Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 13: "The Temple—The Great Symbol of Our Membership"

by | Jun. 03, 2016

Lesson Helps

President Hunter said, “having worthy and endowed members is the key to building the kingdom in all the world.” I would like to explore the reasons and ways being temple-worthy is a key part of building the kingdom. We also need to consider how our temples are the great symbol of our membership.


The Lord has always spoken and taught in symbols and parables. The parables teach lessons that stand for other things. For example, the parable of the sower where the seeds fall on different types of ground represents the word of God and how it is received differently by different people. Depending on the reception of the word within the heart of the individual, it will either grow and flourish or wither and be cast out.

When the Lord teaches us about faith that is as a grain of mustard seed, he is again teaching us to think figuratively, to think in symbols. The power of the symbol is it can be understood in different ways as we mature and grow. The same lesson taught to a child will be understood differently by a teenager, and differently by an adult.

The power and protection of being taught by symbolism are that we are only held accountable before the laws of God for what we know and understand. By using symbols, the Lord can use the same teachings given today to teach us new and deeper truths tomorrow or when we are ready to receive them. This protects us from being held accountable for doctrine we cannot understand.

The temple ceremonies are symbolic. They cannot be fully understood with one listening. The Brethren have stated on repeated occasions that they have attended the temple for years and are still learning about the covenants contained in the temple.

The temple is, in essence, a place in between. When we visit the temple we are in a place outside the worries of the world, closer to eternity. Temples are places of peace and tranquility that help us feel the Spirit, receive revelation, find answers to prayers, feel closer to our ancestors, and enable us to begin to clear our mind of the distractions of the world. The truths revealed in the temple are meant to be personal and self-instructive. After the administration of the ordinances of the temple, the temple is first and foremost a place of spiritual instruction.

This is the point of using symbols. We cannot learn their deeper meaning without the instruction of the Spirit. It requires personal revelation. Isn’t this what the restoration is all about? The Lord reveals himself to us because we have made covenants with him and are seeking him through prayer, fasting, and temple attendance.

The Recommend

To enter the temple we have to first get a recommend from our bishop. The recommend interview is a basic checklist of personal requirements that measures our personal commitment to the latter-day work. “It might be interesting for you to know that the President of the Church used to sign each temple recommend. That’s how strongly the early presidents felt about worthiness to enter the temple.”

As we answer each of the questions in the interview, we are declaring to the Lord’s servant, and to the Lord, that we are fulfilling the basic requirements to be worthy to enter into God’s house and participate in the ordinances found there. The bishop represents the Aaronic arm of the priesthood. We then have the opportunity to go to our Stake President, the Melchizedek arm of the priesthood, and make the same declarations.

Saying yes or no to the appropriate questions doesn’t make us worthy to enter the temple. Answering yes or no honestly to the appropriate questions makes us worthy to enter the temple. The temple recommend interview is symbolic or representative of the many judgments we go through in mortality, and which we will go through after mortality. All judgments are self-declarations of worthiness.

“… 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.”

We cannot be faithful and true to the Lord, whom we do not see, if we cannot be faithful and true to His servants, whom we do see. The qualifications to enter the temple are a symbol of our commitment to the Lord and his kingdom. According to President Hunter, to be qualified to enter the temple you must, “be active participants in your wards and branches, and be one your leaders can depend on.”

When our leaders call us to a position, are we turning them down or accepting the calling? When the Lord calls us to do something through the Spirit, are we arguing with Him or doing as we have been prompted to do? How we respond to our Church leaders represents the status of our obedience to the Lord. We cannot be faithful to the Lord, but unfaithful in following the Lord’s servants.

Selflessness of Temple Attendance

The first time we attend the temple it is to receive our own endowment. It is a glorious experience, and it is literally all about us at that moment. But what about the next time you attend the temple, or the next, or the next?

This is another place where the symbolism of the temple kicks in, as well as being one of the keys to building the kingdom. After our first visit to the temple, each and every other trip to the temple is for someone who never had that opportunity in mortality. We become saviors on Mount Zion, doing the work of salvation for those who have already passed through mortality. Every time we go through the temple, it is literally the first time through for somebody.

“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. …”

Building the Kingdom

The difference between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and every other church on earth is the priesthood and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Because we have these two gifts, we have revelations and covenants, both of which were needed to bless us with temples. Temples, in turn, bless our lives with a spiritual richness not found anywhere else.

“Temple attendance creates spirituality. It is one of the finest programs we have in the Church to develop spirituality. This turns the hearts of the children to their fathers and the hearts of the fathers to their children (Malachi 4:6). This promotes family solidarity and unity.”

How are we supposed to build the kingdom of God without the revelation that tells us how to do it? Where are we supposed to get the strength to bear the weight of the kingdom on our shoulders, if not by attending the temples of our God?

The temples teach us to be more spiritual. Temples help us become more sensitive to spiritual things. Temples are a nexus, a connecting point between the things of eternity and the things of mortality. Temples are a place of respite from the cares of the world. In them, we are able to clear our minds from our daily cares and focus on seeking answers and receiving revelation.

Have you noticed that when a body of Saints reaches a certain threshold of faithfulness, the Lord commands his prophet to build them a temple, which strengthens their families and blesses them in ways they couldn’t be blessed without the temple?

As the world dives ever deeper into wickedness and ungodliness, the Lord expects his Saints to increase correspondingly in righteousness. Hence the need for more temples. Temple worship is one of the keys to the expanding of the kingdom in the last days. It is through temple worship and attendance that we protect and strengthen ourselves and our family.

The covenants we receive in the temple, and the resulting blessings we receive from faithfully attending the temple, becomes the symbol of our devotion to God, and the key to our success in building up the kingdom of God. The world cannot be saved without temples.

Image from Getty Images

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