The Purpose of Community of Christ’s temple in Independence

At the RLDS conference in April 1968 D&C 149 and 149A were canonized. Section 149:6A says:

The time has come for a start to be made toward building my temple in the Center Place. It shall stand on a portion of the plot of ground set apart for this purpose many years ago by my servant Joseph Smith, Jr. The shape and character of the building is to conform to ministries which will be carried out within its walls. These functions I will reveal through my servant the prophet and his counselors from time to time, as need for more specific direction arises.

Building the temple on the temple lot was a VERY big deal. People were anxious to understand what the temple would be for, and were somewhat curious about if there would be an endowment ceremony, baptisms for the dead, if it would be exclusively for RLDS members, and what its purpose would be in general. It should also be noted that the sections of the D&C which talk about baptism for the dead were seen as theological speculation by Joseph Smith Jr. The sections were very controversial and would actually be explicitly decanonized in 1970. Many people today say that those sections weren’t properly presented to the church because they weren’t presented for a vote by the president in 1844 (Because Joseph Smith Jr. was dead and there was no president of the church).

1968 was an odd year, and D&C 149 was controversial and affected church hierarchy with other verses, and so Section 149A which clarified some things was also given and canonized that year. Section 149A:6 says:

It is also to be noted that the full and complete use of the temple is yet to be revealed but that there is no provision for secret ordinances now or ever, although there will be provision for instructional opportunities which will of necessity be restricted to the particular category concerned, viz, high priests, patriarchs, bishops, seventies, elders, Aaronic priesthood, and so forth.

2 months later in June in “The Saints’ Herald”, the church’s magazine, the First Presidency published an article called “The Temple: A Symbol of Contemporary Application of Divine Intelligence to Human needs”, which talked more about what the purpose of the temple would be. This paper was a pivotal moment in Community of Christ’s history in relationship to its understanding of temples. This is that article in its entirety

The Temple: A Symbol of Contemporary Application of Divine Intelligence to Human needs

The time has come for a start to be made toward building my temple in the Center Place. … The shape and character of the building is to conform to ministries which will be carried out within its walls. … the full and complete use of the temple is yet to be revealed … there will be provision for instructional opportunities which will of necessity be restricted to the particular category concerned – Doctrine and Covenants 149:6; 149A:6

For many years the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has awaited further instruction concerning temple building in general and the Center Place temple in particular. Instruction has been given the attention to the Center Place temple is now appropriate. Certain questions remain unanswered, but the divine promise is that the temple functions will be revealed “through my servant the prophet and his counselors from time to time, as need for more specific direction arises” (Doctrine and Covenants 149:6 a). Further insights under the direction of the Spirit can be confidently anticipated.

Certain principles are already clear. The temple is not a place of secret ordinances. The design of the building is to be determined by its functions. These functions, in turn, are basically those which arise out of the church’s divine mission. No clearer statement of the mission of the church has been made then the words of Jesus, “as my father hath sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21).

Of his own mission Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish; but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16, 17).

The church is sometimes described as “the body of Christ.” Jesus himself said that the church as represented by the disciples is sent forth by him even as the Father sent him into the world “that the world through him might be saved.”

The mission of the church is to become the incarnation in the world of the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. This incarnation involves forms, procedures, activities, and resources, and anticipates the kind of redemptive ministry which will fulfill the Divine promise: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever …” (Revelation 11:15)

From these prophetic insights into the church’s mission it becomes clear that the functions of the church are world oriented. The church is not expected to take on the nature of the world, but it is expected to be so involved in the life of the world that its redemptive influence becomes an extension of the redemptive ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, who said of himself, “If I be lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all men unto me.”

The temple is a symbol of the church’s mission, but it is more than a symbol in that it also provides specific resources for the pursuit of that mission. In the larger sense the mission of the church is greater than the temple. The symbolic significance of the temple, therefore, extends beyond the particular activities, helpful though they may be, which will be carried on within its walls. Furthermore, those activities take their meaning from what transpires in the lives of those who go out from the walls into their mission

We have some guidance already from earlier prophetic instruction about the nature of Temple functions. They will be examined in greater detail, but it is well to note first of all that these functions appear to have nothing to do with the distortions of Temple function that developed in Nauvoo. They have nothing to do with secret ordinances. The spirit of Temple functions is not the spirit of self-interest or of ethnocentrism. The temple functions are not esoteric Gnosticism. In other words, Temple functions do not involve the private administration of rituals and ceremonies which are intended to fix interest upon those who participate and the meaning of which is reserved to an inner circle of believers.

Having indicated some features which are not legitimate Temple functions, we now note the emphases found in instructions already given

In a revelation given prior to the construction of the Kirtland temple, the church was instructed to “teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study, and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 85:36 a). This instruction was associated with specific commandments concerning the functions of “the house of the Lord, in the school of the prophets, that it may become a sanctuary, a tabernacle, of the Holy Spirit to your edification” (Doctrine and Covenants 85:44 b). Soon thereafter a conference in Kirtland was called to plan the implementation of this instruction, and the report of the conference indicated that the function of the School of the Prophets was to be a significant aspect of the use of the “house of the Lord” ( Times and Seasons, volume six, pages 784-785).

The building which was to house these functions is described as “a house of prayer … a house of fasting … a house of faith … a house of learning … a house of glory … a house of order … a house of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 85:36 b)

Provision was also made for the physical facilities to be related to the instruction of the priesthood in their quorum organization “beginning at the high priests, even down to the deacons” (Doctrine and Covenants 85:39 b).

Further instruction indicated that this house of worship and instruction was to serve “for the work of the Presidency in obtaining revelations, and for the work of the ministry of the Presidency, in all things pertaining to the church and kingdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 91: 1 b). Still further instructions provided that a portion of the building should “be dedicated unto me for your sacrament offering, and for your preaching; and your fasting, and your praying, and the offering up of your most holy desires unto me,” and that a portion of the building should be “dedicated unto me for the school of mine apostles” (Doctrine and Covenants 92: 3 e, f).

It is of the utmost significance that the function of “obtaining revelations” is placed in a setting in which instruction, mental discipline, and ministerial training are predominant. The educational environment of the temple should produce a context in which the appropriate prophetic questions are developed. Revelation is not received in a vacuum but is spiritual insights which develop on firm foundations of intelligence as “the glory of God.”

Many of the provisions for these functions in the “house of the Lord” in Kirtland were incorporated into the design of the ground floor and upper floor auditoriums and third floor classrooms. The multiple functions of the building were further facilitated by the use of partition curtains which permitted the segregation of certain portions for priesthood quorum functions and instruction.

It would be a great mistake to conceptualize a building in the late 20th century in the same architectural terms as those which dictated the construction of the Kirtland temple. It would be most inappropriate to think of such a building in terms of the architecture of the Middle Ages or of ancient times. Today’s temple must contribute to the achievement of the church’s mission in today’s world. This principle has significance for every aspect of temple purpose, function, design, and construction.

The temple should be conceived first of all as an aspect of incarnation. That is, it’s form and substance must be truly expressive of the church’s historic and contemporary call to world mission. It’s functions, then, must be conceived primarily in terms of universal human needs.

These needs have to do with attitudes, mentality and intellectual powers, art and beauty and esthetic values, specific instruction and functional training in office-centered ministry, public worship, and a shrine which at the same time that it memorializes our spiritual heritage also challenges us to the contemporary enrichment of that heritage through service

Let us not think of the temple as a Retreat from the world. Let us not think of it as the center of a community of withdrawal. Let us not think of it as a symbol of self-interest and divine favoritism. Instead, what is think of the temple as a place where those who are called to share in the ministry of Jesus meet with each other and God to ask hard questions about the demands of redemptive ministry. Let us find there the spiritual resources which make possible such sacrificial and redemptive ministry. Let us go there for enrichment and refreshment only to go out and spend our riches and release our power on behalf of suffering humanity.

The temple of Zion must represent more than anything else the spirit of Zion of which the ancient prophet said of the purposes of God:

And he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and they shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their Spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn more any more.

Unless the Temple of Zion serves this function, it is better for us not to build it. If it does serve this function it not only will contribute to human redemption through the specific activities which are carried on there but will be a church-wide symbol of the Divine mission of the church to the world to make contemporary application of divine intelligence to human needs

The First Presidency

W. Wallace Smith

Maurice L. Draper

Duane E. Couey