When I first met Mormon missionaries over two years ago I was surprised that they seemed so focussed on worship in a temple, the need for a distinct priesthood and the fact you could be eternally married in a Mormon temple. I hadn’t at the time studied the beliefs of the Mormons, but I simply asked them to explain beliefs that seemed to contradict my understanding of what the Bible taught. In my opinion the same questions the missionaries left unanswered are the same questions that come to mind after listening to this Sunday morning session.
The main question that the morning session raised for me was:
Do we need a man made temple or temples today?
President Thomas S. Monson – Choices
“Brothers and sisters, before I begin my formal message today, I would like to announce four new temples which, in coming months and years, will be built in the following locations: Quito, Ecuador; Harare, Zimbabwe; Belém, Brazil; and a second temple in Lima, Peru.
When I became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1963, there were 12 operating temples in the entire Church. With the dedication of the Provo City Center Temple two weeks ago, there are now 150 temples in operation throughout the world. How grateful we are for the blessings we receive in these holy houses.”
Bishop W. Christopher Waddell – A Pattern for peace
Please read or listen to (03:00-6:30) the portion of the talk entitled: First Step: “Learn of Me” available here – as it discusses one of the ordinances carried out in the temple.
Elder Quentin L. Cook – See Yourself in the Temple
I’d recommend reading or listening to the entire talk given that this is precisely what he is talking about.
I’d like to start by acknowledging that the idea of a temple is certainly biblical, a temple was built by the command of God in the Old Testament. We see in Exodus 25:8,9 God commands the children of Israel: “…make me a sanctuary [Hebrew; miqdosh – a holy place], that I may dwell in their midst”
In verses 10-22 we read of the construction of the Arc of the Covenant.
Just like the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that guided the people; the carrying of the Arc and the erecting of the tabernacle was a constant reminder that God was with them.
We then have the construction of a physical temple by Solomon, however this was David’s plan. Lets look however at how God responds to this desire to build a house for Him.
In 2 Samuel 7 God tells David:
“the LORD (Jehovah) declares to you that the LORD (Jehovah) will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”
Why does the Jehovah here say that the son will build for Him a house? Partly we know the prophesy was fulfilled in Solomon, however Solomon died his kingdom did come to an end, the prophesy found its greater fulfilment in Christ. Did Jesus ever instruct the building of temples?
On the contrary in Mark 13:1-2, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus also in John 4:20-23 states that a time is coming were people won’t worship at the temple in Jerusalem or any other mountain but would worship in spirit and in truth.
We know from history that Jesus prophecy came true in 70 AD with the destruction of the temple by the Romans. Surely if the temple was so crucial to the worship of God and the plan of salvation, God could easily have protected it, could not the same power which protected the holiness of the arc of the convenient (2 Samuel 6:7) protected the temple? Was there another, greater, temple that was destroyed and yet God rebuilt it? John 2:18-22: “destroy this temple and in three days I will raised it up… He was referring to the temple of his body”
I would suggest that what Jesus was referring to in John 4 was the end of temple worship, in the sense of a particular location, add to this in John 2 Jesus referring to himself as a temple and we start to see what a new convent temple really is.
Why do I believe we no longer need a physical temple? The main function of the temple was to make sacrifices for the atonement of sin, (Leviticus 1:4) the animal would in effect die for the sins of the one making the sacrifice. The idea that God would provide a substitution goes back even further to Genesis 22:13. These sacrifices were pointing towards Jesus, as John the Baptist declared when he saw Jesus “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Paul in his writing makes it abundantly clear that the sacrifices in the temple were only provision until Christ came (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 9:15; 10:8-14)
Perhaps my favourite verse in the Bible is Colossians 1:22
“Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (NLT)
Contrast this with temple worship where only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). Not only does the sacrifice of Jesus allow us to stand before God without fault, it allows the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Looks back at Exodus 25 it was the creation of a holy place, the sacrifice of Jesus made us that place – 1 Corinthians 3:16 Paul writes “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”
You see today Christians don’t have a temple, we are the temple. Under the Mosaic Law God commanded the Israelites to built him a house where he could dwell, in 2 Samuel 7 I would suggest the house that Jesus built was his people – the church (Matthew 16:18) You see when Jesus was on the cross the temple veil was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51) we now have access to the presence of God because of Jesus’ shed blood. What caused the separation – our sin, has been paid for, as Hebrews 10:14 puts it “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”
I would like to take a quick detour to define sanctification and justification as I believe the LDS definition of grace confuses the two. Justification is God declaring us righteous when we put our trust in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus, not based on our righteous but on Jesus’ this is God’s grace, it’s not after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23) but it’s despite our inability. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”.
When it comes to sanctification this is God’s work in our lives to make us what he has already declared us. This takes place even before we see yourselves as believers (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2), it is the work of God that continues in the life of a believer (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26, 2 Corinthians 3:18) and finally it is the future work of God when we receive our resurrected bodies ( I John 3:2, Ephesians 5:25-27)
In Quentin L. Cooks message “See Yourself in the Temple” he talks about mirrors that people would look in and see themselves in an outline of a temple they were then advised to “make the necessary lifestyle changes and spiritual preparations to meet this goal.” While the desire for holiness is admirable there is an inherent problem here. How holy is holy enough? If we are talking about entering the presence of the almighty God, then nothing short of prefect holiness will do (Exodus 33:20). What is the standard then that must be met to get into the temple?
As only God knows the heart surely it is only an outward change that is necessary to meet this human standard, with all due respect the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:27 could then apply, really all that is necessary is to look good on the outside or as Quentin put it they need to “self-certify their worthiness when they answer the temple recommend questions”. How different to Colossians 1:22 were despite our sinful condition God chooses to see us as righteous. See also 2 Corinthians 5:21
W. Christopher Waddell stated in his talk: ‘President Thomas S. Monson has taught:
“The world can be a challenging and difficult place in which to live. … As you and I go to the holy houses of God, as we remember the covenants we make within, we will be more able to bear every trial and to overcome each temptation. In this sacred sanctuary we will find peace.”’ He also quotes Gordon B. Hinkley “Go to the house of the Lord and there feel of His Spirit and commune with Him and you will know a peace that you will find nowhere else.”
While I admit removing ourselves from distractions helps us focus on God I would suggest it is in truly knowing Jesus that we find our peace, rather than in a particular location. Like Paul could say in Philippians 3:8 “I count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”
For more information on this topic please see here.
This leads us to my next question: Do we have a priesthood today and if so who are they?
When we know Christ we have a high priest, lets look at Hebrews 4:14-16
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Not only is Jesus our high priest but we have no mention of another priesthood amongst the early church. Jesus himself is described as: “a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:6)
Why don’t we have a distinct human priesthood today? Firstly it is clear from the Old Testament (Leviticus 18) that the priests acted as a mediator between the Israelites and God, particularly to offer the sacrifices. Jesus fulfilled this role perfectly in offering his body as the sacrifice for sin and he is now in heaven mediating for us (1 Timothy 2:5). Secondly all believers are referred to as a holy priesthood. 1 Peter 2:5: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
For a fuller review of this subject please see this review of The Saturday Morning Session:
My final question comes from the talk “Do I Believe?” by Bonnie L. Oscarson.
Do Families last forever?
She stated that “families are forever” and that this one of the distinguishing features that makes the gospel of the LDS faith “the greatest message of hope and help that the world has ever known.”
I’d like to start out by saying that I believe that those who have placed their trust in Jesus will last forever and that we may recognise one another in our resurrected bodies. However Jesus words in Matthew 22 make it clear that human relationships like those on earth now will not take place in Heaven.
“The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Matthew 22:23-30
It isn’t that there is no marriage in heaven; I believe that there is simply just one marriage in heaven, the marriage between Jesus and his bride the church, if our experience of being with Christ is our greatest joy, then why would we need that earthly inferior joy that comes form the union of husband and wife wonderful as that might be.
I believe C.S. Lewis explains this very well when he writes:
“The letter and spirit of scripture, and of all Christianity, forbid us to suppose that life in the New Creation will be a sexual life; and this reduces our imagination to the withering alternatives either of bodies which are hardly recognizable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time.
On receiving the answer ‘No,’ he might regard [the] absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.”