Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mormons, The Temple and Eternal Families

My parents were good people and wonderful in their individual ways. They would have referred to themselves as Christians but I don't remember a prominent display of their faith other than attending church as a family from time to time. They valued family life, honesty, and work. They taught my brothers and me good values and to consider the existence of a supreme being. I wasn't overly concerned whether God had any role in my life, or in the world for that matter.

I was curious and desirous to know about eternal things and did believe, but I didn't know who or what God was. Our family attended Methodist and non-denominational churches on a sporadic basis when I was growing up.

My mother died when I was almost nine. This event caused me to wonder more intensely about God and family relationships. My earliest recollection of some concept of God was the front page of the program at the Methodist church in Caldwell Idaho when I was 5 or 6 years old. It showed the face of a Christlike figure without a body but with a trail of dust and light behind it.

When I was seven we moved to Grandview Idaho. One of our babysitters was a Mormon and talked a lot about her church. She told us how it was different from other churches, even that it was the true church. I remember asking my dad about it and he said that all churches were the really the same.

Over the next 5 years, I would meet other Latter-Day Saints in this small farming community in Southwest Idaho but I was still young and not much-interested religion. Going to our own church was a chore and something we did not want to do as kids.

When we moved to Boise, I met more Mormons and became aware of some of their teachings. I went to church with some friends when I was about 16.  I learned about how they were not supposed to use tobacco or drink alcohol. I heard about their doctrines of living prophets like in the Bible and the principle of eternal marriage, families, and temples.

I had never heard such teachings from orthodox Christian ministers about eternal marriage. I quickly realized that many things I had been told about Mormons were not true and that those that had tried to dissuade me were seriously misinformed.

The Christian churches that I attended taught that marriage until death do you part was the result of their orthodox theology. Over the years I have asked many people what they thought about family relationships and most claim some hope that their family relationships continue after death. This is not however what orthodox Christianity teaches.

I made many discoveries in the process of learning about Mormonism and mainstream Christians. Every doctrinal teaching and practice in mainstream Christianity is based on opinions of Bible scholars, not revelation or affirmation from God.

Essentially all sectarianism is based on the philosophies of various individuals that do not agree on how the Bible should be interpreted. Mormonism is founded on revelation from God to prophets, the same as the pattern in the Bible.

I became aware that most Christians are not familiar with the basic tenets of their own fundamental mainstream Christian doctrinal teachings. Mormonism gives the strongest assurance that I know of that marriage and family relationships can indeed continue with those bonds of love and affection continuing and even increasing in the eternities.

Where did we come from, why are we here on earth and what happens after we die? The traditional orthodox perspective seemed to be that so much of life is just a mystery and God left it to us to figure out. Thy answer that the Bible is perfect but that no person, minister or scholar understands it perfectly. While this is factual there should yet be a way to avoid the confusion generated by the philosophies of men. This is one reason there are so many churches. My personal view was that if there was one God over us all, why would he have more than one church?

When I was 17 years old I was baptized and became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Many of my questions were answered and God confirmed the truth of it to me through the power Holy Ghost. This is a pattern explained in the Bible. It is part of the process of being born again spiritually. Before that time I had no idea as to how God would communicate truth to me.

Some tried to tell me I was not informed enough about religion, that Mormons were not Christians, but a cult and other misleading things as well to dissuade me. Now after 45 years I have been well assured by association and study and know with certainty their suppositions were not correct and they had been misinformed themselves.

Many long-standing myths about Mormons still persist in the modern era. Just for starters everything in the church, Sunday attendance and worship, the temple, tithing and any participation in any respect is voluntary. There is no paid clergy and there have been 16 prophet-leaders. Jesus Christ and his gospel and teachings are at the center of our beliefs. The majority of the church has never met Joseph Smith yet his early critics established a narrative that persists with all of its falsehoods that we somehow worship him.

How could the 14-year-old uneducated boy be a mastermind or mind control genius of some kind according to the allegations of the church being a cult? These are perhaps the most biased of the myths perpetuated by his and the churches' critics. This video explains how the church began. It is a principle we can all use to discover the truth.

I have watched how activity in the church has blessed my family. I served a two-year mission to Argentina when I was 19. I have married in the temple 40 years ago. My children have chosen to be married in the temple as well. Five have served missions, my five sons-in-law have served missions and our youngest son is on a mission. I have also known hundreds of members and observed thousands of people in the church. Millions of others have had experiences similar to mine as we witness the effects of the gospel teachings and living them.

I have served in many callings and currently am a primary teacher with my wife, serving a local service mission and a temple ordinance worker in the Mesa Arizona Temple. As I look back over my experience with the church, the temple and the doctrines of Christ and eternal families that are associated with it, I feel an extreme amount of gratitude.

Mormon Theology

One of the false stories that I had heard before I joined the church was that Mormons believed that only Mormons went to heaven. Other Christians still claim that we are not Christian. I knew it wasn't true but didn't really understand why others thought that. I became aware of this along with a multitude of other inaccurate things that Mormons supposedly believe and do.

These notions circulate in sectarian church meetings and other settings and are often promoted by those that disagree with the church on various principles, doctrines, and teachings. They then team up with various Bible scholar apologists to promote anti-Mormon bigotry.

Being accused of not being a Christian made me wonder what other Christians really believed. Learning about some of the differences in theology taught me why there are certain misunderstandings circulating in the religious world about Mormons. I discovered that most church-attending Christians are not familiar with their own theology let alone that of Mormon teachings.

Mormons believe that we lived with God before we came to earth. We are literally the sons and daughters of God. All human beings are literal brothers and sisters. The theology is very unique in that as I mentioned earlier we teach that marriage and family unit relationships can be eternal. Another unique claim of Latter-Day Saints is that we are created literally in the image of God, male and female.

Orthodox Christianity teaches that we were created out of nothing at our birth, we never lived with God or knew him. We are essentially pawned like creations made out of dirt which was made out of nothing. They teach that this was God's first and only creation with people on it. They also teach that God has no form, is celibate, solitary and genderless. In mainstream Christian terminology words like brothers and sisters, mother and father are used, but are only metaphorical and not as we understand them in our family relationships.

There is no actual relationship with our creator in orthodox teachings and its theology. Since Jesus and God are the same essences of being, even though the terms father and son are used, they are neither father or son since they are the same formless being and genderless. For a short time, Jesus was corporeal, but Christian scholars don't agree on whether the resurrection was literal or his eternal state of existing or not.

The LDS church is a Christian church and has millions of believers worldwide a We do not believe in the mysterious Trinity of the Nicene Creed of orthodox Christianity. We believe in an eternal Godhead consisting of our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. They are the divine leadership fully united as one in the saving process of Heavenly Father's children.

Orthodox sectarian churches teach that God is single or solitary, genderless, celibate and incorporeal in nature. Mormons believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ have bodies. They are men, and literally a father and his son. They are exalted beings of the highest possible glory and we at present are not. We do look like them however and that is what it means to be created in their image.

Mainstream Christianity again teaches that we are created in the image of God (that is what the Bible teaches) however orthodox theologians also teach the formless nature of deity and therefore the impossibility of being created in God's image. This is a contradiction that seems evident to me. They use other metaphors to be in God's image.

The average Christian believer that has some biblical scholarship as well as those that don't find God most approachable in the form of Jesus Christ. For the obvious reason, he was incarnate or embodied in flesh. According to their own theology, he is not really the son of God, but a part of a mystical trinity of beings that form one incorporeal god. Neither fatherhood or sonship is actually acknowledged except for metaphorical purposes since the Bible uses those terms.

Their precept is that deity is genderless by determination of Bible scholars and such teachings of orthodox theological seminaries and divinity schools. Mankind is according to these scholars a creation of this being, a pawn of sorts, but not really a child like we are children to our parents.

According to these same professors of religion, we are not really created in the image and likeness of God at all because according to them God has no form. To Mormons, the image of God is not a single genderless deity as taught by mainstream theologians but is male and female as in separate and actual beings, NOT in the same person.

According to Mormons, our individual intelligence is eternal and our spirit is the offspring of God in a literal manner. We are the sons and daughters of God. We are part of God's eternal family. Our creation is the result of divine love between eternal beings, our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother. All of us are brothers and sisters to each other and to Jesus Christ

Our life on earth is an essential part of a growth process and an eternal pattern of creation that allows us to develop our eternal potential. All mankind will be saved through the resurrection of Jesus Christ no matter what they believed while alive. The resurrection does consist of varying degrees, however. We came to earth for a divine purpose to form our own families, which also can be eternal as I mentioned. The temple blessings and covenants exist for this purpose. This is our turn to learn to love, serve, create and nurture the life-giving process.

I believe that because of his perfect love God wants all of us to return to live with him.  It is, however, our choice.  He will not force us and cannot force us because he also abides by perfect justice.  This is based on the doctrine or principle of moral agency.   He will give us the information we need to return to his presence but it only happens if we chose it and follow it. That is how we demonstrate our faith. We do make a doctrinal distinction between salvation and exaltation. The choices we make affect the outcome.

Those that offer willing commitments through their covenants to the eternal designs of our Heavenly Father receive all of the necessary grace to become exalted in the image and likeness of God.  That is his ultimate endowment based on his perfect love, justice and mercy and our willingness to accept it and act on it.

Temples, Chapels, and Eternal Families

The idea that families are eternal was something that struck a profound agreement with me as I was learning about religious precepts.  The LDS church is very different in this regard so I will explain something about this.

What is the difference between a chapel and a temple in the Mormon Church? Why do Mormons believe in eternal family relationships and others do not?   Do we have a spirit that is eternal, without beginning or end or are we mere pawns created out of nothing at our birth?

The scriptures speak of God making covenants with the ancient prophets Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It talks of a posterity as endless as the stars and of blessing all the families of the earth. How is this to be done?

As LDS all of the aspirations of our religious commitments come to us through the love and atonement of Jesus Christ. He is our Savior and Redeemer. These are represented and taught in our chapels and temples. 

The temple teachings continue the Savior's invitation to follow him into eternity and receive all that he has to give.  Jesus taught that the temple is his Father's house. It is “The House of the Lord”. Temples are of ancient origin and mentioned throughout the New and Old Testaments. In the temples of the church, I have always found peace and been reminded to live with eternal perspective.

If you have ever attended an LDS sacrament meeting or more than one, you should understand that it is supposed to be a reverent time even though it can be a cacophony of sounds, children occasionally crying talking and so forth. Without a paid clergy the speaking assignments are filled by the many members that accept the opportunity to speak. We attend as families and such is the nature of teaching small children how to worship God.

The chapel is where we meet for regular Sunday worship,  This is our Sabbath day and we meet to renew the covenants or promises that we made at baptism and in the temple.  In age group categories and separate classes as men and women, we also study and learn by teaching each other in a Sunday school.  Time at home is also intended to be meaningful in a way that helps us rest from our weekly routines.

Part of the Sacrament meeting or main worship service is partaking of the sacrament, the bread, and we use water instead of wine, represent the Savior’s sacrifice.  As we rest from our worldly cares, ponder his love and the commitments that we have made to follow Jesus Christ I have observed that we are renewed in spirit, body and mind.  We also have midweek youth activities in the chapels and other meetings and conferences. 

Many members take turns doing the teaching and leadership functions that allow a “ward”, the local congregation, to successfully function. There are over 30,000 wards in the church and thousands of Chapels around the world where the local congregations meet.  There is no paid clergy in the church and our 70,000 plus missionaries also serve without financial compensation. This is unique compared to sectarian churches where the clergy usually receive compensation.

Before going on a mission or getting married in the temple, Latter-Day Saints participate in a ceremony in the temple called an endowment. It is simply and profoundly an endowment of knowledge, and it is a commitment making process. We make covenants and receive ordinances that confirm our faith and commitment to Jesus Christ and his Church and  Kingdom. We are also instructed about eternal principles and patterns.

Temple attendance is very much an act of private worship.  After receiving our own endowment we attend on our schedule and the frequency varies according to the member's own desire. We dress in white clothing and wear special clothing as part of the temple ordinances. 

The clothing is symbolic of greater learning. You might think of the caps and gowns we wear when we graduate from high school and college. They symbolized something important, a learning experience and new commitments. The special clothing we wear in the temple and the temple garment we wear under our clothing after we receive the endowment can be seen here.

Participation in temple ordinances and covenants takes place when our faith and commitment is prepared to move to a higher level of learning and commitment.  I would compare this to the example of a university in that we can understand that there are expectations and qualifications in order to progress to that level of learning in a university or advanced degree. Certain foundations must exist before one can benefit from the higher learning opportunity. 

In the marriage or “sealing” ceremony in the temple, a couple is sealed, or bound together in a sacred promise and covenant, that if they keep will allow them to be together for eternity as a married couple. Their children will also be bound or associated with them forever in family bonds and affection.  

We make our best efforts as humans to follow these lofty pursuits but rely on the Savior to help us fulfill them. Without him, they simply will never come to pass. Some marriages are also performed for time only in chapels or other places and later the couple can go to the temple to receive the temple sealing ordinance.

Attending the temple is not intended to be restrictive nor does it depend on a person's accomplishments.  The participants must be prepared and worthy or the process will be of little benefit.  This is one reason that once a temple is dedicated only members that live the standards and teachings of the gospel can go inside and participate. What takes place there would mean nothing to someone that is not a faithful member of the church. Entry is based on a system of honor with a series of set questions in an interview with a person's bishop and stake president.

These local leaders assist local members in preparing to attend the temple and the goal is that all members might prepare and attend when they are ready. This is also why missionaries go all over the world to teach people and invite them to come and learn. While much of the endowment is scriptural, there is also much in the way of learning from revelation to God’s living prophets that establishes a broader understanding of our eternal identity and the eternal nature of God’s ongoing plans for his children.

Temples have been part of God's teaching process for mankind since the fall of Adam. The latter-day temples are a restoration of all the teachings, covenants and ordinances that God desires us to have at this time.  The sects of modern Christendom have some few vague hints of ancient practices in the robes that some priests wear. Modern evangelical preachers however often wear jeans and t-shirts. They have little to no understanding of the nature of symbols or ordinances.

Creedal Christianity in its drive for informality has in some cases done away with the practice of baptism. This ordinance had been taught as a requirement for thousands of years. It is meant to symbolize the profound experience of change in a person's life. That is what the temple ordinances do. We do something significant. Something that we will remember doing. It can't be routine or mundane. The purpose of an ordinance is to emphasize our commitment to follow Jesus Christ. 

In the modern world of informalism, any hint of ceremony seems strange unless the person has been taught enough to understand what they are doing and why they do it. 

Salvation for the Dead and Temples

Billions have lived on the earth without hearing of Jesus Christ or his church or his covenants and ordinances. There could be nothing more unjust than to condemn these individuals based on a lack of opportunity.  Since we are eternal spiritual beings after we die and before the final resurrection there is yet an opportunity where individuals can be taught and accept the plan of the Father and the mercy of the Savior. 

The idea that there is teaching and learning opportunities on the other side of the veil of death is uniquely a Mormon teaching. Interestingly enough even Christian apologists like C.S. Lewis admitted that such an opportunity must exist for God to demonstrate perfect love and justice.  Mainstream Christianity just doesn't teach it. 

When we go to the temple after our own endowment or marriage we can return as often as we like to vicariously represent individuals of our family or others that did not receive these ordinances.  This gives us the opportunity to reflect again and again on our eternal destiny and to meditate and ponder to be taught by the Holy Ghost.

 God is a being of perfect justice and places the same requirements on each of us.  The process is very individual both on earth and in the place where the spirits reside until the resurrection. They can accept the ordinances performed on their behalf if they so choose and receive all of the associated blessings.

My parents never joined the Mormon Church while they were alive. I imagine that the Lord’s church in the eternities is called something different if such even exists. As I understand that we will be organized as families in the eternities. Even so, they must accept and believe any and all truths that God requires of us.  If they do so they will still be able to go to the highest order of heaven or the Celestial Kingdom as we call it.

I have performed the ordinances of baptism, eternal marriage and the endowment for them. I don’t know if they accept them or not.  I have faith and suppose they will. They were truly good people. When I went to the temple for them, I could feel my love for them and theirs for me as their child.  These affections and bonds never leave us. The assurance that this is so is what the temple is about.  I look to them as a source of peace and joy, both now and forever.

As Latter-Day Saints, we proclaim the authority of God’s priesthood to perform the ordinances of the House of the Lord. Even so, many people, for reasons I don’t know or understand will not look to us for answers to questions about eternal truths and the nature of God. Those that do will find answers. They can confirm them through a process of personal understanding and revelation as I did and that millions have.

Our missionaries can help anyone that will listen to apply these principles. The philosophies of men prevail throughout the world and have produced a blinding effect on the general condition of the world.  Eternal things are left on the side while the pursuits of the world occupy most people's time and attention and pursuits. The temple is the great reminder of eternal things.

The test of our faith is real. I attest to the fact of God’s eternal love, his true plan of salvation and that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  He is our Savior and Redeemer and directs the work of salvation. I testify of living prophets that hold his authority and preside over the church in the earth.  We can all participate in it if we desire. 

Posted by Charlie Brown April 29, 2017

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