The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prepares to welcome thousands of members of the public inside its newly completed Rexburg Idaho Temple from 29 December 2007 to 26 January 2008.
As with all temple open houses, tour guides are prepared to answer questions from those curious about the emphasis the Church places on its temples and their purpose.
Frank Moore Cross, the Harvard Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages, Emeritus, and not a Latter-day Saint, says, “Someone who does not know much about temples and Mormons building temples should be directed to the Bible.” He continues, “I am both interested and delighted to see so much of ancient religious tradition, particularly biblical tradition, taken up into the religious structures and rituals of the Mormons.”
The Old and New Testaments include many references to temples. The children of Israel used a portable temple, the tabernacle of Moses, during their journey in the wilderness; later Solomon’s temple was built in Jerusalem, and Jesus Himself was found teaching in Herod’s temple at a young age.
Lawrence H. Schiffmann, undergraduate director of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, says, “Within ancient Judaism and in the biblical period, the idea of a temple is it’s a special place where God’s presence is always to be found.”
Referring to the sacred nature of temples, Elder David Bednar, an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says: “There were particular special ceremonies, rites and sacraments that were administered only in this sacred, set-apart place. That was the purpose of the temples. It provided that supernal special place to be able to perform those sacred rites.”
Mormons believe their faith is a restoration of Christ’s New Testament Church and therefore build temples just as Christians did in ancient times. The Rexburg temple is the 125th temple the Church has built, with others operating all over the world from Australia, Switzerland, Japan and Germany to Tahiti, Argentina, Mexico and South Africa.
LDS temples differ from the 17,000 chapels where members of the Church worship on Sundays in regular sacrament services.
Instead, Elder Bednar says Mormon temples are places for the highest sacraments of the faith. “Everything in the temple is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ and on our Heavenly Father and the plan of happiness which He provided for us. Everything in the temple is ennobling and uplifting and edifying. There’s a great peace in the temple.”
Elder Bednar adds that Mormon temples are primarily places of learning and instruction and likens them to the Lord’s university: “We learn about our relationship with God. We learn about the purposes of our life here upon the earth. Questions such as where did we come from? Why are we here? What happens to us after we die? Those questions are addressed and answered in the instruction that’s presented in the temple. We also make promises to live honest, upright and virtuous lives.”
Those who visit the Rexburg temple open house will see rooms where this instruction takes place, as well as rooms for performing marriages, which Mormons believe do not end at death but last for eternity. Visitors will also see the central feature of the temple, the celestial room, which is a representation of heaven.
Once the temple is dedicated on 3 February 2008, it will be closed to the public. Elder Bednar says: “There are pre-requisites in many forms of life. You cannot take advanced courses in chemistry until you have mastered the basics. And the same thing is true of the Lord’s university. You have to meet the pre-requisites. Anyone can come if they are willing to abide by those commitments.”