by Sharon Lindbloom
21 February 2023
I love to see the temple.
I’ll go inside someday.
I’ll cov’nant with my Father;
I’ll promise to obey.
“I love to See the Temple” is a popular Primary song in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kids as young as three years old sing about preparing themselves to attend an LDS temple someday because “This is [their] sacred duty.”
For most Mormons, attending the temple and receiving their “endowments” is the pinnacle of their religious life. They are promised that making and keeping temple covenants qualifies them for eternal life in Mormonism’s highest kingdom of heaven, the celestial kingdom. The “key words,” “signs,” and “tokens” they can learn only in the LDS temple endowment ceremony will enable them, they’re told, to one day return to the presence of God.
Two weeks ago (early February 2023) the LDS church introduced a new version of the temple endowment ceremony. According to Latter-day Saints who have participated in this new iteration, many things have changed — from the way the ritual is presented, to the wording of the covenants temple patrons make with God. In reading comments found online it appears that some Mormons are happy about the changes, others not so much.
There are old-school Mormons who believe, as previous LDS leaders have taught, that the temple endowment ceremony was given to Joseph Smith by revelation and restored it to its original form from the time of Jesus. Joseph said the temple ordinances were “not to be altered or changed,” so some Latter-day Saints are uncomfortable with any modern changes to the ceremony at all.
Then there are Mormons who believe “a living prophet is more important to [them] than a dead prophet,” accepting from current church leadership a statement contrary to Joseph Smith’s. In 2019 the church’s First Presidency said, “Prophets have taught that there will be no end to such adjustments as directed by the Lord to His servants,” so the Latter-day Saints who put more stock in the things said by currently living prophets welcome changes that they believe improve the endowment ceremony in some way.
Several of these welcome changes have been reported by those who have already experienced them (see “14 changes to the Mormon temple endowment ceremony” by Jana Riess), but the change that really stands out to me is the ceremony’s new and apparently noteworthy emphasis on Jesus. According to online reports, the endowment now includes more pictures of Jesus, a linking of Jesus to temple covenants, more spoken references to Jesus, and multiple announcements that the symbolism in the ceremony points to Jesus. However, one LDS temple-goer said he thought all the new inclusions of Jesus “felt REALLY forced.”
When podcast personality RFM (Radio Free Mormon) was notified of the endowment ceremony changes that emphasize Jesus, he replied, “Well, this is something new, because up to this point, there has been scarcely any reference at all to Jesus in the endowment.”
Therein lies my piqued interest in these particular temple changes.
When questioned about whether Mormonism is a Christian religion, Latter-day Saints often point to a Book of Mormon passage that says, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ…” (2 Nephi 27:26). But apparently this has not been the case in LDS temples. One commenter on the Mormon blog site Wheat & Tares (who had not yet been through the new endowment ceremony) noted,
“I’m interested to see how they increase Christ’s role in the endowment. I certainly hope it amounts to more than just inserting a correlated still image here or there. I’ve long complained that in the narrative of the endowment, Christ is at best a minor character who does little more than delegate instructions. Satan has…a much more consequential role. I always thought that was strange in a church that bears Christ’s name…”
These things raise questions for me. Questions like:
- Why hasn’t Jesus always been front and center in the LDS endowment ceremony? Why has He been minimized in Mormonism’s most sacred and salvific temple ceremony for the past 180 years?
- Why has it taken so long for the LDS church to teach its members that some of the temple symbolism is actually about Jesus?
- What have Latter-day Saints previously (mis)understood regarding the symbolism of the ceremony and how has that misdirected their faith?
- If it’s true, as one LDS man believes, that “the covenants have been recast as a way to have a relationship with Christ and to become more like him,” what was the previous meaning of the temple covenants to which Latter-day Saints have bound themselves?
- New to the ceremony is instruction that the temple veil “symbolizes Christ, and how we have to go through Christ in order to get to God.” Before now, the temple veil has been understood to be the “symbol for a separation between God and man,” as suggested on the LDS website. It has been recognized as representing the barrier between God and man; but now it does not symbolize a barrier; instead, it represents the way through a barrier. Has the LDS church changed the meaning of the temple veil? If not, why have LDS temple-goers been allowed to completely misunderstand this important symbolism for so long?
- If the temple veil has always represented Christ, why is it hidden from visitors during temple open houses?
- And if going through the temple veil represents going through Jesus to get to the Father, why does the LDS church miss every opportunity to speak that important aspect of its faith to temple open house visitors?
I believe the LDS temple endowment ceremony has never been about Jesus. As Brigham Young explained,
“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 able 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.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, 416)
There’s no place for Jesus in Brigham Young’s description of the endowment. “Anna,” an online commenter, got to the heart of the issue when she wrote,
“To me adding pictures of Jesus to the endowment misses the point when correcting the problem that the endowment has nothing to do with Jesus and the atonement. Getting signs and tokens to ‘pass by the angels’ and get you into heaven is kind of the opposite of accepting Christ, repenting, and getting to Heaven through the atonement. There is just no place in the gospel of Jesus Christ for an endowment with signs and tokens to get you back into the presence of God the Father. It is the opposite of the atonement. You can’t take something that denies the atonement, add a few pictures of Jesus, and suddenly it becomes Christ centered.”
Back before 1990, before a different set of sweeping changes to the endowment ceremony had occurred, LDS temple patrons waiting at the temple veil were given a detailed recap of what they had learned in their endowment ceremony, as well as added instructions. At the end of what was known as the “Lecture at the Veil,” Latter-day Saints were told, “All this is done for the glory, honor and endowment of the children of Zion” (Tanners, Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony: 1842-1990, 41).
I don’t believe the focus of the endowment ceremony has changed. Pictures and spoken references notwithstanding, the endowment ceremony is not about Jesus. It’s not about the preeminence of Christ, or about Jesus reconciling sinful man to holy God by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:15-22). It’s about bringing glory and honor to men and women who decline the gift Jesus offers, who choose not to rely on the grace and mercy of Christ for their eternal salvation.
The LDS temple endowment ceremony bypasses reliance on Jesus and His righteousness, instead focusing on one’s own perceived self-righteousness, coupled with key words, signs, and tokens. This is what the endowment promises will get Latter-day Saints through the veil that separates them from God.
It’s not about Jesus at all.
To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.