Mormon temples (temples belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are sacred places of worship. Once a Mormon temple has been dedicated (set apart for the practicing of ordinances), only worthy Latter-day Saints (members of the Mormon Church) are permitted to enter. However, before a temple is dedicated, a period of a few weeks is generally set aside for members of the community to walk through the temple on short tours.
Open house tours require reservations and free tickets, simply to manage the number of people going through at any given time. Even though temples are not yet dedicated at the time people are going through, they are still special buildings which command respect and reverence. Those going through should be nicely dressed. The Mormon standard of “Sunday dress” is generally understood to mean white shirt, tie, and slacks for men and modest dresses or skirts and blouses for women. If an individual does not have this clothing available, he or she should still be nicely groomed and wearing the best that he or she has available. They should treat the building and others with respect while going through and should speak in quiet, respectful voices.
During an open house tour, guests are able to see all major rooms where Mormon ordinances are performed. These include the baptistry, the sealing room(s), the endowment room(s), etc. This allows members of the public to see that there are no suspicious, cultish rites performed. They can see that the rooms are beautiful and are made of fine materials, because temples are houses of the Lord, and He deserves the best.
The Boston Temple open house was held from August 29–September 23, 2000. It was dedicated on October 1, 2000, by then-Mormon prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley. The only time an already dedicated temple would have a second open house is if it went under major renovations. Then it would have a second open house, prior to its re-dedication.
For up-to-date LDS News regarding Mormon temple construction, open houses, and groundbreakings visit the newsroom.
Mormon doctrine teaches that the family can be, and should be, forever. This gives the Mormon family a unique perspective on relationships. While one would always hope that parents would be loving to each other and to their children, and that siblings would be loving towards each other, this is sadly not always the case.
The family seems to be under attack in society as being old-fashioned and outdated. The world is telling us that parents don’t need to be married and that if things don’t work out, then it is better and easier to just give up and start over again with someone else. Mormon doctrine teaches that a marriage should be eternal when performed in the temple. When a couple is married in a Mormon temple, they are married for “time and eternity,” not just “until death do you part.” Though many people seem to believe that they will be with their spouses after they die, no other church actually teaches this doctrine, other than the Mormon Church.
Temples are so important because it is only in them that a Mormon family can be sealed together for eternity. When a couple’s marriage begins in the temple, under the sealing power of the priesthood, all children born to them are sealed to them automatically through the covenants they have already made. If a couple gets sealed after they have children, or if they adopt children later, the children can still be sealed to them, but have to be present in the temple ceremony.
With an eternal perspective, parenting and Mormon family relationships become much more important than anything else in our lives. We should nurture and strengthen each other, make sure our spiritual needs are met as well as our physical and emotional needs.
Though there are certainly Mormon families who do have problems, who do struggle with such things as abuse, abandonment, and worse, these things are always due to individuals’ choices. Mormon doctrine is very clear on how serious the sins are which tear a family apart.
Mormons believe that men and women have unique, but complementary, attributes and characteristics which are both essential for raising a family in the best possible environment (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World“). This is why mothers are encouraged to stay home with their children when possible, rather than pursue a career. Children need this love and guidance as a foundation in their lives, and mothers can give a type of love and understanding that men are incapable of. The opposite is also true, however. Men have their own contributions which no mother can give. This is why the Mormon Church is opposed to same-sex marriage.
Families are units of eternity and should be treated and protected as such. We should cherish our families and do all we can to build them up and to strengthen them.
Some people think Mormons are weird for worshipping in Mormon temples. The truth is, temples existed in ancient times, just like they exist today. Solomon’s temple was built thousands of years ago as a place for God to dwell among His people. It was a sacred, sanctified place set aside for special worship. Only those who were authorized were able to enter, and those who did were instructed to worship in a certain way. This was also true for the Tabernacle while the Jews were wandering in the wilderness, though this was a special, portable temple, since they were working their way towards the Promised Land.
In ancient temples, animal sacrifice was still practiced under the Law of Moses. The laws which the people were instructed to keep are outlined clearly in the Old Testament. The animals which were brought to the temple had to be without blemish, the first males of their flocks. They had to be certain types of animals as well. There were several different reasons for animals to be sacrificed, but the most well-known sacrifice is probably for the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would sacrifice one animal for the sins of all the people.
Mormons believe that ancient temples also existed on the American continent before the time of Christ. The Book of Mormon is a history of three different groups of Jews who were led to the American continent by the hand of God before the destruction of Jerusalem. Their history shows that they also built and worshiped in temples.
Mormon doctrine teaches that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses when he suffered in Gethsemane and was killed on the cross. He was the ultimate sacrifice, and all the animal sacrifices which had been done up until that point had been symbols of this eternal sacrifice of our Savior’s. At the time the Law of Moses was fulfilled, Christ said that instead of continuing to offer animal sacrifices, what would be required from that time forth was a broken heart and a contrite spirit (3 Nephi 9:20). These are the sacrifices which are required in Mormon temples today. What is meant by a broken heart and a contrite spirit is that each of us must humble him- or herself and offer the only thing that is truly ours to give to God: our will; our hearts. We must choose to follow His commandments, for that is how we show we love Him (John 14:15).
Mormon temples today are places of worship and learning. It is in temples that we learn more about God’s plan for each of us and how we can continually grow closer to Him. Modern temples continue a marvelous ancient tradition of worship which was instituted by God thousands of years ago, and they are still built under His direction today.
Mormon doctrine teaches that families can be together forever if they are sealed together by sacred ordinances in the temple. This means that after individuals die in this life, they can be reunited in heaven and can be together forever. This doctrine is unique to Mormons.
Mormon temples are sacred places where eternal ordinances can be performed. However, all ordinances must be performed on earth. When one is deceased, it is impossible for a spirit to receive these ordinances in heaven. This is why Mormons do family history work and then temple work. Each individual performs sacred ordinances in the temple only one time for him- or herself. Each time an individual returns to the temple after receiving his or her own ordinances, these ordinances are then performed by proxy for (or on behalf of) a person who is now dead who did not have the opportunity to receive these ordinances during his or her lifetime.
Mormons are encouraged to do their family history work so they can take their own family names to the temple and perform these ordinances for their immediate ancestors. This is a wonderful opportunity to get to know the people who came before you.
The Mormon Church (officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has an unparalleled database for anyone searching for their deceased family members. The Church has made copies of countless records from across the world, and anyone searching for their family may have access to these in local family history libraries, free of charge. In addition, many congregations have a family history specialist trained in using the Mormon Church’s database, to provide aid to any who need it.
The website new.familysearch.org is an invaluable tool which is combining a lot of the Mormon Church’s resources, previously available separately. It has been a long process to correct wrong information, combine double entries, and so forth, but this resource has already helped tens of thousands of people to find their ancestors.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City is open, free of charge, to anyone who wishes to use its services. It is the largest library of its kind in the world. Some of its resources include:
- More than 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals; 3,725 electronic resources.
- The Ancestral File database contains more than 36 million names that are linked into families.
- The International Genealogical Index database contains approximately 600 million names of deceased individuals.
- Records available are from the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
In addition to these amazing records, approximately 200 cameras are currently digitizing records in more than 45 countries. A staff of more than 100 full- and part-time workers is available to the public, along with about 700 trained volunteers.
Mormons believe in the Spirit of Elijah, which is discussed in Malachi 4:6, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” To Mormons, this means that each of us is essential to the salvation of our family members, and we must be sealed together, by the ordinances of the temple, in order to be together forever. Family history work is essential to find those of our family members who died without having the chance to perform these ordinances for themselves. When we find them in our research, we can do their temple work for them and create an eternal, unbroken ring of family members.
Many people are curious about what goes on inside Mormon temples. Mormons who are living the commandments are able to go to the temple and receive ordinances there. Once these ordinances are received personally, individuals may return to the temple and do work by proxy for those who are dead. Mormons are encouraged to do their own family history work and to complete temple ordinances for their deceased family members. If they do not have personal names, though, other names have been submitted by individuals for their family members, and proxy work can be done for these people. Mormon doctrine teaches that certain ordinances are essential for salvation, but not everyone had a chance to receive these ordinances during their lifetime. Thus, proxy work can be done for them, and then they will have the opportunity to choose whether or not they accept these ordinances. Free will is always important in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Baptisms and Confirmations for the Dead
The ancient apostle Paul talked about one of these ordinances performed in temples: baptism for the dead, “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?” (1 Corinthians 15:29).
Baptisms for the dead are performed in the baptistry of Mormon temples. The baptistry is always located in a lower level of the temple, below ground, to symbolize the burial of the old person and his rebirth as a new creature in Christ, as well as the death and resurrection of the Savior. The baptistry is built following the pattern in Solomon’s temple, as a laver mounted on the backs of twelve oxen, which represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Worthy Mormons age 12 and older may be baptized for the dead in Mormon temples. After a person is baptized for the dead, he or she is confirmed for the dead. Confirmation is an ordinance performed by the laying on of hands for the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost, or the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. These are the two ordinances that youth may do by proxy for the dead. The higher ordinances must be performed by worthy adults.
A symbolic washing and anointing is performed for purification in an ordinance called the initiatory. Mormons perform this ordinance once for themselves and ever after for the dead. This is symbolic of the ritual purification rites in ancient temples, including the tabernacle in the wilderness used by the ancient Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt, as laid forth in the Old Testament.
The next ordinance is called the endowment. An endowment is a gift, and this is a gift from God that includes knowledge, protection, and spiritual power. The endowment is performed in a beautiful, auditorium-like room, with the patrons seated. They hear the story of the creation and God’s Plan of Salvation, and then they covenant to keep God’s commandments. Historically, Latter-day Saint pioneers were eager to receive their own endowments in Nauvoo, Illinois, before setting out to cross the Great Plains to Utah Territory. They desired the spiritual enrichment and extra strength this spiritual endowment would give them. This is why Mormon leaders struggled to complete the Nauvoo Temple, even as mobs were attacking the city. Thousands of ordinances were performed in these adverse circumstances. The endowment takes about an hour and a half to complete and is always the same, word for word. Mormons receive the endowment once for themselves and thereafter for the dead.
At the conclusion of the presentation of the endowment, temple patrons proceed to a room called the Celestial Room, representative of the highest kingdom of heaven where God Himself dwells. Here, patrons may pray or meditate.
Another ordinance performed in Mormon temples is called a sealing. This ordinance seals a bride and groom together in a holy marriage bond that is meant to last for eternity. When they have children, those children are considered “born in the covenant” and are part of their eternal family. For couples who have never been married in the temple and who have children, the children may be sealed to them in the temple after they are eternally sealed to each other.
Temple sealings are performed in sealing rooms. A sealing room has an altar in the middle, and the bride and groom kneel on either side, holding hands across the altar as they pronounce their wedding vows. Family and friends in attendance, all of whom must be temple-worthy, sit on chairs around the periphery of the room. Ornate mirrors adorn the walls, and because they face each other, the effect reproduces infinite reflections, symbolizing the eternal nature of the covenant.
Temples are places of utmost light, joy, and reverence. Mormon patrons arrive in Sunday dress (white shirts and ties and slacks or suits for the men, dresses for the women) and change into white apparel for ordinance work. It is impossible to discern the education or vocational status of the various patrons, or whether one is rich or poor. All are equal in the sight of God. The Church is striving to build temples all over the world, so that they are near to the members who wish to attend and to receive saving ordinances. Some families make great sacrifices and travel long distances to reach a temple, especially to have their families sealed in an eternal covenant.
Every religion has its own vocabulary to express its beliefs and doctrines. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a phrase that is unusual, and it is “Saviors on Mount Zion.”
The popular singer, Jewel, wrote a song called “Hands.” The end of the song goes like this…
My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God’s eyes
We are God’s eyes
We are God’s eyes
We are God’s hands
We are God’s hands
This is a well-understood idea that the Lord works through us, His servants. Our willingness to act in charity towards our fellowmen accomplishes His work. Mormons define the word “charity” as the pure love of Christ. Without it, we are nothing.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen” (Moroni 7:46-48).
There is a Hebrew word—go’el—which means “savior.” How often is a friend or family member a savior to you in a dire moment? Mormon doctrine teaches that we each may perform the work of a savior many times throughout our lives. I remember the one-hundred-dollar bill pressed into my hand by a friend during an especially lean Christmas season and the caring friend who sat and listened for hours as I poured out my soul. Think of the kidney donor, the care-giver, the mother of a handicapped child. In these cases, we are God’s hands, doing His work. We are proxies for Jesus Christ.
The greatest of all vicarious work—work done for us that we can’t do for ourselves—was Christ’s atonement for our sins. In Gethsemane and upon the cross Christ took upon Himself all of our cares and sorrows, but also suffered the wrath of God in our place, if we would only believe on His name and lay our sins at His feet. He took upon Himself the punishment for our transgressions on condition of our repentance.
Is it so strange, then, that we may act as saviors for our ancestors by performing Mormon temple ordinances they were never able to perform—on condition that they desire to accept those ordinances? Many millions have lived on this earth, never hearing the name of Christ, never hearing a word of His gospel. Should these be condemned when they never had the opportunity to accept or reject the Lord? God is love. We believe that those who never heard the gospel during their mortal existence will hear it in the Spirit World after death. They can then accept or reject it, but since they are spirits, they have not the ability to perform earthly ordinances, such as baptism. We do it for them in our temples. (Late Prophet Joseph F. Smith received a vision of the Spirit World and the missionary work performed there. To read his account, click here.)
We do this vicarious work, performing saving ordinances in temples of the Lord, for our own ancestors who have passed on. In so doing, we seal our families together in eternal units, and we offer our ancestors the opportunity to become the children of Christ.
…we are told that by taking the gospel to others and bringing them to repentance, by doing genealogy and temple work, and by living Christ-like lives, we can come to stand as saviors on Mount Zion. By freely giving his life, Christ, and Christ alone, atoned for all mankind. We have the opportunity of aiding others to accept his love and his sacrifice—the gift of the atonement—and thereby aid in the work of exalting the human family, becoming saviors on Mount Zion (Hartman Rector, 1981).
…we become saviors on Mount Zion, all committed to the great plan of offering salvation to the untold numbers of spirits. To do this is the Lord’s self-imposed duty, this great labor his highest glory. Likewise, it is man’s duty, self-imposed, his pleasure and joy, his labor, and ultimately his glory.” (John A. Widtsoe, “The Worth of Souls,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, p. 189.)
We learn by revelation from the Prophet Joseph Smith that “these … principles in relation to the dead and the living … cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation. …“For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.” (D&C 128:15, 18; see also Heb. 11:39–40.) (David B. Haight, General Conference address, October, 1990.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote: “But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, … and receiving all the ordinances, … ordinations and sealing powers upon their [own] heads, [and] in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah” (History of the Church, 6:184).
What a privilege it is to be able to go to the temple, where we may experience the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of the Lord. Great service is given when we perform vicarious ordinances for those who have gone beyond the veil. In many cases we do not know those for whom we perform the work. We expect no thanks, nor do we have the assurance that they will accept that which we offer. However, we serve, and in that process we attain that which comes of no other effort: we literally become saviors on Mount Zion. As our Savior gave His life as a vicarious sacrifice for us, so we, in some small measure, do the same when we perform proxy work in the temple for those who have no means of moving forward unless something is done for them by those of us here on the earth (President Thomas S. Monson, General Conference address, April, 2009).
I stumbled upon something serendipitously in the scriptures (no spiritual coincidences, are there?) that I had missed before in reading a portion of the Old Testament relating to the desecration of the molten ‘sea’ or font that was part of the sacred temple service of ancient Israel. At the time, I was in the Mormon Mount Timpanogos Mormon temple, dressed in white, waiting to perform temple work for my ancestors, reflecting in the quiet, and reading the scriptures. I’ll share what I learned after first providing a little context by introducing the subject of “baptisms for the dead” for friends of other faiths, as addressed, who may be visiting our website. Once again, we’ve created this site, after all, with you in mind, and we hope you’ll engage us in a conversation and ask us your sincere questions. We much prefer that you glean truth from the source than inquire of those who only speculate about our faith, lifestyles, beliefs, and especially about what goes on in dedicated Houses of the Lord–Mormon temples.
Introduction to Baptisms for the Dead
It’s not unique to Mormonism to believe in the ordinance of baptism as a requirement for entrance into God’s kingdom; many Christians likewise believe that, just as the Lord told Nicodemus, baptism is a needful symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ and of our willingness to have our sins remitted and be born again spiritually. In the Savior’s own words:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5)?
Yet all of us know that many people have died without the ordinance of baptism, and some among us have lost loved ones in this situation. So how do we reconcile Christ’s statement to Nicodemus with the notion of a just God — if, solely according to what we know of Nicodemus’ conversation, such individuals would be prohibited from entering into the kingdom of God? There is an answer that satisfies both parts of this seeming paradox.
The answer includes, of course, the truth that God is perfectly loving and just. (Often I lament that we so underestimate or under-appreciate Him and His attributes, and we see Him as less than He is and therefore are limited in the faith we can exercise in Him and in the love we give back to Him… But that’s for another post, I suppose!) Back to our conversation. As one prophet stated so well, “It is evident that the Savior’s statement to Nicodemus presupposes that baptisms may be done for those who have died who have not been baptized (Howard Hunter, Ensign, A Temple Loving People).
Since baptism is an earthly ordinance which can be performed only by the living, the Savior prepared a way for baptisms to take place by proxy for those who have passed to the other side through death. How then can those who are dead be baptized if only the living can perform the ordinance? That was the reference of the Apostle Paul’s writing to the Corinthians when he asked this question:
“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?” (1 Cor. 15:29.)
Baptisms are again performed by the living in behalf of individuals who have died, as is also the laying on of hands for the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost for these same deceased people. These ordinances, though, are performed only in the house of the Lord.
Personal Reflections on Baptisms in Mormon Temples
I was in the San Diego temple once as my daughter and her friend were being baptized for some of my ancestors, and I watched the beautiful ordinance from behind a glass enclosure, framing the baptismal font that is raised to be seated upon the backs of 12 oxen representative of the children of Israel and respective tribes. I saw, but couldn’t hear from where I was seated, what appeared as a joyous, animated but quiet discussion as my daughter handed the names of our family to the officiator, both dressed in white. I watched as our friend, Christian, entered the font and was first baptized for our male ancestors, and as the recorders, attentive, noted the ordinance from the side of the font, leaning inward with interest. Then Kira stepped into the font, the names of our family pronounced as she stood as proxy and was baptized and emerged from the water on their behalf. I watched as others looked on longingly and lovingly. I felt what I can only describe as pure joy and a sure feeling that at least some of those who have passed on for whom the work was being performed were watching from the spirit world and were aware and joyful on that occasion. Of course, everyone has the choice to dismiss the ordinance as well, but on this day, I felt the joy of some who accepted.
Well, interestingly enough, a day later I found myself in the Mount Timpanogos Mormon temple, wanting to follow through with additional temple work for these relatives. As mentioned above, I was pondering the scriptures and the verses I came upon were these:
And king Ahaz cut off the borders of the bases, and removed the laver from off them; and took down the sea from off the brasen oxen that were under it, and put it upon a pavement of stones.
I learned that it was actually Ahaz who had dismantled the font. To him, nothing was sacred. After all, he passed his children through the fire as an offerring to the heathen god, Molech. He took parts of the temple and offered them to the King of Assyria to bribe him into helping him defeat those attacking him — Rezin and the king of Judah. He then broke apart the font. I hadn’t noticed that before. The temple was not just defiled; the very molten ‘sea’ — the building of which was detailed some chapters earlier — was destroyed by a wicked man. The destruction of the temple, the exile, the re-building and the destruction again in Jerusalem, became ever more present reality to me. We are once again in the era of temple building, and one day, the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and the Savior will rule and reign on earth again. Of that I am sure and offer my sincere witness.
We hope you’ll visit a modern temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before it is dedicated, or one of the international Visitors’ Centers on a temple site.
More on Mormon Baptism for the Dead
LDS News on Church policy for Baptisms for the Dead