The Purpose of Temples and Their Rituals and How I Would Change Them, Part 1: History of Temples

I’m going to be talking about temples, including some details of the ceremonies. If you’re not interested in reading about these, I’d suggest you stop reading.

Other parts in this Series:

Part 1: History of Temples

Part 2: Examining the Purpose

Part 3: The Changes

Part 4: Conclusion

Growing up I, as many people did, always saw the temple as the pinnacle of spirituality. As I prepared to go to the temple my ex-grandfather-in-law said that my weak sense of smell would be restored after I went through the temple (referencing the initiatory’s blessing). I took a temple prep class and knew I would be making covenants, but I didn’t know how or what they would be. When I went through the LDS temple in 2014 for my washing, anointing, and endowments I fully anticipated it to be an exclusively supernatural experience and to talk with angels.

I remember going through the initiatories & endowments and then sitting in the Celestial Room with my family and close friends in our temple garb after my first endowment and thinking “That was it? That was the temple? That’s what I was waiting for all these years?” The temple ceremonies felt anti-climatic and out of place in Mormonism. The robes and apron felt unnecessary and distracting. The handshakes felt unnatural and unusual in the context of my Mormon experience up until then. I wasn’t surprised by the covenants with the exception of the Law of Consecration and not talking about the handshakes. I asked my dad for some help understanding the temple a couple days later, and he said not everybody gets it at first and to just do my own research. I ended up going to the temple one more time before I left the LDS church.

Soon after leaving the LDS church I learned how the Endowment ceremony that I experienced wasn’t how the ritual had always been performed, as I had previously thought. Nearly every era and sect of Mormonism has had a distinct version of this ritual. I learned about the penalties that existed before 1990, the preacher, how the initiatory was once performed naked, and how you swore to enact revenge upon the United States for killing Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

One thing I was surprised to find was the temples’ association with freemason ceremonies. For years the LDS church denied this, but in a video they released recently the LDS church essentially says that the endowment ceremony was designed (and based heavily on freemasonry) to be able to communicate to people in the 19th century in a way they would understand.

As I continued to learn about the history of temples I found that the temple wasn’t always used for baptisms for the dead, initiatories, endowments, and sealings. Those rituals, at least how we think of them today, weren’t even a part of the temple until the Nauvoo era. The temple was a special place set aside as a cultural hub where everything happened for the Mormon community. It was a place for headquarters, education, worship, rituals, weddings, dancing, singing, and music. A stark contrast from the solemn purposes of the temple today. Eventually I found /u/JohnHamer‘s post “Evolving Temple Practices: Early Church and Today” which beautifully and simply illustrates the changes throughout time.

I learned that a temple wasn’t always necessary for these ordinances either. The Red Brick Store was where the modern initiatories and endowments were first held and the Utah-era Endowment House was used for initiatories, endowments, and sealings. There were several key differences between the Endowment House and the temple, which Brigham Young explains in Journal of Discourses 16:185. The Endowment House could be used for baptisms, baptisms for the dead, sealings, initiatories, and endowments. However a temple was necessary for endowments for the dead, sealings for the dead, and for the Law of Adoption.

I decided to look at other sects of Mormonism to see what temples are used for. The only sects to have a temple are the LDS church, Community of Christ, Apostolic United Brethren, the WightitesThe Peterson Group, and the FLDS church. There are several other temples which remain unfinished, such as the Temple Lot, Voree (Strangite), and Far West temples. The only sect that owns a temple and doesn’t have some form of the initatories and endowments is Community of Christ. There are a couple of sects that have announced intentions to build temples, such as the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (A CoC break off) and The Fellowship of the Remnants (Snufferites), but they have not specified what their temple worship will look like. The Cutlerites have no temple but their meetinghouse in Independence, Missouri is used for initiatories and endowments. Word on the street is that the Cutlerite endowment likely represents the Nauvoo era endowments more closely than any other sect of Mormonism. The Strangites also had an endowment ritual, but no temple.

All of this brings up a lot of questions, such as

  1. What is the point of a temple if there is a precedent for performing practically every ritual/ordinance without them?
  2. If the fundamental covenants and rituals/ordinances of the temple can change, what exactly is their point?
  3. If the temple rituals can be changed or removed, could it change again in other fundamental ways to exclude outdated ideas and beliefs?
  4. Who has the authority to change the ceremonies and how often should they be allowed to change
  5. If God used 19th century techniques to communicate covenants in the endowment ceremony, why can’t 21st century techniques be used today? What would the endowment and the temple look like if there wasn’t a masonic influence?

I will be addressing a lot of these concerns in my next post in this series. Stay tuned!