A semi-secret element of the life of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is centered on their temples. The basic structure of the church is the ward, which is comparable to a protestant congregation or Catholic parish. Each ward has a meetinghouse where members gather for weekly worship and other educational, social, recreational, and cultural activities.
In contrast to the ward, the temple serves a widespread constituency and is used for a limited number of rites, all involving fully accredited and credentialed members. Those attending any event at the temple must be baptized and confirmed members, with males ordained into the lower level of the priesthood (termed the Melchizedek priesthood). They must also have a meeting with the bishop, who determines whether they are living by the precepts of the church, including the law of tithing. Being assured of a member’s worthiness, the bishop issues a temple recommend, a document that allows the person to enter the temple. The interview also prepares the person to participate in the temple ordinances.
Several basic ordinances are enacted within the temple. Some are based upon the Latter-day Saints’ understanding of heaven. According to them, the afterlife will find people in one of three levels of glory according to the laws they obeyed on earth. The great majority of people will go the Terrestrial Kingdom. This is for good people who did not come to the truth of God and Jesus during their earthly lives. The highest, or Celestial Kingdom, is for those who believe the Gospel and follow its basic ordinances of baptism by immersion and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (that is, they have become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Within the Celestial Kingdom, there are also levels. The highest level is for those who fully participated in the temple ceremonies.
the basic ordinance performed in the temples is termed the receiving of one’s endowments. In specific rooms in the temple there are decorated with pictures depicting the Latter-day Saints’ understanding of the cosmos and creation, members participate in a ritual that includes an explanation of the requirements for living in God’s presence in the celestial world. Integral to the ritual is the making and receiving of a set of promises. The reception of one’s endowment is believed to empower the Christian to overcome all circumstances in life.
Mormons take marriage very seriously and believe that marital relationships will continue in the life to come. One is initially married for this life, but in the temple couples are sealed together for all eternity. In the nineteenth century, sealing was intimately tied to teachings about polygamy, but under pressure from the outside world these teachings have been dropped. The Mormon Church, however, does continue to teach that a couple’s sealing in the temple is a necessary requirement for entrance into the highest levels of the Celestial Kingdom. Finally, the Church also believes in the baptism for the dead.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formed in 1830 as a recovery of the apostolic church. Over the centuries the essence of the true church was lost, and people who lived at that time would not be eligible for the higher levels of heavenly glory. In each temple is a large baptismal fount at which such baptisms may be conducted by proxy. Periodically, the Church has been cited in the news for the baptism of some famous historical character or had to deal with controversies such as when the Jewish community decried the baptism of the Jewish dead.
The first Latter-day Saint temple was constructed in the mid 1830s in Kirkland, Ohio. Even before this temple was begun, church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) laid a cornerstone for a future temple in Independence Missouri. Both the Kirkland temple and the Temple Lot in Independence passed from the church’s hands, however. A third temple was constructed in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the mid 1840s, but had to be abandoned following Joseph Smith’s assassination and the relocation of the Church to Utah. In Salt Lake City a permanent temple was constructed. Additional temples were also constructed in St. George, Mani, and Logan, Utah.
Early in the twentieth century, as the Mormon movement expanded beyond Utah, the first temples were constructed in neighboring states such as Arizona, California, and Idaho. the first temple outside of the United States was completed in Bern, Switzerland, in 1955. The Swiss temple signaled a new emphasis in temple construction responding to the global mission program of the Church and its worldwide growth. By 2004, there were 117 temples in operation and a dozen more under construction. they were by then established around the world on every continent.
After construction, temples go through an elaborate consecration ceremony. It has been the Church’s practice to delay the consecration ceremony and allow people who are not Church members to visit and see the inside of a Latter-day Saint temple. This practice has done much to reduce the level of secrecy surrounding Mormon temples. the level of secrecy has been further reduced by the revelations of former Church members who have chosen to explain the meaning (including the ritual texts) behind the temple ceremonies. the discussion of temple rituals has centered upon their relationship to those of traditional Freemasonry. the Mormon Church, though, has been adamantly opposed to any revelations concerning temple ritual secrets.