Inside Mormon Temples
One of the goals of the Mormon Church is to help its members be as good as they can be. Church members are commonly referred to as Saints, and Mormons often refer to this goal as “perfecting the Saints.” The Church seeks to achieve this goal by helping members in their personal efforts to follow the perfect example set by Jesus Christ.
Mormon temples are key in this Church goal. There are two important ways that temples help: by providing a holy place, separate and distinct from the world, and through sacred ordinances.
Temples are Holy Places
Temples are designed to be “set apart from the world,” thereby creating an atmosphere in which God’s Holy Spirit can have greater influence on faithful Mormons. Church members who keep minimum standards of conduct and have a strong faith in Jesus Christ are permitted to enter the temple. This requirement for entry is similar that found in ancient temples, where only those who went through a series of rituals designed to purify the individual were permitted into the temple’s inner courts. As in ancient times, those who have prepared to enter the temple through their compliance with the minimum standards are able to participate in temple activities and receive the blessings available there. This concept was stated quite clearly by James E. Faust, a member of the Church’s First Presidency:
“The days our our lives will be greatly blessed as we frequent the temples to learn the transcending spiritual relations we have with Diety. We need to try harder to be found standing in holy places. [James E. Faust, "Standing in Holy Places," Ensign (May 2005), 67.]
To those prepared, the temple is a “holy place” where the Lord’s Spirit can freely dwell. In this way Mormon temples serve as a kind of sanctuary from the world, providing a place that is holy and has been set aside as a house of the Lord. They are places for meditation, prayer, reflection, and revelation.
Temples are a Place for Ordinances
The second way in which Mormon temples help to perfect the Saints is through the holy ordinances only offered in temples. Temple ordinances are nothing but ritualistic ceremonies performed as a way to signify covenants made between the member and God.
Ordinances, or sacred rituals, were common in Old Testament temples. One such ordinance was the sacrificing of animals to God. The animal sacrifice itself did nothing for the people; it served as a symbolic reminder of the sacrifice that would one day come through the Lord Jesus Christ. While the need for animal sacrifice was removed after the resurrection of Christ (the Eternal Sacrifice), the New Testament indicates that ordinances and the covenants they represented did not cease. The Gospel of Matthew provides the following account:
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
The apostles ate bread and drank wine as a symbol of the sacrifice Christ was about to make on their behalf. This same ritual, or ordinance, is practiced by many Christians to this day. The ordinance goes by many names, such as the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, or (in the Mormon church) the Sacrament, but it is essentially the same ordinance instituted by Christ in New Testament times.
Not only do ordinances remind us of an event (such as the sacrifice made by the Savior), but they are a sign of covenants made with the Lord. In religious terms, a covenant is a two-way promise between God and an individual. When a person is baptized, that person makes a covenant with the Lord to strive to follow the example of Christ and to repent of their sins. When the person keeps their part of the covenant, the Lord promises He will forgive that person of their sins when he or she confesses those sins and approaches the Lord with a sincere heart and a real desire to change.
Two primary ordinances are performed inside Mormon temples: the temple endowment and the sealing ordinance. A temple endowment is designed for individuals, and the sealing ordinance is designed to create eternal families. These ordinances are very sacred and holy, so faithful Mormons don’t discuss their details outside of the temple, even with each other.
Ordinances for Others
Not only are temples designed so that ordinances can be performed for the living, but ordinances in Mormon temples can also be done for the dead. Mormons believe that earthly religious ordinances must be performed for all people, even for those who are no longer capable of performing those ordinances for themselves. Billions of people have lived on earth without ever hearing Christ’s name or coming to understand the sacrifice that He made for them. Would a loving or just God consign His children to hell simply because they never had to chance to believe in someone of whom they had never heard?
Ordinances available in Mormon temples for living Church members are also performed for those who have already died. Mormons routinely seek out the names of their ancestors and other deceased persons in order to perform the necessary ordinances for them. Temple marriage, sealings, and endowments are performed with someone symbolically standing in for the person who is deceased. (When someone symbolically stands in the place of another person, that is called doing work for that person by proxy.) Baptisms are also performed by proxy for the deceased.
The only reason that proxy work is done for the dead is because Mormons believe that we continue to live in the spirit world after our earthly body dies. When work is done for the deceased, Mormons believe that those individuals will have the opportunity to accept or reject the work done on their behalf. We have no way to know who will or won’t accept those ordinances, so temple work is performed for everyone who has passed on. To have someone who has passed on baptized by proxy does not commit that deceased person to accept a “Mormon baptism.” Instead, it merely gives that person the opportunity to accept or reject the ordinance as they choose.