Introduction to the Lesson
In 1982, President Spencer W. Kimball announced a mission statement for the church. Since that time it has frequently been referred to as the "three-fold mission of the church." Ask the sisters if anyone remembers what the three elements of the church's mission are. Write them on the board as the sister's say them (making sure you keep them in order):
- Proclaim the gospel
- Perfect the saints
- Redeem the dead
Today I'll use the church's mission as the organizing principle of my lesson today. My purpose will be to explore how temple work helps with all these aspects of the church's mission.
Proclaiming the Gospel
Let's start at the beginning with the first part of the mission: proclaiming the gospel. How does the temple help the church to proclaim the gospel? (Build on sister's responses.)
When I taught this lesson, some of the things that the sisters in my lesson mentioned were how temple open houses and visitor centers are great ways to introduce people to the gospel. They spoke about how the temple sits on a hill where everyone can see it and be curious about it. They also mentioned how often there is a lot of opposition to building temples in their immediate communities, but many local churches will often come to their defense and argue for their right to build the temple. So it becomes a way of bringing a community together and forming bridges with members of other faiths.
When the sisters were finished sharing their insights, I talked about how missionaries go through and get their endowment at the temple before leaving for their missions. I talked about how that endows them with the power they need as they go spread the gospel to others. I didn't read this quote, but this expresses the general idea of what I talked about:
A temple is a place in which those whom He has chosen are endowed with power from on high—a power which enables us to use our gifts and capabilities with greater intelligence and increased effectiveness in order to bring to pass our Heavenly Father’s purposes in our own lives and the lives of those we love...
President Benson has given us a promise about this. He said:
“Now, by virtue of the sacred priesthood in me vested … I promise you that, with increased attendance in the temples of our God, you shall receive increased personal revelation to bless your lives as you bless those who have died.” (Ensign, May 1987, p. 85.)
Come to the temples worthily and regularly. Not only do you bless those who are deceased, but you may freely partake of the promised personal revelation that may bless your life with power, knowledge, light, beauty, and truth from on high, which will guide you and your posterity to eternal life. What person would not want these blessings, as expressed by the Prophet Joseph Smith at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. He said: “We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them.” (D&C 109:22.)
That was a quote from David B. Haight in the April 1992 conference.
I also talked about how temples are symbols of the success of missionary work. A small branch becomes a ward which eventually becomes a stake which eventually becomes a temple district. So temples are symbols that the work has taken root in that particular area of the world.
Perfecting the Saints
How do temples aid in the perfecting the Saints? (Build on sister's responses.)
When I taught the lesson, the comments that were made were about how it takes a lot to be worthy of a temple recommend. You have to be living a certain way in order to even get in the door of the temple, so having the temple as a goal can help you live a better life.
We read a quote from the manual:
Temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are special buildings dedicated to the Lord. Worthy Church members may go there to receive sacred ordinances and make covenants with God. Like baptism, these ordinances and covenants are necessary for our salvation. They must be performed in the temples of the Lord.
We also go to the temple to learn more about Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We gain a better understanding of our purpose in life and our relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We are taught about our premortal existence, the meaning of earth life, and life after death. (233-235)
I then briefly recapped what the quote said and tied that in with how that helps to perfect the Saints.
Then I mentioned how many people have positive experiences going through the temple, but not everybody has a positive experience at the temple---especially when they go through for the first time. Without talking about anything specific about the temple (because I know that makes some people uncomfortable), is there any general advice you would give to somebody who is struggling with the temple? What have you found helps you to have a meaningful experience at the temple? (Build on sister's responses.)
Some of the responses I got to that question was to have youth do their own family history work and perform baptisms for the dead with names they had found themselves. That way they'd feel a special connection to the ceremony and build positive experiences within the temple to prepare them to feel positive when they take out their endowment. Other suggestions were to talk regularly about the temple with your children and tell them that it's pretty much stuff they've been taught their whole life already. Other suggestions were to tell individuals going through the first time that they don't have to memorize everything and that there are attendants there to help them every step of the way. So they don't need to stress out.
When they were finished, I read a quote within a quote by David B. Haight (from the same talk):
Elder Widtsoe thoughtfully provided some counsel about how you might do this. He spoke of the Prophet’s first vision as a model of how revelation, in the temple and elsewhere, is received.
"How do men receive revelations?" he asked. "How did the Prophet Joseph Smith obtain his first revelation, his first vision? He desired something. In [a grove of trees], away from human confusion, he summoned all the strength of his nature; there he fought the demon of evil, and, at length, because of the strength of his desire and the great effort that he made, the Father and the Son descended out of the heavens and spoke eternal truth to him."
Elder Widtsoe observed that it was the strength of Joseph’s desire and the great effort which enabled him to receive his vision of the Father and the Son. Desire and effort are likewise required if we would receive revelation to understand the ordinances of the endowment. He wrote: "Revelation... is not imposed upon a person; it must be drawn to us by faith, seeking and working.... To the man or woman who goes through the temple, with open eyes, heeding the symbols and the covenants, and making a steady, continuous effort to understand the full meaning, God speaks his word, and revelations come. ... The endowment which was given by revelation and can best be understood by revelation; and to those who seek most vigorously, with pure hearts, will the revelation be greatest."
I said that the symbols of the temple are kept sacred because the Lord wants to tell us what those symbols mean personally, through the Holy Ghost.
Redeeming the Dead
It's pretty obvious how the temple helps with the redemption of the dead since the temple is where vicarious ordinances are performed for the dead.
We read a quote from the lesson manual:
Many of our ancestors are among those who died without hearing about the gospel while on the earth. They now live in the spirit world (see chapter 41 in this book). There they are taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who have accepted the gospel are waiting for the temple ordinances to be performed for them. As we perform these ordinances in the temple for our ancestors, we can share their joy. (236)
I talked about the concept of being Saviors on Mount Zion, which is a title that was sometimes used within the early church to refer to those who did ordinances in the temple for the deceased. What it means is that you are literally acting like the Savior when you are in the temple because you are making it possible for someone to enter the celestial kingdom---which is a service they cannot perform for themselves.
Another quote from the manual:
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have each been baptized and confirmed by one having the proper priesthood authority. Each of us may also go to the temple to receive the saving priesthood ordinances performed there. But many of God’s children have not had these same opportunities. They lived at a time or place when the gospel was not available to them.
Heavenly Father wants all of His children to return and live with Him. For those who died without baptism or the temple ordinances, He has provided a way for this to happen. He has asked us to perform ordinances for our ancestors in the temples. (233)
I waxed philosophical about how this is one of my favorite aspects of Mormon theology: the equity of the after life. If you didn't win missionary roulette, if you happened to live in a part of the world where the missionaries haven't come or if you just didn't get a chance to hear them in your lifetime, you still have a second chance to accept the gospel.
I then asked the sisters if they would be interested in sharing any stories when they felt connected to the spirits of the dead while they were doing temple work. That elicited some interesting stories.
Caring for the Poor and Needy?
I mentioned that I was really excited that President Monson had added the fourth element to the mission of the church, but that it makes it a little harder to connect the temple to the fourth one since it doesn't directly impact it. I then asked the sisters how they thought that the temple can help assist the poor and the needy.
The responses that I received from them were that the temple helps re-sensitize our hearts so that we are more in tune with the Spirit. It helps to begin to see people the way Christ sees them. It helps give us the spirit of revelation so that we can know what the needs of our immediate community are. And in the temple everyone is dressed the same, so there is no inequality; it shows the contrast between how the world looks at people (on their outward appearance) vs. how the Lord looks at us (at our hearts, as people with equal worth to Him).
I had planned some things to say about family history work, but we ran out of time. So I just concluded there with an admonition to go and participate in the temple more frequently.