The idea of whether souls will be able to progress between kingdoms is address in this article from BYU Studies that we excerpt here. The entire article can be found by CLICKING HERE.
As the First Presidency told an inquiring member in the 1950s:
The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.
Sincerely your brother,
Joseph L. Anderson,
Secretary to the First Presidency.11
To the present, that statement has never been superseded by any other official declaration. Throughout Church history, some leaders have emphatically opined in favor of continuing progression, and some have opined emphatically against. Others have made comments that are open to interpretation on the theme. In what follows, I include a sampling of such views, along with my thoughts on what rationales may be relevant if not always explicitly addressed. Joseph Smith learned, as recorded in section 76, that the terrestrial world comprised those “who died without law; . . . who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it” (D&C 76:72, 74). His brother Alvin, who died in Joseph’s youth, would have been in that category—or so Joseph likely assumed. Hence his happy shock when, in 1836, through spiritual eyes he saw his brother in the celestial kingdom: “And [I] marveled how it was that [Alvin] had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins” (D&C 137:6, emphasis added). The reasonable explanation for Joseph’s surprise is that he expected Alvin would indeed inherit a terrestrial kingdom as described in section 76. Verse 8 of the new revelation offered an explanation. An exception to the assignment that had been decreed in section 76 is apparently made for the unbaptized “who would have received [the gospel] with all their hearts.” It is therefore possible that the celestial kingdom may only be reached by those of the unbaptized who comply with the necessary vicarious ordinances and principles while in the spirit world.
However, it is also reasonable to infer that both section 76 and 137 are accurate as written: that the unbaptized, even if “honorable men [and women],” inherit the terrestrial kingdom but continue their progress from the terrestrial kingdom to the celestial. Thus those who “would have accepted” the gospel continue their progress indefinitely in the future. We cannot tell which possibility Joseph inferred, but the temple ritual he initiated, if read in the most literal way, recapitulates the eternal journey of the soul through the degrees of glory. The individual thus depicted advances from premortal life through mortality and into the beyond, passing through the lower two kingdoms and culminating with entry into a representation of the celestial kingdom itself. Excepting only those few who will refuse Christ’s mercy till the end, Joseph later taught, man “cannot be damned through all eternity, their [sic] is a possibility for his escape in a little time.”12
The likelihood of interpreting Joseph’s views as encompassing a post–spirit world progression is enhanced by the fact that his two closest associates, his brother Hyrum and Brigham Young, both interpreted his teachings in just this way. Hyrum believed that salvific states in the hereafter were not static: He taught that “those of the Terrestrial Glory either advance to the Celestial or recede to the Telestial.”13 Brigham Young was also in line with such a conception. He was teaching in 1855 that those who fail to secure exaltation by the conclusion of their earthly probation “would eventually have the privilege of proveing [sic] themselves worthy & advancing to a Celestial kingdom but it would be a slow progress.”14
The Church of Jesus Christ’s eminent theologian and Seventy B. H. Roberts acknowledged that scripture was vague but argued that the ministry alluded to in each kingdom seemed meaningless “unless it be for the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of eternal progression.”15 However, whether “after education and advancement within those spheres” all could “at last emerge from them and make their way to the higher degrees of glory”16 was not revealed. The Improvement Era, published under the direction of Church President Joseph F. Smith, took a moderate position, holding that “the answer to this question may not be absolutely clear.” In some cases at least, the Era proposed, though not as a general rule, “passing from one [kingdom] to the other . . . may be possible for especially gifted and faithful characters.”17
James Talmage, virtually the only Apostle to produce a theological treatise (two, actually) under official imprimatur, wrote in his first edition of The Articles of Faith that the answer was implicit in the principle of eternal progression itself: “Advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. . . . Eternity is progressive.”18 He later elaborated that no man will be detained in the lower regions “longer than is necessary to bring him to a fitness for something better. When he reaches that stage the prison doors will open and there will be rejoicing among the hosts who welcome him into a better state.”19
In subsequent editions of The Articles of Faith, the key words “from kingdom to kingdom” were removed. According to the translator of his work into German, Talmage clarified that in his earlier editions he had declared for progression through the kingdoms at the explicit request of the committee of Apostles reviewing his work. So at that time, an apostolic majority (or a majority of the committee) believed that progression through the kingdoms was consistent with Church doctrine and did not approve of denying that possibility in a Church publication. Talmage reportedly claimed that he had personally never favored the principle and indicated as much in his revised twelfth edition.20
In the latter half of the twentieth century, other leaders explicitly stated the view of kingdom-to-kingdom progression. President J. Reuben Clark stated: “It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can; and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who live righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed.”21
Some have found assurance in Joseph Smith’s comments about the power of sealing to bind children unconditionally to their parents. (It is perhaps arguable that such promises extend only to those who received the fulness of the priesthood, his audience at the time). The significance of those temple sealings was interpreted by Elder Orson F. Whitney and has been reaffirmed with increasing frequency in recent years: “Joseph Smith declared . . . that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return.”22 The extent of that return is, however, not clearly indicated, nor are the implications for potential progression between kingdoms versus while in the spirit world.