By Mike Rabus
Posted March 21, 2022
A recurring column in the Liahona magazine called “Gospel Basics” usually follows the first article written in that month’s edition. The topics in this section are usually covered by just a few paragraphs of text from unidentified writers, providing very simple explanations for some of the unique doctrinal beliefs of the LDS Church.
The December 2021 issue of the Liahona featured articles dealing with the topic of family history and temple work, so it seems appropriate that the “Gospel Basics” section was titled “Family History Helps Our Ancestors.” In this review, I’d like to address one specific question that I often ask Mormon missionaries and friends:
What are the requirements for a LDS family to spend eternity together?
Even though the “Forever Family” is a major selling point for the LDS Church, this doctrine appears to be a source of confusion among faithful Mormons. Remember that this column is called “Gospel Basics,” so this really shouldn’t be the cause of any confusion. Let’s see what we can learn about family history and temple work according to Mormonism.
Families are central to Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. He has prepared a way for families to continue forever. As we do our family history and temple work, we help bring our family members, both living and dead, together. (“Temple work” means receiving temple ordinances for ourselves, like being sealed to our spouse, as well as doing ordinances in the temple for our ancestors. For more information about temple ordinances, see the Gospel Basics article in the October 2021 issue of the Liahona.)
One of the first things you might notice when talking to LDS members is the emphasis placed on the importance of the family. One of my favorite questions to ask Mormon missionaries is, “What is the best part of being a Mormon?” One of the top answers I hear is, “I look forward to spending eternity with my family.”
The first sentence in the magazine article even says that families are “central to Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness.” I would agree that the family was designed specifically by God to be the best way for humans to live here on earth. But as a Christian, I don’t think families are central to God’s plan. The best part of the “good news” of the gospel isn’t the family.
In biblical Christianity, Jesus Christ is the central part of the gospel. He paid the price for believers’ sins when their faith is placed in His works and only in His works. It is a guarantee that eternal life is received (1 John 5:13), with the promise of eternity in the presence of God. As much as I want my entire family to be in heaven, I ultimately want to spend eternity with God. My relationship with family isn’t as important as my relationship to the Almighty Creator.
Yet Mormonism teaches that Heavenly Father created a plan of happiness that allows the entire family unit to continue forever. Parents will spend eternity with their children and grandparents and all their extended family. It all sounds so wonderful, which must be a great selling point for this religion. I know many people who were drawn to Mormonism because of this idea of spending eternity with their family members.
So what are the requirements that must be met for a family to spend eternity together? Notice how the second sentence says that Heavenly Father “has prepared a way for families to continue forever.” Pay close attention to this very carefully crafted sentence. Heavenly Father has created a system that will allow the family to be together forever, but it’s a plan with requirements that each Mormon must individually complete. He has “prepared a way” and has opened the door to make forever families possible, but it’s really dependent on each individual’s ability to successfully achieving worthiness. Those family members who do not finish their mortal probation with a worthy status are not going to spend the rest of eternity with their family.
For families to continue forever, it apparently will take “family history and temple work.” But in order to complete temple work, Mormons need to be qualified for temple worthiness by going through a series of temple recommend interviews. Among these are sustaining the current president, striving for moral cleanliness, obeying the law of chastity, keeping the Sabbath day holy, being a full-tithe payer, obeying the Word of Wisdom, and keeping the covenants previously made in the temple. And those are just the requirements to get into the temple!
In order to even begin receiving temple ordinances for themselves and doing ordinances for their ancestors, each Mormon has to meet a certain standard of worthiness. A person who is not temple worthy will never accomplish these ordinances and fail to qualify to be part of an eternal family. Based on some research, it appears that no more than half of all members of the LDS Church are currently temple worthy and actively participate in temple ordinances. The actual number seems to be lower; it even appears to be much less worldwide.
How many Mormons have the hope of a forever family while they knowingly do nothing to achieve the requirements necessary for this goal?
Every person who has lived or will live on the earth needs the ordinances of the gospel. If our ancestors didn’t have that chance, we can perform ordinances for them in the temple. One of those ordinances is being sealed to family members. Being “sealed” means we will be able to live forever with our families if we are righteous. We can be sealed to our families only in temples.
This paragraph is very short but provides a great summary of the requirements for living eternally with families. First of all, every person who has ever lived on earth will need to have ordinances done by themselves or on their behalf. There are no exceptions.
The culmination of the entire Mormon gospel is in the second to last sentence: “if we are righteous.” Everything in Mormonism hinges on the righteousness of each Mormon. It all depends on that word if. Do you want to be part of a forever family? Mormonism says it’s only possible if you are righteous. Do you want the grace that is sufficient to forgive your sins? Moroni 10:32 says the only way that Christ’s grace is sufficient is if “ye deny yourselves of all ungodliness.”
And what happens to those who are not righteous? It looks like they won’t be living in the family unit throughout eternity. In fact, LDS leaders have been clear in the past that living with families forever will only be allowed for those who qualify for the celestial kingdom.
According to Mormonism, there is no family organization after death outside the celestial kingdom. It is necessary for the adherent to “abide in every covenant and every obligation which we are called upon to receive while we sojourn here in this mortal life” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, 2013, 78)
Exaltation, or eternal life, is the ultimate goal in Mormonism. Chapter 47 of the Gospel Principles manual is devoted to the subject of exaltation, teaching that this will be a place of special blessings where the faithful will be in the presence of God/Jesus while becoming gods and living eternally with family members. Only those who are exalted will be allowed to reside with other righteous family members. But a person must be baptized, confirmed, receive the priesthood, do temple work, and get married for both time and eternity. Page 279 of Gospel Principles gives further instructions:
- Love God and our neighbors.
- Keep the commandments.
- Repent of our wrongdoings.
- Search out our kindred dead and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel for them.
- Attend our Church meetings as regularly as possible so we can renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament.
- Love our family members and strengthen them in the ways of the Lord.
- Have family and individual prayers every day.
- Teach the gospel to others by word and example.
- Study the scriptures.
- Listen to and obey the inspired words of the prophets of the Lord.
This is a long list of requirements that, quite frankly, nobody is capable of ever achieving through a lifetime of good works. In fact, I’ve never met a Mormon who knows if they are going to be exalted, yet somehow each one seems excited about spending eternity with their family. Don’t they understand that qualifying for this is directly tied to their success in achieving exaltation?
Getting back to the Gospel Principles reference, look at the list of ordinances that must be completed. Mormons must be “married for eternity,” which is the kind of marriage that can only happen in the temple. Since a majority of Mormons are not temple worthy, it’s safe to assume that most Mormons are not married for eternity. And what about single Mormon men and women? How are they going to satisfy this condition if they aren’t even married? Can you understand the pressure put on young Latter-day Saints to quickly find a spouse and get married in the temple? That stress and anxiety is perfectly reasonable when their exaltation depends on it!
Then look at the second list, which shows some of the commandments that need to be followed to achieve exaltation. I’ll just focus on the commandment to “keep the commandments” and to “repent of our wrongdoings.” Latter-day Saints need to understand that there is no way to possibly keep all the commandments by forsaking and abandoning all sin (D&C 58:42-43). A person is required to deny all ungodliness (Moroni 10:32) to be made righteous. Only when a person and the rest of the family successfully complete this on their own will there be a chance of the forever family.
Many Liahona readers might just gloss over this “Gospel Basics” column because they think they already comprehend temple work and family history in the context of Mormonism. But do they really understand that the possibility of living forever with their family depends entirely on their ability to be righteous and exalted? After all, there will no no “forever families” in the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms. And do they realize that the salvation of ancestors depends on completing ordinances by proxy in the temple?
Instead of wishing for something that can never be accomplished (i.e., making oneself righteous before an all-holy God), a person should understand that true joy can be found only by relying solely on the righteousness and works of Jesus Christ.