Evolving Temple Practices: Early Church and Today

As the first temple of the Restoration (and the only one completed in the lifetime of founder Joseph Smith Jr.), Kirtland Temple holds a special position for everyone in the Latter Day Saint movement.  Although owned by Community of Christ, the temple is a pilgrimage destination open to members of all the different churches and every one else interested in history and historic sacred spaces.

The majority of visitors to Kirtland are members of the LDS Church (who make up an overwhelming numerical majority in the overall movement), but many of these visitors find that Kirtland Temple doesn’t match their expectations of what a Mormon temple ought to be.  Where are the rooms for sealings and endowments?  Did the Community of Christ folks remove the baptismal font?

As I noted with the evolution of priesthood ideas and offices in the early church period, early Mormonism was a rapidly evolving movement.  Latter Day Saint ideas of temples changed significantly between the Kirtland and Nauvoo periods and the LDS Church and Community of Christ have retained and emphasized different parts of the shared heritage.   I think this idea can be illustrated in admittedly simplified form with the diagrams attached to this post.

Temples_LDS
Temples_CoC

Kirtland Temple was built in response to revelation and dedicated as a “house of prayer,” “a house of learning,” and “a house of order” (Community of Christ D&C 85, LDS D&C 88).  Although everything was more complex in practice, in concept the temple’s three levels were set aside for these purposes.  Assembly worship in large congregations were held in the inner court on the main floor.  The upper court of the second floor was set aside for education, for example training of missionaries called to spread the gospel.  Finally, the attic level functioned as church headquarters with offices for church leaders.

The same interior layout of Kirtland Temple with one court above the other (taking up the lion’s share of space) was replicated in the original Nauvoo Temple*, but because of the temple’s increased scale, headquarters offices were able to be moved to a mezzanine level between the two courts.  However, Nauvoo included new spaces and new functions that did not exist at the time Kirtland temple was built.  A font was included in the basement for the performance of baptisms for the dead and the attic floor had rooms for the endowment and sealing ceremonies.

When Brigham Young’s followers built the four pioneer temples in Utah, Nauvoo was their clear model.  The assembly hall was retained but the secondary hall for education was left out of the plan.  As the Nauvoo-era ordinances became the critical temple function in the Utah church more space was devoted to these practices. (Although the LDS Church has a separate headquarters building from the Salt Lake City Temple, church leaders have special rooms within the temple, which I’ve indicated with the diagram.)  With a few exceptions (like the Washington DC Temple), subsequent Mormon temples are devoted exclusively to Nauvo0-era ordinances.  For this reason, Mormons in Ohio familiar with (for example) the Columbus Ohio Temple will find little in Kirtland to meet their expectations.

Community of Christ, by contrast, has emphasized the other aspects of the temple experience of the early church.  The Temple in Independence ignores Nauvoo developments and takes Kirtland as its direct model, setting aside an inner court for special public assembly worship, and space for education (library/archives, temple school, conferences, training) and space for the offices of church headquarters.  Beyond the Kirtland precedent, in response to 20th century revelation, the Independence Temple has the added function of being dedicated to peace and the promotion of peace and justice.

As with so many things, both churches are drawing from the same shared heritage, even if the end results today look very different.

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* The new Nauvoo Illinois Temple dedicated by the LDS Church in 2002 does not replicate the original structure’s interior.  The original temple’s upper court was omitted and the lower court assembly hall is smaller than the original.

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Remnant Church Announces Temple Plans

RemnantChurchTemple

In the latest edition of The Hastening Times on its website,[1] the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has published a timeline for constructing a temple in Jackson County, Missouri. First among the church’s one-year goals, beginning April 2013 is:

#1 Expand our understanding on Temple insights, a. Purpose of the temple, b. Operations within the temple, c. Design and structure of the Temple, d. Timeline for the location and completion of the Temple.

Ground-breaking for the temple is listed among the church’s three-year goals (to be accomplished by April 2016), and “the Temple completed and functioning in all aspects” is on the list of five-year goals (April 2018 deadline).  Given that the design is not slated to be finalized until April 2014, the early artists’ rendering attached to this post may not reflect the final plan.

The Remnant Church is one of the denominations that coalesced out of the “Restorationist” movement — a late 20th-century conservative split from Community of Christ. The proposed temple will be at the heart of the Remnant Church’s new zionic community, known as “Bountiful” (named for a city and land in the Book of Mormon).  Building zionic communities has been a core theme within the Latter Day Saint tradition dating back to the foundation of the movement.

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Holy Tentles of the Restoration

Community of Christ produces a special edition of the Hymns of the Saints hymnal, to commemorate the dedication of the temple.  It’s bound in blue, rather than red, and has a large picture of the Temple in Independence within the first few pages.

I’m telling you this to relate a story involving my three-year-old daughter, Ella.  Never willing to go to the nursery, but preferring to make mayhem during the service, Miss Ella was flipping through the hymnal last Sunday during the sermon.  Seeing the picture of the temple, she turned to me and said, “Daddy, that’s the tentle.  I want to go back.”

I’ve taken Ella and her older brother Lincoln to many temples: Kirtland, Nauvoo, Salt Lake, and Independence.  And I’ve tried to teach them, at their level, that these are places where the Saints have sought to encounter God and a message of purpose of peace.  Someday, I hope that they, too, will be able to rejoice in the temples throughout the Restoration as efforts by the Saints to capture a glimpse of what existence is and should be about.  I hope that they will especially find the temples of Community of Christ meaningful to their lives and cosmosviews.

In any event, last Sunday I wasn’t sure what the speaker was saying at the moment that Ella pointed to the picture of the Temple, but I was struck that my daughter was paying attention to my efforts to share with her something that has come to mean a great deal to me; but more importantly, struck that perhaps she had caught the power of that holy place, and that it had become something important in her life, too.  It is this type of identity development which will be crucial in our effectiveness, as Community of Christ members, to pass on to the rising generation the message of peace and Zion that the Temple symbolizes.  God’s efforts will not be frustrated, but ours likely will be if this sort of passing of the torch doesn’t take place.

Blogging about Blogs

Blogs are everywhere now, and the number of people who have their own personal blog grows constantly. Its only logical that the subject matter on blogs should by now cover virtually every topic imaginable. Search any imaginable term in Google Blogs, or your search engine of preference, and undoubtedly someone’s blog will come up talking about it.

It is only fitting then that the amount of people blogging about the Community of Christ is growing. This site is merely just one example of people, some members/friends/associates/curious observers, blogging about their views and opinions on issues related to or involving the Community of Christ in some form or another. Many of the bloggers on Saints Herald blog elsewhere, too. Even Grant McMurray has his own blog:http://grantamused.blogspot.com/ Will it ever stop? Does it ever need to?

Community of Christ blogs are not only about the church from the inside, but growing more and more prevalent are blogs of others looking in on the church and examining it to varying degrees from their own set of life experiences. Personally, I see this most often in blogs from visitors to Community of Christ historic sites. People visit Nauvoo or Kirtland (mainly) then go home and blog about their experience with Community of Christ guides, or about their attempt to understand us. In a bizarre phenomenon, many of these visitors seem far more willing to pour their inner souls out to the entire world over the internet than they ever would on an anonymous comment card or simply to one volunteer.

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The Spirit of God in Kirtland

This rendition of “The Spirit of God” was recorded during the Sunday morning hymn festival on September 30, 2007, in Kirtland Temple. The festival was the final event of the annual conference of the John Whitmer Historical Association (which was held that year in conjunction with CSA). I’ve added a slide show of images of Kirtland Temple.

This was a very remarkable event combining people from across the Latter Day Saint traditions, along with scholars and students of history. There was an incredible energy, which everyone present felt, when we sang that historic song in that holy place. It’s something that can’t be reproduced on YouTube, but I thought I’d share something of the experience with you here.

An Architectural Precursor to the Independence Temple

Mike and I spent the end of last week on a self-guided architecture tour of mid-20th century modern buildings in Los Angeles County. While we were in Norwalk (visiting the city’s incredible modernist government complex) we were surprised to stumble across a little spiral church.

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Spiral-shaped buildings are rare, and we were immediately reminded of the Temple in Independence. Continue reading