By Guest Blogger Austin Walters
“Firesides” in the Church are meetings where (mostly) members of the Church circle up—originally around a campfire, whence the term “fireside”—to learn from each other about topics of interest. Recently, the missionaries who are currently serving in my ward suggested holding a fireside that would be designed as a discussion about Mormon temples to which we could invite our friends. I invited a good friend of mine named Emily, who is currently studying to be ordained into the Episcopal priesthood. She came, and we’ve since had a couple of discussions about the experience. I’d like to relate some of our insights in this blog post.
First, my friend found the explicit connection between Mormon temples and elements of the ancient Hebrew religion to be very striking. Traditional Christianity has let much more of the ancient Hebrew conceptions of religion fall away from their practice than Mormons have, which indicates that Mormonism is not best conceived as a Protestant sect among many, but rather a new kind of religion that reaches deeply into the past for the ritual aspects of its practice.
Second, and related to the previous insight, is that we Mormons largely skip the Middle Ages in the ways we think about religious worship. Having arisen from the Primitivist Christianity movements of the early nineteenth century, this is understandable, but the intensity of this blind spot for us may mean that we too often miss out on more recent commonalities between Christian sacred spaces and Mormon temples. For example, my friend, being from the Anglican tradition, was quick to point out how many aspects of the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages parallel the form, purpose, and theology of Mormon temples. Cathedral architecture is filled with religiously didactic symbolism, as are Mormon temples.
Third, Mormon temples are extremely central to Mormon theology. In them we are married for time and all eternity, and families are “sealed” together for eternity, never to be broken up. In them we perform baptisms by proxy for those who have passed away, the belief being that baptism is a required ordinance for salvation according to Christ’s teachings; therefore, the ordinance is to be performed by or on behalf of every human being who has ever lived on the earth. In addition, the most sacred covenants an individual makes in this life are made in the temple as part of an “endowment” ceremony, which is comprised of a series of teachings about God’s plan of salvation, covenants relating to loyalty, consecration, and chastity, and promised blessings, all carried out in ritualized ways. These exclusively temple activities form a core part of Mormon philosophy and faith practice.
Hopefully this short blog post has been helpful to those readers who are not members of the Church in better understanding the centrality and purpose of temples in Mormonism. I also hope it’s helpful to members of the Church in understanding others’ perspectives of us, which we should be sensitive to as a proselytizing faith.