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Masonry and the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony

by Sharon Lindbloom
18 February 2019

Earlier this month The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a new essay to the Church History Topics section of its website. In the church’s continuing effort to be more “transparent” about its past, the new essay, titled “Masonry,” examines the relationship between the LDS temple endowment ceremony and Masonic ritual.

The essay discusses the history of Masonry:

“The rituals of Freemasonry appear to have originated in early modern Europe.”

Masonry in Nauvoo:

“In December 1841, 18 Mormon Masons organized a lodge in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith and 40 others applied for membership the following day.”

And finally, Masonry and the Endowment:

“Soon after he became a Mason, Joseph introduced the temple endowment. There are some similarities between Masonic ceremonies and the endowment, but there are also stark differences in their content and intent.” (This statement is found in the essay’s introduction.)

The essay gives very little detail regarding the “similarities” between the LDS endowment ceremony and Masonic ritual, providing but one sentence in the introduction: “…Masons advance by degrees, using handgrips, key words, and special clothing,” and another near the conclusion: “Masonic rituals deliver stage-by-stage instruction using dramatization and symbolic gestures and clothing…” Endowed Latter-day Saints recognize that similar elements are included in their temple endowment ceremony, but they have no way of knowing how closely the original ceremony imitated (and continues to imitate) the Masonic ritual. For example, it’s not just that Masons use handgrips in their ritual; they appear to use virtually the same handgrips that Mormons are taught in the temple. BYU professor Charles Harrell notes,

“Though different in certain respects, many similarities can be seen between this new temple endowment and Freemasonry. For example, the endowment incorporated the same five points of fellowship (since 1990 it has no longer been used in the Mormon endowment), the same kinds of gruesome penalties (also discontinued in 1990), and the same compass and square symbols. The Masonic ritual included a rehearsal of the ‘periods of creation’ as initiates representing Adam progressed through stages according to their ‘sincere desire to make advances in knowledge and virtue.’ Initiates for Freemasonry also wore ceremonial regalia (aprons, robes, etc.) with instructions that they were ‘never to be forgotten or laid aside.’ BYU humanities professor George S. Tate notes that prayer circles were also conducted by ‘Freemasons of the period [who] arranged themselves in circular formation around an altar, repeating in unison the received Masonic signs.’” (Charles R. Harrell, This Is My Doctrine(Part 2), Kindle edition, Location 2284ff [pp 312-314])

[Even Dr. Harrell just scratches the surface of the parallels between the LDS temple endowment ceremony and Masonic ritual. For more detail see Tanner and Tanner, “Captain Morgan and the Masonic Influence in Mormonism.”]

The LDS essay on Masonry suggests focusing on the differences between the endowment ceremony and Masonic ritual.

“Emphasis on the similarities between the teaching styles and outward forms of Masonry and the temple endowment obscures significant differences in their substance.”

According to the essay, the purpose of the ceremonies is different in that Masons seek to make a better human society while Mormon seek eternal exaltation (i.e., godhood); Masonic ritual is based on legends while the Mormon ceremony is based on Joseph Smith’s revelations; and participation in Masonic rituals is restricted to people who meet certain guidelines while the Mormon endowment ceremony is…um…well, perhaps the LDS church should not have used this example, but the church claims that there is a difference because, unlike Freemasonry (they say), anyone can participate in the endowment ceremony “as soon as they are prepared to receive” it.

In the end, the essay concludes,

“In any event, the endowment did not simply imitate the rituals of Freemasonry. Rather, Joseph’s encounter with Masonry evidently served as a catalyst for revelation. The Lord restored the temple ordinances through Joseph Smith to teach profound truths about the plan of salvation and introduce covenants that would allow God’s children to enter His presence.”

Here is where I really take issue with the Church History Topics essay. Mormons are free to ascribe any reason they want to the fact that there are significant parallels between the LDS temple endowment ceremony and Masonic ritual. The essay affirms that the ceremony was given to Joseph Smith by revelation, and suggests God’s use of Masonic ritual as a tool for that revelation. That’s for Mormons to grapple with. For me, I cannot abide the assertion that the temple ordinances have been “restored.”

LDS apostle Mark E. Petersen once explained,

“Latter-day Saints declare that through the Prophet Joseph Smith the fullness of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was restored to the earth. That ‘fullness’ meant completeness. All things pertaining to the gospel anciently were given to men in modern times by means of this restoration.

“In biblical times sacred ordinances were administered in holy edifices for the spiritual salvation of ancient Israel. The buildings thus used were not synagogues or any other ordinary places of worship…

“Following the pattern of biblical days, the Lord again in our day has provided these ordinances for the salvation of all who will believe and directs that temples be built in which to perform those sacred rites.” (“Why Mormons Build Temples,Ensign, January 1972. See also Gospel Principles,98: “The Church today teaches the same principles and performs the same ordinances as were performed in the days of Jesus.”)

The claim is that the ordinances performed in LDS temples today are the same ordinances, the same “sacred rites,” as those done in “biblical times” in the biblical temple. Mormonism’s second prophet, Brigham Young, accurately described the LDS temple endowment ceremony:

“Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 416. See also Ensign, “The Doctrine of Temple Work,” October 2003, 60 and Endowed from on High: Temple Preparation Seminar Teacher’s Manual, 2)

“Key words…signs…tokens…” None of these things (nor many others found in the LDS temple endowment ceremony) had part in the biblical temple; Mormonism’s temple endowment ceremony is not, nor can it be, a “restoration” of the ancient “plan of salvation.” (See additional reasons for this conclusion at “Are Mormon Temples an Extension of the Biblical Temple?”)

Regarding Masonry, the church essay claims “stark differences in…content and intent,” yet the LDS temple endowment ceremony has much more in common with Masonic rituals – rituals that, according to the LDS church’s essay, “originated in early modern Europe” – than it does with anything that God ever prescribed for His biblical temple. There are such fundamental differences between the biblical temple and LDS temples that, whether conceding the endowment ceremony’s origination in Freemasonry or not, Mormon temples and the ceremonies performed therein are, in fact, unbiblical.

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