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Does temple participation offer “assurance”?

By Bill McKeever

Posted October 7, 2021

Note: The following was originally printed in the September/October 2021 edition of the Mormonism Researched, a bimonthly periodical of MRM that is free upon request. To request a free subscription to Mormonism Researched, please visit here.

Speaking at general conference on April 3, 2021, Henry B. Eyring, second counselor to 17th President Russell M. Nelson, gave a talk titled “I Love to See the Temple.” In that message he said,

If you or I should go to the temple insufficiently pure, we would not be able to see, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the spiritual teaching about the Savior that we can receive in the temple. When we are worthy to receive such teaching, there can grow through our temple experience hope, joy, and optimism throughout our lives. That hope, joy, and optimism are available only through accepting the ordinances performed in holy temples. It is in the temple that we can receive the assurance of loving family connections that will continue after death and last for eternity (Liahona, May 2021, 30).

Having an eternal family connection is the desire of the great majority of Latter-day Saints. Ask any LDS member what it is they hope to achieve in the next life and the answer is usually something like, “To be with my family.” This should not surprise us. Sixth President Joseph F. Smith saw this as a “right and privilege” that awaits faithful members:

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 Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 1998, 386).

According to LDS teaching, Mormon males who qualify for exaltation and “godhood,” are rewarded with the ability to form their own worlds and rule over them just as “Elohim,” the Mormon “Heavenly Father,” rules and reigns over this world. Fifth LDS President Lorenzo Snow stated that those who are faithful to the Mormon gospel

. . . will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods” (Presidents of the Church Student Manual: Religion 345, 2013, 90-91).

Latter-day Saints often speak of an eternity with Heavenly Father, but one can only wonder how this will be if the faithful are scattered all over the proverbial universe populating and ruling over their own worlds. Eyring’s promise of assurance is something temple participation can never guarantee. In Mormonism, celestial exaltation, and the reward of being united with family members, are only granted if all involved keep Celestial Law. Third LDS President John Taylor stated that this requirement is “absolute submission and obedience to the law of God” (Journal of  Discourses 26:350). One need only ask Latter-day Saints if they have successfully achieved this in their lifetimes. If not, then going to the temple offers them no such security.

Baptism on behalf of the dead gives the deceased an opportunity to hear the “restored gospel” of Mormonism in the spirit world. Members often spend numerous hours researching their family history so they can be baptized vicariously for their deceased relatives. They are told, “Your effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice—you perform a saving work for others that they cannot do for themselves” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, 63).

But how can such an effort provide those who are living any assurance of  “loving family connections that will continue after death and last for eternity” if the dead can refuse the vicarious work being done on their behalf?

Spencer J. Condie, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, asked what happens if a deceased person didn’t want to repent or desire baptism. He noted that “baptism for the dead offers an opportunity, but it does not override a person’s agency.” That being the case, he concluded, “We simply do not know who among the dead will turn their hearts to the Lord and repent” (“The Savior’s Visit to the Spirit World,” Ensign, July 2003, 36).

Erying’s promise of assurance falls short because no human (with the exception of Jesus) is capable of reaching the high bar of personal worthiness that includes complete obedience to the Lord’s commands. Because of the doctrine of “free agency,” no Latter-day Saints can be sure if the deceased they hope to “save” want to embrace the message of Joseph Smith’s “restored gospel.”

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