In an earlier post on this blog I referenced an article published by Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM), a professional anti-Mormon organization. The article, entitled Preparing for Your Temple Tour, presents the reader with questions to ask during an open-house tour of a temple. In the comments to my earlier blog post, Marc asked the following:
“Is there a rebuttal of the points made on the ‘how to prepare for a tour of the temple’ site anywhere? It would be interesting to read responses to it.”
Good question, Marc. I wasn’t able to find any single document that address this particular page on MRM’s site. However, there are responses to the criticisms that Bill McKeever, the article’s author, raises. I thought it might be interesting to examine the article and provide a few answers.
In looking at the article as a whole, it seems to me that Mr. McKeever’s approach of providing questions for readers to ask temple tour guides is rather unchristian. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. McKeever would take umbrage if someone provided disruptive questions to people preparing to tour a newly constructed Baptist church? Or, perhaps, a set of questions that were designed to call into question the beliefs of another sect of traditional Christianity, with the expectation that those questions be used in a public open house being conducted by that sect?
Nonetheless, let’s take a look at Mr. McKeever’s criticisms and questions. In the paragraphs that follow, excerpts from his article appear in red.
Purpose of Temples
Mr. McKeever indicates that those going on a tour during a temple open house will be shown a video about the purpose of temples, both ancient and modern. He finds fault with such a presentation, however:
The problem with this comparison is that it is not reasonably close to the truth. Both the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple were used primarily for animal sacrifice. When given the opportunity, you might ask your tour guide why the film draws a parallel between Mormon temples and the Jerusalem temple when animal sacrifice plays no role in modern LDS temples.
The answer, of course, is very simple, and is easily found in the Book of Mormon where Christ indicates that the need for animal sacrifice is done away with (3 Nephi 9:19). We no longer practice animal sacrifice because the Lord has told us we don’t need to.
What Mr. McKeever unfortunately fails to grasp is the similarities in the purpose of the temples. Both ancient and modern temples are designed to create a “sacred space” and to bring the devout closer to God. Temples are built at God’s command by all those who seek to do His will.
Mr. McKeever indicates that a tour guide may tell people about the Angel Moroni, as depicted in a statue that appears atop most Mormon temples. He indicates that Moroni was an angelic visitor who appeared to Joseph Smith and provided instruction to him. But Mr. McKeever indicates there is some confusion and discontinuity in Joseph’s story:
What may be overlooked is the fact that Smith was not always consistent when naming this angel. In relating this story in 1838, he claimed that the angel called himself Nephi, who was a completely different character in the Book of Mormon narrative. When the opportunity is available, you may wish to ask your guide why the 1851 Pearl of Great Price (p.41) and volume 3:753 of the Mormon periodical Times and Seasons (April 15, 1842) says it was Nephi, not Moroni, who appeared to Smith. It would be difficult to attribute the latter rendering to a “clerical error” given the fact that Smith was the editor of the Times and Seasons at the time his testimony was published.
Perhaps Mr. McKeever should tell his readers that this question–Nephi or Moroni–has been asked and answered for generations. The answer doesn’t need to come from an open-house guide, but can be conveniently found online. (One such resource is here.)
After a very brief explanation of what is required to enter a temple, Mr. McKeever comments on how odd such requirements are:
What makes the concept of temple worthiness so unusual is that people in Bible times did not go to the temple because they were “worthy.” They went because they knew they were unworthy. Israelites saw the temple as a place where they could offer sacrifice on behalf of their sins. They realized all too well that they were unworthy sinners who needed God’s forgiveness. Based on this concept of worthiness, you might want to remind your guide about the story Jesus told in Luke 18:10ff. Here Jesus speaks of two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, who entered the temple to pray. In Jesus’ story, which of the two men more fits the example of the Mormon?
This characterization and question strike me as just plain mean. Mr. McKeever apparently feels that the Mormon is more like the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14, who was obviously caught up in unrighteous pride. With no justification to do so, Mr. McKeever suggests that his readers join him in the role of judge and condemn the Mormons because they feel one needs to meet minimal standards of worthiness to approach God in the temple.
Perhaps Mr. McKeever can explain why, even in Jesus’ time, only those who were viewed as partakers of the covenant (the Jews) could approach the temple for any purpose. Could Samaritans? Could non-Jews? Apparently there were standards–biblical standards–on who could enter and who could not.
Baptism for the Dead
After a lengthy discussion on what baptism for the dead is and why it can’t possibly be biblical in nature, Mr. McKeever provides the question that he hopes his readers will ask while on their tour:
You may wish to ask your guide why modern LDS temples have a replica of the molten sea when no such edifice was ever used in the New Testament. If the Mormon temple ceremony is really a restoration of things done anciently, why is this?
Here Mr. McKeever’s conflates the ceremony (baptism for the dead) with the place in which the ceremony is performed (the “molten sea”). If God had commanded that such ceremonies be done in a different place or in a different manner, would Mr. McKeever be more accepting of it?
The fact of the matter is, there is scholarly evidence to indicate that baptism for the dead was done during New Testament times, even without the “molten sea” to which he refers.
Washing and Anointing Rooms
Mr. McKeever talks briefly about locker rooms (for changing clothes) and the washing and anointing rooms:
These special cubicles are to ceremoniously wash and anoint temple patrons who are entering the temple for the first time. These special cubicles are used for the washing and anointing ceremony, a vital part of the personal endowment. When going through this part of the ritual, temple patrons wear only a piece of fabric covering called a “shield.” A temple worker then ceremoniously “washes” and blesses the patron, making reference to various parts of their body. Prayer is offered on behalf of the patron, and the ritual is repeated with the anointing of olive oil. Perhaps you can ask your tour guide why you were not shown the washing and anointing rooms.
It is interesting that earlier in his article Mr. McKeever mentions that in ancient times, people came to the temple with the attitude that “they were unworthy sinners who needed God’s forgiveness.” Yet he misses completely the purpose of washing and anointing–because modern Mormons realize, just as the ancients did, that we are all sinners and need to be cleaned (washed and anointed) before we can enter the presence of God. In addition, washing and anointing was done anciently (see Exodus 29-30). Why does Mr. McKeever accept the practice of the ancients in seeking ritualistic cleanliness, yet not accept the modern counterpart?
As to why people aren’t shown the washing and anointing rooms, perhaps it is purely for logistical purposes. Most of these rooms are small (about five feet square) and are not conducive to being viewed on a public tour.
Mr. McKeever talks briefly about the temple garment, and then provides a quote from Spencer Kimball about the garment:
Twelfth President Spencer Kimball taught, “I am sure one could go to extreme in worshiping the cloth of which the garment is made, but one could also go to the other extreme. Though generally I think our protection is a mental, spiritual, moral one, yet I am convinced that there could be and undoubtedly have been many cases where there has been, through faith, an actual physical protection, so we must not minimize that possibility” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.539).
Forgiving for a moment that Spencer Kimball made this statement in 1948 and wasn’t made president of the Church until 1973, Mr. McKeever then provides the question for his readers to ask:
You may wish to inquire of your tour guide why Mormons seem just as vulnerable to death in car accidents, etc, as those who do not wear this special piece of clothing.
Did Mr. McKeever miss the answer in the quote he just provided from Spencer Kimball? He stated that “our protection is a mental, spiritual, moral one.” The garments are not intended to primarily offer physical protection, yet this is the question that Mr. McKeever wants folks to ask.
Elder Kimball does state that “there could be and undoubtedly have been” instances where the garment has offered physical protection. Note that such protection, if it exists, is secondary and it only comes “through faith.” The faith isn’t in the “cloth of which the garment is made.” The faith is in Jesus Christ and God. The Bible contains numerous examples of people who have been the beneficiaries of divine protection through faith in Jesus Christ and God. Mormons believe that such protection through faith–even by miraculous means–is still possible today.
You might also ask where in the Bible Christians are told to expect protection from a piece of clothing.
Mr. McKeever knows the answer to this–nowhere. And, Mormons don’t expect protection from a piece of clothing. We expect (as Elder Kimball states) mental, spiritual, and moral protection based upon our faith in God and our faithfulness in keeping divine covenants with Him. The garment doesn’t offer that protection; the garment acts as a reminder of our covenant and nothing more.
The article goes on to discuss “new names” given in the temple:
Another unique aspect of the Mormon temple ritual is the special name given to each patron. A couple of men’s names are selected and given out alternately throughout each day. The same is true for the women. Normally they are names found in either the Bible or Book of Mormon. Historically, Mormon leaders have taught that the husband has the ability to call his wife from the grave on the resurrection day by using this special name. According to Charles Penrose, who later became a First Counselor to President Heber J. Grant: “In the resurrection, they stand side by side and hold dominion together. Every man who overcomes all things and is thereby entitled to inherit all things, receives power to bring up his wife to join him in the possession and enjoyment thereof” (Mormon Doctrine Plain and Simple, 1888, p.51). You might wish to ask your tour guide what happens to the wife should the husband forget her temple name.
This seems, to me, to be plain divisive, if not derisive. “New names” are not discussed in temple open-house tours, and yet Mr. McKeever gives barely enough information about a topic he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t want the reader to understand to make such practices seem weird and strange.
Yet, “new names” are openly discussed in the Bible. (See Isaiah 62:2, Revelation 2:17, and Revelation 3:12.) Would Mr. McKeever like to talk about his new name, perhaps what his is or when he expects to receive it? After all, the Bible promises that the faithful should receive such. (A good article relative to Revelation 2:17 can be found here at the Millennial Star blog.)
Mr. McKeever discusses a bit about the endowment ritual and focuses on the “secret handshakes and passwords” that he insists are necessary according to the words of Brigham Young:
“Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.416).
He then provides the question that readers may want to ask:
You may wish to ask your tour guide to explain the use of these tokens and keywords. You might also ask your guide where in the Bible it teaches that entrance into heaven depends on secret handshakes or passwords. Isn’t faith in Christ enough?
Note that the question has to do with salvation–entrance into heaven–whereas President Young’s quote has to do with receiving exaltation. In Mormon theology, salvation and exaltation are two entirely different things, yet that distinction is never presented to the reader.
Mr. McKeever gives a very short explanation of the importance of marriage to Mormons and why Mormons are sealed to each other (to create eternal families). He then suggests his first question:
You might offer your tour guide the following hypothetical situation: A man marries his first wife in the temple, but sadly, she later passes away. He remarries a second time in the temple and finds that he would much rather spend eternity with the second wife. In eternity to whom will he be sealed?
Hypothetical questions are so much fun. Hypothetically, doesn’t Mr. McKeever think that the Lord can answer such questions in eternity?
You might also ask why there is no biblical or historical evidence to support this belief.
Perhaps Mr. McKeever can explain the purpose of the sealing power given to Peter (Matthew 16:19) if not to bless the lives of God’s faithful children? Does that power to seal both in earth and heaven exist today and, if it does exist today, can it be used to seal couples together both on earth and in heaven?
More information on the Mormon concept of marriage can be found here.
It should be clear that the Mormon Church is very misleading when it draws a comparison between its temples and the biblical model. There is actually no comparison at all.
None at all? Mr. McKeever may wish this were the case, but it is not. He misleads his readers and does them a disservice with such conclusions.
Instead, much of what goes on in Mormon temples more closely resembles ceremonies common in Freemasonry. This would make perfect sense since Joseph Smith became a Mason on March 15, 1842 (History of the Church 4:550-551). Shortly after his initiation into Masonry, he instituted the Mormon temple endowment ceremony.
Such criticisms have been answered over and over again. There are numerous resources available online, such as here and here. (Pay particular attention, in the second link, to the extensive resources on this topic listed at the end of the article.)
Hopefully these thoughts and ideas will help answer Marc’s questions.