The gospel proclaimed to the world by the Latter-day Saints is the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored to the earth in this dispensation and is for the redemption of all mankind. The Lord Himself has revealed what is essential for the salvation and exaltation of His children. One of these essentials is that temples are to be erected for the performance of ordinances that cannot be performed in any other place.
When this is explained to people from all over the world who come and look at our temples, the question these people most frequently ask is, what are the ordinances that are performed in temples?
In response, we often first explain the ordinance known as baptism for the dead. We note that many Christians believe that at the time of death, our status before the Lord is determined for all eternity, for did not Christ say to Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"? (John 3:5). Yet we know that many people have died without the ordinance of baptism, and thus, according to Christ's statement to Nicodemus, they would be eliminated from entering into the kingdom of God. This raises the question, is God just?
The answer is, of course God is just. It is evident that the Savior's statement to Nicodemus presupposes that baptisms may be done for those who have died who have not been baptized. Latter-day prophets have told us that baptism is an earthly ordinance that can be performed only by the living. How then can those who are dead be baptized if only the living can perform the ordinance? That was the theme of the Apostle Paul's writing to the Corinthians when he asked this question:
"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).
In fact, as we study ecclesiastical history, we find that baptism for the dead was practiced by the early Christians. There was vicarious work for the dead at that time, and there is today. Indeed, vicarious work is not something new or strange. We remember that the Savior Himself in a vicarious manner atoned for the sins of all mankind. Today, baptisms are again performed by the living in behalf of individuals who have died, as is also the laying on of hands for the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost for these same deceased people. These ordinances for the deceased, however, are performed only in the house of the Lord.
The endowment is another ordinance performed in our temples. It consists of two parts: first, a series of instructions, and second, promises or covenants that the person receiving the endowment makes--promises to live righteously and comply with the requirements of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The endowment is an ordinance for the great blessing of the Saints--both living and dead. Thus it is also an ordinance performed by the living in behalf of deceased individuals; it is performed for those for whom baptismal work has already been performed.
Another temple ordinance is that of celestial marriage, where wife is sealed to husband and husband sealed to wife for eternity. We know, of course, that civil marriages end at death, but eternal marriages performed in the temple may exist forever. Children born to a husband and wife after an eternal marriage are automatically sealed to their parents for eternity. If children are born before the wife is sealed to her husband, there is a temple sealing ordinance that can seal these children to their parents for eternity, and so it is that children can be sealed vicariously to parents who have passed away.
In the ordinances of the temple, the foundations of the eternal family are sealed in place. The Church has the responsibility--and the authority--to preserve and protect the family as the foundation of society.
All of these priesthood temple ordinances are essential for the salvation and exaltation of our Father in Heaven's children.
Doctrine and Covenants section 137 records a vision given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple. In that vision, he saw his brother Alvin, who had departed this life, and his parents. The voice of the Lord came to him and said that "all who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God" (D&C 137:7).
Section 138 records a divine manifestation given to President Joseph F. Smith [1838-1918] that also pertains to the work of redemption of the dead. President Smith had been pondering our Lord's visit to the spirit world as he read the First Epistle of Peter and reflected upon the verse that states, "For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (1 Pet. 4:6).
A vision then unfolded to President Smith. That vision is recorded in section 138. President Smith saw that "the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
"But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead" (D&C 138:29- 30).
Surely we on this side of the veil have a great work to do. For in light of all the above-noted facts about temple ordinances, we can see that the building of temples has deep significance for ourselves and mankind, and our responsibilities become clear. We must accomplish the priesthood temple ordinance work necessary for our own exaltation; then we must do the necessary work for those who did not have the opportunity to accept the gospel in life. Doing work for others is accomplished in two steps: first, by family history research to ascertain our progenitors, and second, by performing the temple ordinances to give them the same opportunities afforded to the living.
Furthermore, the dead are anxiously waiting for the Latter-day Saints to search out their names and then go into the temples to officiate in their behalf, that they may be liberated from their prison house in the spirit world.
What a glorious thing it is for us to have the privilege of going to the temple for our own blessings. Then after going to the temple for our own blessings, what a glorious privilege to do the work for those who have gone on before us. This aspect of temple work is an unselfish work. Yet whenever we do temple work for other people, there is a blessing that comes back to us. Thus it should be no surprise to us that the Lord does desire that His people be a temple- motivated people.
The Great Symbol of Our Membership
It is the Lord Himself who, in His revelations to us, has made the temple the great symbol for members of the Church. Think of the attitudes and righteous behaviors that the Lord pointed us toward in the counsel He gave to the Kirtland Saints through the Prophet Joseph Smith as they were preparing to build a temple. This counsel is still applicable:
"Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God" (D&C 88:119). Are these attitudes and behaviors indeed reflective of what each of us desires and seeks to be?
We have no record that temples were built in either the Old or New World during the long period of apostasy before the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored in these latter days. The priesthood, which is essential to temple ordinances, did not exist upon the earth. After the Restoration of the gospel through a prophet of the Lord, raised up for that very purpose, and the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, temples were again erected according to divine commandment.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie [1915-85] of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
"The inspired erection and proper use of temples is one of the great evidences of the divinity of the Lord's work. ... Where there are temples, with the spirit of revelation resting upon those who administer therein, there the Lord's people will be found; where these are not, the Church and kingdom and the truth of heaven are not" (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 781).
Let us consider some of the promises connected to the temple that the Lord has given us. Consider the lifestyle we must live in order to be beneficiaries of these promises:
"And 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.
"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.
"And, now, behold, if Zion do these things she shall prosper, and spread herself and become very glorious, very great, and very terrible.
"And the nations of the earth shall honor her, and shall say: Surely Zion is the city of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there;
"And he hath sworn by the power of his might to be her salvation and her high tower.
"Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion--THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice" (D&C 97:15-21).
What promises to us as a people! What a symbol for us--as individuals, as families, and as a people--to be known before the Lord as the pure in heart!
Consider the majestic teachings in the great dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, a prayer the Prophet Joseph Smith said was given to him by revelation. It is a prayer that continues to be answered upon us individually, upon us as families, and upon us as a people because of the priesthood power the Lord has given us to use in His holy temples.
"And now, Holy Father," pleaded the Prophet Joseph Smith, "we ask thee to assist us, thy people, with thy grace ... that we may be found worthy, in thy sight, to secure a fulfillment of the promises which thou hast made unto us, thy people, in the revelations given unto us;
"That thy glory may rest down upon thy people. ...
"We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them;
"And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days. ...
"We ask thee to appoint unto Zion other stakes ... that the gathering of thy people may roll on in great power and majesty, that thy work may be cut short in righteousness. ...
"And may all the scattered remnants of Israel, who have been driven to the ends of the earth, come to a knowledge of the truth, believe in the Messiah, and be redeemed from oppression, and rejoice before thee. ...
"Remember all thy church, O Lord, with all their families, and all their immediate connections, with all their sick and afflicted ones, with all the poor and meek of the earth; that the kingdom, which thou hast set up without hands, may become a great mountain and fill the whole earth; ...
"That when the trump shall sound for the dead, we shall be caught up in the cloud to meet thee, that we may ever be with the Lord" (D&C 109:10-12, 22-23, 59, 67, 72, 75).
Has there ever been a people with such stirring and wonderful promises! No wonder the Lord desires that His followers point themselves toward His example and toward His temples. No wonder He has said that in His holy house, "I will manifest myself to my people in mercy" (D&C 110:7).
All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God's presence without them.
Truly, the Lord desires that His people be a temple-motivated people. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church be temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of--and carry--a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.
Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which are provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. The temple is a place of beauty; it is a place of revelation; it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us.
Let us share with our children the spiritual feelings we have in the temple. And let us teach them more earnestly and more comfortably the things we can appropriately say about the purposes of the house of the Lord. Keep a picture of a temple in your home that your children may see it. Teach them about the purposes of the house of the Lord. Have them plan from their earliest years to go there and to remain worthy of that blessing.
It is pleasing to the Lord for our youth to worthily go to the temple and perform vicarious baptisms for those who did not have the opportunity to be baptized in life. It is pleasing to the Lord when we worthily go to the temple to personally make our own covenants with Him and to be sealed as couples and as families. And it is pleasing to the Lord when we worthily go to the temple to perform these same saving ordinances for those who have died, many of whom eagerly await the completion of these ordinances in their behalf.
To have the temple indeed be a symbol unto us, we must desire it to be so. We must live worthy to enter the temple. We must keep the commandments of our Lord. If we can pattern our life after the Master, and take His teaching and example as the supreme pattern for our own, we will not find it difficult to be temple worthy, to be consistent and loyal in every walk of life, for we will be committed to a single, sacred standard of conduct and belief. Whether at home or in the marketplace, whether at school or long after school is behind us, whether we are acting totally alone or in concert with a host of other people, our course will be clear and our standards will be obvious.
The ability to stand by one's principles, to live with integrity and faith according to one's belief--that is what matters. That devotion to true principle-- in our individual lives, in our homes and families, and in all places that we meet and influence other people--that devotion is what God is ultimately requesting of us. It requires commitment--whole-souled, deeply held, eternally cherished commitment to the principles we know to be true in the commandments God has given. If we will be true and faithful to the Lord's principles, then we will always be temple worthy, and the Lord and His holy temples will be the great symbols of our discipleship with Him.