upon marriage as a sacred privilege and obligation. It is not good for man nor for woman to be alone. Man is not complete without woman. Neither can fill the measure of their creation without the other (see 1 Cor. 11:11; Moses 3:18). Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God (see D&C 49:15–17). Only through the new and everlasting covenant of marriage can they realize the fulness of eternal blessings (see D&C 131:1–4; 132:15–19).

Some Mormons have created a stereotype about the Christian’s view of heaven, assuming this view means sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp, and singing hymns to Jesus throughout eternity in a most boring fashion. While this is certainly not a completely accurate picture of heaven, perhaps the Latter-day Saint should consider Mormon 7:7 in the Book of Mormon. It reads,

And he [Jesus] have brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.

In the mind of the Latter-day Saint, it makes sense that heaven includes the family unit. President Joseph F. Smith explained,

I have the glorious promise of the association of my loved ones throughout all eternity. In obedience to this work, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I shall gather around me my family, my children, my children’s children, until they become as numerous as the seed of Abraham, or as countless as the sands upon the seashore. For this is my right and privilege, and the right and privilege of every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who holds the Priesthood and will magnify it in the sight of God (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 386).

Certainly Christians should invest heavily in their earthly families, but nowhere does the Bible teach that mom, dad, grandparents, children, or others will live together as a family unit in heaven. Jesus plainly explained the role of marriage and families in heaven in Matthew 22:23–30 and Mark 12:18–27. Answering the question posed to Him by the Sadducees, Jesus answered them,

Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven (Matt. 22:29–30).

Mormon apologist Gilbert Scharffs complains about those who use this passage to reject eternal marriage when he writes,

This verse does not say there won’t be any marriage in heaven, only that marriages will not be performed there (The Missionary’s Little Book of Answers, p. 62).

This is nothing more than reading into a passage, as Scharffs provides no evidence to support his point. In Mormonism, dwelling together as a family unit presupposes that each member of the family was able to follow the whole law during their mortal probation. As Mormonism teaches, only those who are truly obedient will qualify for the benefits of the celestial kingdom. According to tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith,

To enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept (The Way to Perfection, p. 206).

For the sake of argument, suppose that keeping the whole law is possible. Where will all the billions and billions of family members from the beginning of time physically reside? Are we to assume that the God of Mormonism continues to reside with his extended earthly family? Does he worship the God who preceded him? And since Jesus is our spirit brother from the preexistence, will He become “Uncle Jesus” to the offspring of a Mormon who becomes a god? Will the heavenly Father be known as “Heavenly Grandfather” to these offspring?

For more on this issue, click Can Families be Together Forever?

Marriage is often referred to as a partnership with God. This is not just a figure of speech. If this partnership remains strong and active, the man and woman will love each other as they love God, and there will come into their home a sweetness and affection that will bring eternal success.

I wouldn’t classify marriage as a “partnership with God.” From where does such a notion come? Not the Bible. The Mormon must presuppose such an interpretation.

The first marriage was performed by the Lord. It was an eternal marriage because there was no such thing as time when that ceremony took place. The ceremony was performed for a couple not then subject to death; thus, under the circumstances the relationship would never be terminated. After the fall, our first parents were driven from the Garden. They were then subject to death, but resurrection was promised to them. At no time was it said that their eternal marriage should come to an end.

It sure would be nice if Hunter would utilize biblical (or Book of Mormon!) passages for support. Where does the Bible teach any of this? Again, it’s just not there. Once again, if eternal marriage is part of an “eternal” principle, why didn’t the prophets in the Old and New Testaments know about it?

In the temple we receive the highest ordinance available to men and women, the sealing of husbands and wives together for eternity. We hope our young people will settle for nothing less than a temple marriage.

For this topic of the temple marriage, listen to a Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast that originally aired on August 31, 2012: Temple Marriage.  Another review article that might be consider is this one reviewing the manual dedicated to Ezra Taft Benson.

Just as baptism is a commandment of the Lord, so is temple marriage. As baptism is essential to admittance to the Church, so temple marriage is essential to our exaltation in the presence of God. It is part of our destiny. We cannot fulfill our ultimate aims without it. Do not be satisfied with anything less.  You wouldn’t accept a worldly form of baptism, would you? God has his mode of baptism—by immersion by one who holds the authority. Then would you accept a worldly form of marriage? He has his mode of marriage also: It is temple marriage.  I pray that the Lord will bless us that we may realize the reason for our existence and what we must do to find our way to exaltation and eternal life. Part of the eternal plan is the marriage we hold sacred. If we are willing to comply, the ordinances become permanent forever. What a glorious thing it is to have this understanding and to have revealed to us these truths.

Scripural support continues to be conspicuously absent.

No blessing will be denied to worthy individuals who are not married.

This is the church of Jesus Christ, not the church of marrieds or singles or any other group or individual. The gospel we preach is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which encompasses all the saving ordinances and covenants necessary to save and exalt every individual who is willing to accept Christ and keep the commandments that he and our Father in Heaven have given.

No blessing, including that of eternal marriage and an eternal family, will be denied to any worthy individual. While it may take somewhat longer—perhaps even beyond this mortal life—for some to achieve this blessing, it will not be denied. …

What does it mean, “no blessing … will be denied to any worthy individual”? The phrase “speaking with a forked tongue” has to apply here. On the one hand, marriage in the temple for eternity seems to be a pretty firm rule. Then, without warning, Hunter is cited to say that such a marriage could take place in the next life. So which is it? Is it crucial to get married in the temple for this life, or not? If not, then perhaps the Latter-day Saint ought to claim “it wasn’t possible” and wait until later.

Consider many citations from LDS leaders over the years. For instance, Joseph Fielding Smith made it appear to be a life or death matter when he wrote,

Unless young people who marry outside the temple speedily repent, they cut themselves off from exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. If they should prove themselves worthy, notwith­standing that great error, to enter into the celestial kingdom, they go in that kingdom as servants. What does that mean? The revela­tion tells us they go into that kingdom to be servants to those who are worthy of a more highly exalted position—something with greater glory. They are servants to them. They don’t become sons and daughters of God. They are not joint heirs with Jesus Christ. They do not obtain the kingdom, that is, the crown and the glory of the kingdom of God. When they come forth in the resurrec­tion, they have no claim upon each other, or their children upon them, and there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth (Joseph Fielding Smith, Selections from Answers to Gospel Questions: A Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum 1972-73, p. 265).

Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball said,

Delayed marriage … is not fully acceptable. All normal people should plan their lives to include a proper temple marriage in their early life and to multiply and have their families in the years of their early maturity (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2006, p. 195. Ellipsis in original).

Apostle Russell M. Nelson, who is next in line to the LDS presidency, told a general conference crowd:

On occasion, I read in a newspaper obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when, in fact, they did not choose the eternal option. In­stead, they opted for a marriage that was valid only as long as they both should live. Heavenly Father has offered them a supernal gift, but they refused it. And in rejecting the gift, they rejected the Giver of the gift (“Celestial Marriage,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2008, p. 93. Italics in original).

A church manual states:

Only through temple marriage can men and women receive ev­ery eternal blessing (see D&C 131:1–4; 132:15–18) (Preparing for an Eternal Marriage Teacher Manual Religion 234, 2001, p. 54).

Another manual states,

To be exalted in the highest degree and continue eternally in family relationships, we must enter into ‘the new and everlast­ing covenant of marriage’ and be true to that covenant. In other words, temple marriage is a requirement for obtaining the highest degree of celestial glory (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 93).

I will be the first to admit that Hunter is not the only general authority to suggest that some might be justified in not getting married for time and eternity in this life. Yet what scriptural support do they have? And why the stress on eternal marriage in this life if, in all reality, it can be accomplished at another time? It seems like Doublespeak to me.

While it is true that worthy couples will obtain exaltation in the celestial kingdom, each man and woman sealed in an eternal relationship must be individually worthy of that blessing. An eternal marriage will be composed of a worthy man and a worthy woman, both of whom have been individually baptized with water and with the Spirit; who have individually gone to the temple to receive their own endowments; who have individually pledged their fidelity to God and to their partner in the marriage covenant; and who have individually kept their covenants, doing all that God expected of them.

Ahh, this is an important point. Notice how Hunter says they each are required to do the necessary work and keep their individual covenants. This not only applies to the spouses but the children and extended family members as well. It has been taught that each person must be worthy on his or her merits. So what about those members of a Mormon family who do not qualify for celestial glory? Mormonism teaches that a person can’t reach the celestial kingdom on the coattails of another faithful member; each person must individually qualify. Even if the concept of eternal families ended up being true, the odds are that most LDS families will be incomplete because some of their loved ones will fail to live up to the proper standards during their mortal probation.

It is a misnomer to say that Christians don’t believe in an eternal family structure since all forgiven humans are a part of God’s family. As such, all redeemed believers will live in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God will be the focus of our attention in eternity, not us. Sadly, Christians will not experience eternity with unforgiven loved ones. However, in Mormon teaching this same situation exists. Faithful Mormons will not be joined by family members who were unfaithful in mortality.

Living the principles of the gospel makes a happy marriage. … When two people can live the principles of the gospel, marriage can be sweet and it can be happy.

But let’s be honest. Just because a couple lives “the principles of the gospel” does not necessarily equate to marriage always being sweet and happy. I agree, there is a much greater likelihood for “sweet and happy” when the two are fully dedicated to making the other person happy. But there are no guarantees.

On the surface, the idea of eternal family units may sound very appealing to some, but once the LDS concept is carried to its logical conclusion, it breaks down quickly.

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