For the first time in my life after thirty-eight years of existence on this earth, I explored the interior of a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) temple. Actually, I have done so twice in 2008. But after dedication day, February 10, 2008, the Rexburg Idaho Temple doors will be closed to the public, even to the cultural Mormons, Jack Mormons, New Order Mormons, Born Again Mormons, Non-active Mormons, and so on. There is only one thing that separates Believing Temple Mormons from others: the bishop-recommend card. Though you might be wearing a suit and looking your finest, without your recommend, no way will you pass the front desk and step into the peaceful symbolism of celestial glory. Only those “worthy” LDS (living a clean life, tithing, and serving fellow man, etc.) can enter. The temple is restricted to everyone else because the top sphere of heaven is exclusive. I wonder how long this idea will hold out for future generations in a postmodern religious America. (Note: Special thanks to Chris Leavell for permission to use his photos.)At my first tour, my sister, Susie, and I were greeted by an army of friendly ushers in the parking lot of the LDS stake center, inside the building, and then later in the Rexburg Temple. As we made our way into a classroom, LDS sister Kowalchuk smiled and warmly welcomed us. LDS elder Bill Parker (I think he was the executive director of LDS temples) shook my hand.
Introductory Video in the Stake Center
Sitting down, we watched a brief introductory movie clip on the temple building in Southeastern Idaho. LDS apostles Boyd Packer and Jeffrey Holland instructed us. LDS apostle Holland relished in his views of heaven (I am paraphrasing): “It would not be heaven for me without my wife, my kids. This is not just good sociology. It is good theology.” But I wondered about the over-seventy-year-old single brother in our church. What about him? Would he never reach his full potential in Christ if he refused to get married? And how many LDS think that Christ must get physically married someday in celestial glory? In all the restoration and symbolism in LDS temples, have LDS friends lost sight of the fact that earthly marriage is symbolic and not the ultimate reality. My wife has Someone eternally who is altogether better and more lovely than I am. Thank God for this precious truth. I am just a picture—and a faulty one at that.
On the video, I caught Ann Madsen speaking of the temple as a metaphor of heaven, the idea that the temple is the closest thing to heaven we will find on this earth. And I learned how LDS think that this temple in Rexburg is a fulfillment of Wilford Woodruff’s prophecy from back in 1884.
According to LDS, the temple is the place for finding the answers to the greatest questions in life. Jesus taught that “baptism is essential for entrance into the kingdom of God.” It is a place where couples are married for eternity. And the celestial kingdom is the sphere where the righteous will live with their loved ones forever.
Before we headed out into the heated walkway leading to the temple, our guide told us, “Open your heart and your mind. Evaluate your feelings.” Second, he mentioned that young people would be putting clear, plastic booties on our shoes. “These booties just protect the carpet. There is no religious significance.”
In the covered walkway, he remarked about the golden angel on top the temple. “We don’t worship Moroni. We worship God and Jesus. Moroni is just the angel in the verse in Revelation 14:6, proclaiming the gospel to all.”
Baptistry, Rexburg Idaho Temple
After passing the recommend desk, we gazed through the glass at the baptismal pool mounted on the backs of 12 oxen on the lower floor. The guide shared with us that this is what we see in 1 Kings 7:23-26, and then he insisted that all must be baptized of water and the Spirit (John 3), which I have discussed more in length here. Since the LDS heavenly father is loving and kind, he gives equal opportunity to everybody, even those who have never heard the gospel and have died. The guide referenced the verse written by Paul—“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). LDS interpret this single Bible verse for the substantiating of “important redemptive work for the dead.” Gospel work is being done for the dead in continual baptisms by proxy. All that the dead spirits need to do is accept this vicarious work done by their human saviors who are performing these necessary ordinances in LDS temples. Perhaps you can understand how genealogical work is vital to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Yet I like to emphasize a couple of things. John’s Gospel reveals that the giving of the Spirit to Jesus is unique. Do you know in what way? I remember this every time I look at the huge picture hanging over the baptismal font where John the Baptist is about ready to immerse Jesus in the river. Second, Jesus didn’t baptize people. (Unfortunately, Joseph Smith revises this information in the Joseph Smith Translation.)
Waiting Area, Rexburg Idaho Temple
I was impressed by this particular room. The wood trim came from South Africa. You couldn’t see any nails, any gnarly knots—it was all pure wood. And the LDS church imported the floor tile from Israel. Nice.
We were told that all those in the temple wore white clothing. “Church members wear white clothing while inside to symbolize purity, cleanliness, and the setting aside of things of the world.” And our guide added the thought that wearing the same clothing eliminated any distinction. All were looked upon as the same.
But I provide this rejoinder: In LDS understanding, humans and God Almighty are of the same species, thinking of the Athenian poets, “For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28).
Ordinance Room, Rexburg Idaho Temple
In these rooms, the wall murals are covered with the outdoor life of nature. The particular room that I sat in made me want to go elk hunting and dream of the new earth. Leon Parson, the local artist here in Idaho, did a great job. Idaho is famous for its Rocky Mountain elk.
The ordinance rooms show videos in which “Latter-Day Saints learn of their premortal and mortal lives and of the blessings they can receive in the next life.” The instruction focuses upon answering the greatest questions of life: “Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here on earth? Where are we going after this life is over?” The LDS gospel is expounded and expanded, assuring us that “all of God’s children will have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ in this life or the next. Thus, the grace of Jesus Christ is extended to everyone, and eternal life in our heavenly home will be given to all who accept that grace through faithful obedience.”
I strongly believe that the full work of obedience for gaining eternal life is believing that Jesus accomplished everything that was necessary. Your “faithful obedience” for full justification and full sanctification before the Father is to believe fully in the sufficient work of His Son (John 6:29). And all this full instruction is found in the Bible, which gives complete answers to life’s philosophical puzzles. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). You don’t even need to go to an American LDS temple to discover this truth.
Sealing Room, Rexburg Idaho Temple
There are many of these sealing rooms on this final floor of worship (the only higher floor is the mechanical room). For believing LDS, everything points to the temple. And everything in the temple points to the ceiling.
Matthew 16:19 is quoted to establish the LDS principle that families sealed together on this earth will be sealed together in heaven. And those men with the proper priestly authority can and should be given the authority to bind.
The eternal temple marriage is lifted up as an all-time prize for any devout LDS. And in accommodating all the conservative BYU-Idaho students, I suspect the sealing rooms for the Rexburg Temple to be some of the most active in the entire world. There is a reason it is called “BYU-I do.” I even heard that the Rexburg Temple carries one of the biggest sealing rooms anywhere.
As a side note, because we were a smaller group, the tour guide took us into the Bride’s Room on the west side. This is a place where the bride in her final preparation can “feel the beauty of who she really is.”
Celestial Room, Rexburg Idaho Temple
Our guide requested that we all remain quiet as we walked into this vaulted three-story room. The central chandelier, created with about 8,000 crystals, cast radiant light throughout all the room. I felt like I was standing in the lobby of a five-star motel.
The celestial room symbolizes the exalted state that all may attain. But all I could think about were the elegant three window panes whispering to me of the Triune God. What can I say? As a Trinitarian Christian, this was my meditation in the celestial room of the Rexburg Temple. I could hardly contain my joy—no, not over the feelings of my own glorification in Christ, but of the eternal glory and endless, loving, relational delight of Yahweh: Father, Son, and Spirit. I bowed my head, full of awe, full of peace (John 14:27).
That’s me, guys. This is the heart of my religion.
It is not proper for me to say I have a yearning to return to heaven, for I did not come from there. But more than anything, I yearn, I hunger, I gasp for heaven in order to see Jesus, my Creator, my Redeemer, and my Brother for the very first time face-to-face. Everything else about heaven is just background music for enhancing the glory of the Holy One.
LDS families are beautiful people; please notice that here, here, here, here, and here. I get much more excited hanging out with precious LDS families than I do staring at the lit-up pile of white quart rock situated high on the Rexburg Hill for all to see from miles around.
Families, far above the buildings they create, are a masterful gift from God. But families are just the creaturely workmanship of the Master. It is the ultimate Designer, the first and only God, who is the heart-pounder for mankind.