Immo Luschin, “Temple Worship and Activity,” in Latter-day Saint Essentials: Readings from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. John W. Welch and Devan Jensen (Provo, UT: BYU Studies and the Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002), 102–5.
Temple Worship and Activity
Performing ordinances and seeking the will of the Lord in the temple are a sacred and meaningful form of worship in Latter-day Saint religious life. In the temple, holy truths are taught and solemn covenants are made in the name of Jesus Christ, both by the individual members on their own behalf and as proxies on behalf of others who have died (the latter have the choice in the spirit world to accept or reject such vicarious service). Obedience to temple covenants and reverence in doing temple ordinances give peace in this world and the promise of eternal life in the world to come.
There are special areas inside each temple for the various ordinances. A large baptismal font supported on the backs of twelve sculpted oxen (cf. 1 Kgs. 7:25) is used for baptism for the dead. In other areas are cubicles in which individuals are ritually washed and anointed before endowments can be performed. In the older temples, larger rooms are decorated to represent the Creation, the Garden of Eden, this world, and the Terrestrial Kingdom, and in such endowment rooms, participants watch and hear figurative presentations in which scenes are acted out, depicting by whom and why the earth was created and how one may come to dwell again in God’s presence. The participants make covenants and receive promises and blessings. This is known as receiving one’s endowment. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that this endowment was necessary to empower one “to overcome all things” (Teachings, p. 91). A veil symbolically divides the terrestrial room from the celestial room, which suggests through furnishings and decor the peace, beauty, and glory of the highest degree of heaven. Also in the temple are smaller sealing rooms, where temple marriages and sealings are solemnized for the living and vicariously for the dead. A temple may also have an upper room where solemn assemblies can be convened.
The first visit to the temple for one’s own endowment is a major event in the life of a Latter-day Saint. (Children enter the temple only to be sealed to their parents or, after age twelve, to be baptized for the dead.) Full-time missionaries receive their endowment shortly before they begin to serve; other members generally do so shortly before temple marriage or, if unmarried, at a mature time in life. All Latter-day Saints attending a temple must be worthy, and the men must hold the Melchizedek Priesthood.
After receiving his or her personal endowment, a Church member is encouraged to return often to reexperience the same ordinances on behalf of persons who have died without receiving them. The temple goer stands as a proxy for a person of his or her gender on each visit to the temple. This selfless service of “saviours . . . on mount Zion” (cf. Obad. 1:21) is rooted in faith in the literal resurrection and afterlife of all human beings.
After being dedicated, LDS temples are not open to the public but are restricted to Latter-day Saints. Even among themselves, Latter-day Saints do not talk about the details of the temple ceremony outside the Temple, because they are sacred. In the temple, worshipers go through several steps that symbolize withdrawal from the world and entrance into the abode of deity. They present their temple recommend to enter, change from street clothes to all-white clothing, and communicate only in quiet voices while in the holy building. Temples are not open on Sunday, because the Sabbath day is dedicated to worshiping the Lord in homes and in Church gatherings at meetinghouses.
For those who enter the house of the Lord with “clean hands, and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:4), with a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Ne. 9:20; cf. Ps. 51:17), and with no ill feelings toward others (Matt. 5:23–24), the temple is an ideal place to worship through meditation, renewal, prayer, and quiet service. The Lord described his house 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” (D&C 88:119). The reverence in the temple is hospitable to the spirit of humble worship and holiness. In the stillness of the Lord’s house, those who yearn to hear the word of the Father and to be heard by him pray silently or join in solemn supplications on behalf of the sick and afflicted and those seeking inspiration and guidance (cf. 1 Kgs. 8:30–49).
Words spoken in the temple endowment give “the answers of eternity” (Hinckley, p. 37) lodged in the perspective of all God’s children. The words set forth eternal principles to be used in solving life’s dilemmas, and they mark the way to become more Christlike and progressively qualify to live with God. There, the laws of the new and everlasting covenant are taught—laws of obedience, sacrifice, order, love, chastity, and consecration. In the temple, one learns the sacred roles of men and women in the eternal plan of God the Father and toward each other, receives a stable perspective on the repeating pattern of life, and gains a greater love for ancestors and all mankind.
This refuge from the world is part of the fulfillment for Latter-day Saints of the ancient prophecy that “in the last days . . . the Lord’s house shall be established . . . and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isa. 2:2). In the house of the Lord, faithful Church members seek to understand whom they worship and how to worship, so that in due time they may come to the Father in Christ’s name and receive of the Father’s fulness (D&C 93:19).
Derrick, Royden G. Temples in the Last Days. Salt Lake City, 1987.
Edmunds, John K. Through Temple Doors. Salt Lake City, 1978.
Hinckley, Gordon B. “Why These Temples?” Ensign 4 (Aug. 1974): 37–41.
Leone, Mark P. “The New Mormon Temple in Washington, D.C.” In Historical Archaeology and the Importance of Material Things. Charleston, S.C., 1977.
Madsen, Truman G. “The Temple and the Restoration.” In The Temple in Antiquity, ed. Truman G. Madsen. Provo, Utah, 1984.
Packer, Boyd K. The Holy Temple. Salt Lake City, 1980.
Smith, Joseph. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City, 1976.
Talmage, James E. The House of the Lord. Salt Lake City, 1976.