In order to gain access to any LDS temple all members must get what is called a temple recommend. This is a recommend from your leaders that you are living a “good” life and should enter the temple. As a faithful member of the church, I personally never really thought about the questions because there was no other option to gain access to the temple. I also was a “good” person so the questions themselves were not a concern. The temple also was a focus, in some degree, of almost every lesson. Therefore, anything pertaining to it was of the utmost importance. Since the questions themselves are the entrance requirements in order to gain access to the temple I think it is important to quickly look at other entrance requirements God has set.
In modern times the closest thing we have is the Kirtland temple which had no entrance requirements. You had to answer no questions and didn’t need to prove your worthiness to anyone. In fact, during the dedication of that temple the early saints saw many visions and miracles that proved to them God had accepted that house as his temple. Today no other temple has been associated with such a grand display of the miracles of God.
The Kirtland temple was honestly not the same as the temples we have today. It was much closer to a meeting house; however, it was a dedicated building for worship. Therefore, for purposes of sanctification it was quite similar to modern LDS temples.
In addition to a lack of entrance requirements, there also was a distinct lack of worthiness interviews or anything similar. If you were found to be unworthy, then you either repented or were separated from the church. Otherwise, everyone was a member in good standing until proven otherwise. Once you had in fact repented then you were accepted again into the body of the church and didn’t need to wait a number of years in a strange probationary state. Today in order to advance or receive any kind of calling then you must participate in a worthiness interview. Refusal or failure to answer appropriately would automatically disqualify you for the calling.
In the LDS religion, temples are places of worship where people who have achieved a minimal level of “worthiness” go to further increase their spirituality. This means that if you violate that minimal standard in any form then you are not allowed entrance. At least in ancient times, the entire purpose of the temple was to atone for the unworthiness of God’s people. Today it is to further spiritually increase an already worthy person. This seems like a major shift in focus that many don’t consider. Does Christ want anyone to come unto him or only people that meet a certain well-defined level?
In Luke 18, Christ spoke a parable which I think is quite applicable. In that he described the actions of a Pharisee who thought of themselves as more pure or holy, and those of a publican who associated with the gentiles and so were religiously unclean. In the parable Christ delineates clearly the difference according to God of the 2 spiritual attitudes.
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers; or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other; for everyone who exalteth himself, shall be abased; and he who humbleth himself, shall be exalted.Luke 18:9-14
This is certainly not to excuse sin or to say that doing good things is not a good goal. However, recognizing that we are all unworthy of the majesty of God is what he wants. No matter what we do or accomplish we are all infinitely less than God. Recognizing that, understanding it, and admitting it openly is the only way for God to truly begin working with us.
Keeper of the Gate
In the LDS religion the ordinances in the temple are required in order to achieve our maximum spiritual potential. Failure in this life would mean someone would have to do it for you and you would have to accept it. Therefore, it is not optional and failure to enter or accept the temple ordinances would mean that your eternal spiritual development would be damned. Therefore, entrance to the temple is a form of a gate between you and God.
This concept, or entrance requirements, seems to contradict a teaching of Christ in 2 Nephi 9:41-43 where Christ mentions that he is the gate and the only one who can perform that role. He also mentions that he will open the gate for anyone that is willing to trust him more than the learning of the world.
O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.2 Nephi 9:41
I personally find the concept of Christ being the gatekeeper to be far more consistent with scriptures. In order to enter the rest of God we must qualify according to the teachings of Christ and Christ is the judge of whether we have done so. Without this gatekeeper then we could in theory lie to men on earth and achieve the qualification here. We could then feel a sense of accomplishment or finality since, according to LDS theology, we now have met the minimal requirements of entering into God’s Kingdom. The only thing left to do is to die which is fairly easy to accomplish.
Temple Recommend Questions
Lastly, I think it would be informative if we went through each of the current temple recommend questions and analyzed them individually.
1. Do you have faith in and a testimony of God, the Eternal Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost?
At first this seems like it should be pretty obvious. Do you believe in God and if not then why are you here? However, what is the definition of God? During the early history of the church for instance God was believed to be a single entity with Christ being the physical manifestation of that entity in our world and the Holy Ghost was the mind of that entity. This is clearly described in Lecture 5. In addition to this, the first account of the First Vision describes a single entity appearing and interacting with Joseph Smith.
Today though the concept of God is 3 separate entities with the Father essentially allowing the Son to perform all operations so he can gain experience and the Holy Ghost is a lesser entity without a physical body. This concept doesn’t appear to be scriptural since there are an enormous number of scriptures where Christ refers to himself as the Father and says the Father and the Son are one. They certainly could be one in purpose or God could be an entity outside of our reality and becomes the Son when he is inside our three-dimensional sphere of reality.
This makes sense because if I personally was going to interact with a two-dimensional race of beings for instance then I would have to assume a two-dimensional form in their reality. I would still be my three-dimensional self however their understanding would be the two-dimensional form I would allow them to interact with. God as we know is well beyond our three-dimensional understanding and thus we couldn’t comprehend anything unless it was enclosed in something we actually could comprehend.
2. Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of His role as your Savior and Redeemer?
Growing up in the LDS church I was always taught that the Atonement was what Christ performed in the garden of Gethsemane and his resurrection on the cross. His life prior to that was just so he could learn the ins and outs of what it was like to be a mortal and give us some good teachings. I think though that this simplifies what God did for us to such a degree that it almost removes all meaning.
God himself, in Alma 42:15, who had no reason other than our gain, condescended to our level, in order to open a passageway for our deliverance. He did this by assuming a mortal form with all the terrible aspects that go along with that and then suffered pain and died. Every aspect of his interactions with us in every form is the Atonement. There is no singular part of it. Christ’s entire life was an example of how we can raise above the mundane. His suffering was an example of how we can use suffering for our gain and the glory of God. His death and resurrection was an example of how God’s power is greater than all the learning of men. There is no aspect of Christ that didn’t transcend this reality and show us how we can also. The Atonement of Christ was the infinite becoming finite so we can have an avenue into the infinite.
3. Do you have a testimony of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
What exactly is the restoration? Of course, most people would think that it was Joseph Smith bringing back some missing truths. This is certainly part of it. However, the scriptures show that the restoration is much larger and encompassing. The eternal truths of God can’t be revealed to man in a once and done type fashion. Each level of understanding needs to be accompanied with a restoration type revelation of knowledge.
As far as the restoration itself though D&C 77:15 describes that the 2 prophets who will defend the Jews and then will eventually be killed will be “raised up to the Jewish nation in the last days, at the time of the restoration”. Alma 40:24 describes that the restoration is when the spirit and body are “restored to their proper and perfect frame … this is the restoration of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets”.
It would be far more consistent to think that the restoration would then be any time that God gives his children knowledge that would advance them closer to him or gives them what they previously had. This is any time they are ready and willing to receive this knowledge or ready to be given back what they had. Therefore, we could to a degree have restorations constantly as we are advancing towards God. Joseph Smith did amazing work and was highly persecuted because of it. However, the restoration is far more than a once and done type of event.
4. Do you sustain the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator and as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local leaders of the Church?
Sustain classically means to uplift and help. However, in modern Mormonism it is interpreted to mean elevate and exalt. We sing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet“, we stand when he strangely enters a room last, and we take special notes of what he said during conference instead of what God told us.
In addition to this, what does it mean that only a single person is “authorized to exercise all priesthood keys”? What did this mean when Hyrum and Joseph were co-presidents of the early church? What did this mean when the righteous Nephites were enjoying unprecedented peace and prosperity in the Americas, while the biblical apostles were struggling with the early Christian church at the same time? Did they both not have authority? What does this mean for all the concurrent prophets in the Book of Mormon or the Bible?
What makes the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles today even “prophets, seers, and revelators”? Is there any evidence of this? Is it possible they could be in that office and not be “prophets, seers, or revelators”? Is there any evidence of this? If the lost ten tribes are on this earth somewhere then are they not able to have “all priesthood keys”? If they do, then do they lose them when they return?
In the scriptures it seems God raises people up as they are needed. He quite rarely goes through the organized institutions of men. Therefore, I think this question implies quite a lot of things that are unscriptural. For instance, Lehi taught against his institution, Abinadi taught against his institution, and Christ taught against his institution. The institution will of course say that it is godly, so the outsider is the problem. However, we have seen this failed logic in every group prior to their destruction by God.
Lastly, why do I even need to accept them as prophets, seers, or revelators? Is this required to get into heaven? In Christ’s day could you only follow Christ if you accepted John the Baptist and followed him first? Do I need to accept all modern LDS leaders as prophets or just the ones currently living? When they die can I know longer accept them as prophets and still be okay with God?
5. The Lord has said that all things are to be “done in cleanliness” before Him (D&C 42:41). Do you strive for moral cleanliness in your thoughts and behavior? Do you obey the law of chastity?
I understand the purpose of this question however the use of the word “strive” seems a little strange. Of course, we all make mistakes constantly and I am not suggesting myself any different. However, “strive” means to “make effort”. This is true if I look at pornography, for as much as I want, and then close the browser window. I have made an effort towards a good outcome. This also would apply if I made an effort and then intentionally make no efforts and then repeat the cycle.
The law of chastity as currently defined means that “we are to have sexual relations only with our spouse to whom we are legally married“. This seems somewhat simple however what about countries that have a different definition of marriage? What if I can legally change my marriage with the click of a button? What if the country doesn’t have marriage laws?
Also how is this a concern of the church? At one point the LDS church defined oral sex as “constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice” and then changed that after a backlash. I can see this as true for some and not for others. During intimacy the physical body of your spouse is supposed to be enjoyed and relished. If a married couple wants to do what they feel appropriate, then why is it a concern of the church?
It is however certainly very important that we make the best use of our reproduction capabilities and that we learn to control our impulses. One major aspect of mortality is to learn to subject the temptations of the physical to the importance of the spiritual. This is a constant struggle and shows that we love and trust God more than our inherent desires.
6. Do you follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ in your private and public behavior with members of your family and others?
This is certainly a loyalty test for the organization which makes sense. If you don’t support the organization then why would you want to progress further in the organization? However, what if the organization is wrong? Is it not okay to say something is wrong if the scriptures say so? Should we agree with our leaders if they are in fact wrong? Is the organization more important than the truth?
For instance, the LDS church is now saying that the Priesthood ban for black people was not doctrinal. The Adam-God theory is not doctrine, Blood Atonement is not doctrine, Polygamy is not needed for exaltation, and various policies like the denial of baptism for certain groups has been rescinded. Each one of those things was at one time accepted as an undeniable truth.
If we really want to live with God and be like him then we must hold truth above anything else. If what we once considered truth is shown to be false, then we should abandon it and follow the truth instead. When we are in God’s presence then we will be shown the truth of all things, according to D&C 93:36, therefore we will be exposed to the truth of God eventually. It seems to be advantageous to try and align ourselves today rather than be shown our faults later.
7. Do you support or promote any teachings, practices, or doctrine contrary to those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
This seems very similar to the previous question however it seems to ask not only whether we follow the teachings of the church, but do we also promote the teachings or teach against them. If something is wrong, then we must vigorously teach against it and seek out what is right. Joseph in liberty jail wrote that “we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness“. God is the source of all light and what is not of God is darkness. Therefore, if something is wrong then by extension we must waste and wear out our lives correcting it. Would Christ not do the same?
Several things in the LDS church have only been changed because of social pressure to do so. This of course is not what we want when the things are scriptural. However, things like inappropriate questions for children were only changed because of people like Sam Young. Black people can now be ordained to the priesthood because of social pressure and children of certain groups can be baptized because of social pressure. When something is wrong it is wrong regardless of who says it is right.
8. Do you strive to keep the Sabbath day holy, both at home and at church; attend your meetings; prepare for and worthily partake of the sacrament; and live your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?
Of course, this has the same issues with “strive” as discussed before however it is essentially just asking whether we are a good person and do we “strive” to be a good person. I think this question though does imply that all definitions must be according to the LDS church and its leaders.
As taught in 3 Nephi 11 the “laws and commandments of the gospel” is the doctrine of Christ which we honestly don’t need an institutional church for. The doctrine is to repent, believe, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost. To be baptized you certainly do need to be baptized by someone who is authorized by God to be doing that. However, does that mean it has to be done in an organization? Verse 35 states that God will be the one giving the Holy Ghost so that is certainly not an organization.
Also, am I keeping the sabbath day holy if I serve at a homeless shelter instead of go to church? Do I “attend [my] meetings” if I find the material elementary and instead study the scriptures privately or with an active group? Are we even doing the sacrament correctly if we don’t kneel together, don’t use wine, and don’t fill ourselves, which we are all supposed to be doing according to D&C 20:75-79? Ultimately the sabbath day is a time to grow closer to God and learn of him what he wants us to do. This can be done in a variety of ways and forms which certainly don’t need to be organized like a meeting would be.
9. Do you strive to be honest in all that you do?
Not much to say about this however the word “strive” is of course meaningless here. I could be a prolific liar and then say a single truth and be “striving”. It also is immediately before the next question which is financially very important for the church. However, if someone wasn’t honest would they answer this question honestly?
Everyone should be honest and people who want to be like Christ should be seeking to be like Christ who is the embodiment of truth. Therefore, I think this is a given. Asking the question though seems a little strange especially for a group of people that are actively sought out for government agencies that require elevated levels of secrecy.
10. Are you a full-tithe payer?
What does “full-tithe” mean and why should I have to pay money in order to access God? Tithing as taught by the LDS church is 10% of income. This is pretty straightforward however it gets a lot more complicated when you realize that a flat “tax” of income like this is actually not according to scriptures. D&C 119:1-7 describes tithing to be on your surplus and Abram tithed to Melchizedek his increase in Genesis 14:18-20.
While not an official doctrine, the LDS church has not distanced itself from a general conference talk in 2012, where the speaker said, “If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing.” This concept is relatively easy for wealthy people to live and quite difficult for poorer people to live. This is certainly not how God intended the financial management of his church to be based on.
Surplus is honestly a much more complicated concept to figure out however it also allows us to use reason and seek God’s guidance a lot more than a flat 10% check does. Surplus also doesn’t negatively impact those of lesser economic circumstances. For instance, if I made $1000 per month and my essential bills were $950 per month, my tithing would be $100 per month, therefore I would be in permanent debt and would have to not pay something. Of course, God can help in cases like this, and he certainly does. A tithing on surplus though would easily solve the problem while still being an appropriate sacrifice.
Tithing is taking your money and turning it over to God. Therefore, if I had a friend with a need or saw a need, what is wrong with using that money directly to fill that need? Why is the corporate structure of the LDS church, which uses the interest on tithing for commercial purposes, better able to use that money than I am with God’s guidance?
11. Do you understand and obey the Word of Wisdom?
This is another question that should be easy, but it is sadly not. The Word of Wisdom as practiced today is essentially just a prohibition on coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco. I personally have been in numerous lessons on this subject, and it always boils down to the “don’ts” of D&C 89. Of course, there is more to it however it is far easier to delineate the prohibitions than the “dos”.
The Word of Wisdom itself was also “not by commandment or constraint” so it is unusual today that in order to progress spiritually you have to be constrained to it. Today we have a blanket prohibition against alcohol yet D&C 89:5-6 mentions that sacramental wine is perfectly fine. Joseph Smith drank wine and even drank some before his murder. Christ was accused of being a wine bibber, which he never denied. D&C 89:12 also clearly says we should be consuming meat sparingly, yet I think the average diet of daily meat is anything except sparingly. D&C 89:17 also suggests that mild drinks from barley are acceptable. This would almost certainly be a mild malted barley drink with a very low alcohol content. In Joseph’s day this would have been the interpretation.
Christ himself also said in Matthew 15:11, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth the man”. This would seem to agree with other scriptures. There is a time and place for all things that God has given us. He certainly doesn’t want us drunk when we are seeking spiritual guidance however small amounts of alcohol certainly seem to be good for the human body.
12. Do you have any financial or other obligations to a former spouse or to children? If yes, are you current in meeting those obligations?
Honestly, why should this matter? Of course, we shouldn’t skip out on any financial obligations especially not to historically vulnerable people like single mothers or children. However why is this the business of the church? What if I have financial obligations but can’t pay due to any number of reasons? What if I do have obligations however for perfectly valid reasons I don’t want to pay? It would honestly be a bit ironic if I actually couldn’t pay because I paid tithing first. I don’t however see how this should impact anything that pertains to me seeking God more fully.
13. Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple, including wearing the temple garment as instructed in the endowment?
We should always keep every covenant we make with God. I think this is obvious and fairly basic. If God is the source of light and truth, which he is, then he knows what is best for our spiritual growth and development. Therefore, following his will instead of our own is the basic default behavior we should emulate. The temple covenants though are all subsumed by the baptismal covenant itself. There is nothing that we promise in the temple that we didn’t already promise when we were baptized.
In the LDS temple when you go through for the first time you are instructed to wear special clothing and it is supposed to be “worn day and night” as a “reminder of the sacred covenants made with the Lord”. God certainly makes certain people wear certain things and certain times. In the law of Moses this was clearly delineated so the concept itself seems scripturally valid.
However, the LDS temple garment today is only tangentially related to the LDS temple garment as revealed to Joseph Smith. For a simple overview I have found that Wikipedia has a simple description of the history of the temple garment. The garment itself seems to have changed considerably since its first inception. The first garment according to Joseph was also, “revealed from heaven”. Over time small changes have been made here and there making what we have today vastly more comfortable, but also quite a bit different from the original.
This is all fine if the changes were all given by God, however what if they were not? Joseph F. Smith seemed to have suggested that the garment was unalterable because it was given by God.
They should hold these things that God has given unto them sacred, unchanged and unaltered from the very pattern in which God gave them. Let us have the moral courage to stand against the opinions of fashion, and especially where fashion compels us to break a covenant and so commit a grievous sinJoseph F. Smith
Therefore, if the original garment was given by God and the subsequent changes that have been made were not from God then am I still under an obligation to wear the garment?
14. Are there serious sins in your life that need to be resolved with priesthood authorities as part of your repentance?
What is a serious sin and why do I need to tell it to anyone except God? Is there something that a religious leader can do that God can’t? What if something is “serious”, but I don’t think it is? What if something is not “serious”, but it troubles me greatly? Also how does me telling them my darkest secrets help in repentance? In the scriptures repenting was turning back to God and doing his will. There was never any indication that repenting was confessing to leaders and then being in a “probation” state until they deemed you worthy again.
A catch all question like this makes sense because based on human nature we all want to avoid the consequences of our actions. However why do I need to tell them? Is my relationship with God not between me and God?
15. Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?
This is similar to the previous question. If there are no “serious sins” in your life, then according to LDS belief you are worthy to enter the temple. However, this question seems to be more introspective in nature while the previous question was much more outward-looking.
If the LDS temple is the place where we go to commune with God, then no one is worthy of that. We are all unworthy of God and admitting it and recognizing it is the only way forward.
Lastly, I still don’t understand how I need to tell my leaders whether I feel worthy before God or not. My relationship between God is my concern and adding a man in that dynamic seems to make no sense to me at all. I am sure the leaders mean well however governing by a handbook instead of by the spirit will always be a problem.
There is certainly nothing wrong with a religious organization asking its members to adhere to a strict set of standards. What seems to be wrong though and certainly unscriptural is requiring questions like this in order to gain access to the temple in order to progress spiritually. This is especially true if some of the questions directly represent a test of loyalty to the organization itself. Every single question is either too vague to be useful or requires a specific interpretation of things that are scripturally unsound. Therefore, a much better solution would be to clearly state what is going to happen in the LDS temple and allow every individual regardless of beliefs to choose for themselves whether they want to undertake such a journey.