I went through the LDS Endowment in 1999 and honestly didn’t know what to expect. Prior to that point, I had taken a temple prep class however that class is almost useless in preparing individuals for the temple. This is because everything is “too sacred to share”, therefore nothing is really shared at all. The class is mostly about describing covenants with God, however that concept is very general and widely misunderstood. I did however want to look at what the scriptures say about the LDS Endowment.
It almost goes without saying that the Endowment in the LDS church is incredibly sacred. It is seen as essential to our eternal growth and a requirement for all who want to live with God again. The endowment, and related ordinances in the LDS temples, permeate almost all gospel discussions in some form. This certainly makes it difficult to focus only on this single aspect since if you were to remove the Endowment for instance, then many other things would be removed as unnecessary as well.
Brigham Young summarized his views on the Endowment with the following quote, which was at one time included in the Endowment ceremony itself.
Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.Brigham Young
The Endowment then is to receive the ordinances which act as gatekeepers between us and God. These angels, for some reason, need passwords and tokens to be given to them in order for us to pass them on our way to God.
Even over the course of my life the Endowment has had several notable changes. If we look at a longer time period, then we can see that the Endowment today is in several ways completely different than it was in the 1800’s. In some ways this is certainly understandable. In other ways, it is questionable why a change was needed. However, when looking at the Endowment itself we will not necessarily focus on the current version of the Endowment but on various things which the Endowment has contained since its inception.
In the church today the LDS Endowment is described as being sacred not secret. In searching the church’s website for this phrase there are over 100 references to this idea in various ways. I have read various nuanced commentary about this however I think it is really missing the point. In reality the LDS Endowment today is secret and held as sacred.
If we look at some examples, then it will become more obvious. In the church partaking of the sacrament is held as sacred, however we openly talk about it all the time. There is almost nothing we cannot talk about openly and honestly in the church. Therefore, this would be a good example of something that is sacred and not secret.
Another good example would be the sexual union between a married couple. This union is held as an incredibly sacred act that is reserved as a sign of love and an opportunity to assist God in the creation of life. However, we can find endless commentary about this or that aspect of it and how to make it better. In addition, everyone knows and understands that sexuality is a core part of a marriage. There is nothing hidden or secret in this regard. Therefore, this is another good example of something that is very sacred, but not secret as all.
The LDS Endowment though is quite the opposite. If someone were to describe the Endowment with any kind of detail, then members would be aghast. They would immediately put a stop to it, and you would very likely face disciplinary action if you didn’t stop. In addition, during the Endowment each individual makes promises to God that they won’t reveal aspects of the Endowment. This is by very definition an act of secrecy.
Scripturally, God is very clear that he doesn’t work in secrets or darkness. In speaking about the many works of darkness which will be among the latter-day gentiles. Nephi says in 2 Nephi 26:
For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.2 Nephi 26:23
In addition to this the entire law of Moses, which included very sacred temple rites, was fully written down and available to anyone who could read it. God even gave very detailed instructions regarding the temple in the book of Exodus. As we can see, there was nothing hidden at all. The tabernacle was certainly sacred, however it wasn’t secret at all. It was in fact openly used as a comparison between the religious rites and worship ceremonies of Jehovah vs those of the gods of the other nations.
Another very important point of comparison is that of the statement from Brigham Young which described how there would be angels guarding the path to God and we must pass them by providing the necessary signs, tokens, or keywords which we received. This concept is in direct opposition to 2 Nephi 9 which clearly mentions that Christ is the only one at the gate and we must follow him to enter.
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
If Christ is the gatekeeper and there is no one else, then why would angels be necessary to guard the way? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Christ as the judge of whether we know him and therefore are like him enough to enter into his presence?
Another aspect of the Endowment, which is revealed to those who go through it, are the secret signs, tokens, and words used to identify specific things. We have no scriptural evidence of anyone using these in a godly manner, however there are several cases where these secret signs are used to identify others for wicked purposes.
In Helaman 6, Helaman is describing the secret group of Gadianton which was starting to pervade the entire Nephite society. These individuals would covertly identify themselves through the use of handshakes and secret words so that they would know who else was a part of the band of wickedness. Helaman describes:
And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant … Now behold, it is these secret oaths and covenants which Alma commanded his son should not go forth unto the world, lest they should be a means of bringing down the people unto destruction.Helaman 6:22 – 25
I certainly admit that the intended purposes of the signs and tokens between the LDS church and the Gadiantons are different. It however doesn’t inherently make it godly just because someone attached God’s name to something. No where in the scriptures does God use or authorize secret signs, handshakes, or tokens. It is therefore strange to think that they would be a central aspect of his plan of salvation today.
In 1989, the LDS church sent a survey to members to gauge their thoughts and feelings about the temple ordinances. I don’t know of anywhere where the results are published, however we know that in 1990 the Endowment underwent major changes which included the removal of all the blood oaths which participants had to swear by.
In the scriptures the first occurrence we have of someone swearing a blood oath is between Satan and Cain. In this case, Cain was swearing an oath to Satan in order to gain worldly advantage. Moses 5 records:
And Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die;Moses 5:29
The LDS endowment seems to be very similar in this regard. The participants are sworn to secrecy and then promise that if they divulge the aspects of the Endowment then those blood penalties would apply to them. While I have no objections to covenants with penalties, as these types of things appear in the Old Testament, there doesn’t seem to be any things similar to the oath between Satan and Cain for any purposes other than wickedness.
One final comment on this, is that Joseph in 1836 clearly mentioned that the church of that time had everything it needed and was fully organized. This was of course well before the Endowment was later added in Nauvoo. It is certainly hard to understand how the church can be fully organized, according to Joseph, if it was missing the pinnacle aspects which are all the temple ceremonies we have today. Joseph mentioned:
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 GodJoseph Smith
Again, according to Joseph the church had everything it needed in order to grow and build the kingdom of God. Why did they need more in 1842 and how has it blessed us today? If we have so much more today, than they did in 1836, then wouldn’t it make sense that we would have so much more blessings from God as well?
The last thing I want to consider is the fact that the ordinances of God don’t change. We must all be saved under the same principles and the same way. This includes the covenants we must make with God in order to return to him. It is fundamentally unfair for God to require someone to enter into a different or more specific covenant in order to receive the same level of reward.
For instance, since 1877, when the Endowment was written for the first time, until today, numerous changes have taken place. Some will claim that these changes are just part of the presentation and not the ordinance itself. However, how is that when people are making different covenants, with different people, using different means and different methods? A member from 1890 wouldn’t recognize the Endowment today and would certainly think it was an ungodly version of what they recognized. Joseph was very specific that the ordinances of God should not change. He mentioned:
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.Joseph Smith
The things of men change with the times. However, it is very reassuring to me that the things of God do not. The things of God are a solid framework that we can trust and build our spiritual foundations upon.
The LDS endowment today is seen as an essential part of our “covenant path” back to God. However, this is completely unwarranted. There is no indication that the Endowment is essential for us spiritually. If we look at the scriptures themselves then there is ample evidence to suggest that many aspects of the Endowment, whether current or previous, actually violate the scriptural warnings of past prophets. We must not automatically assume something is of God strictly because someone in a leadership position said so. We have been taught numerous times that the scriptures should be our guiding light.
Moroni in his parting words spoke specifically to the Lamanites and then concluded with words of warning to the gentiles who would read his words. We are classed among those gentiles and must take his words very seriously. A synonym for the word endowment is gift with the LDS Endowment itself being seen as a gift from God. Moroni specifically warned us against evil gifts in our day. He mentioned:
And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.Moroni 10:30
Today we must seek after all the good gifts from Christ and not get caught up in the evil gifts that seek to endlessly distract us. There is only one gatekeeper to God and this gatekeeper is Christ himself. We will not be judged on how many ordinances we have done or how perfectly we have performed them. We will be judged on how closely we have come to Christ and become like him.