“This ordinance belongeth to my house”

Throughout this year, I’ve talked about the development of temple doctrine as a braiding of strands from Joseph Smith’s theology and cosmology.  That continues to be true of the 1840s, when the Latter-day Saints were working on the Nauvoo temple.  Previously, when discussing the House of the Lord in Kirtland, I discussed the idea of beholding the face of God, an endowment of power from on highpreparation for the Second Coming of Jesus the Christthe Zion project, and some practical functions of the temples (in connection with building Zion).  These threads continued to have a place in the Nauvoo Temple but began to be ritualized and some meanings (such as that of the endowment of power) began to shift.  In addition, priesthood, binding or sealing power, and salvation for the unbaptized deceased were added to the braid of temples by the time that 1842 the epistles we are reading this week (D&C 127-128) were written.  Later, binding or sealing into eternal families and the connected concept of plural marriage would likewise be woven into temple liturgy as well, though those are topics for another day.

The endowment of power is, perhaps, the key example of a shift in understanding and ritualization of previous hopes for the temple and priesthood.  Originally, the endowment of power seems to have been considered some sort of blessing from God that would be helpful in missionary work.  In its initial rendition, this endowment seems to have been expected to be both a Pentecostal experience and an increased ability to perform miracles that was realized to some degree through ordinations to the high priesthood in 1831.  The School of the Prophets, with its learning, rituals and spiritual manifestations, functioned as a type of endowment in the years following.  Then, the Pentecostal experiences, visions, and transfer of keys at the House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio served as the most famous endowment of power that seemed to function in the ways initially envisioned when it had been promised by a revelation in early 1831.[1]

The endowment of power in the Nauvoo temple took a different form.  In a revelation recorded in January 1841 (D&C 124), the Saints were commanded to build “a house unto mine my name, for the Most High to dwell therein.”[2]  The purposes of the building were outlined as being a place that the Lord “may come and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the Priesthood.”  A significant and connected purpose for the sacred spaces was to house “a baptismal font … that they, my saints may be baptized for those who are dead, for this ordinance belongeth to my house.”  In addition, the Lord stated that other ordinances, such as the washings that had been performed in the House of the Lord in Kirtland, were only acceptable in a house of God:

your anointings and your washings, and your babtisms for the dead and your solemn assemblys, and your memorials for your sacrifices, by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places, wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes, and judgements, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory and honor and endowment of all her municiples, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are allways Commanded to build unto my holy name.

In serving as a space for all of the points listed above, the Nauvoo Temple was expected to be a place where the Lord could “reveal unto my church, things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.”[3]

In relation to the above, the form that the endowment would take was one that focused on transferring hidden knowledge.  That knowledge was thought to provide power in its own right—as Hyrum Smith stated in 1844, “Great things are to grow out of that house; there is a great and mighty power to grow out of it; there is an endowment; knowledge is power, we want knowledge. … We are now deprived of the privilege of giving the necessary instruction,— hence we want a house.”[4]  The sharing of the endowment did not wait for the temple for some people, though.  On 4 May 1842, Joseph Smith:

spent the day in the upper part of the Store … instructing them in the principles and order of the priesthood, attending to washings & anointings, & endowments, and the communication of keys, pertaining to the Aronic Priesthood, and so on to the highe[s]t order of the Melckisedec Pristhood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of days & all those plans & principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fulness of those blessings which has <?been?> prepared for the chuch of the first-born, and come up, into and abide in the pesece [presence] of God in the Eloheim in the eternal worlds.[5]

This provided the basis of the endowment ceremony, with its communication about priesthood, securing salvation and living in the presence of God.  Using forms and methods that seem to have been adopted from Masonic rituals as the means of conveying that knowledge,[6] this endowment would teach the Saints important knowledge that would give them power.  As Brigham Young would later put it, “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.”[7]  The endowment of the Nauvoo Temple was one of using ritual to communicate knowledge of “those plans & principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fulness of those blessings” that were thought to be necessary to gain the power to enter into exaltation.

Brigham Young built upon and expanded the endowment ceremony that had been presented by Joseph Smith in the Red Brick Store prior to the temple’s construction.  Most of the ceremonies took place in the attic level of the temple during the winter of 1845-1846, which was partitioned into a series of rooms by canvass.  Participants took part in a ritual drama summarizing Mormon beliefs about the creation of the earth, the Fall of Adam and Eve, trials and temptations faced during mortal life, and certain pieces of knowledge they believed would be necessary to know to return to heaven.[8] John Pulsipher summarized the ceremony when he wrote that the endowments involved “learning the order of the Priesthood, the fall and redemption of man, in the Temple in the City of Joseph.”[9]  The culmination of the ceremony involved entry into the Celestial Room—a beautifully decorated room representing the highest heaven, where God dwells—ritually incorporating the notion of entering the presence of God into this endowment of power.

Another thread that was picked up in the early 1840s by the developing temple doctrine was salvation for the unbaptized deceased.  Joseph Smith seemed to go back and forth on the potential for salvation in life after death.  In the 1820s, his family was angered by the suggestion from a Protestant minister that the oldest Smith boy, Alvin, would go to hell because he hadn’t become a church member.  There are indications that the Book of Mormon would have agreed with the minister, though at least one early revelation (D&C 19) incorporated universalist ideas to state that God would not resign humans to never-ending punishment but would eventually redeem them.  The Vision (D&C 76), with its kingdoms of glory, provided a compromise by allowing for various grades of salvation, including a place in the Terrestrial for “they who died without law.”[10]

An 1836 vision that was experienced in the Kirtland Temple, where Joseph saw Alvin in the Celestial Kingdom, undermined the compromise of the earlier vision, since Joseph Smith “marvled how it was that he had obtained this an inheritance <in> this <that> kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life, before the Lord <had> set his hand to gather Israel <the second time> and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.”[11]  Yet, the Prophet still stuck to the necessity of baptism for salvation.  A year-and-a-half after the 1836 vision with Alvin, a revelation reiterated that: “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not, and is not baptized, shall be damned.”[12]  This tension set up the need for a way to satisfy both the requirement for baptism and for the mercy of God in allowing people like Alvin the opportunity to enter the Celestial Kingdom.

Ultimately, that tension was resolved by the idea of baptisms for the dead.  As Phebe Woodruff recorded in a letter to her husband:

Brother Joseph … has learned by revelation that those in this church may be baptized for any of their relatives who are dead and had not a privilege of hearing this gospel, even for their children, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. … As soon as they are baptized for their friends they are released from prison and they can claim them in the resurrection and bring them into the celestial kingdom.[13]

Baptisms for the dead opened the way to allow for both requiring ordinances and universalist ideals of God redeeming a majority of humankind to have a place in Latter-day Saint doctrine.  With the announcement in the 1841 revelation that “this ordinance [baptisms for the dead] belongeth to my house,”[14] this longstanding thread of Joseph Smith’s theology was braided into temple doctrine through the rite of baptism.

In addition to sermons throughout that year, in September of 1842, Joseph Smith wrote two epistles that gave more information about baptisms for the dead and some of how the Saints could reach beyond the veil to provide salvation to their friends and relatives.  Record keeping became crucial, since Joseph Smith spoke of the priesthood exercising a binding or sealing power through the record keeping associated with the ordinance.  In the first September 1842 epistle (D&C 127), he wrote that the Lord wanted a recorded to keep record of the baptisms that “it may be recorded in heaven; <?that?> whatsoever you loose <?bind?> on earth may be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth may be loosed in heaven.”[15]  In the second epistle (D&C 128), Smith commented that binding and loosing could be reinterpreted as recording.[16]  Hence, he stated that the records kept on earth and in heaven by the priesthood are “the sealing and binding power, and in one sense of the word the keys of the kingdom which consists in the key of knowledge.”[17]  The records kept by the priesthood holders captured knowledge that provided power through witnessing in the eternities that the rite had been performed in behalf of those who had not been baptized during mortality.

Thus, as the Saints built the Nauvoo Temple, more threads of Joseph Smith’s doctrine began to be braided into the weave of temple doctrine.  In particular, baptisms for the dead wove in doctrines of salvation for the unbaptize deceased, while the endowment ceremonies updated previous efforts to access an endowment of power through an endowment of knowledge.  Both cases also display an increasing reliance on rituals and rites, since they were manifested as ordinances that would be performed in the House of the Lord in Nauvoo.  The final layer of doctrine to be woven into temple doctrine by Joseph Smith would also be added in the 1840s with the concept of eternal families.



[1] “Revelation, 2 January 1831 [D&C 38],” p. 52, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-2-january-1831-dc-38/4

[2] “Revelation, 19 January 1841 [D&C 124],” p. 6, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 1, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-19-january-1841-dc-124/4

[3] “Revelation, 19 January 1841 [D&C 124],” p. 6, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 1, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-19-january-1841-dc-124/4

[4] “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons, 1 Aug. 1844, 5:596–598. https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/transcript/minutes-and-discourses-6-7-april-1844-as-published-by-times-and-seasons?print=true

[5] “History Draft [1 January–30 June 1842][a],” p. 11, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 2, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-draft-1-january-30-june-1842/13, see also “Journal, December 1841–December 1842,” p. 94, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 2, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-december-1841-december-1842/25

[6] See “Masonry,” in Church History Topics, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/masonry?lang=eng.

[7] Brigham Young address on 6 April 1853, Journal of Discourses 2:31, https://jod.mrm.org/2/29

[8] See Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2002), 259.  See also Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera, The Nauvoo Endowment Companies (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005), xv-xxv.

[9] A Mormon Diary as Told by John Pulsipher 1827-1891.

[10] D&C 76:72-74.

[11]  “Visions, 21 January 1836 [D&C 137],” p. 136, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 4, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/visions-21-january-1836-dc-137/1

[12] D&C 112:29

[13] Phebe Woodruff letter to Wilford Woodruff, Oct. 6, 1840, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; spelling and punctuation modernized.

[14] “Revelation, 19 January 1841 [D&C 124],” p. 6, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 1, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-19-january-1841-dc-124/4

[15] “Journal, December 1841–December 1842,” p. 189, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 1, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-december-1841-december-1842/66

[16] “Letter to the Church, 7 September 1842 [D&C 128],” p. 4, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 2, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-the-church-7-september-1842-dc-128/4

[17] “Letter to the Church, 7 September 1842 [D&C 128],” p. 5, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed November 2, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-the-church-7-september-1842-dc-128/5

6 comments for ““This ordinance belongeth to my house”

  1. Grateful for your posts, Chad.

    When President Nelson spoke of the cracked foundation of the Salt Lake Temple and the renovation thereof, he was offering an allusion. He primed us to be ready to accept changes in ordinances. Said another way, President Nelson discovered that although the foundation of the Salt Lake Temple was thought to be patterned after Solomon’s, after excavation and careful examination, it was determined to be Herodian-style work.

    Consider that we hold a symbol that represents “the sure place” to hang a human limb from a nail. We hold “secret” knowledge from the vantage of the executioner. Mason-types were the executioners of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith, and their vile oaths and secret combinations still pervade the Church today: they follow us into the holy tabernacle. In this way, we are like the Israelites, who built a golden calf: when a symbol has more value than the meaning it holds, the symbol becomes an object of idolatry. The temple is our golden calf.

    The temple is a “remembering” tool to accomodate ordinances which symbolize two aspects of covenant: promise and fulfillment. These two aspects of covenant are represented baptisms of water and fire, and in betrothal and consummation motifs in the traditional Jewish Wedding: they constitute the central motif for temple ordinances in Zion. In time, once all the fraternal masonic dross is burned away, the temple experience will come to feel more like being invited to a Wedding Banquet; it is this sacred setting which initiates and provides forum for the gathering of Israel.

  2. Chad, really well done post. I’ve been reading over a lot of these same topics for the past few years and I’ve come to a very similar understanding of the endowment as what you’re laying out here. I have felt the endowment got ritualized in Nauvoo because Joseph (by revelation) wanted a way to pass on the knowledge and teach people how to have an endowment experience like they had in Kirtland. It became a dramatization of the real thing, a way of passing on knowledge of how to obtain all the gifts of the spirit that were poured out in the endowment in Nauvoo. I feel like the endowment is more than that, but I feel like that is one important purpose. The full temple theology, of course, incorporates additional ordinances that utilize the keys restored in Kirtland and were finally exercised in their fulness in Nauvoo. I also think the endowment is still an important part of missionary work, since missionaries receive their endowment before entering the field.

    Travis, I also got from President Nelson’s talk that changes to the endowment are coming. I respectfully disagree about the nature of the symbols though. When Jesus visited the Nephites, in the most personal way, he gave them each the tokens in his hands that showed the nail prints. They were the credentials of who he was and the ultimate and most personal reminder of what he had done for them. Also, we brake bread for the sacrament which represents his body – not as executioners, but as a reminder of what he has done for us. Then we symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood as a reminder that we must take that atonement into our innermost souls. I do believe some changes are coming, but I don’t think Joseph was wrong in the way he incorporated and repurposed the masonic symbols.

  3. D, thank you for sharing. I understand that once we develop a deep-seated connection to symbol and ritual, that it is difficult to see any other way. We kind of get vested to the symbol.

    When Jesus visited the Americas, he gave us two symbols. The Holy Spirit and the Comforter. These are the true symbols. Who can recognize them?

    Consider that we can drop every speck of Masonic-fraternal import from the temple, without losing meaning or value of the eternal covenant. Consider that Joseph’s ordinances were not Brigham’s. [Jennifer Mackley’s “Development of Temple Doctrine” (2014) says as much]. Consider that Doubting Thomas needed a similar sign in order to “believe.” Consider the “Builders” who rejected both Jesus and Joseph. Consider that Albert Pike’s Masonic treatise, “Morals and Dogma,” reveals worship of “The Light-Bringer,” who is a Promethian-Lucifer-type–most Masons have no clue what they are worshipping. So I feel pretty good about dropping everything fraternal and everything Masonic from the temple. Zion is not built by Builders, Zion is cultivated by Kings.

    When the temple is cleansed from the residual Masonic dross that pervades the holy place, we will see what Joseph was really trying to set up (wedding banquet motif). Joseph wanted to share with us his visionary experience. It would be like Lehi trying to create a theatrical presentation on his Tree of Life vision. How would Lehi present it? He might use forms familiar to those living in Jerusalem in order to express the imagery, just like Israelites used forms inherited from Egypt to produce a Golden Calf.

    The sacramental covenant has more to do with how we treat others, our economy, how we suffer and succor–than it has to do with atoning for sin. To speak of sacrament in the context of “taking atonement into into our innermost souls” is silly. Can at-one-ment be “taken?” Consumed? Like some prescribed pill? Sacrament is more aligned with the law of fasting and consecration, than with atonement: rehearse the prayers. The baptismal ordinance of water and fire cover atonement. Sacrament means that “we are willing to take upon…”

    The true symbols of the Promise are implied in Fulfillment: the Holy Spirit and the Comforter.

  4. I think it’s quite possible that as we make our way across the broad threshold of the Millennium we may some of the more esoteric doctrines become more plain–thereby rendering the relevant symbols moot. Even so, as Nibley said (in so many words) we shouldn’t despise the symbols. They are given for our benefit; they point our hearts and minds in the proper direction of the thing(s) they represent–so they’re quite useful in the present.

    I’m more of the diffusionist persuasion myself. I think some of what is found in the Masonic traditions predates masonry–and has its roots in rituals that were revealed by God to the ancients. And I think Joseph Smith recognized those ancient qualities for what they were–which served as a catalyst (for him) to restore the original endowment — or something close enough to it given the cultural differences between his era and that of the ancients — through direct revelation.

  5. Chad thanks for an interesting post. It has set some thoughts going.

    How can temple ordinances for the dead be transformative when they haven’t participated in the ordinance, if as Madsen says: “Earthly sacramental acts aim at the transformation of the flesh as well as of the spirit”?

    Are gospel-accepting-spirits merely passive spectators, idle witnesses to their own ordinances, are they present or is it just reported: ‘It’s coming as soon as your family join the Church, or as soon as they get their act together, or you’re in luck all done some years ago’.

    What agencies/actions are required to enter a covenant by proxy (baptism, PH, endowment, sealings, etc), is it mere consent?

    So all the boxes are checked, off to the CK according to Sis Woodruff, the work is done, or is it, how can it be?

    Why don’t we take the sacrament for them so they can retain a remission of their sins? (No more sin?)

    How long is a proxy-ordinance kept? Or is there an assumption they will all be picked up one day?

    D&C 128 suggests what is recorded below is recorded above – will they be cleaning up the duplicates etc like we do down here or is that likely automatic?

    Just a few random thoughts, not meant to be flippant, all have important implications.

    Any thoughts appreciated.

    Thanks for the links to your other related Posts –

Comments are closed.