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On June 13, 1997, ground was broken for the Boston LDS temple. The site chosen was an outcropping of rock in Belmont, a Boston suburb. The thick granite on which the temple is being built required heavy blasting to be shaped into a suitable foundation.1
The importance of placing a building on a solid foundation is a familiar metaphor. Three times in the Book of Mormon a warning is issued against building one's faith on "a sandy foundation". (2 Nephi 28:28; 3 Nephi 11:40; 18:13) The warning echoes Jesus' warning in the Sermon on the Mount that anyone who does not base his life on the rock of Christ's word will be like someone building a house on the sand. (Matthew 7:24-27)
No one questions the solid physical foundations of the LDS temple buildings. But what about the beliefs that form the spiritual foundation of the LDS faith that is represented and practiced in the temples? Are the beliefs of the LDS Church a solid foundation for Christian faith and practice?
A question that is constantly debated today is whether the LDS Church and its members are "Christian." The question deserves a careful, objective answer.
The LDS Church is one of many diverse religious bodies that are part of the world religion known as Christianity. The same is true of all professing Christian bodies, whether they preach the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ or not. The real issue, though, is not whether Mormonism should be classified as a branch of Christianity or of some other religion (say, Hinduism). The question is whether the LDS Church is genuinely or faithfully Christian - that is, whether following the teachings of the LDS Church will lead a person to a saving knowledge of Christ. On this question, we must in all honesty say that Mormonism is not truly Christian.
For its part, the LDS Church does not recognize any other church beside itself as a legitimate Christian church. The founding documents of the LDS Church declare in no uncertain terms that other churches are false. In the official, scriptural account of Joseph Smith's first vision, in which he says that he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, Joseph says that he had asked Christ which church to join. Jesus supposedly told Joseph that he "should join none of them, for they were all wrong," and "that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight" (Joseph Smith-History 1:19). According to Mormonism, the LDS Church is the only true church; all other churches are false, apostate churches. Only LDS baptism is valid; all baptisms performed in all other churches are invalid. No one outside the LDS Church is authorized to preach the gospel or perform authentic Christian rites.
Mormons do generally refer to non-LDS believers in Jesus as "Christians." However, to be consistent with their Church's teaching, they should not regard non-Mormons as true Christians. LDS apostle Bruce McConkie put it this way: "Hence, true and acceptable Christianity is found among the saints who have the fullness of the gospel, and a perverted Christianity holds sway among the so-called Christians of apostate Christendom."2 Notice that, according to McConkie, members of non-LDS churches are merely "so-called" Christians.
For our part, orthodox Christians cannot in good conscience accept Mormonism as an authentic form of Christianity. This stance is not an expression of bigotry, prejudice, or hate. It is not an attack on the sincerity or moral values of Mormons. Rather, it is a principled stance based on objective doctrinal tests laid down in the Bible itself.
We must consider, then, what the LDS Church teaches and ask whether it is faithfully Christian. Our standard for evaluating this or any teaching is the Bible. If LDS teaching agrees with the Bible, it is faithfully Christian; if it disagrees with the Bible, it is not faithfully Christian. At times, LDS leaders have affirmed the validity of this test. For example, Brigham Young once said, "Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test."3 That is precisely what we urge Christians to do.
In a table, we summarize the major doctrinal problems with the teachings of the LDS Church when compared with the Bible.4 The main problem is the LDS view of God. In biblical teaching, God is a single, infinite Being who created the universe by himself (Is. 44:24) and who transcends space and time. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each identified as God, yet never are they spoken of as three Gods. In LDS teaching, there are at least three Gods and one Goddess.5 The Father is the supreme God, his wife (commonly called Heavenly Mother) is his subordinate partner, and Jesus and the Holy Ghost, our elder brothers in the spirit realm, are the first two of the Father's spirit sons to become Gods. (LDS doctrine distinguishes the Holy Ghost as a divine being from the Holy Spirit as a divine force.) The Father himself is an exalted, immortal man with a body of flesh and bones. Joseph Smith clearly taught that the Father has not always been God, but rather became God after passing through a mortal human life. From this premise Smith concluded that we are also intended to become Gods.6
The LDS view of God leads to some troubling implications regarding other doctrines. For example, the Church's teaching that God the Father is a man led it to rethink the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. Brigham Young went so far as to assert, "When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost."7 The Church today still clearly teaches that God the Father is the literal Father of Jesus' physical body. Most Mormons today shy away from the implications of a sexual relationship between God and Mary, but the implication is clearly there, and has never been denied by the Church. It would seem that the Church holds to the teaching of the Virgin Birth (which it adamantly says it affirms) by redefining the word virgin. Bruce McConkie did so explicitly: "Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin, because he is the only person who ever had an immortal Father."8
We point out these problems in LDS doctrine, not to ridicule or be disrespectful of Mormons or their beliefs, but simply to underscore the fact that orthodox and LDS forms of Christianity are very far apart. If we are to maintain an orthodox stance with integrity, we must sadly but firmly conclude that Mormon beliefs are not faithfully or authentically Christian.
If the teachings of the LDS Church are not faithfully Christian, what of their temples? Of course, our concern here is not with the buildings per se but with what they represent - what is taught and done inside the temple.
"Christian temple" is an oxymoron. Both biblically and historically there is no such thing as a Christian temple. LDS Church publications inadvertently admit as much. The Church tract Temple Open House remarks, "In A.D. 70 the last temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and temple worship ceased until God's Church and priesthood authority were restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith."9 Since the Jerusalem Temple was under the control of the Sadducees from before Jesus' birth until it was destroyed, the temple was never used for Christian ceremonies. Animal sacrifices and other rituals of Judaism continued to be performed in the Jerusalem Temple until its destruction in A.D. 70.
Not only was there no Christian temple from the very beginning of the church, there was no need for one. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, she asked him whether God was to be worshiped at Mount Gerizim or on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Jesus told her that God was no longer to be worshiped in sacred places but rather in the sacredness of spirit and truth. (John 4:20-24) The temple of God is no longer a building made of inanimate stones, but is now the people of God, built together as "living stones" into a spiritual "temple" in whom God's Spirit dwells. (2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-5)
What about the things that Mormons actually do in their temples? The LDS Church holds a number of distinctive rituals in its temples. We will describe each of these rituals (again, respecting LDS concerns about their sacredness) and comment on each one in turn.
The most commonly performed ritual of the LDS temple is the Endowment, in which spiritual power is imparted to the faithful Mormon. First, the individual undergoes a ceremonial washing and anointing, is clothed in the temple garment (an all-white undergarment symbolizing purity), and is given a secret new name. Temple patrons then receive instruction in the Church's teaching and make certain covenants to God. These are generally personal commitments to moral purity and consecration to the Church's ministries and mission.
Christians have no objections in principle to ceremonial washing or anointing, to wearing white garments, or to making commitments to moral purity. It is what these elements mean in LDS belief that is of concern. In a General Conference address on April 6, 1853, Brigham Young, the second president of the LDS Church, defined the Endowment as follows:
"Let me give you the definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell."10
The purpose of the Endowment, then, is to empower the recipient through secret rituals, using secret words, signs, and tokens, to gain exaltation to Godhood. The goal of exaltation to Godhood is clearly unbiblical, and the means used to obtain that goal, the secret elements of the Endowment ritual, have no basis in the Bible. Clearly, the Endowment, as it is understood in the context of Mormon belief, is not an authentic Christian rite.
It is well known that Mormons who are married in the temple are considered married for eternity. Relationships between parents and children can likewise be "sealed" for eternity in the temple. There is an undeniable emotional appeal to this aspect of LDS temple ritual. However, the purpose of these "sealings" is not merely to make it possible for family members to be reunited in heaven and continue knowing and loving each other. The purpose of the sealing ceremonies is to prepare an LDS family to fulfill its heavenly destiny to become a new divine family. Recall that God the Father and his exalted wife, the Heavenly Mother, are said to be the parents of all humanity in a preexistent spirit world. Likewise, LDS teaching looks forward indefinitely into the future to a time when it maintains that exalted human families will be able to start the cycle all over again.
Of course, the Bible never suggests that marriages or family relationships should be sealed for eternity in the temple or anywhere else. But the basic problem with the marriage and family sealings in the LDS temples is their underlying understanding of the nature and destiny of man. God created us to live forever in relationships with God and each other; that is true. But God did not procreate us as his literal children, and we are not being groomed to become Gods and Goddesses like our Heavenly Father and Mother.
Mormonism teaches that only those who have been baptized in the LDS Church, received the Endowment, and been sealed with their families for eternity may live in the celestial kingdom (the highest of three heavenly kingdoms) with God and have the opportunity to become exalted to Godhood. But this teaching obviously is problematic in light of the LDS teaching that there were no valid baptisms and no temples for almost 1800 years.
The LDS Church solves this problem with the practice of performing proxy rites in the temple on behalf of the dead. Temple Mormons can be baptized, receive the Endowment, and be sealed for eternity on behalf of departed souls who are believed never to have had an opportunity to become Mormons during their mortal life on Earth. The Church teaches that such persons will then be given an opportunity in the spirit realm to hear the gospel and accept the blessings of the temple rituals that were performed by living Mormons on their behalf.
The most basic of these proxy rites is baptism for the dead. Of all the distinctive LDS rituals, this is the only one for which Mormons can offer what sounds like a proof text from the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:29, Paul wrote: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?" This is the only reference to baptism for the dead in the Bible, and it is not even an endorsement of the practice. Paul is simply pointing out that the false teachers who deny the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12) are acting inconsistently with that denial. Why get baptized on behalf of people who will not be raised from the dead? The fact that Paul says this is something that "they" do, not that "we" do, implies that baptism for the dead was not a normal Christian practice.
In any case, the LDS Church's understanding of baptism for the dead is not biblical. First of all, as we have already explained, the goal of LDS baptism, exaltation to Godhood, is unbiblical. Second, the Church's claim that only its baptism is valid must be rejected. Jesus authorized his disciples to baptize people of all nations from the beginning of the church until his return at the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20) This means that there is no legitimate basis for Mormons performing proxy baptisms for departed Christians from the centuries before Mormonism. Third, the idea that the vast majority of humanity will not be judged based on their lives on Earth but based on their decision in the afterlife is quite unbiblical. Hebrews states, "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment". (Heb. 9:27) No matter how fast the LDS Church grows, it is reasonable to assume that 99.9 per cent of all people in human history will never have had an opportunity to hear the LDS gospel on Earth. The LDS practice of baptism for the dead thus implies that, for nearly everyone who ever lives, it really does not matter what they do or believe on Earth. But Paul says clearly that we will be judged by what we do in the body. (2 Cor. 5:10)
Mormon temples are generally very beautiful buildings, well constructed, and situated on sound physical foundations. However, the religious practices of the LDS temple are not authentic Christian rites. They are based on unbiblical ideas about God, human beings, and God's plan for our eternal future. They are not solidly based on the teachings or practices found in the New Testament. And they represent a sharp line dividing Mormonism from orthodox Christianity of all denominations. For these reasons, we must conclude that the religion of the Mormon temple rests on a sandy foundation.