While we’re on the subject of Mormon temples (see Mormon Coffee’s last article), the February issue of Ensign magazine includes an article about the symbolism found in Mormon temples. Quoting LDS Apostle John A. Widtsoe, the article states:
“In the temples all are dressed alike in white. White is the symbol of purity. No unclean person has the right to enter God’s house. Besides, the uniform dress symbolizes that before God our Father in heaven, all men are equal. The beggar and the banker, the learned and the unlearned, the prince and the pauper sit side by side in the temple and are of equal importance if they live righteously before the Lord God.” (“Looking Toward the Temple”; the Ensign cites Improvement Era, October 1962, 710, but the same article can be found online in the Gospel Library section of the LDS web site under Ensign, January 1972, 56)
The idea that all men (and women) are equal before God is biblical. Paul states as much in Galatians (3:28) and Colossians (3:11) where he says those who are sons (and daughters) of God through faith “are all one in Christ Jesus.” But this isn’t the equality symbolized by the white clothing in LDS temples; for, regarding LDS temples, there is a significant distinction between classes.
I’m not saying there’s a distinction within the temple, but there’s a definite distinction which precedes temple attendance; and Mr. Widtsoe includes it in his statement. Again, he said:
“The beggar and the banker, the learned and the unlearned, the prince and the pauper sit side by side in the temple and are of equal importance if they live righteously before the Lord God, the Father of their spirits. It is spiritual fitness and understanding that one receives in the temple. All such have an equal place before the Lord.” (I have here completed the paragraph as it appeared in Mr. Widtsoe’s original statement from the 1972 Ensign article)
The implication is that those who do not live righteously before God, those who do not qualify to enter Mormon temples (which includes a good percentage of Mormons), are not of “equal importance” and do not have an “equal place before the Lord.”
As I see it, in Mormonism there may not be a distinction between the wealthy and the poor, the educated and uneducated, or the professionals and the non-professionals; instead, there is a distinction between the tithe-payers and the non-tithe-payers, the tea-abstainers and the tea-drinkers, the meeting-goers and the meeting-skippers.
This brings to mind Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14).
Temple-worthy Mormons clothe themselves in white in LDS temples to symbolize their purity — their worthiness — to be in the house of God. The fact that they have been approved to enter the temple means that they are not like other people. They have passed their temple recommend interviews which indicates that they are full tithe payers. They attend their Church meetings. They sustain and follow all their Church leaders. They obey the Word of Wisdom. They live chaste lives that are in complete harmony with the teachings of their Church. They keep their temple covenants. They wear their garments day and night. They are honest in all things. They affirm and believe that they are worthy (see Temple Recommend Questions).
In telling the parable, Jesus didn’t have any praise for the one who was worthy, for the one who kept the law. Jesus said it was the sinful tax collector, not the law-abiding Pharisee, who went home justified. Jesus didn’t seem to care one whit that the Pharisee paid his tithe while the tax collector (as was typical in his profession) engaged in frequent dishonesty.
This is what Jesus cared about: The tax collector, recognizing his sinfulness, cried out for mercy — and he was granted mercy. The Pharisee, who set himself apart as one who was pure and worthy, who relied on his own impressive merits to please a perfectly Holy God; though righteous by the world’s standards, he did not please God and went home still guilty in his sins.
The Bible tells us that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
I’m not suggesting that Mormons think they’re sinless. I don’t think there are many people who do — we know ourselves too well for that. But our human tendency is to minimize and/or justify our sin. We grade the level of “righteousness” we’ve achieved on a curve. “I’m not perfect, but I’m a lot better than that guy,” we say.
And the Mormon temple, I think, plays right into that way of thinking: “I’m not perfect, but at least I’m temple worthy.” Mormons go to the temple and put on white clothes head to toe that symbolizes their purity. They would never say it — and I’m sure most would never think it — but this is what it really symbolizes: “God, thank you that I’m not like other men. I’m more righteous than those folks outside. I’m more important to You than they are. I’m worthy.”
The Pharisee boasted in his righteousness and was left spiritually bankrupt. His boasting — his self-promotion of his “worthiness” — was itself a display of his sin. Note that the Pharisee in this parable was not bragging to others. He was standing by himself, giving thanks to God.
But the tax collector did not even consider himself worthy enough to lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. He beat his breast while pleading, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He needed a Savior, and he knew it. He admitted it. He begged for it. And he got it. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
In the parable both the Pharisee and the tax collector were equally unworthy, but only one recognized his need for mercy.
Mormonism claims the purpose of LDS temples is to provide everything necessary for the exaltation of those deemed worthy enough to enter; the temple is for Mormons who affirm and believe in the value of their own righteousness.
Antithetically Jesus promises, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus or the temple. The choice is yours.