I finally finished David John Buerger's Mysteries of Godliness (Signature, 2d ed. 2002). Subtitled "A History of Modern Temple Worship," this is simply not the sort of book your average Mormon is inclined to read. I myself put it off for about three years. I have enough problems without some muckracking dissenter adding to my temple list, I thought. Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed the book. So I'll provide a sort of edited PG ("particularly gentle") version of the book, "adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints," and let those of you who want the rest of the story of the LDS temple liturgy go read it on your own. If you can't wait or just don't want to shell out for the entire book, you can read Chapter 3 online for free.
The idea that temple worship even has a history runs against the grain of the standard Mormon view of things; to actually write that history down in a book and sell it for $21.95 to anyone with a credit card and a mailing address must strike some LDS hardliners as the epitome of irreverance. Maybe I'm just an incurable contrarian, but here's my take on the book: (1) I learned more useful background information about the temple and its liturgical development from this book than from any "official" LDS source; and (2) with few exceptions, the book simply quotes journals or second-hand accounts from previous LDS leaders who presided over, participated in, or wrote about various temple doctrines and practices. While those largely unschooled in LDS history might get a surprise or two, there are no glaring cheap shots in the book. I'll give PG discussions of three oft-discussed topics in relation to LDS temples.
Masonry. There were plenty of parallels in the Nauvoo liturgy; these have declined over time as the liturgy has evolved. That's what continuing revelation offers: doctrine that changes over time, and the changes to the liturgy noted in the book are definitely "improvements" in the opinion of most modern Mormons. There are a few Mormons who insist that Freemasonry has origins that go back to Solomon's temple, a view that not even hardcore Masons accept anymore. The book skirts that whole issue, simply noting, "The traditional origin of Freemasonry (which "enlightened" Masons view as mythological or legendary) is the construction of Solomon's temple by Master Mason Hiram Abiff. Freemasonry was a development of the craft guilds during the construction of the great European cathedrals during the tenth to seventeenth centuries" (p. 45). Fine. Notre Dame and Chartres are a noble heritage for the construction symbols imported from Freemasonry.
Second Anointings. For almost a hundred years, what we now know as the standard LDS temple experience was just part one of the extended ordinance. It was expected that many would go on to receive a second endowment or second anointing years later, bestowed by senior LDS officials on a faithful older LDS man and his spouse(s). However, during Heber J. Grant's tenure as LDS President, the ordinance went into steep decline. By 1930 it was almost dormant, and the modern view that the standard set of temple ordinances was sufficient for complete salvation ("exaltation" in the Mormon vernacular) was accepted and taught. Second anointings are apparently still performed, albeit rarely, but it occupies no publicly defined place in present LDS salvation theology.
Movies. If you had told a Latter-day Saint around 1925 that movies would one day be how the temple liturgy was presented, you would have gotten a nasty look, I imagine. Given how fixed and resistant to change most religious practices become, it is rather surprising that film quickly became an accepted medium of presentation in LDS temples. There is an informative discussion in the book's last chapter of the development of the various film versions, the first of which appeared in the mid-1950s. Gordon B. Hinckley chaired the committee that oversaw the production of the first film. Later versions followed, one about every ten years (I recall one that featured a blonde Eve). If you think the film version gets a little dull at times, try live actors sometime! One vote for the blessings of modern technology.
Conclusion. A couple of notes you deserve to hear. First, the book is apparently a collection of separate essays most of which were published elsewhere before being brought together in book form. You wouldn't really know that from reading the book and I'm not sure it detracts from the text, but it's worth knowing in advance. And although the author uses his sources skillfully, he's a freelancer, not an academic. There are no PhD programs in LDS temple ritual (and I don't see a degree in Egyptology or Hebrew as lending much insight into the origin or development of LDS temple liturgy), but this, too, is worth knowing when reading the book. The author's "suggestions for improvement" in temple teaching do sound rather pedestrian: cutting out some of the rote narrative and devoting more time to "instructing members in theological matters and allowing time for meditation, inspiration, and worship" by participants (p. 180). But stranger things have happened.
For a long list of additional material on LDS temples, go visit the excellent site Mormon Monastery. There's also a short and balanced review of Mysteries of Godliness at FAIR, entitled An Imperfect History.
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