Joseph Fielding Smith Manual – Sealing Power and Temple Blessings – By Gary Carter

teachings-president-joseph-field-smith

 Chapter 17 Review of the 2014 Teaching Manual. See chapter here.

We live in an age where the differences between religions, denominations and sects are blurring. Those who subscribe to the pluralistic point of view would argue that there is no fundamental difference between any of the major world religions. There is movement of ecumenism in the churches that emphasize our shared core beliefs rather than our distinct theological differences. There is also a movement that seeks to dampen down the key theological differences between Christianity and Mormonism. Such theological differences that are sometimes ‘smoothed over’ are the issues of grace and works, the degrees of salvation, the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood and the temple ordinances. The temple and the ordinances that occur within its walls are not something that can be seen publicly outside of the practicing LDS community but from what we do know, these ordinances are definitely outside the realm of standard Christianity. In the second of our chapter reviews of the Teachings of the Presidents: Joseph Fielding Smith, we shall jump forward a few chapters to investigate JFS’s views on the temple ordinances, his viewpoint on what the ordinances value is and what the underlining theology is behind these ordinances.

Mormon religious life should, in the view of JFS as well as nearly every major leader of the LDS church, revolve around the temple and the ordinances. This is definitely the case with JFS as he argues that one should go to go the temple as a necessary part of faith unless there is unable due to infirmity or extreme poverty.

These ordinances, temple marriage, baptism for the dead, initial washing and anointing and endowment are all fundamental to the practice of Mormonism. The ordinances, reserved only for the faithful in the dedicated sacred space of the LDS temple, are unique to Mormonism and due to their ‘closed’ nature are difficult to fully explain and explore but they all have some similar key foundations. These foundations are ritual as part of salvation and the family.

Our key passage today is Malachi 4:5-6:

‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.’

This passage, one of the key passages in this chapter that is referred to by JFS, is very useful in illuminating the theological foundations of the ordinances. JFS links this verse, rather unsurprisingly, to a quotation from Doctrine and Covenants:

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of

Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day

of the Lord. “And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises

made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to

their fathers. “If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his

coming.” (D&C 2:1–3.)

Whilst there is no clear sign from these passages that point directly to the temple ordinances explicitly, what we do see is the theme of family. We can be even more precise with regards to this theme when we look at the terminology of ‘parents’ and ‘children’. These links between the generations appear pivotal in these passages and I am not here to argue against that but there are questions as to whether JFS’s use and interpretation of these passages necessarily lead logically to the conclusions that JFS uses to support temple ordinances.

When we consider LDS theology we cannot escape the fundamental idea of family. Baptism for the dead brings those who we on earth have lost into the eternal family even if they were not Mormons in life. Temple marriages involve sealings that bind the parties together in eternal marriage for all eternity. Receiving the endowments are necessary for the progression to the celestial kingdom that involves the family that was bound together on earth. There is a doctrine/theological thought within Mormonism called the patriarchal chain that emerges from Abraham 2:9-11.

And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;

 10 And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;

And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed(that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.(Abraham 2:9-11)

This ‘chain’ links the practicing Mormons of the present back through the generations to Abraham, Adam and the beginning of the human race on earth. One is fused into this chain by faithful Mormon living and by observing the ordinances. When we consider the ordinances in light of the passages above, it is not all that hard to see the link. ‘The hearts of the children turning to the fathers’ verse is typical of how humanity as a whole, in general, views their relationship with their parents and elder relatives. The pain of losing those relatives and not being with them again can be unbearable. Anyone who dismisses the emotion that can be involved in such things is being realistic. It is not surprising therefore that a theology can develop around turning to their forefathers and seeking to be bound together for all eternity. Surely the Lord, the almighty, all loving God would want our families to be together if that is such a primordial desire? Such a viewpoint, whilst immensely credible when we consider our own feelings and desires, does have some serious problems.

It would be fair to say that JFS’s interpretation of Malachi 4 is not the only interpretation. A standard Christian interpretation of this section would not end with the focus on family but on promise. The ‘hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers’ because of the promises that have been placed into the hearts of the children that the Lord made to their fathers. These promises are the promises of the coming Christ, given that Malachi came before the coming of Christ and the promises of God after Christ died and was resurrected. These promises are that the God of their fathers, the God who saved and walked with their fathers is the God who saves and walks with them. So what can conclude when we compare the two interpretations? It would be fair to say that this passage isn’t necessarily explicit either way but there is more evidence for the Christian interpretation of promises of Christ compared to the evidence for sealings and ordinances of JFS’s interpretation. This isn’t necessarily because there is a lot of evidence for the Christian perspective but because it is difficult to see any evidence for this interpretation in Malachi 4. The passage says nothing of sealings to family for eternal marriage or the patriarchal chain explicitly and it is difficult to see an implicit reading. Disrespecting the fathers and the elder generations is definitely not in the Lord’s plan. The Lord wants us as children to look to the fathers and the promises made, that much is clear but to make the link to sealings and temple ordinances is a massive leap. There is also nothing to lead to this conclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants section that JFS refers to. The similarities between the Malachi passage and the D&C section are striking but this passage is no more explicit or implicit in supporting this reading.

The theology of these ordinances can also be called into question. What is the theological point of these rituals within Mormonism? Before we can answer this question, we must ask ourselves, what are the main theological points of the Christian rituals of baptism and communion? These rituals, whilst considered key to living out the Christian life are not considered necessary for salvation. The necessity for salvation within Christian theology is faith. Other works are unnecessary and unhelpful if they replace faith. The temple ordinances, performed in the holy of holies are essential for progression to from ‘mere’ salvation to exaltation in the celestial kingdom and the eternal family. Whilst the Christian key rituals are not necessary ultimate goal within Christianity, the temple ordinances are necessary within Mormonism. Let us consider what JFS says on page 220:

“Temple work is so interwoven with the plan of salvation, that one cannot exist without the other. In other words, there can be no salvation where there [are] no temple ordinances peculiarly belonging to the temple.”

When we consider this passage, it is not erroneous to suggest that JFS believes that temple work is woven into salvation, cannot be removed from salvation, and are fundamentally necessary not only to the Mormon idea of salvation but for exaltation as well. Bearing this in mind, the logical conclusion is that temple sealings, blessings and work are key to the Mormon understanding of salvation exaltation and glory and this is fundamentally different to the Christian understanding of salvation. The differences between the Mormon and Christian understandings can also be seen in re readings of the passages we have mentioned. JFS’s theology of sealings and temple work as necessary doesn’t seem to be firmly established in the Malachi and Doctrine and Covenants passages he quotes. The patriarchal chain cannot be found when reading the text for an implicit reading.

It is possible to discuss a wide range of topics when we think of temple ordinances. We can consider the need for a temple in post-Christ times. We could consider the links that have been raised between temple ordinances and freemasonry. We could consider the secrecy of the temple and the need to be worthy to enter. What we need to consider though when we consider the temple ordinances and the theology of JFS however, what we can clearly see is the difference between the Mormon understanding of salvation, exaltation and the celestial kingdom and the Christian understanding of salvation by faith alone without additional works or rituals. When we consider the differences, it cannot be concluded that these gospels are the same.

3 thoughts on “Joseph Fielding Smith Manual – Sealing Power and Temple Blessings – By Gary Carter”

  1. Interestering comments, and well written.

    No, I would not say they were the same gospel, and I know of no one int he church who would. If they were the same there would be no need to teach each other, would there?

    However, I would like to point out just a few things, as there are similarities that you seem to miss or don’t fully understand.
    First
    “The necessity for salvation within Christian theology is faith. Other works are unnecessary and unhelpful if they replace faith.”
    To clarify, the necessity in the LDS theology is Faith. All else is unhelpful if it is used to replace faith. While other works are necessary, they are primarily necessary in that they prove and strengthen faith. Faith is the first principle, and without it no works or odinances can save us.

    Second, if you read carefully in D&C 2 you will see a clear statement that Elijah would reveal the priesthood. Thus it is clear that this verse is speaking of some power and authority from God given to man, as that is what the Priesthood is. So, while you are right that there is no explicit reference to the temples, there is an explicit reference to a holy power without which the entire earth would be wasted. Considering many other passages of scriptures, and more especially JFS’s reference to the visitation of Elijah in 1836, the passage clearly refers to some kind of priesthood keys.

    Lastly, I would ask you if a standard Christian interpretation of Malachi 4 can explain the coming of Elijah. You have explained what the promises are, and how the hearts are turned, but not the actual event that was to be the catalist for this; the coming of Elijah. So, when and where did he appear.

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  2. Hi Shematwater,

    Many thanks for your comment. Please forgive the length of time that it has taken me to get back to you.

    Your first point is incredibly interesting. Whilst I would never argue that faith is not a necessity within the LDS theology, the distinct difference is the works itself in relation to salvation/exaltation. In LDS theology, faith is a necessity but the works that come afterwards are also necessary and not just a a proof for salvation/exaltation. To argue that works are a proof of faith isn’t always consistent with LDS theology due to the Calvinistic nature of the argument and go against JFS’ own statements in the manual.

    Your second and third points are important in understanding the key differences between LDS and Christianity. The Malachi 4 passage would be viewed by standard Christian interpretation as John the Baptist and Jesus. John the Baptist paves the way for Jesus who turns the hearts of men towards their fathers and the hearts of fathers are turned towards their children until the consequences of the day of judgement. The LDS interpretation is based, as you rightly say, on the visitation of Elijah in 1836, referred to by JFS. As ‘standard’ Christians would not accept the revelation of Elijah to Joseph Smith Jr as authentic, the LDS argument loses credence in the eyes of ‘standard’ Christians. The argument for priesthood keys would also be rendered defunct in the eyes of Christians if the Elijah revelation is not considered authentic. As so much of temple theology is built on these verses and revelations, it is unsurprising that Christians cannot accept this theology as authentic or true compared to the imagery of the New Testament which calls John the Baptist the ‘Elijah’ to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

    I hope this finds you well.

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    1. I am as well as can be expected in the modern world.

      Agree with you as to the differences regarding works. No, they do not just prove faith, but that is their primary function. Have you read the fifth chapter in the JFS manual. In it he discusses faith and teaches that Faith is a word of Action, and that without action faith is dead. Maybe instead of saying that works prove faith it would be more accurate to say that works vitalize faith.

      As to Elijah I find that very interesting. I actually have heard this before, though it has been a long time and I had forgotten it.
      I would say that you seem to put too much emphasis on these verses as our support for the temple. While they are commonly used, they are not the only, or even the primary ones. They are simply the ones that everyone is familiar with.

      If your interested, the LDS see the Mount of Transfiguration as Elijah’s visitation in the New Testament. At this time Moses also appeared, as he did in the Kirtland Temple.
      We see this the prophecy of John the Baptist “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40: 3).

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