Some of the most noticeable symbols of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are its beautiful temples. What are these buildings? What happens inside? Why do your Mormon friends and neighbors go there? Here are some answers.
There are currently 136 operating temples worldwide and many more temples announced or under construction. Temples differ from meetinghouses where Latter-day Saints worship on Sundays and hold activities during the week. Prior to the dedication of a temple, the public is invited to tour the building, but after it is dedicated only Church members in good standing are permitted to enter.
Before entering a temple, Latter-day Saints must qualify for a document called a temple recommend. This recommend is obtained through a private, confidential meeting between the Church member and his or her congregational leader. This bishop or branch president asks the member searching questions about his or her personal conduct, which the member is expected to answer honestly.
The qualifications for a temple recommend include living basic gospel principles, such as believing in God the Father and Jesus Christ and the Restoration of the original church of Christ by Joseph Smith. Members are also asked if they follow the current leaders of the Church and attend their Church meetings. Other requirements include following the Church’s health practices, paying tithing and living a chaste and virtuous life. To obtain a temple recommend, members must not be involved in any spiritual, physical, mental or emotional abuse of others.
After the initial interview with a bishop or branch president, an additional meeting is held with a member of the stake presidency. Each person signs the recommend, including the member, signifying that he or she has answered the questions honestly and is worthy to attend the temple.
This recommend is checked every time a Church member enters the temple and must be renewed every two years.
When Latter-day Saints enter a temple, they change into simple white clothing that symbolizes purity. They then participate in simple ceremonies focused on Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. The details of these religious rites — referred to as ordinances — are sacred and are therefore not discussed outside the temple, but there are some general principles that can be shared.
Temple Ordinances Are Symbolic
“The temple is a great school. It is a house of learning. In the temples the atmosphere is maintained so that it is ideal for instruction on matters that are deeply spiritual. …
“… The teaching plan is superb. It is inspired. The Lord Himself, the Master Teacher, taught His disciples constantly in parables — a verbal way to represent symbolically things that might otherwise be difficult to understand.
“The temple itself becomes a symbol. If you have seen one of the temples at night, fully lighted, you know what an impressive sight that can be. The house of the Lord, bathed in light, standing out in the darkness, becomes symbolic of the power and the inspiration of the gospel of Jesus Christ standing as a beacon in a world that sinks ever further into spiritual darkness” (“The Holy Temple,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 32, 34).
Temples Provide Answers About the Meaning of Life
In moments of quiet introspection, many throughout history have pondered such questions as: “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Is there a God? What happens after we die?”
Latter-day Saints believe these questions and many others are answered in temples. The ordinances Church members perform in temples bring knowledge that there is a divine purpose to this earthly life.
The temple rites discuss the fact that each of us existed as children of God before we were born into this world and that we will continue to live after death.Earth life is part of an eternal journey. God has a plan for us. This plan is referred to as the plan of salvation or the plan of happiness.
Temples Offer an Eternal Perspective
Each temple is considered to be a “house of the Lord,” the most sacred place on earth. For Church members, visiting a temple is a chance to shut out the world and ponder the things of greatest importance. President Boyd K. Packer says this eternal perspective is invaluable:
“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. In the temple we can receive spiritual perspective. …
“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” (“The Holy Temple,” 36).
Temples Connect Families
The focus of the temple is the family. Participants learn that every man and woman is a child of Heavenly Father; therefore, as members of a divine family, we are all brothers and sisters.
All of the temple ordinances emphasize the importance of family relationships. When a man and a woman are married in a Latter-day Saint temple, they are joined not only for life but for all eternity. The couple is assured that if they live worthily their relationship with each other and their children will not end with death but will continue in eternity.
“Was there ever a man who truly loved a woman, or a woman who truly loved a man, who did not pray that their relationship might continue beyond the grave? Has a child ever been buried by parents who did not long for the assurance that their loved one would again be theirs in a world to come? Can anyone believing in eternal life doubt that the God of heaven would grant His sons and daughters that most precious attribute of life, the love that finds its most meaningful expression in family relationships? No, reason demands that the family relationship shall continue after death. The human heart longs for it, and the God of heaven has revealed a way whereby it may be secured. The sacred ordinances of the house of the Lord provide for it” (“Why These Temples?” Ensign, Oct. 2010, 25).
Temple Blessings Transcend Death
For Latter-day Saints, the blessings of the temple are of supreme importance. Therefore, it would be unfair to restrict these blessings only to those who are now members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is one reason the Church maintains an extensive missionary program, to share this glad news to “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6).
But what about the billions of people who did not have the opportunity to hear the restored gospel while they were alive? Should they be denied these blessings simply because they were born at the wrong time? A just and loving God would not let that happen and has revealed a way for everyone to receive these blessings.
President Gordon B. Hinckley explains:
“Through living proxies who stand in behalf of the dead, the same ordinances are available to those who have passed from mortality. In the spirit world these same individuals are then free to accept or reject those earthly ordinances performed for them, including baptism, marriage, and the sealing of family relationships. There’s no compulsion in the work of the Lord, but there must be opportunity.
“This vicarious work constitutes an unprecedented labor of love on the part of the living in behalf of the dead. It makes necessary a vast undertaking of family history research to find and identify those who have gone before. To assist in this research, the Church coordinates a family history program and maintains research facilities unmatched in all the world. Its archives are open to the public and have been used by many who are not members of the Church in tracing their forebears. This program has been praised by genealogists throughout the world and has been utilized by various nations as a safeguard of their own records. But its primary purpose is to afford members of the Church the resources needed to identify their ancestors that they might extend to them the blessings that they themselves enjoy. They in effect say to themselves, ‘If I love my wife and children so dearly that I want them for all eternity, then should not my deceased grandfather and great-grandfather and other forebears have opportunity to receive the same eternal blessings?’ ” (“Why These Temples?” 25–26).
Temples teach about God’s plan for all of His children. For Latter-day Saints, these beautiful buildings bring peace and perspective on the purpose of life. Regular temple attendance strengthens Mormons spiritually and helps them focus on their commitment to follow the example of Jesus Christ.
Current Church President Thomas S. Monson said:
“The all-important and crowning blessings of membership in the Church are those blessings which we receive in the temples of God. …
“… Each [temple] stands as a beacon to the world, an expression of our testimony that God, our Eternal Father, lives, that He desires to bless us and, indeed, to bless His sons and daughters of all generations. Each of our temples is an expression of our testimony that life beyond the grave is as real and as certain as is our life here on earth” (“The Holy Temple—a Beacon to the World,” Ensign, May 2011, 93, 94).