In Feb 2023 the LDS church announced a new round of temple ordinance changes. There was a lot of excitement surrounding this which is to be expected. I did however communicate with several people and ask them why it needed to change and was it wrong before? Almost without fail they said it didn’t change but was “updated” or “improved”. Certainly, everyone mentioned something to that effect.
The question though is why? Why did it need to change? Was it wrong before? Is it right now? Does everyone need to do it again? Did God want it changed? What are the words of God requesting the change? Why did it need to change 4 years after the last set of changes?
I think it is safe to say that God works with imperfect people, and we certainly can’t comprehend all that God is or has to offer all at once. Therefore, some degree of change is certainly understood. However, the larger the changes the more we should question them. God may tweak this or that based on current circumstances, however if one day it is one way and the next day it is significantly different then we really should stop and think about that for a moment. If we are off in even one detail, then it is not God’s ordinance, and he might not accept it.
This is also further complicated because according to Joseph Smith the ordinances were all revealed to man and they were final and should not change. If they are final and should not change then why are they being changed?
[God] set the ordinances to be the same forever and ever and set Adam to watch over them, to reveal them from heaven to man, or to send angels to reveal them.History of the Church 4:208
Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, pp 412-422
According to the earliest records we have something preparatory to the modern LDS endowment was first administered in 1842 however 6 years earlier in 1836 Joseph Smith said the following:
I then observed to the quorums, that I had now completed the organization of the Church, and we had passed through all the necessary ceremonies, that I had given them all the instruction they needed, and that they now were at liberty, after obtaining their licenses, to go forth and build up the Kingdom of God.History of the Church, 2:431-432
This means that in 1836 the church had everything it needed to build the Kingdom of God. How is this if they didn’t have any of the modern temple ordinances?
Based on these statements alone we should be incredibly cautious about changing anything regarding the temple ordinances or anything associated with them. However it seems that is not quite the case. The following is a list of all the changes the LDS Church has done to their ordinances, or related garment, as far as I can find records for.
1855: In May the Endowment House opened for living ordinances. However very little is known about the temple ordinances at this point. From available accounts they appeared to be very similar to the Old Testament records. The initiatory washings were done in actual large basins of water. The anointing portion of the washing was performed using liberal amounts of consecrated oil that was poured over the entire body. The garments at this time were one-piece full body articles that the person would take home and sew the marks in themselves. Any alterations to the garments past this point were not appropriate. At this time only living ordinances are allowed and a person can only go through the temple a single time.
1856: Baptisms for dead begins again after the pause for not completing the Nauvoo temple in time.
1867: In January, second anointings were performed for top leadership for first time since the Nauvoo era.
1876: Proxy endowments are permitted.
1877: Members can now go through the temple more than once however in a limited fashion. In January the temple endowment script was written for the first time through a committee of leaders. This took approximately 2 months for them to agree on the language. This would suggest that prior to this point then every time someone performed the ordinance then it was different to some degree. In February, temple officiators began the practice of wearing white clothing. However, President Brigham Young mentioned that normal clothing should be the attire used.
1884: President John Taylor mentioned that a member woman who married outside of the church should not wear garments and should not participate in the temple.
1887: In June, President Woodruff was speaking about the ordinances and was quite adamant that we should “follow the pattern that President Young has set us; and not deviate from it one iota” and that if we did deviate even to a single degree then “God would not approve it”.
1894: The shirt portion of the garment was deemed to not be part of the temple clothing and was no longer marked.
1905: President Joseph F. Smith declared that sealings for the dead can only be performed for those who were legally married in life. In addition, all ordinances for the dead are denied for anyone who committed murder, committed suicide, or was excommunicated from the church. Exceptions were allowed however they needed to be decided by the Temple President.
1904-1907: Reed Smoot, an apostle, testified during a congressional hearing that, “the endowments have never changed and can never change; as I understand it; it has been so testified, and that Joseph Smith Jr., himself was the founder of the endowments.”
1912: President Joseph F. Smith was growing dissatisfied with the members dislike for the full body garment. Women were complaining that it was making it difficult to wear modern fashions and asked if the garment could be altered to accommodate the more revealing clothing. He responded, “The Saints should know that the pattern of endowment garments was revealed from heaven, and that the blessings promised in connection with wearing them will not be realized if any unauthorized change is made in their form, or in the manner of wearing them”.
1915: In March, the First Presidency wrote a letter stating, “The pattern of the temple garment was given by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith”.
– Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose to Arthur C. Smith
1916: The First Presidency issued a letter saying that in member marriages the husband is to be endowed before the wife. If a woman is to marry a non-member then she should be prohibited from receiving her endowments.
1922: In August, the endowment ceremony underwent significant changes involving the altering of clothing and the wording used. The changes were made to remove some aspects of the ceremony that were deemed redundant. In September, several changes were adopted which mostly were wording changes. At this time the prayer circle and the veil portions were scripted.
– George F. Richards diary, June 3, 1922
1923: In April, the First Presidency authorized modifications to the garment. This is just a few years after the death of Joseph F. Smith who was adamant that the garment should never be modified because it was given directly by God. The modifications include the removal of a collar, tie strings are replaced with buttons, and the crotch of the garment was enclosed. The women’s garment is shortened to the elbows and knees. In June, the First Presidency releases a statement describing the old garment style as “coarse, unbleached, [and] irritating”. In this letter they described the allowed changes however made it optional. Official temple instructions were added that stated any unauthorized changes to the garment turned the garment into “only a piece of underwear which is not a garment”.
– “Temple Garments Greatly Modified, Church Presidency Gives Permission, Style Change Optional With Wearer” – SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
1924: In June, the St. George temple president David H. Cannon rejected the temple ordinance changes using statements from Brigham Young and Joseph Smith that indicated changes should not be performed. He stated Brigham Young and Joseph Smith flushed out the ordinances and we should use them as they were given. He was told that the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles were at the head of the church and were responsible for changes. He was then instructed, according to the St. George Temple Presidency Meeting Minutes, to “gather up all the old rulings and instructions and burn them up”. This was of course to eliminate the confusion between the new way of doing things and the old way.
– St George Temple Presidency Meeting Minutes
1927: A First Presidency letter was issued that removed a kiss that took place during a proxy sealing ordinance. The scripted wording for the prayer circle was changed to remove the oath to avenge the blood of the prophets and seek retribution for the saints wrongs.
– George F. Richards to the President of the St. George Temple.
1930: The men’s garment is modified to more closely match the women’s. The garment is shortened to the knees and elbows. However the full length garment is still required in the temple.
1934: Women who marry outside of the church are allowed to receive their endowments if their non-member husband give them permission. During this same year the church releases an official publication written by Elder John A. Widstoe, which stated “there have been no changes in the garment” and that the recent changes were “just a minor thing, in line with our needs”. As part of this change the covenant of chastity is altered so that the wording reflects an endowed woman can live with an un-endowed husband and not be breaking the covenant.
– John A. Widstoe, “Answers to Seminary Teachers’ Questions,” 1934 pp 32, 33
1936: The First Presidency decides to allow sleeveless garments for women. This is to allow them to wear modern styles of clothing without any part of the garment showing.
1937: The First Presidency declares that baptisms for the living are no longer authorized in any temple.
1938: The First Presidency issues a letter stating that “strap garments are not allowable”. This would of course indicate that some women were modifying the garment and adding shoulder straps.
– First Presidency Letter
1940: The ring ceremony is removed from the sealing ordinance itself. Rooms in temples that allowed private prayers were repurposed to prevent those individual prayers.
1955: The endowment was first filmed and included a small portion of the Disney movie “Fantasia”. In November, the First Presidency issued a statement further clarifying what is allowed in garments and what was not allowed. This statement reiterated previous policies however allowed shoulder strap sleeveless style garments. In December, the First Presidency sent a letter requesting more male members to perform proxy ordinances as the women are far outpacing the men. The letter instructs temple presidents that they can pay $0.90 per endowment session. This would be about $10 today.
– First Presidency Letter, Dec 15 1955
1957: In March, the First Presidency sends a letter that allows counselors in the Stake Presidency to interview members for a temple recommend. However, this letter specifically disallows Bishop counselors to do that same.
– First presidency letter to stake presidents
1959: The First Presidency authorized the shortening of ordinances because there was a worry among the leadership that “that if the Church kept on growing the way it was, then every adult member of the Church could spend eight hours a day in the temple seven days a week all of his life and we would never come up to the rate of new births in the world”.
– Gary Carlson oral history Jan 15 1980 pp 8, 10, 25 from Buerger Papers
1961: The temples began to run out of names to perform proxy ordinances for. This was at a time when genealogical research was incredibly time consuming and labor intensive. In response the First Presidency allowed the ordinances to be performed out of order and based on what was previously declared to be incomplete records. Prior to this all ordinances had to be performed in the same order as the living would receive them.
– George Fudge oral history, Jan 29-30 1976, pp 15, 17, 19, Buerger Papers
1962: The Salt Lake temple is reduced to 5 endowment sessions per weekday while women are only allowed a single endowment session per day.
– “Special Salt Lake Temple Notice,” Messenger
1965: In January, all temples were standardized so that the new name received was consistent. This was also to allow a person to lookup a new name from their ordinance records and time received. In May, the embrace at the veil was removed as some female members found it to be “offensive and humiliating”. In May, the First Presidency also authorized the garment used in the temple to more closely match the one used outside of the temple. Prior to this the members were still using the original style with the collar, tie strings, and open crotch.
– David O McKay diary
1966: In July, the First Presidency issued a letter stating that civilly married should normally wait for one year to be sealed however this can be waived if the parents are not members to make it more convenient for non-member parents. In August, the decision to excluded those who have committed murder, suicide or were excommunicated was reversed. All names are authorized for all proxy ordinances, “except those of known Negro blood”. It was clarified however that anyone who works at a casino are not to have administrative or leadership callings and cannot hold a temple recommend.
– First Presidency Letter, Aug 30 1966
1969: The ordinances were shortened to remove repetition and to make them more streamlined.
– David O McKay diary
1975: The old-style ceremonial garment was removed from all ordinances.
1978: In May, the First Presidency discontinued the practice of private prayer circles in chapels and temples. Prior to this, individual members could be the voice of the prayer. However, this was changed to only allow temple workers to be the voice. In June, all races were allowed full access to the temple ordinances. In December, the First Presidency authorizes a two-piece garment, with a separate top and bottom, in addition to the standard one-piece that was used at the time.
1981: The First Presidency authorizes the use of a crew neck top for men serving in the military.
– Bulletin [monthly publication to bishops, stake presidents, and mission presidents]
1982: In January, the First Presidency sent out a letter stating that married couples engaging in “unnatural, impure, or unholy practices” such as “oral sex” should not be given a temple recommend. In October, the First Presidency clarified that leaders should no longer ask married couples about their marital relations and leaders should now stick to the specific recommend questions.
1985: The First Presidency updated instructions indicate members were allowed to briefly remain and pray in the celestial room after an endowment session.
1987: The First Presidency authorized a survey of members to ascertain their thoughts concerning the endowment ceremony.
1989: The First Presidency issued clarifications that names of all persons involved in the ordinance no longer needed to be recorded. Prior to this the names of proxies, witnesses, and officiator were recorded with every proxy ordinance. This significantly reduced the administrative burden of the temple record keeping.
– First presidency letter
1990: In response to 1987 survey results, the First Presidency authorized significant changes to the ordinances. This included removing several aspects of the endowment such as all penalties, sworn oaths, covenant for women to obey their husbands, and physical contact which was referred to as the five points of fellowship. Additionally, key aspects of Lucifer’s role along with Adam’s were removed. The Film used during the endowment ceremony was updated as well.
2005: The First Presidency authorized the changing of the washing and anointing portion to no longer involve touching individual body parts. The person is instructed to wear the garment prior to entering the washing room. Prior to this they were nude and wore a two-sided shield.
2008: Members are no longer required to stand during the endowment.
2013: The First Presidency authorized a new higher quality film to be used during the endowment ceremony with the same wording as the previous film.
2019: In January, the First Presidency authorized changes in the endowment ceremony. These changes included changing women’s associations and covenants to their husbands, expanding the role of Eve, and treating men and women very similarly. The movie used in the endowment ceremony was significantly changed to be composed of still images instead of a live action film. In October, The First Presidency authorized the changing of the temple recommend questions. The new wording clarifies some questions and softens the churches stance on others.
2020: In January, the First Presidency sent a letter announcing simplification changes in the clothing worn while performing endowments. This was to make the ceremonial clothing easier to use and care for. In May, the First Presidency discontinued the practice of requiring most couples who marry civilly to wait one year prior to their sealing ceremony. In July, the First Presidency authorized changes in all ordinances to remove some physical contact in order to comply with health regulations.
2023: In February, the endowment ceremony was updated to inform the participants of what was going to happen and give them an ability to more accurately consent to it. In addition, the witness couple is removed and the officiators role is lessened giving the presentation itself more prominence. The presentation was also updated to include more depictions of Christ along with a deception of the War in Heaven. Lastly, all physical contact along with movement is removed until the very end when the person passes through the veil.
In short, anyone who has claimed that the LDS temple ceremonies or the garments have not changed is simply not honest. Things have changed and they have changed quite a lot in some instances. Many will argue whether the ordinances are of God, which is fine. However we really should be asking why the need to change at all? Where is the word of God requesting the change? Why are we allowing the leaders to make these changes that always seem to conform to modern political desires or whims of fashion?