The Meetinghouse and the Temple

Michael Haycock has a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s in religion from Claremont Graduate University.  He currently serves as the Ecumenical/Christian Life Coordinator at Georgetown.  Views are, of course, his own.

LDS theology is like the double helix of DNA, unzipped:  it has two parallel strands that circle around each other, but which rarely connect. 

DNA

On one strand rests the Meetinghouse, with much of the Christianity we received through scripture ancient and modern and which we share with much of Christendom. 

On the other is the Temple, the divine anthropology of the eternal family, and eternal progression, which we hold unique among Christian faiths. [1]

I am convinced that much of the theological friction within the LDS Church is born of the gaps between these two theological strands, amplified by official near-silence on how to bind them together.

For instance, to emphasize our Christianity, Church leadership has excised “Mormon” from official vocabulary and highlighted “Jesus Christ” in the name of the Church.  Yet drawing from much of our rhetoric and current social policy focus, some members joke that we should be called the “Church of the Family of Latter-day Saints.”

The most common depiction of the Plan of Salvation does not feature Jesus Christ.

Salvation 1

When it does, Christ is seldom integrated structurally into the story of the progressing soul. He’s incidental, a bridge between fallen mortality and risen immortality. The salvation story is the individual soul’s; Christ just helps the soul along.

Salvation 2

Nowhere does this Plan of Salvation depict the family.  We speak of “saving ordinances,” the highest of which require temple marriage, yet attribute our salvation to Jesus alone. We then explain that salvation is a personal matter while exaltation is a familial one.  But we never specify whether Jesus, supposedly the fulcrum in all human soteriology, plays a different role for exaltation than he already does for salvation. The Church has increased its number of references to “Heavenly Parents,” but it never ties that narrative to Christ. We emphasize the grace of a perfect Savior who fulfilled all righteousness, but whose wife and children are never mentioned.

* * *

Visitors to our meetinghouses are often underwhelmed by the mundanity of what they find there: utilitarian design aesthetics; worship services dominated by member-prepared talks and old-style hymns; and a variant of communion without even wine. The ordinances performed in meetinghouses (and, indeed, in public) all have clear genealogies to the rituals performed by New Testament Christians. In addition to the Lord’s Supper, we perform baptisms, laying on of hands (for the Holy Ghost, health, blessings, and so forth), improvised prayer, and ordination to the priesthood (as an order for administration of congregations and ordinances). In addition to being broadly recognizable to other Christians, these rites posit a particular relationship between humans and God: adopted children, adoptive parent. It is this sort of kinship King Benjamin discusses when he speaks of individuals becoming instead of being begotten sons and daughters of God. Accordingly, among church members we call each other “brother” and “sister.”

(That said, we orient our worship less around Jesus than around his role as Christ: we order neither the spaces of our churches nor the times of our worship around events in the life of Jesus Christ. Worship does not vary in form even for Easter, and the central focus of our chapels is the pulpit, not the Sacrament table. Contrast this with many other Christian churches, whose buildings are designed in their shape and interiors to speak of the life of Christ and His servants and whose liturgical years are organized around the major events in Jesus’s life and in the early Church.)

By contrast, the temple revolves around marital and lineal relationships as constituted on Earth and extrapolated, via deification, into the heavens. The ordinances unique to the temple ordinances are at most hinted at in Biblical language but nowhere outlined, and they are not shared by any traditional Christian church.  In them, Christ is a character and a presence, but not the central figure. The ordinances tell the story not of individual Christians or of Jesus, but of Adam and Eve. The ordinance participants are gender-segregated, specifically arranged into heterosexual couples and embedded in a cosmological story. Men and women are admitted into God’s presence singly; they then proceed to a sealing room to receive God’s ratification of their union. 

In the temple, the priesthood becomes an apprenticeship in godhood instead of a administrative structure. The axis of each room is an altar at which couples (and sometimes their children) kneel and pray. In temple ordinances, we are not separate beings that God adopts as children; we are preexisting beings of his species and lineage, learning how to live up to our eternal, natural birthright and build the kingdom of God, including through reproduction. True, we repeat in the temple most of the rituals performed outside it, but with an eye to lineage.  Since 1894, we do proxy ordinances for our ancestors. The temple is the center of Zion, the New Jerusalem, but it’s closed on Sunday, the Lord’s Day.

(Patriarchal blessings also fit within the temple category: they are unique among Christian churches to the LDS tradition, are delivered by a man identified with a lineal term, and are kept mostly confidential.)

* * *

In the past, LDS authorities have tried to bridge the gaps between these two theological strands. Polygamist cosmology, with the Law of Adoption, featured hierarchical heavens in which Heavenly Father and Jesus participated in the accumulation of wives and children. Brigham Young attempted to wedge Adam more integrally into the story of humankind’s salvation (via so-called “Adam-God” theology, discarded and disavowed after Young’s death). Temples and their ordinances were less restricted in their purposes — you would never hear of a rebaptism for health nowadays.

Today, however, the relationship between Jesus Christ’s atonement and families is more tenuous. Preach My Gospel and “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” present the relationship as an instrumental one: “The Gospel Blesses Families” by teaching them to be better people by following God’s commandments and by making it possible for people to return to God’s presence.

On my mission, I reworked the Plan of Salvation visual aid so that it would make visually obvious what exactly was Jesus’s role in the “story of the soul” (see image, in which Jesus lowers the ladder of the Gospel down to folks dwelling in sin). But official references don’t go further, or explain how Jesus makes family exaltation possible on top of individual salvation; it often seems like family exaltation is just the byproduct of saved individuals having received an extra ordinance, sealing.

Salvation 3

Focusing on Jesus doesn’t help us understand either why “marriage between man and woman is essential to God’s eternal plan” [2] or any differences between the sexes.  Indeed, we read that there is “no male or female … in the Lord.” (Galatians 3:28).  It doesn’t help us understand the differences between exaltation and salvation, and why we should self-evidently prefer the former (besides the mere fact that it’s “higher”). It doesn’t help us understand the role of reproduction and childrearing in the eternities. It doesn’t even explain why keeping families together is important.

And vice versa: it’s very hard to relate discussions of the structure of families to the Son of God, who deflected praise of his mother (Luke 11:27), seemingly disavowed his mother and brothers (Matthew 12:48-50), said that he would pit family members against each other (Matthew 10:34-37), and assigned a disciple as a son to his own mother (John 19:25-29).

In short: if we want to talk about families and Jesus, we need to do some serious work linking them together. We need to make the marriage of Temple and Meetinghouse more than an inherited tradition, the architectural instantiations of assimilation and retrenchment.  It must be the living, bountiful theological soil in which we can plant our individual and communal selves.  Until we do that, we’re open to valid critique from both sides. And until we do that, we will lose those for whom the unresolved tension grows too great.

—notes—

[1] Except for Mormon fundamentalists.

[2] No matter how many times General Authorities quote Jesus quoting Genesis about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving unto his wife.

Comments

  1. The ladder in your hand-drawn Plan of Salvation is a definite improvement, to both earth life and the spirit world.

    I also have been reading and re-reading this and making a little chart, and you’re 100% right.

    (My chart doesn’t format right so it’s just a list)

    MEETINGHOUSE
    Christ
    Scripture
    Individual
    Adoption
    Salvation
    Public/Open

    TEMPLE
    Adam/Eve
    Endowment/Temple Ordinances
    Family
    Birthright
    Exaltation
    Private/Closed

  2. Last Lemming says:

    Perhaps the reason we don’t talk much about Christ’s role in the exaltation process is because he hasn’t actually done it yet–that’s what the Second Coming is for. Then we will, under his direction, establish the Zion society that is a prerequisite for exaltation.

  3. felixfabulous says:

    Excellent post, you articulated some tension I have felt for a long time. I have gone through a “slow burn” faith crisis and come out of it seeing the value in the meetinghouse side of the Church, I value the community, youth programs and the chance to contribute in a calling. I have not been able to fit the temple piece back in the puzzle. When my belief shifted from literal to metaphorical, I found the temple to be about binding people to the institution and submitting to leaders and church authority, rather than feeling divine love and improving the world.

    I see this as a huge potential conflict going forward as so much of our resources and energy have been put toward the temple side. If we have more and more members shift their beliefs, we may have the temple lose meaning for a lot of people and have a lot of empty, unstaffed temples. My parents and many boomers I know can’t seem to get enough of the temple, but I wonder how many Gen-Xers and Millennials are that enthusiastic about it.

    I would like to see more resources put toward the meetinghouse experience, child care during sacrament meeting, better speakers, different music and more audio visual incorporation. When I have suggested these things, people see them as ridiculous. Yet, we go to the temple and essentially just take it all in while volunteer staff (and some employees) make the experience happen for us. There always seems to be money for temple things and no money for the meetinghouse side.

    I also agree that the two experiences are different theologically. I would encourage everyone to read the pre-1990 ceremony. I feel like it used to have even less of a role for Jesus and was very disparaging of other Christian denominations (the digs at the protestant ministers and Catholics are pretty bold and very witty, I see a lot of Brigham Young in them). But the focus is much more communal and I always felt like I was going back in time to an earlier Church. It will be interesting to see what the Church does with the temple in my lifetime.

  4. This is a great post, Michael.

    I remember the first time (and maybe the only time in an official church meeting) that I heard someone explicitly connect Jesus to the sealing power. As a missionary I listened to Elder Kikuchi give a talk when he visited our mission where he asserted forcefully that the power to seal families for time and all eternity came directly from of gethsemane and calvary. He didn’t explain it and I didn’t really understand it, but I sort of blew my mind as a young kid, and immediately appealed to me. I think it’s a really important connection that we should be making.

    In my opinion, it is a big mistake–though an extremely common one–to think of the gospel as merely the preliminary steps we take before we get to the real action in the ordinances of the temple. And for me, the most productive way of understanding the temple ordinances, is as a liturgy instituted not to take us further than the gospel can, but to help us do what we are instructed to do when we receive the laying on of hands: receive the holy ghost. The connections between pentecost and the gift of the holy ghost are obvious, and historically, there are solid connections between pentecost and the endowment liturgy. These connections are obvious with the Kirtland endowment, but they’re easy to miss when you just look at the Nuavoo endowment in isolation instead of seeing it as a formal ritualization of the un-ritualized, charismatic Kirtland endowment. I did a series of posts here about that a few years ago.

  5. And let’s not forget that when the Book of Mormon says “plan of salvation,” it doesn’t mean the bunch of circles representing premortal, mortal, and post-mortal stuff that we usually refer to. It means the gospel: salvation by Christ’s grace through faith and repentance, formalized through baptism, and sanctification by the reception of the holy ghost.

  6. To Jared’s point, we should cross-reference Stapley’s classic post on Plans of Salvation: https://bycommonconsent.com/2017/05/22/plans-of-salvation/

  7. Rachel E O says:

    Very interesting post. I would be curious to hear more of your ideas about how these two theologies could be reconciled.

    This model echoes some of what Jonathan Stapley has written in his book about the difference between the ecclesiastical priesthood (i.e. “meetinghouse”) and the cosmological priesthood (i.e “temple”), and what others (Bushman?) have described as the difference between Nauvoo Mormonism and pre-Nauvoo Mormonism. Of course, there was more of an evolution from one model to the other than a distinct shift. Patriarchal blessings evince this. They originally exhibited a patriarchal kinship orientation (though not really extending beyond the unique role of the Smith family), and still retain it in the form of declarations of lineage, but they emerged in 1833 far before the Nauvoo period.

    The Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church) never did adopt most of the Nauvoo-era doctrines and practices, which has made it much easier for them to evolve over time into a much more ecumenical mainline Protestant-like denomination. And yet they retain patriarchal blessings, renamed “evangelist blessings” when they began ordaining women to the priesthood in the 1980s and changed the name of the office of patriarch to evangelist. As in the CofJCofLDS with our ordained patriarchs, in the CofC these blessings are given by people ordained to the priesthood office of evangelist, unrelated to kinship. In the CofC they have also largely stopped declaring lineage in these blessings, and people can now receive more than one in their lifetime.

  8. After my first time going through the temple, my only thought was, “this is not my religion.” When I tried to express that to those closest to me, they didn’t understand. They would say, “but it’s Adam and Eve. You’ve learned about that since childhood. It’s chastity and tithing and sacrifice. None of this is new.” It was so hard to explain why it felt so different from everything I’d been taught my whole life. This post puts words to those feelings. Thanks.

  9. anitawells says:

    I think it’s vital to recall that Jesus’ name literally means salvation (Yeshua=salvation in Hebrew), so it is the Plan of Jesus. I like this new visual in the current seminary manual that’s getting some more traction: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/images/plan-of-salvation-1103409?lang=eng

  10. marianneeileen says:

    I think this is a good theory explaining why I am increasingly frustrated that I very rarely can find Jesus in our worship.

  11. Michael H. says:

    Anitawells — we need to be careful with conflating scriptural words with modern theological concepts; it appears that “Ye(ho)shua” is related to the verb for “to deliver,” while most of the references to “salvation” in the OT and NT are translated from words perhaps better translated as “health” (and “save” as “heal”). It’s tough with the BOM, as we don’t have the original languages, but just something to keep in mind!

    Unfrotunately, your link doesn’t seem to be working; do you have the image that you could upload somewhere else, and link that?

    I did discover this one, though, which basically adds, “God judges us on our formation of and conduct toward our families,” (as well as “spirit birth,” which is honestly a surprise to me) but… again, leaves out Jesus Christ

    https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/images/plan-of-salvation-1527364?lang=eng

  12. I think that historically the division between “church” and “temple” took place over time. The activities and auxiliary organizations which have dominated the church side of the equation developed after Joseph Smith. The temple side of the equation was not so distant from the day-to-day lives of the people in the mid and late 1800’s. It will be fascinating what the rest of the 21st century brings. President Nelson has reduced the role of the traditional church, even reducing time spent there and the number of callings. I think more of a home – temple axis will develop over time.

  13. Can anyone explain this to me? From the Church website:
    “Everything in the temple points us to Jesus Christ.”
    The rest of the context on the website does not explain it — at least not as to what i have experienced and observed in the temple 100s of times.

  14. “On one strand rests the Meetinghouse, with much of the Christianity we received through scripture ancient and modern and which we share with much of Christendom.”

    Which you share with *Protestantism,* I’d say, which is telling.

    For the Orthodox (and Catholics), the “meetinghouse” IS the temple. The Divine Liturgy and Mass are seen as evolutionary outgrowths of the temple liturgies. If you look at an Orthodox church you’ll see a Holy of Holies, altar, sacrificial lamb, veil that is rent, inner courtyard, outer courtyard, etc.

    It’s just that Protestantism had removed so many of the temple-oriented elements or made them into vestigial organs that by the time Mormonism got them, the temple was almost completely excised from the “meetinghouse.”

    An obvious example is the altar in a Mormon meetinghouse. I recently asked a Mormon family member why the altar in a Mormon meetinghouse is off to the side of the chapel and given such a place of reduced prominence? His response was, “that’s not really an altar.”

    Oh really? You celebrate the “Sacrament” on a rectangular table which your priests kneel at and then bless the bread which represents the Blood and Body of the Sacrificial Lamb… but it’s not an altar? It doesn’t have anything to do with the sacrificial altar of the Temple? Okay… I have often commented that (from an Orthodox perspective) Joseph Smith was actually quite right about much of what had disappeared from Christianity in his time and place. But by trying to restore them by creating a second “Temple” and placing the liturgies, altars, and other ordinances in that second place, he was setting up the very tension you bring up in this post.

  15. I’m with EBK. My first temple experience left me reeling. It didn’t feel anything like the religious experience of my first 18 years. I didn’t even feel like I could say anything though. Everyone seemed so happy; everyone seemed to get something I was missing. Over time, the repetition of frequent temple visits quieted that voice.

    Until recently. I finally figured out the major item that was troubling me. My meetinghouse experience was that God judges the heart. Sure we have the WoW and tithing that can be outwardly measured. But overall the message was about Mosiah 3:19 and overcoming the natural man to draw closer to Christ. Contrast this to the God of the temple, a God of tokens and signs. I’m still not comfortable with this version of God.

  16. I found this post and the illustrations fascinating. One question: When we say “final judgement”, does that suggest there will not be any progression beyond that point? In other words, our eternal destination is determined at judgement before we enter any kingdom?

    The concept of eternal progression has been debated for a long time in the Church. Joseph Smith was comfortable with it, the modern Church does not seem to be…although I don’t think we have an official doctrine. If there is eternal progression, you’d have to alter those illustrations somewhat by linking the kingdoms.

  17. Michael H says:

    Old Man — Interesting that you say that! I think the temple is closer to everyday life now, given the accessibility of temples and the performance of proxy initiatories and endowments (in most of the 1800s, proxy ordinances were limited to baptisms and sealings, and the latter were relatively rare, given that it was only in 1894 that we started getting sealed to genealogical ancestors).

    Arthur — It’s always great to get an Orthodox perspective! I really wish there were more LDS-Orthodox dialogue, as I’ve really valued insights I’ve gained from my Orthodox friends. However, your comment does emphasize how language is used differently. If we’re going by elements adopted from Judaism, LDS meetinghouses are more like synagogues, while LDS temples are more like the Jewish one: specific rituals limited to its confines, altars, veils, the Holy of Holies, and so forth.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that LDS practice has linked the Lord’s Supper with the table at which it was served instead of the altar of the temple; both, I think, are valid associations (especially if we’re more reenacting the Last Supper instead of Christ’s sacrifice, not reeanacting the sacrifice itself in symbolic form). You’re absolutely right, though, to note that we don’t integrate OT and NT imagery into each other in a consistent way (altars in the temple are for couples to covenant with God, not related to Christ’s sacrifice). These are tensions we should explore. The resolution probably won’t look like LDS practice/theology today, but neither like other Christian traditions.

    Josh H — Yep, there’s no official teaching on progression between the kingdoms, but more people are open about considering and believing it; I’ve seen “Plan of Salvation” graphics with the progression indicated! I, for one, lean that way.

  18. The temple, to me, is clearly Christ-centered, although it certainly is less Jesus-centered than meetinghouse experiences. The temple depicts Christ as creator, law-giver, savior, and the axis on which both salvation and exaltation turn. Exaltation, in my view anyway, depends on fellowship with God, and Christ is the means by which that fellowship is enabled. He is the bridge between the fallen and the divine. Sometimes, the symbolism is obvious: symbols that make reference to the crucifixion, dialogue referencing the provision of a savior, the narrative showing Christ as creator, etc. But some are less obvious. One example, for me, is that the veil represents Christ–the link between us and heaven.

    I agree that the temple and meetinghouse liturgies circle around each other. For me, it presents an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding by making the connections in ways that in some sense transcend human language or illustration.

  19. In 1980 Bruce R. McConkie gave a devotional titled “The Seven Deadly Heresies” wherein he identifies –
    Heresy five: There are those who say that there is progression from one kingdom to another in the eternal worlds or that lower kingdoms eventually progress to where higher kingdoms once were.
    He then teaches, “They neither progress from one kingdom to another, nor does a lower kingdom ever get where a higher kingdom once was. Whatever eternal progression there is, it is within a sphere.”
    https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/bruce-r-mcconkie/seven-deadly-heresies/

    His teaching was never canonized but it lives in the minds of many faithful LDS. I for one reject his teachings. I simply cannot accept that the actions performed while mortal on this earth, even if you live to 100 years, absolutely determine your eternity. Eternity is a time concept we cannot even fully digest. But, mathematically even 100 years is reduced to practically nothing. I see no justice or mercy in the idea that this life is the one and only shot.

    A trillion years to the trillionth power doesn’t even come close to eternity. But McConkie basically teaches that if you screw up this one limited chance here on earth, that one small chance where you have very limited information and understanding, then it is set for eternity. That’s just craziness. I can’t believe in that type of god.

  20. Michael H. says:

    DSC — You say, “Exaltation, in my view anyway, depends on fellowship with God, and Christ is the means by which that fellowship is enabled.” How would you distinguish between salvation (which single people can obtain) and this description of exaltation (which only sealed couples can obtain)? What’s the difference, and how does Christ’s atonement account for that difference — how does he bridge salvation and exaltation, not just the fallen and the divine? Does he?

  21. Wondering says:

    DSC — Yes, the endowment instruction “depicts Christ as creator, law-giver, savior, and [possibly as] the axis on which both salvation and exaltation turn.” That’s a far cry from “everything in the temple” pointing us to Christ, but the rest of that discussion doesn’t really belong here.

  22. Aussie Mormon says:

    In regards to Jesus not being in the plan of salvation diagram, I’ve just been going under the assumption it’s to keep the diagram clean and simple for the target audience. Diagrams are meant to be clean, readable, and understandable at a glance to those that don’t know what is going on.

    If we were putting Jesus in, he’d be in every circle, and attached to every arrow.
    Premortal: He was chosen at the council in heaven to enact the plan.
    Premortal-mortal arrow: He was creator of the world.
    Mortal: He was born, lived, died, and was resurrected here for that part of the atonement.
    Mortal: The atonement helps us here and now.
    Mortal->paradise/prison arrow: Without resurrection and the atonement everyone would be separated from God and would just go to hell (the permanent one) as spirits.
    Paradise/Prison: Jesus visited the spirits there. Also, see arrow above.
    Resurrection arrow: Jesus was so we can be.
    Judgement: He’ll be there.
    Kingdoms etc: Result of the previous. He’ll be in the top one.

    At any stage, if he was removed from the picture, those following stages wouldn’t happen.

    If you’re being told where a plane will be flying, you don’t get told exactly what the pilot is doing at every stage of the flight. You get told you’re taking off to the (direction) before making a (direction) turn torwards (destination) etc.
    Although it’d be interesting to see the exact gps locations the aircraft is intending to fly over, it’s much easier just looking at a map with a line from Amsterdam to Lisbon than reading the waypoints off the flight plan[1], looking them up and plotting them on a map myself, and then also writing down that flap, stabiliser, thrust, etc settings the pilot does at each stage.
    The flight wouldn’t turn out right if all those things didn’t happen, but for a summary, they are unnecessary.

    [1] https://flightcrewguide.com/wiki/rules-regulations/flight-plan/example-of-a-completed-flight-plan-form/ ?

  23. Dog Spirit says:

    “In the past, LDS authorities have tried to bridge the gaps between these two theological strands. Polygamist cosmology, with the Law of Adoption, featured hierarchical heavens in which Heavenly Father and Jesus participated in the accumulation of wives and children.”

    This is precisely the problem! Polygamy is the foundation of temple liturgy, and the only coherent, church-supported theology it has ever produced has been in the service of supporting the structure of polygamy. We excised it first from our public discourse, but preserved it in the temple, and now have begun to slowly and ever so quietly erase it from there, too.

    What it boils down to is that we cannot turn to history or existing scripture to provide a non-polygamous theology linking the temple to the Christianity found in the Bible and Book of Mormon. I think it would straight up require additional scripture to be written. Visions. I’m serious.

    But I think it’s far more likely that the church will continue to walk the line it’s walking because it works. It changes just enough about the temple to keep modern people from being completely (but honestly still a little bit) freaked out by it. We continue to never talk about what happens inside in public. And on Sundays we get to declare any doctrine we’d like because the average person doesn’t particularly notice or care that eternal families and modern temple ordinances are not supported by Biblical or Book of Mormon Christianity.

  24. Thank you Aussie Mormon, you are spot on!

  25. Wondering says:

    I don’t believe “polygamy is the foundation of temple liturgy.” Nothing in the initiatory liturgy requires or is built upon polygamy. Nothing in the endowment liturgy requires or is built upon polygamy. The sealing liturgies can be turned in recognition or in service of polygamy, but nothing in them requires or is built upon polygamy. Instead, if one insists at all upon sealing generation to generation (biological or adoptive or adoptive in the sense only of temple sealings) that also doesn’t imply or require polygamy. What historically connected polygamy to temple sealings (not the other temple liturgies) seems to have been the long-abandoned teaching/speculation that marriage sealings must be performed in this life rather than for the dead and the long-since abandoned notions that the degree of a man’s glory/kingdom in the hereafter depends upon the number of his wives and posterity while the degree of a woman’s glory/”queendom” in the hereafter depends upon the status of her husband. The fact that BY seems to have promoted those ideas and was the one charged with getting the temple liturgy written down, doesn’t make polygamy the “foundation” of the liturgy. Instead, the foundation of the sealing liturgy seems to be the notion of being “sealed” to the family of God and “sealed” to eternal life — in whatever form that family takes and whatever “eternal life” means. Speculations promoting a polygamous view of the family of God and the degrees of glory in the hereafter are merely one speculative application of the sealing liturgy and not its foundation.

  26. Douglas Pierce says:

    I hate, hate, hate, and I can’t emphasize this enough, hate, a flowchart, any flowchart, of The Plan of Salvation. Does anyone know the history of this? It goes back at least the 1970’s because I remember it when I was young. I have a theory that it coincides with our becoming a corporate church but that is just a hypothesis.

  27. Michael H., I don’t think I have the time or energy to write the dissertation that would be required to fully answer your question, but in brief: salvation is restorative while exaltation is constructive. Christ as savior cleanses us from sin so that we can return to live with God. He puts us back into a position that we once enjoyed. Christ as a partner in exaltation helps us become better than we ever were. He is a teacher instructing us how to become like God. The two are intertwined, but if you had to separate them, much of Jesus’ life and teachings are focused on aspects of exaltation, while His sacrifice and resurrection emphasize salvation. In the temple, the initiatory emphasizes salvation (through images of cleanliness) and hints at exaltation. The sealing ceremony emphasizes exaltation: two separate individuals are united through a partnership with the Godhead to become something greater than they could be individually. The Endowment bridges the gap and contains images and references to both.

  28. Michael H. says:

    Aussie Mormon – You’ll notice that in my revision of the flowchart, the inclusion of Jesus Christ enables all the talking points you mention in a way that I found very hard to do with previous ones!

    DSC – That’s exactly the sort of work I want to see done. Is Jesus’s role in exaltation, then, one primarily or exclusively of instruction? Does he model the path to godhood (i.e., through marriage and childrearing)?

  29. Michael H., I don’t think that Christ’s exact role in exaltation is any more knowable than His role as savior. I get that Jesus sacrificed Himself, and that as a result of that, I can be healed, but I don’t intellectually understand the steps in between. I don’t think anyone really does. In terms of exaltation, I understand that He has a role as instructor and creator, and both are critical to exaltation. By creating the world, we are enabled to have experiences that ultimately improve us (and to make mistakes, creating the need for salvation). By teaching us, we have an example to follow. Beyond that, I have far more questions than answers, but, again, that’s true of the salvation element as well. But I do know that marriage and parenting are deeply related to the concepts of instruction and creation.

    Not to disparage what I think is a thoughtful analysis, but your questions about tying Jesus to the concept of exaltation appears to be limited to the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. The New Testament doesn’t contain much in terms of Jesus teaching directly on marriage and children (although his comments on Genesis are among the most direct), but scripture also contains a wealth of other examples where Jehovah leads families, covenants with families, and emphasizes the importance of those families (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Lehi, etc.).

  30. I think any of the efforts we do are ultimately futile, this life was designed to be a mess, and we were meant to fail. If it were nice and neat, the stakes would not be high enough to let us learn the one thang that matters as to why we are here, namely to learn something about love. What is the one thang the God really asks of us in relation to them and each other? To love. We can’t learn to love unless something somewhere, somehow, becomes a mess. This is because love requires us to do something that transcends our paradigm, like when Huck Finn tore up the letter that would bring Jim back to slavery because he loved Jim. Huck thought he would be damned for tearing up the letter, but he still did it, because his love transcended the rules of his paradigm. “Alright,” he said, I’ll go to hell.”

    Those that think they can follow the rules exactly and still not be all in a mess, need only look at the mess that is caused by adopting an outdated paradigm not based in any true reality that we can discover, like gender essentialism for example, and dialing down on it until those that don’t fit the paradigm eventually either leave or are excluded from the wonderful nice tidy neat paradigm we think we find in the temple. Having said that, I love the temple and miss it, because I sensed a desire in it to unite humanity in love as a family through the grace of Christ. The words and images in the ceremony that give witness to the love and suffering of Jesus on our behalf to tie us together have always given me joy and hope. As a transgender woman, I will never be able to hear them in that setting again, unless we can somehow stop dialing down on a paradigm that had nearly killed me. So why not two different strands that are nearly impossible to either unite or untie? It is a wonderful mess. And that may be the most salient thing we can learn about this, that we can still love despite the mess, and that we are ultimately forced to just trust that Jesus understands us, and that the grace of Christ is big enough to clean this all up somehow. In the meantime, I hope we can all stay alive as long as we can. Thank you Michael for this wonderful post, I think maybe what I said is relevant to it, even it a little messy? idk, felt cute, thought I would give it a whirl. :)

  31. I read first early this morning before there were any comments. My immediate reaction was “obvious, makes sense, good on Brother Haycock for spelling it out so we can talk about it.” But nothing more.

    Dropping in to see the comments, I now have these two additional reactions:

    1. My conservative traditional deep thinking friends would object that Christ is all over and through the temple experience. And would have backup for “Everything in the temple points us to Jesus Christ.” I think the OP is probably correct that seeing the meetinghouse and the temple as separate worlds is common among liberal-edgy-now outside members, whether they have the words or are just learning them here. And for that alone the issue deserves a lot of attention. But I suspect it doesn’t trouble the majority.

    2. Having never been impressed nor motivated by any Plan of Salvation diagram, I want to maintain the possibility, at least one among several, that Christ does NOT fit on the diagram, on any of the charts. I usually find any/all of the Plan of Salvation diagrams over-specified (and sometimes just wrong) if taken literally, and want to view them as one more among many heaven-and-hell metaphors. As with any metaphor–illustrative but not defining, and never the totality. Maybe Christ is not in there because that really is one of the limiting factors of the metaphor.

    After all, Mormon doctrine and practice is regularly challenged as Pelagian (salvation by doing right [my shorthand]), and I would suggest nowhere more clearly than in the Plan of Salvation diagrams. And sometimes challenged as Gnostic (salvation by knowing right [also my shorthand]), and I would suggest nowhere more dramatically than in the temple. My understanding is that both extremes are regularly criticized as shortchanging both Christ and grace.

  32. Michel H:
    Jesus does more than just model the path to exaltation. His example was necessary, by the primary benefit is his grace. Grace to forgive us of our sins and grace to help us overcome our sinful natures and become disciples.

    The bridge between salvation and exaltation is this second application of grace. We cannot be exalted without it.

  33. Chris, Though your “conservative traditional deep thinking friends [may] have [what they consider] backup” for “Everything in the temple points us to Jesus Christ,” I suspect they have a different view of the meaning of “everything” than I do. I’ve had experience with officious, rude and demanding temple workers and a rude temple president that they would be hard-pressed to justify as pointing to Christ. That’s to say nothing of the trickery and social pressure involved in getting young people to purport to make covenants (under duress) that have never been disclosed or explained to them prior to or at the time they are invited to opt out. It’s also to say nothing various clearly 19th century language and concepts that meant something different in the LDS context than than they mean in 21st century American English. Some of those are as likely to drive at least some people away from the Church and, therefore, in the eyes of the conservative traditional Mormons I know, away from Christ as they are to point to him. While they may have “backup,” since they also generally decline to share it, it is useless as pointing anyone else to Christ.
    I believe most active, temple-going members, are unaware and untroubled by much of this, while they are moved by the underlying concept of sealings and the usually quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the temple, so rarely encountered in our meetinghouse “worship services.”

  34. Michael H says:

    Thanks for the continued conversation, everyone! I can provide more individual responses later.

    Two things I would like to quickly note, though:

    1. I use the Temple and the Meetinghouse as representatives of two theological paradigms, not limiting myself to the contents of temple ordinances or the experience of attending worship in either building. And I don’t think either is dispensable if we want Mormonism to remain Mormonism (replace that word with “Latter-day Saint Christianity” if you prefer).

    2. I firmly believe, as an economist once said, that all models are wrong, but some models are useful. For instance, I don’t believe that any theory of Christ’s atonement is entirely right (though I think some are better supported scripturally and some are reductive, even harmfully misleading, on their own). But it’s on us to do the intellectual work to come up with models that are less wrong or, at least, more helpful. In the case of understanding the two theological paradigms together, I think we have done very little intellectual work, and don’t even have wrong models to work with (unless you count polygamy-era ones) — let alone helpful ones! I believe we have a responsibility to do this work as a people. Not everyone needs to create or even understand a model, but if some people do so, everyone can benefit.

  35. christiankimball, I’ll also challenge your “Christ is all over and through the temple experience” and “backup for “Everything in the temple points us to Jesus Christ.” ” We have a record of what Christ taught on earth, and the temple never addresses His central precepts on loving one another. Our theology ascribes various roles for Christ for various aspects of the temple experience, but plenty of what happens in the temple does not feel very related to the Christ that people feel drawn to know and follow. I liked this piece because it articulates the experiential difference between that “living breath” Christ and the more abstract Christ (co-creator of worlds, etc) we meet in the temple. Don’t think we have full understanding yet, but I don’t buy that this difference isn’t real or just a liberal thing — even if it’s really the case that it doesn’t bother a putative majority.

  36. Left Field says:

    To me, the temple is less about Adam and Eve, and more about the return of each individual to the presence of God. It’s the story of the prodigal son. In parallel with Adam and Eve, each individual, by name, ritually falls from grace and then is redeemed, wearing the Father’s best robe with his shoes on their feet, and literally embraced by the Lord himself and welcomed home.

    I believe that the meaning of the endowment is often obscured in the filmed version, where temple goers often think of the film as a story of the creation and of Adam and Eve, as a distinct element to be watched from the outside. Some people misinterpret it as a historical depiction, rather than a ritual story. In the live endowment, the temple patrons, the posterity of Adam and Eve, are *with* them in the garden. We fall and are cast out *with* them. With them, we receive the symbolic knowledge and covenants that allow us to embrace the Lord and return to his presence. Of course, this is present in the filmed endowment as well, but we have to remember that those in the endowment room and those depicted on the screen are acting and interacting together on the same stage. The focus of the dramatic ritual is to bring us, individually, through our own symbolic fall and redemption. Our first parents are present merely as a framing device for the main story, for the main ritual, depicting our individual redemption.

  37. @gillsyk, I’ve always considered the part where we are told we should remove ourselves from the group if we have less than good feelings towards anyone there as an ideal we should aspire to outside the temple. Can you imagine a world where we could be amidst strangers and have no automatic ill feelings towards anyone? This would mean dropping stereotypes and thinking of everyone as equals and being ready to reach out in friendship. Our automatic reaction could be a smile, rather than a judgement. And if we have bad feelings towards someone, then we remove ourselves, rather than trying to push out the person we dislike. To me, that’s the epitome of Christlike love, and it’s in the temple.

  38. Rachel E O says:

    Part of the difficulty here is, IMO, in our amorphous conceptualization of what the Atonement or the “atoning power” of Jesus Christ is. We have words for what it does: “cleansing and enabling.” And we have words to describe its scope and applicability: “Infinite and eternal and personal.” But we don’t have words for what it *is*, other than a “power.” That word is fine as far as it goes, and of course no word can capture it. But I am left wondering what it is and how it functions… is it an accounting mechanism? Is it matter? Is it a force? How does it differ from/relate to faith, priesthood, “the sealing power,” the “light of Christ,” God the Father, the Holy Spirit? Is it (like, maybe, the priesthood — see Stapley’s book) the very “power of God” itself? I think that is probably how I have come to synthesize it in my mind after a few decades of simmering in the Mormon stew. That somehow atoning power, priesthood, the light of Christ, the sealing power, and God’s power are all more-or-less synonymous, and using our agency to exercise faith is how we access and harness those powers. (Perhaps with the Holy Spirit being an important medium or tool for accessing those powers, at least in this mortal life.)

    This might make even more sense if we accept the idea that God the Father at one point enacted a mortal atoning sacrifice analogous to that of Jesus Christ (I can’t remember where this comes from, but I think it stems from some scripture or Joseph Smith/BY quote that Jesus Christ did not do anything that he did not witness the father do, or something along those lines). Maybe Gods have to keep sacrificing themselves in mortality to provide the raw power/matter/force that keeps the wheels of eternal human progression rolling? In this sense, it is indeed an enabling power on a cosmic scale, like electricity that enables a machine to work, or perhaps more appropriately, like the enzymes that facilitate organic metabolism. But it’s the actual agency of individual souls acting in social relationship that harnesses (or not) that energy to enact the drama of eternal life.

    Thus, extending that to our conceptualization of the afterlife, perhaps there is no direct connection between the atoning power of Christ and salvation as distinct from exaltation. It is the enabling/facilitating energy that makes all continuous agentic existence possible, that makes it possible for us to *choose* salvation and exaltation (and the ordinances, the ritual forms, associated therewith).

  39. Rachel E O says:

    As for what salvation and exaltation mean cosmologically speaking, I think we have really missed the boat in sharply distinguishing them and arraying them in hierarchical relationship one to another. Really, it seems to me (as the lds. org gospel topic essay on salvation acknowledges) that the terms have often been used interchangeably. Certainly not with such clear precision as to associate them with, for example, the celestial kingdom plain vanilla (salvation) as opposed to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom (exaltation), at least not in scripture.

    Indeed, one thing that is (fortunately) not included in the diagrams in the original post is the idea that the celestial kingdom is separated into three degrees (see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/kingdoms-of-glory?lang=eng, citing D&C 131). If we jettison that idea, as we easily could do given its lack of solid doctrinal basis (https://bycommonconsent.com/2018/04/18/three-sub-degrees-in-the-celestial-kingdom), then I think we have much more room for creative theologizing about the celestial kingdom. It could become a place of immense diversity, a place for many mansions, for infinite permutations of loving human relationships nested within a universally inclusive human family. The sealing ordinance would continue to play an important part in this, but in much more expansive form than the currently exclusive application to (sexual) heterosexual couples and the parent-child relationship. (And here I’m cueing up the work of Taylor Petrey and Blaire Ostler.) Salvation would be a state of eternal felicity with God, and exaltation would be the concurrent, companionate state of divine filial sociality. We would continue to progress eternally both as individuals but also and more importantly through the growth and nurturing of our network of diverse sealed relationships — which progression and which relationships would be bound together by the very power of God, a power that emits from the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

  40. I wonder what effect additional revelation about Mother in Heaven would do to this discussion. My wife is convinced that the temple is much more about the divinity of women and their role in creation than we recognize.

    As for where Jesus is in the temple: whenever I am exercising his priesthood, whether in the temple or not, I feel that I am doing his will and that he is near. Each character in the temple drama who acts in a priesthood capacity is standing in for Christ. Why is his character not more present in person? Why don’t we spend two hours chanting praise to Him? Because that’s not what he is every about. He wants us to get to work serving others, which in the temple means completing ordinances for our departed ancestors.

  41. felixfabulous says:

    As I have delved into New Testament scholarship and explored other Christian authors (like Richard Rohr and Marcus Borg), one thing that has jumped out to me is how often scholars say that Jesus was against the whole temple system and that was one of the main reasons he was seen as a threat by the Jewish religious establishment. The religious system of the day was focused on purity, with elaborate rituals which required great effort and expense to be considered pure and able to obtain salvation through the temple. John the Baptist offered salvation in muddy water in the wilderness through baptism to anyone who wanted it, which Jesus endorsed by being baptized. He overturned the money changing tables in the temple and most of what he said about the temple was negative. He was continually offering forgiveness and salvation outside of the temple. From a believing LDS perspective, we would say that the temple had been corrupted and Jesus was righting the ship, our temple is available to anyone who is worthy. But, a critic may say that we have the same problems as the temple at the time of Jesus. We have a purity system with rules and standards and a requirement to pay tithes that is required for admission. The temple is seen as the only way to salvation. We pay $50M plus to build temples and one might argue they are monuments to the glory of the institutional church and a marker of our status.

  42. Interesting. To address what Arthur and others noted about the altar (sacrament table) off to the side in most meetinghouses: I learned a few years ago from someone who works for the church and deals with the historical side of things that the original 19 wards in Salt Lake City each built their own meetinghouses. Some had the sacrament table built in the middle of the chapel while others placed the table to the side with the pulpit in the middle. It all depended on what the ward chose to emphasize — the spoken word or the sacrament. I generally find Catholic mass with its altar in the middle a much more spiritual and Jesus-focused experience and feel a little wistful. I wish my ward Sunday worship meeting could be more like that. A simple change in the placement of the table would make a significant difference in the emphasis and experience of the meeting. Also, those original 19 chapels had stained glass and I would love to have that too.

  43. Without denying the theological aspects noted in the post, I think much of the dissonance between the Meetinghouse and the Temple is a function of each representing distinct liturgical approaches. The Meetinghouse is low church, inherited from the low church Protestantism of the first Mormons, and the Temple is high church, capturing the ritual power of the high liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and Anglicans, but in a venue set apart. This is why I think people born LDS often find the temple disconcerting, while converts from high church traditions often more readily take to temple ritual.

  44. I will just add Elder Holland’s quote from the last conference. He reaffirms Jesus is in the temple-“When one goes to the holy temple for the first time, he or she may be somewhat awestruck by that experience. Our job is to ensure that the sacred symbols and revealed rituals, the ceremonial clothing and visual presentations, never distract from but rather point toward the Savior, whom we are there to worship. The temple is His house, and He should be uppermost in our minds and hearts—the majestic doctrine of Christ pervading our very being just as it pervades the temple ordinances—from the time we read the inscription over the front door to the very last moment we spend in the building. Amid all the wonder we encounter, we are to see, above all else, the meaning of Jesus in the temple.”

  45. Wondering says:

    Amy, Elder Holland provided a wonderful aspirational statement. He described “our job”. (I’ll have to re-read to see if I can discover the antecedent of that pronoun.) However, “awestruck” is not the right word for the first experience of many of us old enough to have gone the first time in the mid-60s. Better words would be “shocked” (at ritual we had been taught in seminary was an evil practice of the great and abominable church), “concerned” (at a temple garment that covered no nakedness that mattered), “tricked” and “pressured” (into purportedly choosing “of our own free will” to make covenants never disclosed except in the act of purportedly making them, and never explained — some of which were obviously, at least in 20th century American English regularly and flagrantly violated by our laughing-loudly church leaders), “amused” or “frustrated” (with ritual clothing that mostly made no sense in relation to anything we had learned about the gospel of Christ), “confused” (at the scope of what may be merely “figurative” and at the remarkable notion of a dramatic presentation at least seemingly contrary to D&C 129:6 and 7), and utterly “offended” at the whole thing. Much, but not all, of the troublesome things about that first experience is no longer part of the temple presentations — presumably, because they got in the way of finding Jesus in the temple and did not “point [people] to Jesus Christ.” Supposedly temple preparation has improved, but there are still serious deficiencies, many of which are traceable to the social acceptance of the false teaching that there is a covenant not to talk outside the temple about what happens in the temple. (The non-disclosure covenants are far more limited and specific than that and have been since even prior to the 1960s.)
    Despite all that — and the fact that the “doctrine of Christ,” at least as defined in the Book of Mormon does not, or at least did not, pervade the temple ordinances, I can feel the spirit of Christ with me in the temple when I take Him there with me. But I do not “find” Him there. Nor do I find “wonder” there except wonder at the faithful service of others who do seem to have been “awestruck”. I do find an opportunity to reflect and much to reflect on.
    In the meantime, I wonder what Elder Holland meant by “the meaning of Jesus in the temple.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.