Redemption for the Dead, Part II
Tied to the previous lesson from the Joseph Smith manual, which I blogged about before, is lesson 36, “Receiving the Ordinances and Blessings of the Temple”:
Spending most of my time around biblical Christians these days there are some nuances on this subject that are not necessarily that meaningful to most Latter-day Saints. In some ways I was looking for specific things to be offended about and didn’t necessarily find those things, mostly because the lesson wasn’t that specific about them. It tends to refer to “ordinances of salvation” with sort of a broad brush, without being specific about what ordinances might be involved in specific aspects of salvation.
For me, even when I was a believing Latter-day Saint, there were nuances to this subject because of all the various kingdoms involved. From the LDS view “salvation” could be a range of things from just being in “Heaven” to becoming a king and priest unto the most high God to achieving “exaltation”, i.e. godhood. My viewpoint was always that salvation was sort of a graded event with a number of different possible outcomes, depending on worthiness, ordinances, and ultimately what kind of place your faith would lead you to want to spend time and all eternity.
Well, the lesson doesn’t really get into that and just isn’t very specific in that way. Probably representative statements are these:
““The question is frequently asked, ‘Can we not be saved without going through with all those ordinances, etc.?’ I would answer, No, not the fullness of salvation. Jesus said, ‘There are many mansions in my Father’s house, and I will go and prepare a place for you.’ [See John 14:2.] House here named should have been translated kingdom; and any person who is exalted to the highest mansion has to abide a celestial law, and the whole law too.”15
“All men who become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ will have to receive the fulness of the ordinances of his kingdom; and those who will not receive all the ordinances will come short of the fulness of that glory.”16
So clearly to receive the fullness of salvation all the ordinances must be received, which I think we can reasonably assume to mean temple marriage.
So I think any cathartic goal I might have had to rip this lesson to shreds in that way is just going to be frustrated.
I will comment on a few things I found just plain wrong about this lesson, possibly more because of misleading impressions it might give than what it might actually say.
This statement would be my poster child:
“In March 1844, the Prophet met with the Twelve and the Nauvoo Temple committee to discuss how to allocate the Church’s meager resources. In this meeting, the Prophet said: “We need the temple more than anything else.” "
You can probably twist this statement different ways, but fundamentally what it says is not true.
We do not need the temple more than anything else. We need the blessings of the atonement more than anything else.
You might say that the temple is the place we go to get the fullness of those blessings, but this obsessive focus on the temple itself encourages an unhealthy idolatry. It causes us to think about the mechanics. The building, the hoops you have to jump through to get a temple recommend, your personal “worthiness”, the authority of the person who signs the recommend who functionally stands between you and eternal life if you can’t convince them you’re worthy, etc.
To the extent that temple ordinances have any actual impact on our eternal life, the miracle and power behind those ordinances is what Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, and there is simply no other responsible way to present this subject.
There was one quote from the lesson I thought verged on the bizarre:
“If a man gets a fulness of the priesthood of God, he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord. … “
I find any number of things to be offensive about this statement. It’s odd in general to think of the great God who created heaven and earth, who spoke and brought the known universes into existence, having to be evaluated by some kind of scorecard, just like we are, and having to receive ordinances, I assume directly from the hand of God the Father, as there was nobody else to administer them. I’m somehow imagining God the Father dressed in a white polyester suit standing behind an altar and pushing buttons to roll the film, while Jesus Christ has a little slip of paper pinned to his robe with his name on it. Then I start to think about having to stand in the prayer circle, I assume with Heavenly Mother, and it goes downhill from there.
Probably the thing that is most offensive is that this idea, conceptually similar to the King Follett sermon, brings Christ down to our level. He has to follow the same rules and system we do, which at the same time diminishes the glory and authority of Christ and exalts the scorecard, the ordinances, and the “rules” we have to follow for eternal progression.
I reject both ideas.
Christ is incomparably holy. He defines holiness and perfection. And the “system” we have established for salvation in the LDS church in the latter days is a fraud. Man is created as an imperfect being for reasons we don’t totally understand, and we achieve eternal life through faith and the merits of the Christ and not primarily through our own efforts or ordinances administered by fallible human beings. The New Testament and Book of Mormon are crystal-clear on this. I don’t understand why the LDS church has chosen to twist the foundational scriptures in this way.
In general the problem with lessons like this is not the underlying doctrine or practice, with some obvious exceptions. I think it would be totally possible to present this subject in a balanced way that gave glory to God, reinforced the principles of salvation by faith through the merits of Christ, and helped people to appreciate the power of Joseph Smith’s words and the beauty of the ordinances. Instead the brains behind this lesson choose to reinforce the authority of LDS church leaders and to twist this doctrine and these practices into some kind of weird para-Christian cult, and I find this perpetually disappointing.