In full disclosure, I’ve been concerned about this post this week. There are some things coming up today that I am not very comfortable discussing in a public setting. It involves questions I feel are important to address, but I do take temple covenants very seriously and I don’t know that this is the best place to address them. There will be things from the Letter For My Wife that I can’t copy and paste directly, and things I’ll have to skim over and paraphrase. It’s going to be a difficult needle to thread, and I can’t guarantee I’ll do it well. I’m trying to follow the counsel we’ve received in recent years to be more open about what happens inside the temple, while still not crossing the lines we’ve covenanted to keep sacred.

We’ll start off with a little bit more temple history, and from there, Faulk will move into the difficult portion. He picks up with more discussion of Freemasonry:

  • LDS Masons

 Joseph’s family and several of the first members of the Church were Masons. Joseph Smith Sr. was a documented member in upstate New York. He was raised to the degree of Master Mason May 7, 1818 in Ontario Lodge No. 23 of Canandaigua, New York. His older brother Hyrum was a member of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 112 at Palmyra, New York. Other prominent members include: Joseph’s other brothers Samuel and William Smith, Brigham Young (2nd president of the Church), John Taylor (3rd president), Wilford Woodruff (4th president), Lorenzo Snow (5th president), Sidney Rigdon (first presidency), William Law (first presidency), John C. Bennett (first presidency), Newell K. Whitney (Presiding Bishop), Heber C. Kimball (first presidency), Orson Pratt (apostle), Parley P. Pratt (apostle), Orson Hyde (apostle), Lyman Johnson, (apostle), William Clayton (Joseph’s secretary), Porter Rockwell (Joseph’s bodyguard) and many more.

Yes, while there was a strong anti-Mason sentiment in various parts of the country, Masonry was also a popular organization for many men. In fact, in the Northeastern United States, the organization experienced “rapid growth” between 1800-1830, the time period in which several of those men listed above were inducted.

During the early part of the United States’ history, it was basically the most popular way for men to gather socially and hang out together. It’s not surprising that many early Saints—who were friends with one another in Joseph’s inner circle—would seek other ways to spend time together. Many of us today do the same thing with our friends, whether it’s game nights or movie nights or book clubs or whatever. Freemasonry was kind of like the pre-Civil War version of a modern D&D group. Obviously, it’s more a serious organization than that, but on its face, it was a social group for men to bond with one another.

You can see a list of members of the Nauvoo Lodge from 1841 in the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge Minute Book, pages 27-28 of the cited link. It’s not comprehensive and it’s difficult to read, but most of the men listed above are on it.

As soon as the saints erected the Nauvoo lodge, Joseph Smith also sought membership in the fraternity.

“15 March 1842 Tuesday – I officiated as grand chaplain at the installation of the Nauvoo Lodge of Free Masons, at the Grove near the Temple. Grand Master Jonas, of Columbus, being present, a large number of people assembled on the occasion. The day was exceedingly fine; all things were done in order, and universal satisfaction was manifested. In the evening I received the first degree in Free Masonry in the Nauvoo Lodge, assembled in my general business office.” (Joseph Smith, Journal 1841–1842. Also in History of the Church, vol.4, p.550)

Yes, Joseph Smith joined as an Entered Apprentice the night the Nauvoo Lodge was officially instituted.

Just seven weeks after his initiation as a first-degree mason, on April 4, 1842, Joseph introduces the endowment ceremony in the upper room of his red brick store; the same room where his Masonic initiation took place. Present were Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, William Law, Heber C. Kimball and others.

I personally think this is because he was excited by the things he saw in the Masonic lodge. He’d finally figured out how best to teach the Endowment. I spoke last week about the message and the messenger, or the gift and the wrapping paper. Joseph had the message/gift already. But the Lord didn’t give him explicit instructions on how to implement it, and let him figure it out for himself. The ritual drama he saw at the Lodge, along with the ancient elements that he would have known about, gave him the messenger/wrapping paper/delivery method.

He already knew the Endowment would be happening in the new Nauvoo Temple that was being built. After all, on October 12, 1841, the Quorum of the Twelve published a letter in which they declared that the Nauvoo Temple “would be a place for proxy baptism, worship, endowment, the revelation of God’s laws, and the manifestation of ‘all the ordinances.’”

I don’t consider this an odd or unusual move, considering the things that had already been revealed to Joseph about the Endowment by that point. We covered this last week, but by March of 1842, Joseph had been receiving segments of revelation concerning the Endowment for thirteen years. Portions of it had already been instituted in the Kirtland Temple six years prior. Joseph had already lamented that he’d never had the opportunity to give the Saints the full plan that God had revealed to him before they were forced to flee Kirtland and abandon the Temple. It was also 11 months after the revelation now known as D&C 132, the celestial marriage revelation, was starting to be taught to select members of the Church that Joseph knew he could trust. The first documented plural marriage of the Nauvoo period was in April of 1841. There were things echoing temple language in many early revelations and sermons. As Jeffrey Bradshaw explained:

It appears that the Prophet learned much about temple ordinances through personal experiences with heavenly beings and revelations associated with his inspired translation of scripture. His revelations contain many unmistakable references to significant components of priesthood and temple doctrines, authority, and ordinances. Many of these date to the early 1830s, a decade or more before the Prophet began bestowing temple blessings on the Saints in Nauvoo. And given Joseph Smith’s reluctance to share the details of the most sacred events and doctrines publicly, it is certainly possible he received specific knowledge about some temple matters even earlier than can be now documented. These matters include: 1) the narrative backbone, clothing, and covenants of the modern temple endowment; 2) the sequence of blessings of the oath and covenant of the priesthood; and 3) priesthood keys and symbols expressed in keywords, names, signs, and tokens.

So, given all of that, of course Joseph was excited to finally have a way to teach those things to the Saints. And we know that’s likely how he viewed it, because Joseph Fielding told us:

Many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true origin of Masonry [or, rather, the Priesthood]. This I have also seen and rejoice in it.

They viewed Masonry as a stepping stone to something greater, something true and restored. Bradshaw explains what Joseph might have been trying to teach the Saints by using Masonic elements:

One aspect of this preparation apparently had to do with the general idea of respecting covenants of confidentiality. For example, Joseph Smith once told the Saints that “the reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us is because we do not keep them.” But as he later observed, ‘“The secret of Masonry is to keep a secret.” Joseph may have seen the secret-keeping of Masonry as a tool to prepare the Saints to respect their temple covenants. 

In addition, the rituals of the Lodge enabled Mormon Masons to become familiar with symbols and forms they would later encounter in the Nauvoo temple. These included specific ritual terms, language, handclasps, and gestures as well as larger patterns such as those involving repetition and the use of questions and answers as an aid to teaching. Joseph Smith’s own exposure to Masonry no doubt led him to seek further revelation as he prepared to introduce the divine ordinances of Nauvoo temple worship.

 Finally, although Freemasonry is not a religion and, in contrast to Latter-day Saint temple ordinances, does not claim saving power for its rites, threads relating to biblical themes of exaltation are evident in some Masonic rituals. For example, in the ceremonies of the Royal Arch degree of the York rite, candidates pass through a series of veils and eventually enter into the divine presence. In addition, Christian interpretations, like Salem Town’s description of the “eighth degree,” tell of how the righteous will “be admitted within the veil of God’s presence, where they will become kings and priests before the throne of his glory for ever and ever.” Such language echoes New Testament teachings. Thus, apart from specific ritual language, forms, and symbols, a more general form of resemblance between Mormon temple ritual and certain Masonic degrees might be seen in the views they share about the ultimate potential of humankind.

Steven Harper gave a great presentation at the 2013 BYU Church History Symposium in which he explained how Joseph “translated” the Masonic imagery for Latter-day Saint audiences the same way he translated ancient scripture, or “restored” it the way he restored the Church and Priesthood. (He also made a truly hilarious joke about “hermetic sealing” that you guys really should check out. It makes me laugh every time.) Samuel Morris Brown agrees and says something very similar in his book, In Heaven As It Is On Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death.

That’s also how Heber C. Kimball explained it to Parley P. Pratt in a letter dated June 17, 1842:

We have received some precious things through the Prophet on the priesthood that would cause your soul to rejoice. I cannot give them to you on paper, for they are not to be written. So you must come and get them for yourself. We have organized a lodge here of Masons since we obtained a charter. … There is a similarity of priesthood [ordinances] in Masonry. Bro. Joseph says Masonry was taken from priesthood but has become degenerated. But many things are perfect.

Bradshaw puts a slightly different spin on it:

However, sometimes it may be more accurate to see the process by which revelation came to the Prophet in an inverse fashion. In other words, we might see the revelatory process, at least in some cases, not primarily as a “translation” of elements of Masonic ritual into Mormon temple ordinances, but rather as a “translation” of revealed truths — components of temple ordinances that Joseph Smith had previously encountered in his translation of the Bible and through his personal revelatory experiences — into words and actions that the Saints in Nauvoo could readily understand because their intuitions had already been primed by their exposure to the Bible and to Freemasonry.

It should be no more a surprise to Latter-day Saints if some phrasing of the rites of Freemasonry parallel selected aspects of restored temple ordinances than the idea that wording similar to that of the King James Version was adopted in the English translation of scriptural passages from the Old Testament included on the Book of Mormon plates. In both cases, the use of elements already familiar to the early Saints would have served a pragmatic purpose, favoring their acceptance and understanding of specific aspects of the ancient teachings better than if a whole new and foreign textual or ritual vocabulary had been introduced.

So, Bradshaw believes that seeing the Masonic rituals and drama allowed Joseph to convert the revelations he’d received over the years into something concrete and understandable to the Saints of the Nauvoo period. He did that by using elements they were familiar with through participation in Masonry.

Heavenly Father often gives us direction to do something without telling us how. He leaves that up to us, because things like that are how we learn and grow. If He told us exactly what to do in every situation, we’d never be able to become like Him, because He’s taking all of the difficulty out of it. We don’t truly learn until we stand on our own feet. By teaching us to “study it out in our minds” and come up with solutions beforegoing to Him, He’s letting us learn to stand on our own, rather than carrying us.

I believe that’s precisely what He left Joseph to do here. And Joseph followed the model Heavenly Father had already given him when He used the seer stones to help Joseph learn how to become a prophet. Joseph then packaged the Endowment, something new and overwhelming and confusing, into something digestible by using the familiar packaging of Masonry they were used to.

  • Similarities between Masonic rituals and LDS Temple Ceremony

What exactly was Joseph exposed to during this initiation and is it possible that any of it made its way into the endowment ceremony? Two expository books on Masonry written by William M. Morgan and Jabez Richardson disclose various temple ceremonies. (Illustrations of Masonry by One of the Fraternity, 1827 and Monitor of Free-Masonry. They show that the words, actions and symbols used in Masonic rituals are nearly identical to LDS temple ordinances. Below is a small collection of those that bare most striking resemblance.

Okay, obviously, this is the part we’re not delving into in any kind of detail. He goes on from here, showing pictures and describing signs, symbols, and tokens. I’m going to bypass all of that. I will just say first that the Church’s website has an entire section on temples that is full of solid information. It even lists out the temple covenants, and as is an excellent resource.

Second, while there are similarities, there are also instances of Joseph Smith using those same symbols and signs in Latter-day Saint theology before becoming a Mason. Matthew B. Brown’s book, Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons spends several chapters and appendices going through those evidences.

These include things like the all-seeing eye being described as early as 1829; the handclasp as early as 1832, with a more specific teaching of using that handclasp to determine whether an angel is one of the light or of the darkness in 1839; “Holiness to the Lord” as early as 1830; and bees were obviously first mentioned in 1829 in the Book of Mormon, but as a specific symbol of the Saints as early as 1832. Joseph was also using the sun, moon, and stars in multiple documents, including in the capacity of scripture, as early as the late 1820s. Additionally, in D&C 124:42, during a revelation given in January of 1841, the Lord says He “will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house” (the Nauvoo Temple). Joseph later stated that the symbols on the outside of the temple were given to him in revelation, fulfilling this prophecy.

Brown also explains why Joseph would not have taken the Endowment ordinance itself from the Masons:

About one year and give months before Joseph Smith became a Freemason (5 October 1840), he told the congregants at general conference in Nauvoo, “God will not acknowledge that which He has not called, ordained, and chosen. … [T]he ordinances must be kept in the very way God has appointed, otherwise [the] priesthood will prove a cursing instead of a blessing.” On 22 January 1843—just a little over eight months after giving the Nauvoo endowment for the first time—the Prophet taught the very same concept, saying, “All the ordinances, systems, and administrations on the earth [are] of no use to the children of men unless they are ordained and authorized of God. For nothing will save a man but a legal administrator, for none others will be acknowledged either by God or angels.”

Since the Prophet was teaching near the time of his Masonic initiation that the system of the Masons was “degenerated” and had been “taken from [the] Priesthood,” he certainly would not have viewed its administrations as being ordained and authorized of God, nor efficacious in matters of personal salvation. It should also be emphasized that there is no primary, secondary, or tertiary historical source where Joseph Smith states that he borrowed elements of the Masonic ceremonies….

The nature of the Nauvoo Temple ordinances was plainly spelled out by the Lord before they were introduced among the Saints and before Joseph Smith was received into the Masonic fraternity. At the beginning of 1841, the Lord said that Nauvoo Temple activities would be a restoration of rituals once practiced in the Tabernacle built by the prophet Moses and the temple constructed by King Solomon (see D&C 124:37-39). In other words, they would be Hebrew in their basis and content, not Masonic.

So, if Joseph had declared on multiple occasions that no ordinance was valid unless it was ordained, given by those holding authority, and performed exactly as God decreed, and he was teaching at the same time that Masonic rites were “degenerated” and corrupted, why would he copy them for use in the Temple? That makes no sense at all. Corrupted ordinances by their very nature cannot be performed exactly as God decrees.

I found it interesting that it was not until after Joseph Smith’s exposure to Masonry that he introduced the endowment ceremony. Just seven weeks separated Joseph’s Masonic initiation and the instructions for the first endowment.

I don’t. He’d been searching for a way to teach it, as he implied in that 1839 letter mentioned above. This gave him an idea on how to do that. And again, that is just the “messenger,” or the outer packaging for delivering the ordinances and covenants. The actual ordinance is not adapted from Masonic ritual at all.

He used certain elements to teach people how to keep sacred things private, and to teach certain concepts like the eternal progression of man.

According to Steven Harper:

Joseph seems to have used Masonry as a point of departure, a beginning rather than an end in itself. Several scholars of differing degrees of belief in Joseph Smith’s teachings have analyzed the evidence and arrived at this conclusion. Michael Homer argued that “the rituals of Freemasonry provided a starting point for the Mormon prophet’s revelation of ‘true Masonry.’” David Buerger argued that the pattern of resemblances was too great and the content of the endowment too unique to explain simply. “Thus,” he concluded, “the temple ceremony cannot be explained as wholesale borrowing from Masonry; neither can it be explained as completely unrelated to Freemasonry.” Allen Roberts concluded that “Joseph’s Masonry was not a conventional one. He attempted to restore it in much the same way the gospel was restored. That is, he saw Masonry like Christianity, as possessing some important truths which could be beneficially extracted from what was otherwise an apostate institution.”

Joseph modified one ritual drama into another one, changing it and using it to teach a completely different concept and story. I don’t think that’s very scandalous, personally, but I know this is an issue that bothers some people quite a bit. 

  • March 15, 1842 – Joseph Smith became a Mason in his general business office. (History of the Church, vol.4, p.551)
  • May 4, 1842 – Joseph instructed the other leaders on the washings, anointing, signs and tokens. (History of the Church, vol.5, p.2)

And, as we went over, many of those were already taught by Joseph a decade or so before the Endowment was first taught as a whole. All the Masonic rites did was give him a vehicle he could adapt for his own purposes to teach the Saints.

Steven Harper explained:

It requires a logical leap to bridge the evidentiary gap between similarity, which was obvious to those who knew both Masonry and the endowment, and dependence, which is assumed—not known. Some people reason that Joseph Smith initiated men and women into the endowment ordinances after he was initiated into Freemasonry; therefore, the temple rituals derived from Masonry. One problem in this theory is that Freemasonry itself borrowed much of its ritual and ceremony from elements preserved since antiquity. There is ample similarity and difference not only between Freemasonry and LDS temple ordinances, but in many other ancient and more modern stories and rituals as well. Disentangling the complex relationships between them is not possible and should not be oversimplified.

It is possible to discern differences in the functions (however similar in form) of Masonic and LDS temple ordinances. Masonic rituals use aprons, door-knockings, and unusual handshakes to foster brotherhood. Bonds are made between men, not between people and God. LDS temple ordinances endow believers with power to regain the presence of God as they make and keep covenants with him. The ritual is not the endowment of power itself. It may be that some ritual forms were adapted from Masonic traditions, but the endowment teaches a divine plan of creation, Fall, and redemption through Christ—promising those who covenant to keep God’s laws that they will gain power over the effects of the Fall. As Heber Kimball was perfectly positioned to know, the endowment did not simply mimic Masonry.

The Endowment and the Masonic rites are not the same thing. As I said last week, “Yes, there are some elements of Masonic ceremony in the endowment. But those elements link back at least to early Christianity, and some are far older than that. Additionally, those elements are small things, like signs, tokens, symbols, minor phrasing, and the fact that there’s a ritual drama to teach us important lessons. They do not include the lessons themselves or the ordinances and covenants.”

It appears that every LDS temple ceremony has a nearly identical Masonic ceremony with the corresponding symbols. This brings up the question – Who is the real author of the endowment? Parallels between Masonry and the endowment seem to be problematic. Could Joseph Smith have simply borrowed this “revelation”?

It doesn’t bring up that question unless you’re reaching for it, and to me personally, it’s not problematic when you actually study the details around it. Joseph Smith obviously didn’t “borrow this revelation” if he was discussing prominent elements of it as far back as 1829 and all throughout the 1830s. Greg Kearney gave a great overview of all of the similarities and, more importantly, some of the major differences between Masonic ritual and the Latter-day Saint Endowment. Scott Gordon also gave a fantastic presentation on this at the 2017 FAIR Conference.

I also have to take exception to the scare quotes around “revelation.” Joseph received the Endowment in many revelations across more than a decade, and there is documented proof of that. Jeffrey Bradshaw’s paper gives a good timeline of that, and so does Matthew Brown’s book. Just because Thomas Faulk doesn’t believe that the Endowment came from God, does not mean he’s right. He’s not.

The Endowment is a beautiful gift, the bestowal of God’s power to us.

President Nelson once taught:

When we realize that we are children of the covenant, we know who we are and what God expects of us. His law is written in our hearts. He is our God and we are His people. Committed children of the covenant remain steadfast, even in the midst of adversity. When that doctrine is deeply implanted in our hearts, even the sting of death is soothed and our spiritual stamina is strengthened.

The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper. The rewards for a covenant keeper will be realized both here and hereafter. Scripture declares that “ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, … and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven … [and] dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.”

God lives. Jesus is the Christ. His Church has been restored to bless all people. … And we, as faithful children of the covenant, will be blessed now and forever.

And Brigham Young said:

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 talk 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.

There is so much for us to learn and understand about the temple. It’s a lifelong process, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or inadequate. But when questions arise, or when you see the attacks of critics, just remember the very wise words of President Nelson:

Now a little word of warning. There are those who would undermine your ability to call upon the power of God. There are some who would have you doubt yourself and minimize your stellar spiritual capacity as a righteous woman [or man].

Most certainly, the adversary does not want you to understand the covenant you made at baptism or the profound endowment of knowledge and power you have received or will receive in the temple—the house of the Lord. And Satan certainly does not want you to understand that every time you worthily serve and worship in the temple, you leave armed with God’s power and with His angels having “charge over” you.

A friend and I recently had a conversation in which he said that there are no guarantees in this life. I have to respectfully disagree. This is a guarantee: God has gifted us His power, and He will go before our faces, on our right hand and our left, and His Spirit will be in our hearts. He will send His angels to watch over us and gather round us, to bear us up. Because of that, we “need not fear.”


Sarah Allen is relatively new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. An avid reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her friends lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises. That’s when she began sharing what she’d learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.

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