The kerfuffle brought about with the recent airing of a depiction of a small part of the mormon temple ceremony on HBO’s “Big Love” is sweeping the blogosphere, at least the portion of it dealing with mormonism from both the mormon view and the Christian view. Many mormons refuse to discuss the temple in any sort of detail at all, and they find such discussions distasteful and offensive. Few topics get mormons wound up like talking about the temple. In mormon life, the temple is built up as the ultimate experience on this earth. Many mormon homes have a three pictures on the wall, one of the current prophet or the current First Presidency, one of a stylized image that is supposed to be Jesus and a picture of a temple. We even got a very nice, suitable for framing, picture of the Washington, D.C. temple when we went through and still have it. It is front and center all of the time, it is spoken of in general terms constantly (but never in detail). Even when we were going through our prep classes before we went to the temple, none of the details were given. It was all very vague and designed to build up your expectations that this would be just a wonderful, uplifting experience. Even in private homes among mormons or in church buildings, the details of the mormon temple ceremony are not spoken of.
That brings us back to the sacred, not secret claim and the episode of HBO’s “Big Love”. Mormons claim that the temple ceremony is sacred, not secret. The fact that it is hidden from view and that not only are mormons forbidden to speak of it to outsider, but really are not supposed to discuss the details with one another, strikes many people as very odd and secretive, especially given the lack of precedence for that sort of activity in the Bible. I suppose one could make the argument that the ceremony was SO secret in the early church that it was not even mentioned in the writings of Paul and the other apostles. But there is just no reference to mormon style temple ceremonies at all. There is not a hint of it anywhere, not the unique theological underpinnings of the mormon temple, or the ceremony itself or anything like that. If the temple is supposedly such a vital ordinance, it strikes me as odd that during the earthly ministry of Christ and the teachings of His apostles, it gets no mention at all and in fact the teaching we do get runs contrary to mormon temple teaching. It would be like the Bible making no mention of baptism or the Lord’s Supper but expecting us to observe them.
Well, some may say, what about the temple in ancient Israel, that was very sacred and reserved to certain men? True, but not really analogous. The ceremonies that went on in the old temple are not only available to review, they are laid out in excruciating detail as anyone who has read through the Old Testament knows. What they wore, what color their temple garb was, the animals they sacrificed, how they were sacrificed. It was incredibly sacred, but it was also very open. When the High Priest went into the inner sanctum, everyone knew what he was doing. The mormon temple relies on a general ignorance of the Old Testament, which is all too common among mormons and Christians alike. If I recall correctly, the Visitors Center of the Los Angeles temple has lots of information about the ancient Israelite temples to further increase the illusion that they are somehow related. Because of that, it is possible to build up the temple experience in the mind of mormons to offset the general weirdness that goes inside. Compare the specific details of the Old Testament temple practices with the vague warm and fuzzy depictions of the temple experience disseminated for public consumption. Compare also what actually went on in the tabernacle/temple of the Jews and the quirky ceremonies in a mormon temple.
Frankly, the shroud of secrecy that hides the mormon temple ceremony from public consumption has nothing to do with it being sacred in nature. Having been through the temple and reflecting back on it, I can assure you that if the particulars of the mormon ceremony were made public it would cripple mormon proselytizing. The temple ceremony is an embarrassing relic of a bygone age, when Joseph Smith could indulge his every whim and turn every notion that crossed his mind into an official doctrine.
By contrast, I am more than happy to discuss openly every aspect of Christian teaching and church practice. Some of it is hard to explain and might even make people uncomfortable, but it is not secret. Secrecy is not a hallmark of the Gospel. When you read what the disciples preached you don’t see any references to the mormon temple worship, nor is there a hint that something more is needed. It is the Good News, accompanied by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that makes disciples, not mystic secret rituals in a temple. Christ died publicly, on a cross reserved for criminals, and when He rose again He appeared in public to many people. His teachings were spread far and wide, and none of those teachings had anything to do with secret temple rituals. The Gospel is the plain news that sinners, justly condemned by their sins, can receive forgiveness through the shed blood of Christ by faith in Him alone. That’s it. Nothing more complicated or secretive than that.
There is plenty that is secret going on within the white walls of the mormon temples around the world, and it may be sacred to mormons, but it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ and His Gospel.