President George Q. Cannon, counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency during the mid-nineteenth century, pointedly wrote that “when the Prophet Joseph first communicated that the Lord had revealed to him the keys of the endowment, I can remember the great desire there was on every hand to understand something about them… How is it now? There is a complete indifference, it may be said, in relation to it. Young people go there… with no particular desire only to get married, without realizing the character of the obligations that they take upon themselves or the covenants that they make and the promises involved in the taking of these covenants. The result is, hundreds among us go to the house of the Lord and receive the blessings and come away without having any particular impression made upon them.”[i]
The Prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed that temple worship is the “most glorious of all subjects” (D&C 128:17) and that “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.”[ii] He also warned that “those Saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation.”[iii]
Hopefully, therefore, we go to the temple anxious to ponder the significance of the holy ordinances, and try to understand them, and perform them for our own ancestors as well as for others. Elder Richard G. Scott (in October Conference 2012) quoted President Howard W. Hunter: “There are some members who engage in temple work but fail to do family history research on their own family lines. Although they perform a divine service in assisting others, they lose a blessing by not seeking their own kindred dead as divinely directed by latter-day prophets” (“A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 4-5; Liahona, May 1995, 5-6). Elder Scott then explained that “any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received. The First Presidency has declared, Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors.'”[iv]
A Little Historical Background
Joseph Smith asked, “What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world?” And he answered, “The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.”[v]
So there have always been temples on the earth, in every dispensation, since the days of Adam and Eve. In the biblical record Solomon’s Temple seems to have been the first, but the Jewish historian, Josephus, hints that there was a temple a thousand years before Solomon: “[Melchizedek] the Righteous King, for such he really was; on which account he was [there, in Salem/Jerusalem] the first priest of God, and first built a temple [there]” (Wars VI, X, 1).
Elder Royden G. Derrick wrote, “We may assume that Melchizedek, as a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood and builder of a temple, received his temple blessings-as one might also infer from reading Abraham 1:2-4.”[vi]
There was the equivalent of our temples from the beginning. We have a scriptural account of what a temple helped to do for Enoch’s people in Zion (Moses 7:18-21), and we learn about the same glorious changes made in Melchizedek’s people in Salem, a place called Peace (Alma 13:16-19; Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:32-34).
Joseph Smith described in his personal journal the reinstitution of the sacred knowledge, covenants, and ordinances known to the ancients: “I spent the day [May 4, 1842] in the upper part of the store, that is in my private office… in council with General James Adams, of Springfield, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller, and President Brigham Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys… In this council was instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days. And the communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive [them].”[vii]
And what was “the ancient order of things”?
“For it is ordained that in Zion, and in her stakes, and in Jerusalem, those places which I have appointed for refuge, shall be the places for your baptisms for your dead [and other temple ordinances].
“And again, verily I say unto you, how shall your washings be acceptable unto me, except ye perform them in a house which you have built to my name?
“For, for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was.”
Then are mentioned anointings, washings, solemn assemblies, sacrifices, “oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations,” and endowments, and all these are “ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name” (D&C 124:36-39, emphasis added).
The Purpose of Temples
The temple is absolutely essential to our exaltation. There we learn about the Father and the Son, and what we must know and do to become as they now are. Despite the importance and centrality of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon in the restored gospel, they are not even mentioned in the temple endowment. Temple teachings, covenants, and ordinances are very focused on what our Father and his Son are doing with us here, and how we can become as they are.
What do we do in temples? We receive preparatory ordinances, then instructions about the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. We receive tokens and signs needed to return to the presence of God. We make covenants, and we are given a test of our knowledge
The whole, step-by-step process of temple worship is connected. The endowment consists of baptism by water and baptism by fire (confirmation by the Holy Ghost), priesthood ordination (for males), initiatory ordinances (washing, anointing, and clothing in the sacred garment of the priesthood), the instruction session with its veil ceremony, and sealings of husbands and wives to each other (eternal marriage), and sealings of children to their parents-thus establishing an eternal family.
We can openly mention washings, anointings, and clothing in the garment (practices about which we can read in the Old Testament), along with additional endowments and sealings, but we don’t discuss details of these sacred ordinances outside the holy place.
Webster’s 3rd International Dictionary (unabridged) has five definitions for the word “endowment.” The fourth is: “a course of instruction in the Mormon Church concerning past and present dispensations and their associated ordinances and given in the temples only.” That is a minimal definition. The endowment is actually much broader in scope, duration, and meaning than that.
A statement was made by the Prophet Brigham Young describing what may be said of the sacred endowment. This statement has been widely publicized for any who are interested (in President Boyd K. Packer’s The Holy Temple, in Richard Cowan’s Temples to Dot the Earth, in Elder Royden Derrick’s Temples in the Last Days, and others):
“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.”[viii]
Understanding the Endowment
Elder Royden G. Derrick wrote, “The question is often asked, What book can I read that will explain the endowment?’ The answer is simple and short-there isn’t one. Perhaps there should not be one. As Elder John A. Widtsoe said, Only a fool would attempt to describe [the endowment]” (“Temple Worship,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 12:63), for man is not capable of explaining the deep spiritual truths represented by the ordinance which constitutes the endowment. As the scripture says, They are only to be . . . understood by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ (D&C 76:116.)”[x]
Elder John A. Widtsoe further explained, “No man can reveal to another the sublime, deep inner meaning of those symbols presented in the House of the Lord, for it is an individual matter, and every man must seek and obtain it for himself, and that alone, with God’s help only.”[xi]
“Elder H. Burke Peterson expressed this well when, after serving for a year as President of the Jordan River Temple, he said, It is my impression that man does not have the capacity to explain the endowment to another man. I think that is good. I don’t think he is supposed to. . . . I don’t believe that man can explain the endowment adequately. We can talk about the process, but it is a power. The endowment is a power, and it can come to us only by revelation. We must feel the endowment to know its meaning.'”[xii]
In 3 Nephi we learn that there were things spoken that could not be written (3 Nephi 26:18). There are things too holy to talk about outside the holy place that is designated for their presentation. That’s one reason we don’t talk about temple teachings and ordinances outside the temple.
Ordinances of the temple are not complicated, they are simple and powerful. They are not only desirable and essential, they are crucial. Elder Richard G. Scott said one evening at our missionary reunion in his home, “The heart of the gospel is the ordinances. People need ordinances. People need to go to the temple” (Salt Lake City, October 4, 1996).
Key Words in Temple Work
There are certain words and concepts that deserve emphasis in our worship in the house of the Lord:
1.Sacred – The Lord said “Trifle not with sacred things” (D&C 6:12). He is serious about the sanctity of the rites and ordinances in His house.
President Boyd K. Packer explains: “Our reluctance to speak of the sacred temple ordinances is not in any way an attempt to make them seem more mysterious or to encourage an improper curiosity about them. . . . They are kept confidential lest they be given to those who are unprepared. Curiosity is not a preparation. Deep interest itself is not a preparation. Preparation for the ordinances includes preliminary steps: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, worthiness, a maturity and dignity worthy of one who comes invited as a guest into the house of the Lord.”[xiii]
“Great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion;
“Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter [not to be spoken of];
“Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him;
“To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves;
“That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory” (D&C 76:114-118, emphasis added).
President Brigham Young encouraged us to keep sacred things to ourselves: “There is one principle that I wish the people would understand and lay to heart. Just as fast as you will prove before your God that you are worthy to receive the mysteries . . . of the kingdom of heaven- . . . that you will never betray a thing that God tells you-that you will never reveal to your neighbour that which ought not to be revealed, . . . just as fast as you prove to Him that you will preserve everything secret that ought to be-that you will deal out to your neighbours all which you ought, and no more, . . . the Lord will bestow upon you, and give to you.”[xiv]
My friend and colleague, Joseph Fielding McConkie, told me that his father, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, was known to declare that “the Lord doesn’t reveal himself to blabber-mouths.” God expects us to keep holy things confidential.
“We live in a world of symbols,’ Elder Widtsoe stressed. No man or woman can come out of the temple endowed as he should be, unless he has seen, beyond the symbol, the mighty realities for which the symbols stand.’ [“Temple Worship,” 62] Thus, like the Master’s parables, the temple endowment has various levels of understanding. What we gain from it depends on our spiritual receptivity.”[xv]
I remember years ago, when my nephew was about to leave for his mission, that he received his own endowment in the temple. One of the temple presidency said to him in a brief preparation meeting, “For the next two hours you will be seeing and hearing a lot of symbols. Don’t let them bother you; just block them out.
” I understood what the president was saying to him, but I also thought: why “block them out”? Why not begin the life-long process of trying to understand the symbols, on all their various levels of meaning?
Elder Widtsoe explained: “Temple worship implies a great effort of mind and concentration if we are to understand the mighty symbols that pass in review before us. Everything must be arranged to attune our hearts, our minds, and our souls to the work.
“To the man or woman who goes through the temple, with open eyes, heeding the symbols and the covenants, and making a steady, continuous effort to understand the full meaning, God speaks his word, and revelations come. The endowment is so richly symbolic. . . . It is so packed full of revelations to those who exercise their strength to seek and see, that no human words can explain or make clear the possibilities that reside in the temple service. The endowment which was given by revelation can best be understood by revelation, and to those who seek most vigorously, with pure hearts, will the revelation be greatest.”[xvi]
Notice that Elder Widtsoe spoke of “open eyes”-we must remain awake and alert to absorb the instruction that is given and the revelation that may come. My wife, Sister Ogden, keeps three unwrapped cough drops in her pocket to pop in her mouth when she feels drowsy. Crunching on them helps keep her immediate neighbors awake also.
Recall what the Lord said, now in context of the temple: “Go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (D&C 38:42).
He also said: “Inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;
“Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God [according to Elder Royden G. Derrick, to see God means to come to know Him, discover Him, visualize Him, recognize Him, understand Him – Temples in the Last Days, 80].
“But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples” (D&C 97:15-17).
In fact, the Lord warned that “those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed” (D&C 132:52).
Suggestions for Those Entering the House of the Lord
1. As circumstances permit, go regularly and frequently to the temple. Your first experience with the temple endowment may be in some ways confusing. Do not base your reaction on your first visit only; if possible, go back several times in succession. The key word is frequent.
My wife and I were faithful temple-attenders for years; we went about every month. Then some dear friends encouraged us to go every week. I admit that I wrote in my journal, “what if I get bored, hearing the very same things over and over.” The exact opposite happened. Instead of being bored with the repetition, the more-frequent flow of the sacred teachings into my mind and spirit caused me to see, hear, and understand like never before.
We need the sacrament every week, and we also need the temple every week. For those who live six hundred miles away from a temple, once a month may be okay (if that is even possible), but those who live six minutes from a temple have no excuse for not going more often.
The temple is the Lord’s university. Repetition is the Lord’s method of teaching. “I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft… wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things” (1 Nephi 18:3, emphasis added). Teachings in the temple will transfer into common life situations, and heavenly messages will guide earthly behaviors.
Granted, more frequent attendance and worship in the temple can be something of a sacrifice, but promised blessings far exceed the sacrifice. Of one brother in early Church history the Lord said: “his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase” (D&C 117:13).
2. Go properly dressed. And be careful with the sacred garment. The First Presidency has written:
“Members of the Church are frequently observed in practices which suggest they do not fully understand the proper wearing of the garment. Fundamental principles of modesty and keeping the body appropriately covered are implicit in our temple covenants. The garment is worn as a reminder of these covenants.
“Wearing the garment is the sacred privilege of those who have taken upon themselves the covenants of the temple. The garment is a reminder of these covenants and, when properly worn, will serve as a protection against temptation and evil.
“It is expected that members will wear the garment both night and day, according to instructions given in the temple. Members should not adjust the garment or wear it contrary to instructions in order to accommodate different styles of clothing, even when such clothing may be generally accepted.
“This sacred covenant is . . . an outward expression of an inner commitment to follow our Savior Jesus Christ” (First Presidency, November 5, 1996).
One day I thought-not as official Church doctrine or practice-but just what I felt: As the garment covers all parts of the body that should, in all modesty, be covered (except when bathing or engaging in certain sports), so the garment itself should also be fully covered out in the world. For example, no one who listens to the presentation of the endowment and understands the instruction about the sacred garment and its relationship to the knee could possibly wear that garment and short shorts.
3. Be reverent. Learn reverence early in Church meetings, and teach children reverence to prepare for temple worship. Maintain quiet dignity. Talk about temple-related things in the temple. (Even conversations in a temple cafeteria: why chat about trivial and mundane when the opportunity is available to discuss appropriate doctrines of the Kingdom?)
Elder L. Lionel Kendrick taught: “As we enter the temple grounds, we should leave our worldly thoughts behind and focus on the sacred responsibilities that are ours as we serve in the house of the Lord.”[xviii]
Leaving worldly thoughts and discussions behind, we realize the inappropriateness of matters of business, sports, pleasure, or current events in the temple.
It is important not only what we speak in the temple, but also the manner in which we speak. We speak in soft and subdued tones in all places in the temple, using our “temple voices.
There should be silence in the sacred ordinance areas of the temple, except for the necessary communications concerning the performance of the ordinances. “Verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10).
4. To remember the wording of other ordinances and covenants, periodically serve in washing, anointing, and clothing areas of the initiatory, and perform sealings for the dead (where wives are sealed to husbands and children to parents).
5. If married, go together. The highest blessings of the temple can only be attained by man and woman jointly. Neither can receive them alone.
6. Expect opposition. President Brigham Young once said, “we never began to build a temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.”[xix] And Elder John A. Widtsoe said, “There never yet has been a time in the history of the world when temple work has increased without a corresponding increase in the opposition to it.”[xx]
As a people, we will undoubtedly see more persecution (from outside and inside the Church) in years to come. You may also find opposition increase in your own life.
The president of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple told me that the Saints living in the former Soviet Union know how to sacrifice, and notwithstanding their trials, they have come to understand that the path to happiness leads to the temple, and the temple requires life-changing covenants with God. He related the story of Ahmad and Leila (names changed) who flew into Kyiv from Lebanon in mid-December, 2012. They were endowed, sealed together, and had their baby sealed to them. “We who attended the sealing ceremony could not control our tears. They said that they are the first couple born in Lebanon to be sealed together. About six weeks ago he wrote me telling how they had applied for a visa from different embassies of Europe where temples are located and were turned down from each of them. He asked if I would write a letter to the Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon stating that we would accept any risks and would they please allow him, his wife, and baby to come to Ukraine for a week to participate in religious rites. I obliged and sent the letter, not knowing the family but only that he was a newly called branch president. It didn’t work. He went to the embassy praying that he would get the visa but was again turned away. Discouraged, he walked out of the embassy when a stern guard with a gun stopped him and asked, Did you get your visa?’ Ahmad replied that he had been turned down yet again. The guard whispered, Go to this address and they can help you to get a legal visa.’ It worked and the family came. I think it was their baby daughter who made us cry in the sealing room. She can never be taken from them no matter what happens in war-torn Lebanon.”[xxi]
7. Expect blessings. President Boyd K. Packer wrote, “No one takes hold of this work without being susceptible to the blessings of the Lord. . . . When members of the Church are troubled or when crucial decisions weigh heavily upon their minds, it is a common thing for them to go to the temple. It is a good place to take our cares. . . . There, during the time of the temple service, we are out of the world.’ . . . There is something cleansing and clarifying about the spiritual atmosphere of the temple. Sometimes our minds are so beset with problems, and there are so many things clamoring for attention at once, that we just cannot think clearly and see clearly. At the temple the dust of distraction seems to settle out, the fog and the haze seem to lift, and we can see’ things that we were not able to see before and find a way through our troubles that we had not previously known.”[xxii]
President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “We would be a better people. There would be little or no infidelity among us. Divorce would almost entirely disappear. So much of heartache and heartbreak would be avoided. There would be a greater measure of peace and love and happiness in our homes. There would be fewer weeping wives and weeping children. There would be a greater measure of appreciation and of mutual respect among us. And I am confident the Lord would smile with greater favor upon us.”[xxiii]
8 .Read President Packer’s book The Holy Temple. And most of all, study the scriptures. Temple and scriptures go hand in hand.
President Wilford Woodruff said that if “the veil were lifted off the face of the Latter-day Saints [and they] could see and know the things of God as they do who are laboring for the salvation of the human family who are in the spirit world . . . , this whole people, with very few, if any, exceptions, would lose all interest in the riches of the world, and instead thereof their whole desires and labors would be directed to redeem their dead.”[xxiv]
The Beloved Apostle wrote that it is life eternal to come to know God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). We get to know them well through their words, the scriptures, but especially can we come to know them in their House. It is my testimony that no one will ever be exalted without temple knowledge, covenants, and ordinances. We need to immerse ourselves in these glorious things. The temple experience is a prelude, a practice, a dress rehearsal for celestial fullness.
[xii] “The Temple and Its Influence in Perfecting the Members of the Church,” First Quorum of the Seventy Meeting Address, 20 February 1986, as cited in Royden G. Derrick, Temples in the Last Days, 75