Mormons are a religious group that embraces concepts of Christianity and revelations made by their founder, Joseph Smith. Mormons primarily belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has more than 16 million members worldwide.
In 1820, a young Joseph Smith was in the middle of a great religious awakening in New York State. Many sects preached differing doctrines, each claiming to have the truth over the other churches. This confused Joseph so he read the Bible for clarification. He read James 1:5 which said, "If any of ye lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not,; and it shall be given him." This scripture inspired Joseph to ask God for the truth. Joseph Smith claimed he went into a grove of trees where he saw God and Jesus Christ and they instructed him to not join any church for "they have erred," and he would receive additional instruction. This account is revered by Mormons and is called the First Vision.
Later, in 1823, Joseph Smith had a vision where an angel named Moroni told him about engraved golden plates buried in a nearby hill. According to Smith, he received subsequent instruction from Moroni and, four years later, excavated the plates and translated them into English. The resultant Book of Mormon recounts the history of a family of Israelites that migrated to America centuries before Jesus Christ. These Israelites were taught by prophets similar to those in the Old Testament.
Soon after founding the church, Smith and the bulk of the members moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where a prominent preacher, Sidney Rigdon, and his following embraced the faith. Smith’s religion originated amid the great enthusiasm for Christian revivalist movements in the early 19th century. However, Smith’s belief departed from them in the proclamation of a new privilege. Through Smith, God restored the true church and asserted the true faith from which the various Christian churches strayed.
The new church was millennialist, believing in the imminent second coming of Christ and his establishment of a 1,000-year reign of peace. This belief inspired Smith’s desire to establish Zion, the kingdom of God, which would be built somewhere in the western United States. Smith received revelations not only of the theological truth but also providing day to day guidance. The church’s early members devised new secular institutions, including collective ownership and polygamy, which Smith himself practiced, and other leading Mormons in the church’s early years.
After Smith’s martyrdom, the church’s government was left in the hands o the Council of 12 Apostles, whose senior member was Brigham Young. Most of its members supported Young, who became the church’s second president, ignoring several claimants to the church leadership. Young led a mass 1,100-mile migration to Utah in 1846. They hoped to establish a commonwealth to practice their religion without persecution.
Envisioning a new state that he called Deseret, Young helped to launch more than 300 communities in Utah and neighboring territories. He sent missionaries across North America and Europe to build up the population. Church leaders urged new converts to migrate to the new land, and it’s estimated that about 80,000 Mormon pioneers traveled by wagon, handcart, or on foot reached Salt Lake City by 1869, when the arrival of the railroads made the journey easier.
History of Mormon Temples
In the Latter-day Saint movement, a temple is a building dedicated to being a house of God and is reserved for unique forms of worship. A temple differs from a church meetinghouse used for weekly worship services. Temples have been a significant part of the Latter-day Saint movement since early in its inception. The Latter-day Saint movement was conceived as a restoration of practices believed to have been lost in a Great Apostasy from the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Temple worship played a prominent role in the Bible’s Old Testament and the Book of Mormon.
On December 27, 1832, two years after the organization of the Church of Christ, the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, reported receiving a revelation that called church members to restore the practice of temple worship. Latter-day Saints see temples to fulfill a prophecy found in Malachi 3:1. As builders drew up plans to construct a temple in Kirtland, Ohio, the decision was made to start work on a second temple simultaneously at the church’s colony in Jackson County, Missouri. Conflict in Missouri led to the expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County, preventing the possibility of building a temple there. Still, work on the temple in Kirtland continued, with construction wrapping up in early 1836. On March 27, they held a lengthy dedication ceremony.
Conflict relating to the failure of the church’s Kirtland Safety Society bank caused the church presidency to leave Kirtland and move the church’s headquarters to the Mormon settlement of Far West, Missouri. Far West has also platted along with the City of Zion plans, and in 1838 the church started construction of a new, more prominent temple in the center of town. The events of the 1838 Mormon war and the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri left these attempts at temple-building no further progressed than excavating foundations.
In 1839, the Mormons regrouped at a new headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois. Again, God commanded them to build a house of the Lord, this one even more prominent and more remarkable than those that went before. New conflicts arose that led to Smith’s death and his brother Hyrum in 1844. The Nauvoo Temple stood only half-finished, but eventually, members finished the temple and dedicated it.
Purpose of Temples
Temples have held numerous purposes in the Latter-day Saint movement, historically and with differing expressions. These purposes include:
A House of the Lord – Smith reported a revelation in 1836 explaining that the recently dedicated Kirtland temple was built so that the son of man might have a place to manifest himself to his people. All Latter-day Saint denominations with temples still consider them unique houses of the Lord.
A House of Learning – The Kirtland Temple housed the School of the Prophet.
Center of the City of Zion – Latter-day Saints often see temples as central to the establishment of Zionist communities. Examples include the Kirtland Temple, the Independence Temple, and the Far West Temple.
Church Headquarters – The Kirtland Temple served as the headquarters of the early church from its completion in 1836 through the end of 1837.
Sacred Spaces for Special Ordinances – Starting in Nauvoo, temples were spaces to perform special ordinances such as the endowment and baptism for the dead. The central focus of the temple doctrine is ordinances for the dead.
Temples are places that hold a special place in the hearts of Mormons. It’s a place that’s used for particular forms of worship. Still, a temple is different from a church meetinghouse. Temples have been essential to the Latter-day Saint faith since its origin.