Temples have been so important in religious history that when the Israelites had to travel in the wilderness, God had them take a portable tabernacle with them. Throughout the Old Testament, we see temples playing essential roles in the history of God’s church. By the time Jesus began His mission, there was only one remaining, the Temple of Herod, and Jesus was often found there. He made it clear to the world that temples are sacred places that are not to be treated lightly when He cleansed the temple after finding it being treated like a mere marketplace.
Today, most religions have abandoned the building of temples, but Mormons—a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—continue to build temples that are dedicated to the Lord as His home. These Mormon temples are sacred spaces, not meant to be tourist attractions or places for the curious spectator. Jesus designated them as sacred places and this is how Mormons treat them. They are a place where Mormons can spend a few quiet hours away from the trials and distractions of the world and focus entirely on sacred things in the company of believers.
In order to go inside a Mormon temple, a person must be well-prepared by being an adult with a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and with experience living the gospel. Converts must have been members for at least one year, to give them time to learn and to grow. Most other members enter just before leaving on volunteer missions or before marriage. If they do not serve missions or marry, they and their church leader decide together when they are ready to go through a Mormon temple for the first time. Teens may enter one portion of the temple, the baptistry, to perform proxy baptisms, and children enter only when being sealed to their families, which is discussed more in depth later in this article. Most children do not enter temples past the waiting rooms.
Inside Mormon temple walls, Mormons carry out the work of the Lord. They perform several ordinances which have eternal significance, first for themselves, and then for those who died without the opportunity to do them.
The Endowment Room
The word endowment means “gift” and the endowment received in the temple is a gift from Heavenly Father. The endowment prepares us to return home to God after life ends on Earth. In the endowment room, participants learn more about the atonement of Jesus Christ and why it is the only way to be saved from our sins. The Endowment ceremony gives a glimpse of what Heaven will be like and gives participants the opportunity to make promises (called covenants) to God that they will keep His commandments both out of love for God and an understand that they were created to protect us. God outlined in the New Testament the penalties for failing to keep our covenants, and they are always spiritual, not physical. Because the temple is focused on the need for the atonement of Jesus Christ and is designed to give us a greater appreciation of it, it is clear Mormons value and know the critical need of that great sacrifice and gift.
Mormons believe that if we live the gospel—accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and keep the commandments He gave us—we can live with our families for eternity. Mormons believe that God created families for a divine purpose and that He instructed us to put our families first. It would be odd to have God tell us make our families a priority and to teach us to love them deeply and then take them away from us at death. Heaven is a place of joy, and few find it possible to be fully joyful without those they love most.
Mormons believe, therefore, that God meant family life to continue on after death. Inside Mormon temples, Latter-day Saints can be married for eternity, rather than scheduling a divorce at death. They also believe children born into such families are automatically part of that eternal family as well. Couples who were married civilly prior to being sealed in the temple and then wish to be sealed may do so. They must wait one year after a civil marriage to be sealed in the temple. Children born prior to that day are “sealed” or joined to their parents and their siblings at that time. Children who are adopted may also be sealed to their families in special ceremonies in the temple.
Couples and families are sealed in a sealing room. They kneel across an altar and watch their reflections in two parallel mirrors reflecting infinitely, symbolizing the eternal nature of the covenant they are making.
Many people never have the opportunity to receive the ordinances mentioned above in their lifetime. Some died never even knowing about Jesus Christ because of when or where they lived or how young they were when they died. Some did not receive testimonies of the gospel or a true opportunity to choose the temple ordinances. God is, in Mormon doctrine, absolutely fair. He loves us and wants us to return home to Him. He does not punish people for situations beyond their control and certainly it is difficult to imagine a loving God punishing an infant for dying without baptism since that is beyond control.
Mormons believe that God provided for these circumstances by creating proxy ordinances. Ordinances must be performed on this earth. Those who have died without receiving them are stuck in their eternal progression. Inside Mormon temples, worthy Latter-day Saints perform vicarious ordinances on behalf of their ancestors. The deceased person will not receive the benefit of the ordinance unless he or she accepts that ordinance. No one has these ordinances forced upon them, but after the proxy ordinances are performed, individuals may then choose to accept or reject those ordinances.
Mormons believe that after death, those who did not hear the gospel have the opportunity to be taught about Jesus Christ. After a deceased person has learned the gospel of Jesus Christ, he or she is given the opportunity to accept or reject what has been taught. This process is just as it would have been on Earth. If a person rejects the gospel, any ordinances done on his or her behalf have no effect at all—it is as if they never happened.
The temple is a sacred place designed solely to carry out God’s work and to increase our love, understanding, and testimony of Him.