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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sacred, not Secret

The idea that individuals who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and even many members, are not allowed to enter into the Temple is an idea that many people struggle with. It seems elitist, close-minded, and intolerant. At first glance, it seems so blatantly against the teachings of a loving, accepting Christ. But only at first glance.

Restrictions on Temple attendance have been a part of the Lord’s teachings all throughout the Bible. In addition, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the only religion in our day to include such standards in its doctrine, nor is it unique to religion in general. Many secular organizations have places and/or ceremonies only open to certain qualifying members.

· Where does the Bible say certain people may not enter into the temple?
· Aren’t all people invited to come unto Christ?
· Are “Mormons” the only church to exclude non-members from ceremonies?
· What does sacredness have to do with who may enter?

Biblical Precedent

Every time the Lord has instructed his people to build a temple, he has established a standard of worthiness for those who would enter in. This was a law all throughout the Old Testament and was not superseded by Christ’s teachings in the New Testament. In fact, even Christ paid respect and honor to the temple and its standards throughout His ministry.

One of the first temples we have record of is Moses’ tabernacle in the wilderness. Even back then, the requirements to serve in the temple were stricter than those we find today. Only Levites (descendents of Levi, son of Jacob) could serve in the temple (Num 3:5-10). Among them, only Levites of a specific lineage, sons of Aaron, could serve as priests (Num 16:3-10). Among them, only one man, the High Priest, could enter into the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16), which was the most sacred part of the tabernacle and housed the Ark of the Covenant and several other artifacts from Israel’s history.

Even the High Priest could only enter into the Holy of Holies once a year (Lev. 16:2, Ex. 30:10). This exclusivity was continued all the way through the Old Testament and up until 70 A.D. when the Temple in Jerusalem fell to the Romans, excluding a few periods when there simply were no temples, such as during the Babylonian Exile.

So what would happen if someone who was not the High Priest tried to perform his duties? Two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, tried it (Lev. 10:1-2). They took Aaron’s censer and offered incense. Fire went out from before the Lord and consumed them that they died.

That seems a little extreme. It’s hard to imagine something that drastic happening today, but the point is made. When the Lord says, “Stay out,” you stay out.

During Christ’ ministry many parts of the Law of Moses were added to and elaborated upon. Many of the laws were even found unnecessary (which is why we no longer sacrifice lambs in our church services), but he did not lower the standards regarding who could enter into the temple. A Greek inscription has been found in the Jerusalem Temple warning gentiles not to enter, on pain of death. Never once did Jesus rebuke this practice. In fact, he tightened standards by enforcing moral standards as well as genealogical requirements. When he found those who served in the temple not living up to the standards demanded by Hebrew law, he expelled them from the temple (John 2:13-17). Clearly a certain conduct is required of those who would enter the House of the Lord.

The Bible also teaches that there were moral standards, not only for the priests and high priests, but also for the general membership who would worship in the temple. In the year 60 A.D., the Apostle John was instructed by an angel of the Lord to measure the worthiness of temple-goers. Revelation 11:1-2 says:
“And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”

At first, it may seem like John is taking a physical measurement of the temple, but then he is instructed to measure those who enter in to worship as well. There is no verse in any scripture describing a minimum height requirement for temple worship, thus the only rational interpretation is that those who worship in the temple were still measured against a moral standard, not a physical one. However, there is no standard for the outer court. It is given to all people to enter there. It is not given to everyone to enter inside, though.

Another interesting example of temple standards enforced in the Bible occurs when King David petitions the Lord for his approval to build a temple. 1 Chr. 22:7-9 says:
“ And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God: But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight. Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days."

Interestingly enough, not only was King David not allowed to enter into a temple, he was not even allowed to construct one for his people because of the things he had done in the Lord’s sight. He would have to wait for his son, Solomon, to build one instead.

Up until now, I’ve only mentioned temples, but the Bible also describes other sacred places where the unclean were denied entrance. This goes back to the days of Adam. The Garden of Eden was a sanctified, paradisiacal place. Adam and Eve were allowed to dwell there as long as they were without sin. As soon as they became unclean they were expelled and denied entrance.

Likewise, when the Lord first spoke to Moses through the burning bush, he was instructed to remove his sandals because he stood on holy ground (Ex. 3:4-5). This shows, if nothing else, that holy ground is not to be viewed as other places.

Temples and Synagogues

But wait, I thought everyone was allowed into the church. Doesn’t Christ invite all mankind to come unto Him? Well, yes, everyone is freely allowed into the church. In fact, it’s an official policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that no one is ever asked to leave. But temples are not churches. The ordinances and rites that take place inside a temple are very different from what goes on at church every Sunday.

This may seem like mere semantics and word-play, but this difference has existed since the time of Christ and before. It used to be that the only formal worship took place in temples. There were no synagogues, but after Solomon’s temple was destroyed, and during the following exile a new form of worship had developed in the absence of the Temple: the synagogue. Originally conceived as a meeting of the faithful to pray, to hear the Torah read, and to receive instruction, over time synagogue worship flourished. Not only did it develop into a more formal worship form during the exile, it continued after the return of the Children of Israel to the promised land for the simple reason that not everyone could attend the Temple regularly. The synagogue became the local house of worship.

For example, the incident of Jesus testifying of himself in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21) took place in
a synagogue, not the temple. Incidentally, the Marriage at Cana, at which Jesus turned water into wine, did not take place in a temple either. Ancient Jewish marriages were typically held in the home of the bride. The site of the Marriage at Cana is not known for sure, though it is commonly believed to be in Kafr Kanna, Israel, and no temple has ever stood there. In any case, no matter where Cana was, it was not in Jerusalem, the site of the only temple at the time.

There were synagogues dotting the landscape, but there was only one temple, which was in Jerusalem. The two buildings were both built for worship, but they served very different roles in the religion and the temple was held to be far more sacred and holy than the synagogues. The temple was the original and true form of worship. The synagogue was used later out of necessity, in absence of the temple.

So it is in modern times within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Churches dot the land, but there are comparatively fewer temples. Both are consecrated buildings constructed for the worship of the churches members, but the temple is considered much more sacred and holy, and it serves a very different function in the religion than the weekly meetinghouses where no one is turned away. The institution of the temple is not something new, invented by a modern church, but is actually the return of a very important and true form of worship taught by the Lord in every era.

Modern Equivalents

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the only religion to perform ordinances and ceremonies so sacred that others may not participate. The practice of excluding non-members from certain aspects of a given religion is actually quite normal and generally acceptable, and in almost no case is it ever done with any negative sentiment. For example, the guidelines for receiving Communion, which are issued by the U.S. bishops and published in many missalettes, explain,
"Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law. . . .
Scripture is clear that partaking of the Eucharist is among the highest signs of Christian unity: ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ (1 Cor. 10:17). For this reason, it is normally impossible for non-Catholic Christians to receive Holy Communion, for to do so would be to proclaim a unity to exist that, regrettably, does not.”

Another reason that many non-Catholics may not ordinarily receive Communion is for their own protection, since many reject the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Scripture warns that it is very dangerous for one not believing in the Real Presence to receive Communion: "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor. 11:29–30).

Another example is the fact that Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter Mecca under Saudi law. The Saudi government supports their position using Sura 9:28 from the Qur'an:
“O you who believe! the idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing Wise.”
—Qur'an, Sura 9 At-Tawba, ayah 28.

The existence of cities closed to non-Muslims and the mystery of the Hajjis have often aroused intense curiosity in people from around the world. Some have falsely claimed to be Muslims in order to visit the city of Mecca and the Grand Mosque to experience the Hajj for themselves. Individuals who use fake certificates of Muslim identity to enter may be arrested and prosecuted by Saudi authorities.

Many other religions and secular organizations, such as the Freemasons and others, have ceremonies and activities which one must “qualify” to participate in. The practice of excluding non-members from certain ordinances is in no way new to religion, or unique to the Latter-day Saints.


"These buildings, different from the thousands of regular Church houses of worship scattered over the earth, are unique in purpose and function from all other religious edifices. It is not the size of these buildings or their architectural beauty that makes them so. It is the work that goes on within their walls. The designation of certain buildings for special ordinances, as distinguished from regular places of worship, is not new. This was the practice in ancient Israel, where the people worshiped regularly in the synagogues. Their more sacred place was, first, the tabernacle in the wilderness with its Holy of Holies, and then a succession of temples, where special ordinances were performed and where only those who met the required qualifications could participate in these ordinances. So it is today. Prior to the dedication of a temple, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invites the public to go through the building and inspect its various facilities. But when it is dedicated it becomes the house of the Lord, vested with a character so sacred that only members of the Church in good standing are permitted to enter. It is not a matter of secrecy. It is a matter of sanctity." – Gordon B. Hinkley
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