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Changes to the Temple Ceremonies

by W. John Walsh

As of lately I have been inundated with questions as to why the temple ceremonies have been changed? There are numerous sites on the internet to get the endowment ceremonies. How are we to handle a sincere question form an investigator as to why an unchangeable god would change his ordinances?

It is true that copies of the temple ceremonies have been stolen from the Church. These copies are used by competing religious groups to either attack the Church or taunt and bait Latter-day Saints, to whom the temple ceremonies are sacred. It is also true that some sites on the internet have posted these documents [many of which have been altered to suit the purposes of our critics].

Let's begin by stating that not only have changes been made to temple ceremonies in the past, but many more will be made in the future. The idea that the temple ceremonies are not supposed to change is a false doctrine. The truth does not change, but how the truth [or how much of it] is taught may be.

It is important to remember that the temple ceremonies are teaching mechanisms that are tailored to the needs of their audience. This distinguishes them from a written scriptural record [i.e, the standard works]. The mechanisms may be changed for many reasons including, but not limited to, the following:

1. Spiritual Growth of the Church. Our Heavenly Father teaches his children "line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). Not all persons are able to bear the fullness of the everlasting gospel. Therefore, Our Heavenly Father, in his wisdom, will only give his people what they are able to bear. As they grow stronger, he will give them more of his word. The Apostle Paul likens this process unto feeding a child: "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able [to bear it], neither yet now are ye able" (1 Corinthians 3:2). As a people grow in spirituality, lesser teaching may be taken out and replaced by something greater.

2. Apostasy in the Church. If people regress spiritually, greater teachings may be lost or made less plain (Jacob 4:14; D&C 43:10; Matt. 13:10). The Book of Mormon summarizes this process as follows:

"For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have." (2 Nephi 28:30)

3. Modernize to conform with the prevailing culture and/or language. Human language does not have the depth and richness necessary to convey certain eternal concepts. Of necessity, prophetic messages are filtered through the prevalent culture and language. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches:

"For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ." (D&C 90:11, emphasis added)

In addition, language and the use of words change over time. A word may mean one thing at one point in time and the exact opposite 100 years later. Therefore, temple teachings need to be changed to reflect current cultural and linguistic patterns.

4. Add a specific teaching that is especially needed at a point in time. The Lord's people have different needs at different times. Here's a hypothetical example. Let's assume that the prevailing culture is desecrating the earth through massive environmental waste. It's quite possible that the Lord would add a teaching strongly emphasizing the importance of proper stewardship over our planet. Let's assume that changes occur and we start treating our habitation better. At this point, the environmental message that was added may be de-emphasized or taken out altogether.

5. Remove a specific teaching for cultural reasons. Here's a hypothetical example. In the Old Testament, one of the symbols of Christ is a serpent. (See The Holy Bible, Numbers 21:9) Let's assume that one of the teachings used in the temple prominently displayed a serpent. In the prevailing culture at the time, everyone clearly understands that the serpent display is symbolic of Christ. However, a hundred years pass and many cultural changes have occurred. People have started to associate the serpent only with evil things. It is quite possible that the Lord would remove the symbolic display of a serpent and replace it with some other symbol that carries less negative connotations in the offended culture.

In conclusion, the Lord changes the instruction given in the temple in accordance with the needs of the people living at the time. Some parts may be taken out and others added for a variety of reasons. I suspect that the temple ceremonies that are performed 100 years from now will not be exactly the same as the ones we have today.

(See The Weightier Matters of the Law: Judgment, Mercy, and Faith by President James E. Faust for a discussion of what changes in the Church and what does not; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page; Teachings About Temples home page)

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