When I was in high school, some placement tests gave the school the idea that I should be in classes for gifted students in every subject. While I was quite advanced in some areas, such as English or history, I had very little background information in science. The class syllabus was based on the presumption that you loved science and knew a lot about it, so the basics were never taught. The class started right out with advanced concepts, and I quickly found myself floundering. Possibly because of that traumatic experience, I ended up hating science and spent as little time in science classes as possible.
Temples, for Mormons (the nickname for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), are like the advanced class. While the information learned isn’t really new, it’s taught at a higher level, so you begin to understand the information better.
In addition, members are asked to make covenants. Covenants are two-way promises with God. If we do our part, God will always do His. These covenants involve caring for our families and keeping God’s commandments, the same commandments any church member or person learning about the church learns in church meetings or by studying the church’s websites. Similar covenants were made at baptism, but now they are much more serious, with greater consequences for not keeping the covenant we made. God holds those with greater knowledge to a higher level of commitment and obedience and will judge accordingly when we stand before Him.
These are two reasons the Mormon temples aren’t open to the general public or even to members who haven’t reached a certain level of knowledge, testimony, and commitment to their religion. God is always fair, and He does not want us to be accountable for things we’re not yet ready to be accountable for.
Throughout a person’s church membership, he progresses gradually, as he’s ready to make higher commitments and is able to understand more complex teachings. Before a person is baptized, he’s required to know a little about the religion and be living at a certain beginner’s level of religious life. This is a starting place.
Adults who join the church or who are visiting often attend a special Sunday School just for newcomers. They can, in this case, attend the other class, but this beginner’s class, called Gospel Principles, helps them learn the basics and be prepared to understand what is taught in the regular adult Sunday School. It’s a preparatory program for the regular Sunday School, which is called Gospel Doctrine.
In the same way the lessons taught by the missionaries prior to and just after baptism prepare a person to become a member of the church, the Gospel Principles class prepares a student to understand the Gospel Doctrine class. In the same way, all the programs of the church prepare someone to go to the temple, to learn more and to make a higher level of commitment to God.
Adults who became members of the church at a young age generally go to the temple for the first time before they go on a two-year mission, before they’re married, or at any point in adulthood when their church leaders feel they’re ready. Those who join as adults must be a member in good standing for one year, which gives them sufficient time to learn what they need to know and gain experience living the teachings of God.
Just prior to attending the temple the first time, they take a preparation class that helps them prepare for this new experience, and reviews with them the levels of obedience they must obtain in order to attend. This is yet another step in their progression.
The Mormons like to refer to the scriptures in the Book of Mormon that say we learn “line upon line, precept upon precept.” This means we gradually progress through life and through God’s kingdom, always improving, always learning, always progressing. Standing still is not the Mormon way.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon aprecept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn bwisdom; for unto him that creceiveth I will give dmore; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:30)
This line upon line pattern helps strengthen testimonies so we don’t lose our way before we’re strong, and to be certain we understand what we’re promising before we take on these promises. Just as taking a science class I wasn’t ready for caused me to lose my way in science, leaping into a level of religious life we’re not prepared for can cause us to lose faith in God.
The temple is a step in the eternal progression God asks of us. We do the preparatory steps to get there and then the temple prepares us for future steps, including a time when we will be so comfortable with living all the commandments and teachings God has given us that we are comfortable in God’s presence.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.