The Sacred Importance of Temples
“Chapter 13: The Sacred Importance of Temples,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 125
I pray with all my soul that all members of the Church and their children and their children’s children may realize the great truths presented in the house of the Lord. 1
When David O. McKay became President of the Church in 1951, the Church had eight temples in operation. Four were in Utah, with the others in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, and Alberta. In the summer of 1952, President McKay traveled to nine European countries. During this trip, he selected the sites for temples in Switzerland and England, opening an era in which the blessings of the temple would become available outside the United States and Canada. 2
In the process of selecting and acquiring temple sites, President McKay was guided by divine inspiration. When he had selected the site for the London England Temple, engineers were reluctant, saying that the ground was too swampy. However, after closer examination, bedrock was found at the right depth to support the temple’s foundation. In Switzerland, when President McKay and other Church leaders were unable to obtain the first site that had been selected, they prayed to the Lord for help. Soon they found another site that was larger but cost only half as much. At about the same time, a highway was unexpectedly constructed through part of the original site, making the discovery of the new site all the more fortunate. 3
President McKay dedicated the Bern Switzerland Temple in 1955 and the London England Temple in 1958. He also dedicated the Los Angeles California Temple (1956), the Hamilton New Zealand Temple (1958), and the Oakland California Temple (1964). President McKay’s leadership in making temples more widely available throughout the world blessed the lives of countless members, their ancestors, and their posterity. An excerpt from his diary reflects his testimony of the importance of temple work; on the day he dedicated the Bern Switzerland Temple site, he wrote, “I want to bring the temple to the people.” 4
Teachings of David O. McKay
The temple endowment leads us to the kingdom of God.
There is the Temple “endowment,” which is … an ordinance pertaining to man’s eternal journey and limitless possibilities and progress which a just and loving Father has provided for the children whom he made in his own image—for the whole human family. This is why Temples are built. 5
God help us to appreciate the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, which is all-comprehensive. The philosophy of life is contained in it, and in our temples will be presented the endowment, obedience to which will take the individual (and this is my testimony, for I know it) from the most selfish, envious, antagonistic, hateful characteristics of the animal plane, to the highest spiritual plane and to the kingdom of God. 6
In temples, couples and families can be sealed for eternity.
One of the principal questions asked by reporters, newsmen and by people generally is, “What is the difference between your Temple and your other church edifices?” As all members of the Church know, the answer is that Temples are built for the performance of sacred ordinances—not secret, but sacred. A Temple is not a public house of worship. It is erected for special purposes. Indeed after a Temple is dedicated only members of the Church in good standing may enter.
One of the distinguishing features of the restored Church of Jesus Christ is the eternal nature of its ordinances and ceremonies. For example, generally in civil as well as in church ceremonies, couples are married “for time” only, or “until death dost thee part.” But love is as eternal as the spirit of man; and if man continues after death, which he does, so will love.
This interests nearly every intelligent inquirer and investigator, especially when he or she realizes the truth, that love—the divinest attribute of the human soul—will be just as eternal as the spirit itself. So whenever any person dies, the virtue of love will persist, and if any inquirer believes in the immortality of the soul, or in the persistence of personality after death, he must admit that love will also persist. …
… The injunction of the Savior [is] to love our neighbor as ourselves. But if earthly things are typical of heavenly things, in the spirit world we shall recognize our loved ones there and know them as we loved them here. I love my wife more than I can love other people. I love my children. I can have sympathy; I can have a desire to help all mankind, but I love her by whose side I have sat and watched a loved one in illness, or, perhaps, pass away. Those experiences bind heart to heart, and it is a glorious thought to cherish that death cannot separate hearts that are thus bound together; for each of you husbands will recognize your wife in the other world, and you will love her there as you love her here, and will come forth to a newness of everlasting life in the resurrection. Why should death separate you when love will continue after death?
It should not, and it need not, for when Jesus was upon the earth he told his Apostles: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19.) And with the restoration to earth of the Holy Priesthood, the Church asserts that this power was again given to chosen men, and that in the house of the Lord where the marriage ceremony is performed by those who are properly authorized to represent our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the union between husband and wife, and between parents and children, is effected for time and all eternity, and that for those thus married the family will continue into the eternities. 7
Joseph [Smith] the seer … revealed the eternity of the marriage covenant, a doctrine so beautiful, so logical, so far-reaching in its significance that if it were adopted in its entirety, many of the present evils of society might be abolished. 8
Temple work offers salvation for those who have died without the gospel.
A Chinese student, returning to his homeland, having graduated from one of our leading colleges, was in conversation with a Christian minister, also en route to China. When this minister urged the truth that only through acceptance of Christ’s teachings can any man be saved, the [student] said: “Then what about my ancestors who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus?” The minister answered: “They are lost.” Said the student: “I will have nothing to do with a religion so unjust as to condemn to eternal punishment men and women who are just as noble as we, perhaps nobler, but who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus.”
One who understands the truth, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph regarding this doctrine, would have answered: “They will have an opportunity to hear the gospel, and to obey every principle and ordinance by proxy. Every man here or hereafter will be judged and rewarded according to his works.” 9
Since repentance and baptism by water as well as by the Spirit are essential to salvation, how shall the millions who have never heard the Gospel, who have never had an opportunity either to repent or to be baptized, enter into the kingdom of God? Surely a God of love can never be satisfied if the majority of His children are outside His kingdom, dwelling eternally either in ignorance, misery or hell. Such a thought is revolting to intelligent minds. On the other hand, if these millions who died without having heard the Gospel can enter into the kingdom of God without obeying the principles and ordinances of the Gospel, then Christ’s words to Nicodemus [see John 3:2–5] were not the statement of a general and eternal truth, and Peter’s words on the Day of Pentecost [see Acts 2:38] had not a universal application, even though he said plainly, “This promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” [See Acts 2:39.]
Now the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances thereof. [See Articles of Faith 1:3.] Nor is the term “all” restricted in meaning to include only a chosen few; it means every child of a loving and divine Father. And yet, hundreds of millions have died without ever having heard that there is such a thing as a Gospel plan.
All nations and races have a just claim upon God’s mercies. Since there is only one plan of salvation, surely there must be some provision made whereby the “uncounted dead” may hear of it and have the privilege of either accepting or rejecting it. Such a plan is given in the principle of salvation for the dead. …
Paul referred to [the] practice of baptism [for the dead] in his argument in favor of the resurrection. He said, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?” (1 Cor. 15:29). … Not a few commentators have tried to explain away [this passage’s] true significance; but its context proves plainly that in the days of the apostles there existed the practice of baptism for the dead; that is, living persons were immersed in water for and in behalf of those who were dead—not who were “dead to sin” but who had “passed to the other side.”
In the Kirtland Temple, April 3, 1836, the Prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and delivered to them “powers of the priesthood” that authorize the living to do work for the dead. These “keys” were restored in fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5–6). The hearts of the fathers and of the children will be turned to one another when the fathers in the spirit world, hearing the Gospel preached and realizing that they must obey the ordinances thereof, know that their children on the earth are performing those ordinances for them.
All such “work for the dead” is performed in temples, dedicated and set apart for such purposes, where proper records are kept, and where everything is considered sacred.
With the responsibility resting upon them to carry out this important phase of Gospel service, the Latter-day Saints have become a temple-building people. 10
You may have the opportunity of gathering the names of your ancestors, who, being baptized by proxy, may become members of the kingdom of God in the other world as we are members here.
Since the restoration of this principle and practice, Church members have zealously searched the records of the world for the history of their ancestors that their forefathers might receive vicariously the blessings of the gospel of Christ. In connection with this work the Church maintains an extensive genealogical organization. 11
In this principle of salvation for the dead, is revealed the comprehensiveness of the saving power of the Gospel, and the applicability to all mankind of the Savior’s teachings. Truly, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12.] All ordinances performed by the Priesthood of the Most High are as eternal as love, as comprehensive and enduring as life, and through obedience to them, all mankind, living and dead, may enter into and abide eternally in the kingdom of God. 12
We must enter the temple worthily and be faithful to the covenants we make there.
Those who go into the temple will go with recommends that they are true Christians; that they are true members of the Church of Christ; that they are honest with their fellow men; that they live in accordance with the ideals of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 13
Before [a temple] marriage is performed, it is necessary for the young man and young woman first to obtain a recommend from the bishop. … There, in the presence of the priesthood, before taking upon themselves the obligation of marriage, the young people receive instructions upon the sacredness of the duty that is before them; and, furthermore, they determine whether or not they are prepared to go in holiness and purity to the altar of God and there seal their vows and love. 14
Marriage in the temple is one of the most beautiful things in all the world. A couple is led there by love, the most divine attribute of the human soul. … Together they stand in the house of the Lord to testify and covenant before him that they will be true to the covenants they make that day, each keeping himself or herself to the other and no one else. That is the highest ideal of marriage ever given to man. If those covenants are kept as sacred as sacred covenants should be kept, there would be fewer broken hearts among wives and fewer among the husbands. A covenant is a sacred thing. … Keep it true, be true to it. 15
Those who make covenants for their loved ones and participate in the highest ideal of marriage ever given to man will walk in the spirit and not indulge in the flesh. You will be true to the covenants you make in the House of God. 16
“My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3), says the Lord. “My spirit will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle.” He who tries to live a double life, who does live a double life in violation of his covenants, to quote one author, “is either a knave or a fool.” Often he is both, because he himself is using his free agency to gratify his passions, to waste his substance in riotous living, to violate the covenants that he has made in the house of God. 17
We have a responsibility to help make temple blessings available to others.
Our temples erected for the salvation and exaltation of the human family contribute to the carrying out of the eternal plan of salvation. The same laws of eternal progress are applicable to all of our Father’s children whether living in a mortal or a spiritual existence. Such a universal requirement reflects divine justice. …
The restored Church of Jesus Christ is the plan given by our Heavenly Father whereby every human being who can think for himself or herself may work with God for the happiness and salvation of his or her soul. Reason and justice would demand universal application of eternal principles and ordinances to persons living in mortality, and to those living in the spirit world.
Only thus may God’s work and glory be consummated through the immortality and eternal life of man.
The eternal plan of salvation is given by direct revelation by the Father and his Son to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the divine authority to officiate in the principles and ordinances rests upon the men who now guide the destiny of the revealed Church. 18
One of our greatest responsibilities is to make accessible to faithful members of the Church in foreign lands suitable houses of the Lord. Tens of thousands of them are not able to come where temples are, and where they receive the blessings of the endowment, to have sealed to them their wives and their children for time and all eternity. Ours is the duty to carry the temple to them. 19
O how glorious is the gospel! How great our responsibility to let the world glimpse its magnificence, its comprehensiveness, its divinity! I pray with all my soul that our temples will radiate further interest and a desire to know God’s will in the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands of noble people who want to know the truth. God help us all to increase our ability to spread this truth and to help mankind to know it. 20
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• Why is it vital that we receive the ordinances of the temple and make and keep the associated covenants? (See pages 126–28, 130–31.)
• How can the temple endowment lead us to eternal life? (See page 126.) Why is it important to attend the temple often? What blessings have you received from participating in temple ordinances and covenants? Why do you think it is important to receive these ordinances and covenants before serving a mission or starting an eternal family?
• What is required for marriage and family relationships to continue in the eternities? (See pages 126–28.) How should the doctrine of eternal marriage and families influence our relationships with our spouse and children? How would greater obedience to this doctrine help abolish “the present evils of society”?
• What are our responsibilities regarding the salvation of the dead? (See pages 128–30.) What are some ways you can participate in the work for the dead?
• How are temples a great manifestation of God’s love for all His children? (See pages 128–30.) How does temple work reflect the universal nature of the plan of salvation? (See pages 128–30.)
• What is the purpose of a temple recommend? (See page 130.) Why is individual worthiness essential to entering the temple? In what ways are we blessed as we remain faithful to our temple covenants? Why is it important to maintain a current temple recommend even if our circumstances do not allow us to attend often or at all?
• What can we do to help make temple blessings available to others? (See pages 131–32.)
2. See James B. Allen, “McKay, David O.,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992), 4 vols., 2:872–73.
3. See Richard O. Cowan, “Temples: History of Latter-day Saint Temples from 1831 to 1990,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4:1453.
5. The Purpose of the Temple (1976), Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (closed stacks, pamphlet), 11; paragraphing altered.