A constant goal of the Mormon Church is to "perfect the saints." Mormons understand the Biblical term "saint" to mean a member of Christ's Church, with today's members having the designation "latter-day saints," or members of Christ's Church living in these, the last days of the world. So, "perfecting the saints" is an effort to help members of the Mormon Church be as good as they can be. To this end, members are taught and encouraged to follow the perfect example set by Jesus Christ.
Mormon temples help in this mission. They are a peaceful sanctuary, and they offer sacred ordinances.
Mormon temples are dedicated as places set apart from the world, thereby creating an atmosphere wherein the Holy Ghost can have a stronger effect on the human mind and heart. Members of the Mormon Church who maintain certain standards of conduct and have strong faith in Jesus Christ are permitted to enter temples. These modern temples are similar to ancient temples, where only those who went through a process of purification gained access to the temple's inner courts. As in days gone by, modern saints who have demonstrated true cleanliness, by obedience to divine standards and commandments, are able to enter a temple and receive the blessings available there. This concept was expressed quite clearly by James Faust, a member of the Mormon Church's First Presidency:
The days of our lives will be greatly blessed as we frequent the temples to learn the transcending spiritual relations we have with Deity. We need to try harder to be found standing in holy places. [James E. Faust, "Standing in Holy Places," Ensign (May 2005), 67.]
To those who are worthy and ready, the temple is a "holy place" where the Spirit of the Lord can freely dwell. In this way Mormon temples serve as a sanctuary to those who attend them, providing a place that is holy and has been set aside as a house of the Lord. They are places for prayer, meditation, and revelation.
The second way in which Mormon temples help to perfect the saints, by offering sacred ordinances available nowhere else, is very important. Ordinances are ritualistic ceremonies performed with the purpose of establishing covenants between individual Church members and God.
One frequent temple ordinance in Old Testament times was the sacrifice of animals to God. The act in and of itself did nothing for the people, but its symbolism was meant to remind individuals of the sacrifice that would one day be wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ. Although the requirement of animal sacrifice was concluded after the death and resurrection of the perfect Lamb, Jesus, the New Testament indicates that the general practice of performing special ordinances continued. Matthew 26:26-28 gives us the following account:
"And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matt 26:26-28)
The apostles ate and drank in reverent consideration of the sacrifice which Christ was about to make for them. Similar rituals or ordinances are practiced by many Christians to this day. The Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, and (in the Mormon Church) the Sacrament, are derived from the ordinance instituted by Jesus in New Testament times.
Ordinances not only remind us of sacred events or of our relationship to God, but are a sign of covenants we make with the Lord. Mormons often describe a covenant as a two-way promise. When we are baptized we make a covenant with the Lord that we will strive to follow the example of Christ and repent of our sins, sincerely desiring a deep and abiding change in our nature. In answer to our faithful efforts, the Lord promises us forgiveness, sanctification, and increased strength to combat future temptation. This is possible because of Jesus Christ's sacrifice and the Holy Ghost's influence.
Inside the Mormon temples there are basically two ordinances are performed for the members of the Mormon church. The first is known as the temple endowment, and the second as the sealing ordinance, key to a celestial marriage. While the former is designed to benefit individuals, the latter is designed to create eternal families. These ordinances are very sacred and holy, so faithful Mormons do not discuss their details outside of the temple, even with each other.
Mormon temples are provided so that ordinances can be done not only for the living, but also on behalf of the dead. There are billions of people who have lived on this earth without ever hearing the name Jesus Christ, or coming to understand the sacrifice He made for them. Such individuals nonetheless are in need of the ordinances that will allow them the same kind of forgiveness, sanctification, and progression that saints enjoy during their lives. Mormons assert that in the spirit world, where departed individuals await the resurrection, the gospel is preached like it is on earth, allowing people to prepare for the ordinances that are being performed for them in holy temples.
All of the ordinances offered in the Mormon temples for living members of the Mormon Church are likewise performed by proxy for those who have passed on without having the opportunity to enter the temple during their lifetime. Temple marriage, sealings, and endowments are performed with someone symbolically standing in for the person who is deceased. Baptisms are also performed by proxy for these people who have passed on.
Because we have no way of knowing who will or will not accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, temple ordinances are performed for everyone who has passed on, and Mormons enthusiastically do their part in researching their family lines to produce names of persons for that purpose. However, to have an ancestor baptized by proxy does not commit that deceased person to accept a "Mormon baptism." Instead, it merely gives that person the opportunity to accept or reject the ordinance as they choose. Free agency is a right that is respected in the eternal world as well as here on earth.
Mormon temples truly are a place of sacred beauty. They provide strength and refuge for saints who need a break from the mundane world. They are open to all who will allow the Holy Ghost to prompt them to embrace Mormonism, the true gospel of Christ, and prepare themselves to worthily enter.
Article authored by the More Good Foundation.