Back when I was a TBM (true believing Mormon), I would get annoyed when mainstream Christians would say Mormons aren’t Christian. “Jesus Christ is in the name of our church!” we protest. We quote this scripture from the Book of Mormon: “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26). So why don’t Christians think Mormons are Christian?
Jesus Is Not Enough, But He Should Be
Other Christian churches teach we are saved through Christ’s grace. That is, Jesus paid the price for us that we are unable to pay ourselves, and it’s a gift to us. Hopefully a belief in Jesus will lead people to live good lives, and to be kind and to love each other, but there is nothing anyone needs to do to be “saved” other than to accept Jesus. The Sadducees and the Pharisees often gave Jesus grief about not following every last part of the law as contained in the scriptures. But Jesus taught the two great commands are to love God, and love others. Jesus never talked about a list of requirements we need to fulfill in order to get to heaven. In 2 Nephi 31:20, we read we must “endure to the end” to have eternal life. Endure what? The huge checklist of things the LDS church asks us to do? I don’t see Jesus’ message in the Bible as being compatible with the idea that we need to “endure” to get eternal life.
Jesus Made Physical Temples Obsolete
A Christian friend of mine recommended I get a copy of the “NIV Study Bible”, and I’m really glad I did. It has lots of great historical information on every page. Something I find very useful in this version is how before every book in the Bible, there is an introduction to give you historical context, and an outline that shows what the book contains. Last night I was in Hebrews, and I saw this in the outline:
- The Superior Sacrificial Work of Our High Priest (8:1 – 10:18)
- A New Sanctuary and a New Covenant (ch. 8)
- The Old Sanctuary (9:1 – 10)
- The Better Sacrifice (9:11 – 10:18)
The author of Hebrews makes the case that physical temples are no longer needed, because Jesus is our permanent, perfect high priest, serving in the sanctuary of heaven. In the Jewish temple, the high priest would enter the temple to offer sacrifices for people’s sins.
Hebrews 8:1 – 2: Jesus is our high priest in heaven, and now serves in heaven instead of an earthly temple
1 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.
Hebrews 9:11 – 12: Jesus entered the greater and more perfect tabernacle (heaven), by means of his own blood, not animals
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
So why would we ever need an earthly temple after Christ’s atonement? With his sacrifice, Jesus has paid for our sins and is our perfect high priest. The whole point of the Jewish temple was for the high priest to offer animal blood sacrifices for our sins. When Jesus died, the veil (or “curtain” as it says in the NIV) in the temple ripped in two, signifying the end of earthly temples, and that Jesus had opened the way for everyone to enter heaven. In my opinion the LDS temples are unnecessary for salvation, because Jesus made earthly temples obsolete. His atonement paid the way, and there are no ordinances such as the endowment needed to enter heaven. If the endowment and marriage in an earthly temple are necessary for salvation, why didn’t Jesus ever mention them in the New Testament? Why was there no mention of these ordinances in the Book of Mormon? In my opinion it’s because Joseph Smith hadn’t yet come up with the idea for the endowment when he wrote the Book of Mormon.
Spiritual Experiences: Thanks to the Place, or How Someone Perceives It?
I recognize people can have powerful spiritual experiences in the temple. But people also have powerful spiritual experiences in nature, or when helping others, or while listening to a story that resonates with them, or by attending worship services, Christian or otherwise. I believe people’s spiritual responses are driven more by how those experiences resonate with them. The temple is holy because people perceive it as holy, not because God accepts it as more special than some other religion’s holy ground.
Limiting God With Extra Ordinances
Does it make sense that God is so limited that he’s going to keep a spirit in spirit prison, separated from her family for hundreds or thousands of years, until a living 12-year-old girl is baptized for that spirit? I used to believe that, but now I see that as limiting God. The God I believe in consists of unconditional love, forgiveness and acceptance. One person lucky enough to have been born in Utah and baptized in the LDS church is not worth more than a person born in India or China with no chance to join the LDS church.
Time and Money Well Spent?
I only wish we as Mormons would take more of the time and money spent on temples to help people still alive, instead of trying to help people who are dead. As we drive to the temple to try to help people who have already passed on, how many living people could we have helped? As we build expensive temples around the world, including in third world countries, who could have benefited from that money instead? In Thomas S. Monson’s talk “The Holy Temple” given in April 2011, he talks about a father and a son of a very poor family who traveled 3,000 miles to work to save up enough money for the family to go to the temple in New Zealand. This father and son worked four years, returning home to the family only once, in order to earn enough money for the trip to the temple. This story breaks my heart! Wouldn’t their time and money have been better spent making their family’s life better? I suppose that’s something everyone has to individually decide.