In the Old Testament, God commanded his prophets to build temples. In the New Testament, Jesus was angry to find, when he attended the temple being desecrated by sellers and others who were treating it disrespectfully. His forceful cleansing of the temple tells us much about the sacredness of temples. They are a holy sanctuary, different from other buildings, different from ordinary places of worship, and God requires them to be treated as holy buildings, with special rules guiding their operation. Temple attendance was important enough that Jesus Christ Himself went to the temple.
Today, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons, build temples. While most religions have abandoned the biblical commandment to build temples, Mormons continue, and with new temples built each year, they will someday have enough to reach all of God’s children who long to have one nearby. Because the gospel has spread so far, it is necessary to have more than just one temple.
Are temples where Mormons go to church on Sunday?
No, temples are actually closed on Sundays. Mormons attend church in buildings called meetinghouses or chapels and they are open to the public. Most meetinghouses have a chapel for the worship service, a cultural hall (a gym, often with a stage) for cultural events and basketball, a kitchen, a genealogy library, and classrooms.
Then what are Mormon temples for?
Mormon temples are for making special covenants with God and for carrying out sacred ordinances. A Mormon who attends the temple will covenant (promise) to keep God’s commandments to a high degree. Since a covenant is a two-way promise between God and humans, with God setting the terms, it is essential that the person making the covenant be ready to keep it. This is why Mormons must be adults and have been a member at least one year before going to the temple for the first time. They need to have enough knowledge of the gospel and a sure enough testimony to be certain they are willing to keep God’s commandments. The teachings are at a higher level—Mormons believe we learn line upon line, progressively throughout our lives. A person considering becoming Mormon learns the very basics from the missionaries. The first year he attends a special Sunday School class that covers the basic essentials of the gospel. (You can read the textbook for this class free online. Read Gospel Principles.) Then they attend the regular Sunday School and after a full year of membership can also go to the temple. By this time, they know what God expects of them and they’ve learned gradually as they were ready for each new step.
The temple is also a place to perform important sacred ordinances, such as eternal marriages and baptism for the dead. Mormons believe marriage was never meant to end with death—essentially a scheduled divorce. They believe both marriage and parenthood is forever, and that God made our love for our families so powerful in order to make us long for eternity. These marriages can happen only in the temple and require a high level of commitment to the teachings of God, as well as a strong testimony. Baptism for the dead, discussed in more death in the article linked to above, provides the saving ordinances, including baptism, for those who died without it—but does not convert them. Only God converts. Mormons only make sure the ordinances are done in case the person chooses to accept them. Since we have no way of knowing what a person decides, they are not recorded anywhere as “Mormon.” If the person rejects the gift, it is as if it never happened.
Why can’t I go into the temple?
Temples are sacred and considered a sanctuary. The ordinances performed there are also sacred and turning them into tourist attractions would cheapen them, making them unacceptable to God. Mormons consider the temple a place to escape from the world for a brief time. For a few hours, they are with people who share the same faith and hold the same values. While they spend most of their lives in the general population, during this brief time they can “recharge their spiritual batteries” and focus on nothing but Jesus Christ. They are not subjected to worldly language, media, or conversations. Everything in the temple is about the Savior, including the conversations.
Everyone needs a sanctuary and most people have some space that is not open to the world. Families don’t invite the world to tour their homes. Guests to a home seldom receive admittance to every corner. Universities open some classes only to those who are qualified and businesses have meetings open only to people who are invited. Every person and organization has a right to close out the world at certain times and in certain places. In the temple, the rules for admission are strict in order to preserve the sacredness of the ordinances being performed. While it is true you must meet certain requirements to enter the temple, anyone can choose to meet those requirements. The entire world has an open invitation to ask God for a testimony of Mormonism, and upon receiving it, they may begin the process of becoming worthy to enter the temple.
As Mormons like to say, the temple is sacred, not secret. They give tours before the temple is dedicated and what you see on the tour is what it continues to look like after it is closed. Once it is dedicated to the Lord, only those who have made a commitment to the work done there are permitted to enter in order to preserve its sanctity.
The temple ceremony has been put on the Internet by former members. So why not talk about it?
Some of what has been put on the internet may be true and some may be false, but that really isn’t the issue. The important point is that each Mormon who enters the temple promises God he or she will not talk about the sacred things that occur. Regardless of how little respect others have for the promises they made to God, a believing Mormon will not discuss it simply because he promised God he would not, and he intends to keep his promises. Moral people don’t make their choices based on the poor choices of others.
Is it true you take a death oath and pretend to slit your throat to show what happens if you break that promise to not discuss sacred things?
Of course not. The consequences of breaking any promise to God are spiritual, not physical. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, or that you hear in witnessing classes.
How do Mormons view temple work?
Mormons consider the work they do in the temple to be an act of love. It’s a gift of love for God and it’s a gift of love for their ancestors. After the first time, when Mormons make those covenants for themselves, every visit is done to assist another person who cannot assist himself. It is a completely unselfish gift (unless you count the feeling of peace that comes whenever we do what God has asked us to do). Giving this gift to God and to others is what gives the temple its power in a person’s life. Temple time is a few hours set aside just to serve God and to re-commit ourselves to Him. It is the time Mormons feel closest to God.
This video has opinions about the temple from religious leaders of other faiths.