When I come to review an edition to Ensign magazine, I am always struck by how to review a magazine that covers a great many topics and areas for analysis. In this particular edition, two particular themes struck me. The first occurs in the article ‘The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Creator’ where the theme of creation by the power of priesthood. The second theme runs through many of the articles in this edition, the theme of temple and temple worship. These ideas are very important to our understanding of Mormon theology.
Our first article of interest comes from the Relief Society section. In this very small but very interesting article, the author argues that ‘Jesus Christ “created the heavens and the earth” (3 Nephi 9:15). He did so through the power of the priesthood under the direction of our Heavenly Father (see Moses 1:33)’. When we investigate the verse from Moses, we can see the link with what the author is arguing for;
The verse at first seems to be in line with Christian teaching. Christianity would argue that Jesus created all the worlds in all creation (Genesis 1). There are some unique Mormon positions though in this article that are fascinating to investigate. The first position of interest is the ‘power of priesthood’ that the author argues for in the creation of the universe. The orders of priesthood are incredibly important in Mormonism as discussed in previous articles therefore it is not surprising to see this idea being married into the narrative of creation. What is interesting though is that nowhere in the Genesis text does it mention the ‘power of priesthood’. In fact the Moses text doesn’t mention this either. One wonders whether the author of the article has married a Mormon theological principle into a text where it doesn’t appear to strengthen the position. Using the priesthood in this way is not surprising given the next paragraph goes onto argue that one must become ‘worthy to return to live with Him’. One cannot become worthy unless one is a priesthood holder in good standing.
It is on this note that we come to our second theme of temple. The idea of worthiness and using ‘our agency to obey’ that we see with the first theme is also key to our theme of temple as only a faithful Mormon with a Temple Recommend can gain entry. The idea of temple and the idea of worthiness are intrinsically linked but it is not this idea we shall explore. Instead we shall be exploring the idea of the necessity of temple worship. In his article, David L. Packard argues that faithful Mormons should be making regular time for temple worship and practicing temple ordinances as part of their worship to God. Packard extols the virtues of sacrifice that ward leaders and members make to get the faithful to the temple worship and to observe the ordinances. The physical location for certain high forms of worship has been elevated in Mormonism to an extent that is not often seen in Christianity. This observance of temple is interesting. It is obvious that the temple was incredibly important in the Old Testament. It was incredibly important to the Jews at the time of Christ. What is clear however is that the New Testament writers are envisioning a new relationship with the temple. Let us consider these verses:
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.’ (Luke 19:41-44)
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:17)
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (Revelation 21:22)
The verses from Luke are important as they are part of the prophecy that the temple will be torn down as well as the whole city of Jerusalem, a prophecy that came true in AD70. What is important to recognize is that at no point in the New Testament does it talk of a physical rebuilding of the temple. What can be seen though in the New Testament though is the idea of the ‘temple incarnate’. This idea can be seen in the last two quotations. The 1 Corinthians verse shows us that the church together is the temple. All of humanity that acknowledges Jesus as Lord is a brick in that incarnate temple. The city that John saw in Revelation 21 did not have a temple because the Lord and the Lamb, the one God are the temple. If the New Testament is clear on this idea of the incarnate temple replacing the physical temple, then Mormonism reverting back to worship in a physical temple where special rituals are necessary seems a bit odd and out of kilter with the message of the New Testament.
When we try to review an edition of Ensign, the challenge is always great given the potential scope and depth that can sometimes be needed. We can see though through the Relief Society article that the concept of progressive revelation within Mormonism is very much alive. Whilst the idea that the ‘power of priesthood’ being at work during the creation of the world though Jesus Christ is not explicit in the LDS scriptures, including the verse quoted from Moses, it should not be surprising given the doctrine of progressive revelation that this ‘power of priesthood’ has been married into the creation doctrine and that this is generally agreed upon by the LDS community. It wouldn’t be in the Ensign if it weren’t a generally accepted doctrine. We can also see the physical temple is still important to Mormonism as opposed to the New Testament idea of the ‘incarnate temple’. It is also interesting when we consider that in the Old Testament in the age of temples, there was only one temple whilst in the Mormon world, there are hundreds. These temples are central for fulfilling Mormon rituals that are necessary for exaltation. In short, exaltation is impossible without regular temple observance. Exaltation by grace is not part of the picture.