This is a guest post from Cory….
This past week significant changes were made to the temple ceremonies. These changes are probably the most extensive since those made in 1990. Which raises an interesting question: do changes to these ordinances matter?
Members familiar with the history might answer this question in a variety of ways, and the answer may not be as simple as it first appears.[i] The issue is complicated by a statement made by Joseph Smith. He instructed: “ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.”[ii] If the temple ordinances are salvific, this charge does not seem to leave any room for modification. On the other hand, if the temple ordinances are meant to instruct and help bring us unto Christ, like the ordinances under the law of Moses, then changes may be permissible, unless they dilute or lose part of what the original ordinances was able to teach.
Church leaders are aware of this caution by Joseph. It is used in the current training videos for temple workers to encourage strict adherence to temple policies and to avoid “temple drift.”[iii] Temple drift is a term coined to refer to minor variations in performance of the ordinances. Great care is taken to ensure that temple workers do not innovate. The concern over temple drift is understandable. Minor modifications over time led to changes of ordinances in historic Christianity. As an example, the difference between baptism by immersion and baptism of infants by sprinkling can be traced to small steps taken over time and for seemingly good reasons.
God is not bound to honor that which varies from His word or what He has established. Isaiah testified of the last days: “The earth also is defiled unto the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore, hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left” (Isaiah 24:5). This dire prediction is reminiscent of the warning Moroni gave Joseph Smith recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 2, which is a foundation of our modern temple work: “If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (D&C 2:3).
It is clear that covenants and ordinances are a serious matter with the Lord and not something to trifle with. Some view the cumulative changes to the endowment and initiatory as significant enough to render the current versions corrupted and in direct violation of Joseph’s warning. One the other hand, Joseph left Brigham a charge to finish up and refine the original ceremony. Joseph also never had the completed Nauvoo Temple to work with. He began the work but did not seem to complete it. (From the description of Facsimile No. 2 in the Book of Abraham, it appears that there was and is yet more to come. Whether that would have been given by Joseph in the Nauvoo Temple is unknown.) In any case, it appears that the endowment we have today is not fully complete or finished (see, for example, Figures 8 – 11, Facsimile No. 2). Brigham completed the charge received from Joseph and felt that things were “pretty correct” but not perfect, even towards the end of his life. Future leaders continued to make refinements to the ceremonies in the same spirit.
Some members believe or assume that these changes were all made by direct revelation and therefore in full accordance with the Lord’s will. This could provide a nice solution to the dilemma. However, a potential problem with this approach is that, with only one exception, none of those responsible ever claimed a revelation dictating the changes.[iv] (However, there is a brief statement read before the current endowment that the current changes were made as a result of revelation and authorization from the Lord. This is a departure from past practices.) Even in the case of the 1990 changes, a letter was read explaining that changes were made by those who held the keys to do so but no mention was made of any revelation or direction from the Lord. It therefore requires an assumption to take the position that all of these changes were all dictated by the Lord.
If everything was given by direct revelation, then why did Brigham Young add things that were later denounced and removed? Why was there need for ongoing revision, if it was all by revelation from the start? One could argue the Lord reveals things line upon line, but that process is usually additive in nature. We are given more over time. In this case, many things have been eliminated. We have less than earlier generations, not more. And with all of these changes, corrections, additions, and subtractions, we might yet ask: is the endowment perfect today? Or will more be corrected or changed in the future?
On one occasion, I heard a temple president express his opinion that these changes do not matter. I agree and disagree with him. In some respects, the endowment has not ever been and is probably still not perfect or complete. Removing some things, such as the oath of vengeance which never belonged in the first place, seems completely appropriate. Likewise, some feel that there are still vestiges of patriarchy and polygamy that similarly do not belong and should be changed. Viewing the endowment ceremony as an imperfect work in progress certainly might help resolve these concerns.
On the other hand, some of the changes seem to more directly alter the ordinances as established by Joseph Smith. For instance, the original penalties of the endowment were later modified and then completely removed. In the process, we may have lost something of importance that the endowment could teach us. As another example, the initiatory ordinances have been significantly altered. Personally, I prefer administering them in the new manner and am happy to see the vastly increased participation in these beautiful ordinances as patrons are more comfortable now. But I am also grateful that I received the initiatory for myself in the old manner. I do not know if I would have understood it as well if I had only experienced it after 2005.
The question as to whether these changes matter is one you should ponder for yourself and take to the Lord. I do not feel, or wish to seem, critical of those who have had stewardship of these things in the past or the decisions they made. I raise these questions because the answers may not be as cut and dried as we might assume. The Lord’s feelings and views may be different from our own. And I think these things are worth careful thought and consideration.
Regardless of how you see these issues, great value can be obtained in the temple ordinances and in temple worship today. The Lord’s Spirit is there and those who attend regularly can attest to the blessing the temple is in their lives. We cannot change and are not responsible for the past, but we are responsible for how we receive the things that are made available to us. We need to accept in faith all that we have been left by Joseph Smith. We cannot expect to receive anything more from the Lord if we are unwilling to receive what is already here. The present temple ceremonies may not be perfect, but they are what is offered us today. Our faith in receiving them matters. For many years, I have attended the temple weekly. That experience changed my life and my heart, made me a better person, blessed my marriage, and brought me closer to my Savior. It will similarly bless all who come to worship there regularly and sincerely.
I would also remind you of the situation the Lord’s apostles at Jerusalem found themselves in after His death. At that point in time, the existing church hierarchy and priesthood leadership had become so corrupt that they opposed Christ. Caiaphas was serving as the High Priest, and he and his father-in-law, Annas, had been active participants in the events culminating in the Lord’s death. The temple itself had become defiled and corrupted. Twice during the Lord’s ministry, He had personally cleansed it. He lamented over Jerusalem and declared that their house was left desolate (see Matthew 23:27). And in less than 40 years, their temple would be completely destroyed by the Romans.
Yet, in the midst of this awful condition, in the days following the Lord’s death, his disciples were “continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). Despite the corruption and apostasy, for these disciples the temple remained a holy place where they could worship God. The situation is reminiscent of the Lord’s parable concerning the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the temple to pray (see Luke 18:10-14). One was accepted and the other was not. Our individual faith and sincerity in seeking God matters greatly. Perhaps the same temple can be a holy place for one, while being profaned by another as the Lord deals with us individually.
Whichever version of the ordinances you received and are familiar with may ultimately be far less important than how you receive and act upon what you are offered in the temple. Our individual attitude and response matters. To some, the temple rites are meaningless. This is more a reflection of their own spiritual preparedness or lack thereof than it is of the inherent value of the endowment. Others may view the endowment as imparting some authoritative hall-pass for the afterlife and give little thought to further effort beyond learning things well enough to pass through the ceremony. A few may feel that some superior status is bestowed by temple ordinances. They see themselves as being chosen or better than others by virtue of being endowed and are thus lead to pride and arrogance. That attitude separates us from God and from light and truth. It potentially turns the rites into a tragic misstep rather than a divine blessing.
On the other hand, if you understand that the temple rites communicate information through symbols and are designed to instruct us in the things of God, and if you approach the temple in a spirit of humility and a desire to learn, then the endowment is a great blessing. Once we grasp the meaning, however, we must actually live the endowment in our daily lives in order to receive the promised blessings. Seeking further light and knowledge is essential in this process. So is actually conversing with the Lord, not just through ritual but in reality. The endowment is to give us faith and confidence to make the journey.
While being respectful of the temple, and not discussing things that would be inappropriate, what do you think of changing the temple ordinances? Do the changes matter? Why or why not?
Please discuss, but again with appropriate respect for the
sacred nature of the topic.
[ii] TPJS, 308.
[iii] The current Church training video for temple workers attributes the statement that ordinances are not to be altered or changed to President James E. Faust; however, he was quoting the original statement from Joseph Smith.
[iv] The one exception was when Wilford Woodruff discontinued the law of adoption, which organized families according to priesthood and instead replaced it with the practice of sealing to one’s progenitors. He claimed this change was a result of revelation.