The Purpose of Temples
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“The Purpose of Temples,” Ensign, Jan. 1972, 38

Special Issue: Temples

The Purpose of Temples

One of the principal questions asked by reporters, newsmen, and by people generally is, “What is the difference between your temple and your other church edifices?” As all members of the Church know, the answer is that temples are built for the performance of sacred ordinances—not secret, but sacred.

One of the distinguishing features of the restored Church of Jesus Christ is the eternal nature of its ordinances and ceremonies; for example, generally in civil as well as in church ceremonies, couples are married “for time” only, or “until death do you part.” But love is as eternal as the spirit of man; and if man continues after death, which he does, so will love.

This interests nearly every intelligent inquirer and investigator, especially when he or she realizes the truth, that love—the divinest attribute of the human soul—will be just as eternal as the spirit itself. So whenever any person dies, the virtue of love will persist, and if any inquirer believes in the immortality of the soul or in the persistence of personality after death, he must admit that love will also persist.

Logically, there follows another question: Whom shall we love in the next world? In response to this question, an American woman, whom, with her husband, I met many years ago on a journey in the South Seas, replied, “We should love everybody.”

“Yes,” I replied, “we should also love everybody here.” That is the injunction of the Savior, to love our neighbor as ourselves. But if earthly things are typical of heavenly things, in the spirit world we shall recognize our loved ones there and know them as we loved them here. I love my wife more than I can love other people. I love my children. I can have sympathy; I can have a desire to help all mankind, but I love her by whose side I have sat and watched a loved one in illness, or, perhaps, pass away. Those experiences bind heart to heart, and it is a glorious thought to cherish that death cannot separate hearts that are thus bound together; for each of you husbands will recognize your wife in the other world, and you will love her there as you love her here and will come forth to a newness of everlasting life in the resurrection. Why should death separate you, when love will continue after death?

It should not, and it need not, for when Jesus was upon the earth he told his apostles: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19.) And with the restoration to earth of the Holy Priesthood, the Church asserts that this power was again given to chosen men, and that in the house of the Lord where the marriage ceremony is performed by those who are properly authorized to represent our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the union between husband and wife and between parents and children is effected for time and all eternity, and that for those thus married the family will continue into the eternities.

That is one purpose of temples.

There is another purpose—not so easily understood by inquirers until they get a glimpse of the justice of God or until we ask them: “Do you think that a just God would require me to conform to certain principles and ordinances in order for me to enter into the kingdom of God, and that he would permit you to enter the kingdom of God without complying with those principles and ordinances?”

Those who accept Jesus Christ our Lord as the author of salvation: those who accept his statements—unqualified statements—regarding the necessity of obedience to certain principles, are bound to admit that everybody must comply with certain fundamental ordinances or else nobody need comply with them. Now that is the plain fact.

We have as you know in holy writ ample evidence that the Savior referred to one eternal plan; for instance, when Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin—a man who had evidently listened to the Savior speak and who had probably followed him—called on Jesus, impelled by the desire to know what Jesus had that the Sadducees and Pharisees did not have, and bore his testimony, saying “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” And then ensued the conversation in which Nicodemus undoubtedly asked, “What must I do?” And one of the most remarkable statements we have in scripture was given as an answer: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And “Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old?” All Christians believe or should believe in the words that Jesus answered: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:2–5.) And that is true.

The words of the Savior to Nicodemus are accepted in their literal sense by faithful members of the Church. The scriptures make no distinction between the living and the dead. This law is of universal application, exemption being granted only to children who die in infancy, having no sin to expiate. To provide a means of salvation for all, facilities are made available in the temples whereby the living may be baptized in behalf of the deceased.

Evidence that such vicarious work was performed in the early Christian church is found in the words of Paul to the Corinthians: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:29.)

The pseudo-Christian world has stumbled over the meaning of this simple text, and not a few commentators have tried to explain away its true applicability to all mankind of the Savior’s teachings.

To repeat, if baptism is essential for one man, it is essential for all. Then the question may be asked as was asked by a Chinese student, a graduate of one of our leading colleges, who in conversation with a Protestant minister said, “What about my ancestors who never heard of the name of Jesus Christ?”

“Oh,” was the reply, “they are all lost.”

The Chinese student’s sense of justice was offended, for he immediately said, “I’ll have nothing to do with a religion so unjust!” Had that Chinese professor, or doctor, asked a Mormon elder that question, the latter would have answered, “They will have an opportunity to hear the gospel, and to be baptized, to be born of the water and of the Spirit, that they might also enter into the kingdom of God.”

What about your great-great ancestors who never have heard of the name of Jesus Christ? What about the millions who died without having heard his name? They are all our Father’s children as much as you and I. Is it the act of a loving Father to condemn them forever outside of the kingdom of God because they have had no opportunity to hear the name of Jesus Christ?

No, it is not. “We believe that … all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” And we also believe that those who have died without having heard the gospel here in mortality will have an opportunity to hear it in the other world.

Where did Christ’s spirit go while his body lay in the tomb? The apostle Peter tells us that he went to preach to the spirits who were in prison, who were once disobedient in the days of Noah when the ark was being prepared. (See 1 Pet. 3:19–20.) Those who died thousands of years ago were still living in the spirit world, and the gospel was taken to them as it will be taken to all of our Father’s children.

This, then, is another purpose of the temple. You may have the opportunity of gathering the names of your ancestors, who, being baptized by proxy, may become members of the kingdom of God in the other world as we are members here.

Since the restoration of this principle and practice, Church members have zealously searched the records of the world for the history of their ancestors that their forefathers might receive vicariously the blessings of the gospel of Christ. In connection with this work the Church maintains an extensive genealogical organization.

These two great purposes—eternal marriage, binding the family for time and eternity, and opening the door of the kingdom for those who have died without an adequate opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and its essential ordinances—when preached properly, earnestly, and sincerely to the honest in heart, will appeal to the justice of those who love the truth.

In addition there is the temple “endowment,” which is also an ordinance pertaining to man’s eternal journey and limitless possibilities and progress that a just and loving father has provided for the children whom he made in his own image—for the whole human family.

That is why temples are built.

God help us to appreciate the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in its all-embracing justice and mercy and glorious eternal plan. The whole purpose and meaning of life is contained in it, with its great saving and ennobling ordinances that will take the individual to his highest possibilities here and hereafter with an everlasting association with his loved ones in the presence of God.

I pray with all my soul that all the members of the Church, their children, and their children’s children—and all men everywhere—may at least glimpse the glory of the house of the Lord and have wisdom to understand and strength to apply the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which are eternal and applicable to every person living, in developing that spirituality which will bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

Pictures copyright by the Corporation of the President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Garden Room, St. George Temple. (© LDS)

Sealing room where marriages are performed for eternity as well as for time. (© LDS)

Baptismal font in the temple, resting on figures of twelve cast-iron oxen. (© LDS)

Council Room in the Salt Lake Temple, where the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve meet every Thursday morning. (© LDS)