Secret or Sacred?
Mormon temples are not open to the general public after their dedication. This may seem strange to some, but a careful reading of scripture reveals that the Lord did not tell all things to all people. Rather, He has always revealed His knowledge line upon line and precept upon precept as men have prepared themselves to receive more and more light. An example of this is the way Christ spoke in parables, then explained the meaning of those parables to His inquiring apostles, when they were away from the crowds of His followers, some of whom were mere curiousity seekers.
The leaders of the Mormon Church, and the Lord Jesus Christ would love to see all people going through the temples and making covenants there. However, to be allowed such a privilege, people need to qualify and prepare. Everyone who commits to the gospel of Jesus Christ is urged to prepare to go to the temple and participate fully in the sacred ordinances which are available there.
The reluctance of Mormons to speak of the sacred temple ordinances is not in any way an attempt to make them seem more mysterious or to encourage an improper curiosity about them. The ordinances and ceremonies of the temple are simple, beautiful, and sacred. They are kept confidential lest they be revealed to those who are unprepared, since simple curiosity is not a preparation. Even a deep interest itself is not a preparation. The necessary preparation for temple ordinances includes preliminary steps such as: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, and personal worthiness. We need to consider that entering a Mormon temple is like being invited as a guest into the house of the Lord. It is the Lord who sets the conditions for temple worthiness.
Most educational programs require the completion of basic or prerequisite courses before one can register for advanced courses. At a university you cannot register for a graduate course in physics until completing the basic or elementary courses. This principle of prerequisites is well understood in everyday life and it should not surprise anyone when it is applied to the ordinances of the gospel.
It should not seem unusual, then, that the Lord has decreed in His Church that admission to the temple comes only after certain prerequisites have been fulfilled. It should not seem unusual that preparation and worthiness should be established before these privileges are given.
There are some blessings which can be bestowed only in the Lord’s temple, and we do not talk of them outside the temple. But all who are worthy and qualify in every way may enter the temple, there to be introduced to the sacred rites and ordinances. This is not restrictive secrecy. Nor is the right to temple attendance elitest or exclusive. Rather it is the sacredness of the covenants offered to all of God’s children in His way. Clearly there is much difference between treating something as sacred and keeping something secret.
It is not surprising that the Lord told Joseph Smith, “Make not thy gift known unto any save it be those who are of thy faith. Trifle not with sacred things” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:12).
However, a few things can be revealed regarding the temple and its ordinances.
- The temple is not like a Mormon meetinghouse. A meetinghouse consists of a chapel, a multi-purpose hall (sometimes with a stage), classrooms, offices, and a kitchen. Meetinghouses may have artwork depicting the life of Christ in rooms and hallways, but there are no icons or statues. Meetinghouses are used for Sunday worship and weekday Church-sponsored activities. Temples are ornate and highly symbolic. Patterns of worship there are repetitive, since a person performs the ordinances once for himself and every time after that for a deceased ancestor.
- People dress differently in the temple. Attendees arrive in Sunday-best attire and change into white clothing, which is sold at church distribution centers. A change in clothing not only symbolizes reverence, respect, and purity before the Lord, but it removes the ability to tell who is rich and who is poor by their attire. The Lord is no respecter of persons, but loves all His children equally.
- The temple ceremony teaches the Plan of Salvation, or God’s plan for His children, leading them from their pre-mortal existence through their eternal salvation. The story is told of the creation and the Fall of Adam, the atonement of Jesus Christ, and the redemption of mankind. As man progresses through the plan of salvation, so does he progress in his responsibility to serve God. Thus, men work their way from a basic willingness to sacrifice for the Lord to the desire to consecrate all to serve Him. The principles of righteous service are summarized in the temple. All of these principles are taught openly by the Church outside the temple, too.
More information about Mormon Temples