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Why Temple Recommends?by W. John Walsh
When people ask this question, it is usually for one of two reasons. One, they are offended that they cannot enter the temple without meeting the necessary requirements. Or, two, they are sincerely interested about the temple and the significance of a temple recommend.
It is rather common for nonmembers of the Church to be offended by their inability to participate in temple ordinances. While I have always tried to be considerate of the feelings of others, I have never understood this reaction. Many religions have certain ceremonies and/or places sacred to their faith that are only reserved for faithful adherents. For example, only Muslims are allowed to make a pilgrimage to the Kaaba at Mecca and only Roman Catholics may enter all the buildings in Vatican City. However, as a Latter-day Saint, my inability to tour Mecca and the innermost parts of the Vatican has never bothered me. Perhaps this is because I respect the religious views of others even when I disagree with them. Therefore, I can only assume that those who rail against Latter-day Saints for restricting the most sacred expressions of our faith do not have that same respect for us or our religion. This is a rather hypocritical attitude. While these people may claim that we are intolerant for restricting participation in temple ordinances, their disrespect of us is the real intolerance.
Since some people respect our beliefs, but are still sincerely interested in why only faithful Latter-day Saints may participate in temple ordinances, I will attempt an explanation as follows:
1) Most learning disciplines, including spiritual ones, have a sequential approach to learning. For example, before a person enters graduate school, he must usually complete college. Before one enters college, he must usually complete high school. Are all students from kindergarten through high school placed in the same class? No. Why do we have different grades? Why are elementary students placed in one building and high school students in another? They are at different levels and need instruction and an environment tailored specifically to their individual needs.
Likewise, before a person partakes of the deep spiritual lessons taught in the temple, he must complete the necessary prerequisites. Otherwise, an unsatisfactory experience would result for all concerned.
All men and women, including nonmembers, are encouraged to fulfill the preliminary steps necessary to enter the temple. However, only those people who have completed these prerequisites, as evidenced by issuance of a temple recommend, are allowed to do so. Temple recommends are given to members of the Church who have completed the preliminary steps of faith, repentance, baptism, and confirmation. Adult males must also have been ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood.
While these preliminary steps do not guarantee a candidate will have reached the necessary spiritual maturity, it is more likely that they will have developed it.
2) Temple ordinances come with associated covenants of faithfulness. The ordinances of the Temple are not simply outward signs of worship that any person may make. They are associated with sacred covenants between the individual and God. If a person breaks a temple covenant, he will bring upon him a greater degree of damnation than one who has never entered the temple. It should be mentioned that those who go to the temple do so to make these covenants. Temple worship is not an observatory experience. Everyone goes to participate and there are no spectator seats. Therefore, the Church restricts admission to those adherents who have demonstrated that they have both the desire and the ability to keep these sacred covenants. This is a protection to the unprepared. To allow people to participate in these ordinances with full knowledge that they do not respect them or intend to keep them is to mock them [and thus mock God who created them].
3) The Lord has given his children temples so that they may have a place of refuge from the carnal and sensual world. It is a place where only those who have gained a certain level of spirituality are allowed to enter. If anyone could enter the Temple, the spiritual experiences of the prepared would be hampered by the unprepared. The temple would no longer be a refuge from the outside world. The Lord has taught us: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (The Holy Bible, Matthew 18:20) The temple is a place where many gather in the name of Jesus to partake of the highest blessings of the gospel.
At this point, I would like to make a few comments regarding temple marriages, the most common source of strife on this issue. While some people can understand why only Latter-day Saints can participate in most temple ordinances, they do not understand why an exception cannot be made for marriages. Usually, these people assume that temple marriages are similar in form and purpose to those of other religions. However, this is simply not the case.
A temple marriage is not a public celebration [as with the weddings of most other religions], but the most private and sacred of all religious events in the life of a Latter-day Saint. It is the culmination of all the other temple ordinances. There are no large crowds, bridesmaids, parties, or joyous outbursts. In a temple marriage, while kneeling at an altar in a temple, a man and woman make covenants with God and each other in a marriage ceremony that is to be binding both in mortality and in the eternal world. Since the endowment ordinance is necessary to understand the religious nature of the marriage ceremony, the only witnesses allowed are those members of the Church who have completed it. In temple marriages, it is very common for siblings and close friends to not be invited to the marriage ordinance because they have not yet been endowed. For example, at my temple marriage, my bride's only sister, a faithful Latter-day Saint, waited outside until the marriage ordinance was completed because she had not been endowed. She was not offended or bothered in the least by her exclusion because she understood the reasons for it. To summarize, a temple marriage is not a public celebration, but a private religious experience only shared with spiritually mature members of one's own faith.
The sacredness and solemness of the temple marriage ordinance does not mean that an LDS wedding is not a festive occasion. However, all the festivities occur outside of the temple. While LDS wedding receptions are often more reserved than non-LDS ones, it is here that the public celebrations will occur. It should be noted that all friends and family members, including nonmembers, can be invited to the reception to participate in the public celebration of the day.
Here are a few suggestions to make those who did not attend the temple ceremony feel included: 1) Have them tour the temple grounds with other family members while the ceremony occurs. My nonmember mother did so with my bride's LDS sister and they had a wonderful time. 2) Have the Temple Sealer come out and talk with them about what happened in the temple. 3) Have them drive the bride and groom to the reception so they have a few moments of personal time with the couple on their special day. My mother did so and it was a special experience. 4) Have them help plan the reception.
These are just a few things. There are many, many things that can be done to ensure that nonmember family members know that they are loved and valued even though they do not share our faith.