Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is the Temple a Beacon or a Distraction?

I was reading President Thomas S. Monson’s General Conference address entitled The Holy Temple—a Beacon to the World (http://lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/the-holy-temple-a-beacon-to-the-world?lang=eng). The article talks about a lot about the sacrifice that members make to first build the temples, and to attend the temple throughout the world and that this burden is getting lighter and lighter because there are now temples throughout the world. President Monson went on to detail three reasons that faithful members should continue to strive and sacrifice to attend the temple no matter the cost. These are his three reasons:
  1. We will be more able to bear every trial and to overcome every temptation,
  2. We will find peace,
  3. We will be renewed and fortified.
And, it’s true, that my experience in the LDS temple was a peaceful, and renewing experience. It helped me on some level because it gave me the time to step away from the world, and be quiet. (Sometimes it was such a break that truthfully I had trouble staying awake—I was pregnant, working full-time, as well as holding down church callings so in defense of myself I was really, really tired!) I’m not so sure about the trials and temptations part of it, but the temple did give me a chance to be renewed in my commitment to the LDS church (it was, after all, a requirement of the endowment itself to pledge and re-pledge total and complete allegiance to the Church.)

The problem was though; that the peace I found in the temple was not biblical peace, renewal, fortification, or even strength for trials and temptations. Instead it was the kind of strength that one gets from being in the right place at the right time. For instance, when I worked, I worked in downtown Phoenix and in downtown Phoenix there was a beautiful and quiet old Catholic Church. One day, out of curiosity I decided to take a peak inside. I did, and entered (Catholic chapels are meant to be a place that anyone can enter—often at any time—and sit quietly, pray, reflect, or whatever else is needed.), and to my complete surprise found an incredible spirit of peace and contentment there. I’m sure if I’d have stayed longer some of the same things that happened to me while sitting at the LDS temple would have happened there too, but since I was on a short lunch break, I looked around for a few moments and then left.

Biblically though, there’s really only ever mentioned one source of peace, renewal, and strength: the Lord Jesus Christ.
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)
The Old Testament temple wasn’t a place of peace and contentment at all but instead was a place of controlled chaos. The main point of the old temple was to sacrifice animals as a picture for what Christ would do in the future. It did this by killing those animals and shedding their blood in order to cover up (to cover up is what the word atonement literally means) man’s sins. Because that was the main use of the Old Testament temple it was a noisy place: animals bellowing, the priests working hard, and people wanting forgiveness wailing loudly (see Luke 18:9-14 for an example of this. In Luke 19:46 Jesus even went into the temple to teach impromptu, something I never saw happen in the LDS temple of today). The temple was anything but a place of peace and quiet. Ceremonially it gave people forgiveness of sins, and with that peace, renewal, and fortification, but in no way was it like what a LDS temple is today. Instead, people got their strength, peace, and contentment from knowing God and knowing they had done the right thing to make peace with Him. It’s why David could claim God to be his Rock, (2 Samuel 22:2) or his strong defensive Tower (2 Samuel 22:3, Ps. 61:3), not because of the temple (there was no temple in David’s lifetime), but instead because David knew and trusted God.

In the New Testament the end of temple worship was symbolized by God at the moment Jesus died when the veil of the temple, a big, thick, and heavy cloth suddenly tore from top to bottom and thus signified that the way into the Holy of Holies was now open to man and that man could now openly approach God without the Old Testament temple sacrifices (see Luke 23:45). New Testament peace, therefore, comes not from doing certain things, but instead from our trusting and knowing God; from being in a relationship with God where we know we are His, and He is ours.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand. . . (Romans 5:1, 2)
Too, in the New Testament we’re told that the strength to overcome temptations, and to withstand trials comes also from knowing Jesus and being known by Him. It comes not from doing certain things, or performing certain rituals, but instead by living in a relationship with Jesus where we allow Him to work on us, and in us, changing us into what He wants us to be.

Therefore,if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”  which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

. . .that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. . .  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Romans 8:1-9)

So, in the end I have to wonder if maybe building, sacrificing for, and attending the temple is a bit of a distraction. If, maybe going to the temple might actually keep me distracted from building my relationship with Jesus. If sitting through a two hour endowment ceremony, plus the time for dressing, driving, etc., might actually have been better spent praying, learning God’s Word, even meeting together with other believers: all New Testament disciplines, and all disciplines that will connect me with Him who is Peace, who is Strength, who is Renewal, and who is Fortification. 

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