First, since the Israelites were traveling in the desert at this time they lived in tents, therefore the "tent of the congregation" was to be God's tent. It was there where He would live and when the Israelites went to the tabernacle, they were going to the tent or place where God was. Later, when Solomon built a permanent stone temple to replace the tent of the congregation, the Jews still considered it God's house and referred to it as "the House of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 7:11).
The second purpose of the temple was to perform certain rituals which God had revealed to Moses and then Moses communicated that information to his people. But God had also instructed Moses that only certain people, called priests, were allowed to perform these rituals and they were to wear special clothing that God Himself described to Moses. We can find a description of that clothing in the 28th chapter of Exodus and in verse 42 we read, "And thou shalt make linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs shall they reach."
There has been much talk and controversy about the "holy garments" that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wear who have been through Latter-day temples. There are Christians who say that the reason why Latter-day Saints wear "holy garments" comes from this verse in Exodus and they argue that the LDS Church is basing their beliefs on a false understanding of this verse.
Most Christians believe that temples are no longer needed because of the atoning blood and death of Jesus on the cross and therefore there is no more need for priests to perform these ceremonies. And without priests there is no more need for anyone to wear special temple clothing. However, the basic premise of their argument is not true but to understand why, we have to understand what Mormons believe.
Nearly all Christians claim that in ancient times God spoke to and through the prophets, including the apostles, and these men wrote down the words which God had inspired them to write. This process lasted for over 2,000 years but most Christians today believe that after the death of the apostles, God ceased talking to man. The reason for this belief is that they say God has given us everything He wants us to know so there is nothing left for Him to say.
And it is because of this belief that nearly all Christians believe that if we want to know what God has to tell us the only place we can go to find that information is in the words of the Bible. To say that there are other words of God that are not found in the Bible seems to most Christians as being almost blasphemous.
For this reason everything most Christians do they go to the Bible and find some verse of scripture they say justifies what they believe, therefore when members of the LDS Church who go to a modern-day temple wear special garments it is assumed that they are basing this practice on the scripture found in Exodus 28:42 but that is not true.
The basis on which "Mormonism" is built is that God still speaks to men through living prophets and apostles just as He did in olden times. The Lord explained, "I am the same yesterday, today, and forever and I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word, ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another, for my work is not finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever" (2 Nephi 29:9).
To someone of the LDS faith it only makes sense that if God could talk to man in the past and God is the same today as He was yesterday then there is no reason why He would not do today what He did in the past. If God gave man instructions of what He wanted them to do in ancient times then it seems even more important that He gives us direct guidance in today's turbulent times.
The reason why members of the LDS faith wear holy garments is not because they are following what God told Moses as described in the Bible but because of what God revealed to a modern-day prophet named Joseph Smith. It was God, not the Bible, who told the Latter-day Saints that they should build a temple. It was God who declared what ordinances He wanted performed in these modern-day temples, and it was God who directed what kind of clothing was to be worn in this new House of the Lord. And this information came to Joseph Smith the same way it was given to Moses in his day.
But what God says to modern-day prophets doesn't contradict what He has said to the ancient prophets. So, while the LDS Church does not teach the use of holy garments based on what is written in the Bible, their use is nonetheless consistent with what God has commanded men to wear in the past. And that is why we believe in the Bible as the word of God. Rather than what God says to modern-day prophets today conflicting with what He has said to the ancient prophets, it actually supplements, clarifies, and enlarges our understanding of what is recorded in the Bible.
There was a reason why God wanted Aaron and the priests to wear those holy garments as they officiated in the office of their calling and there is a reason why God wants us to wear similar holy garments today although the reason is not the same.
Perhaps a little background on modern-day temples would be helpful to understand why.
In the days before Jesus, the purpose of the temple was to look forward to the atonement of Christ. The symbolism of the rituals performed in the ancient temple represented, or were a shadow of, or prefigured, or were a graphic, visual demonstration of what Christ would do when He came.
When Christ offered His atoning sacrifice it was the temple ritual that the apostles could point to in order to show that Christ was the promised Messiah. He was the animal who was spotless, without blemish, who took upon Him our sins, and shed His blood to atone for our sins. The purpose for the ceremonies performed in the temple was meant to help the Israelites recognize and accept their Messiah when He offered Himself up as the sacrificial lamb who was slain for our sins. The Law of Moses, with all of its rituals "was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Galatians 3:24).
But after Christ had made that incomparable sacrifice for our sins, the temple ritual was no longer needed because there was nothing more to look forward to. Now we can look to Christ's actual death on the cross instead of looking to the blood of bulls and goats. For that reason, all of Christianity says that there is no more need for a temple. However, in our day the Lord has revealed that He still wants temples built but the symbolism of its rituals are now to be different. Today, instead of looking back to the past, temple ceremonies look forward to the resurrection.
In other words, the purpose of modern-day temples is to look forward to the time when Christ will have completed His work of salvation which will culminate in the resurrection. For that reason, the ceremonies performed in modern-day temples represent, foreshadow, or visually depict us entering into the presence of God in the resurrection.
Since both men and women will enter into His presence, both men and women participate equally in the ceremonies that are performed there. One of those ceremonies is to unite a man and a woman as husband and wife, not just for this life (as all other Christian churches do) but for all time and for all eternity. Instead of a man and a woman being married "until death do you part," those married in the temple will remain as husband and wife forever.
In Exodus 28:36 the Lord revealed that Aaron was to wear a plate of gold on his miter (cap) that said, "Holiness to the Lord." In modern days the Lord has revealed that on every temple the phrase "The House of the Lord, Holiness to the Lord" is to be inscribed in stone above the entrance to the temple. Just as the temple in ancient time symbolized or represented the place or house where God dwells among His people, so also Latter-day Saints view modern temples in the same way.
These building are sacred and holy because they were built specifically for a holy God and they are dedicated and consecrate to Him. As such, each Latter-day temple is His house, and when we go to where He lives we do so to make sacred, holy covenants before Him.
In LDS temples both men and women make the same covenants with God but while these covenants are sacred, they are not secret. Those who go to an LDS temple do so to covenant to live chase lives, to live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God, to sacrifice all that we have, including our life if need be to the service of God, and to consecrate all that we have, including our time, talents, and material possessions to help build up the kingdom of God here on the earth. Husband and wives who are married in the temple make a solemn covenant to make their marriage holy and raise up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The fact that we make these covenants in the House of the Lord - in God's holy temple - rather than in some every day ordinary church building - is what makes these covenants so special and sacred, and the holy garments we wear are a symbol of those covenants that we have voluntarily taken upon ourselves. Just as we take upon us clothes that cover our body, so too we put on the holy garment which symbolizes the covenants we made that covers everything we do in life.
As we change our clothes we constantly see our holy garments which act as a visual reminder of the covenants we have made, and as we wear them faithfully every day we are symbolically affirming our willingness to be faithful to the covenants which those garments represent. To deliberately not wear them after having made sacred covenants before God in His house is a symbolic gesture that says we are no longer willing to abide by the covenants we have made or that we do not intend to be faithful in keeping those covenants. By setting aside the wearing of our garments a person is not only saying that they are setting aside the sacred covenants they have made to God but that those covenant are no longer something that is of importance to them.
The garment is also worn against the skin and every other article of clothing is then worn on top of the garments. What this symbolizes is that nothing comes between us and the covenants we have made with God, especially material or worldly things. It also symbolizes that our covenants to God are closest thing to our heart.
But a covenant is a two-way agreement. In a covenant we make certain promises to God who, in return, then makes certain promises to us. God has revealed that in as much as we are willing to take upon ourselves these sacred covenants and wear the garments as He has prescribed, they will act as a shield and a protection for us against the evil one. We do this, not because somewhere in the Bible there is a verse of scripture that justifies this belief but because God Himself has revealed this promise through a modern-day prophet.
Yet, in the Psalms we read, "For thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous, with favor wilt thou compass him as with a shield… O Israel trust thou in the Lord: he is their help and their shield… Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation; and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me strong" (Psalms 5:12; 115:9; 18:35). That is the concept behind the promise God makes to those who wear the holy garments in righteousness and so, once again, we see that the Bible supports and is in agreement with what God has revealed to us in modern times.
Since modern-day temples are meant to help us look forward and prepare us to enter into heaven,(just as the ancient temples were meant to help the Israelites look forward and prepare them to accept the atonement of Christ) there are a number of reasons for going there frequently. The first is to remind us of the covenants we have made. Even though we don't need to keep remaking them, each time we go to the temple we have the opportunity to be reminded of those covenants so that they don't become forgotten in the business of living.
The second reason people go to the temple often is to learn the principles of holiness. Since heaven is the place where God lives and He is holy, then to live with Him we must be holy ourselves. Although we cannot make ourselves holy solely through our own efforts, nevertheless that is what God requires of us (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:16). By going to the temple we are entering a holy environment where God's Spirit dwells more powerfully than anywhere else.
Jesus told His disciples that He would send the comforter, who is the Holy Ghost, who "shall teach you all things" (John 14:26). As we come to the House of the Lord, His Spirit instructs us and teaches us individually the things we need to know to become holy and be worthy to live with Him forever. And in addition to that, it is by being close to the Spirit that we can gain greater spiritual strength to live lives of righteousness because it is in the temple where we feel His presence the most.
A third reason why people go to the temple is to get away from the sins of the world that can drain us spiritually. It's an old adage that you can't play in mud without getting dirty and the same is true of living in a world where we are surrounded by sin. By going to the temple frequently and being immersed in the glory of God's presence, people become spiritually rejuvenated so they can live in the world without becoming like the world thereby keeping themselves clean from the sins of their generation.
And there is yet another reason people go to the temple which is to commune with God. Perhaps there are difficulties a person is going through or there are important decisions they need to make, or maybe there are other things that are troubling them. If a person wants to be able to commune with God in a more personable and intimate way, for whatever reason, the temple is the place where people can be closer to God than any other place on earth.
While the idea of having temples today, making sacred covenants in them, and wearing special clothing is very different and perhaps even contrary to what many of today's Christians believe, it is what Latter-day Saints believe and they take very seriously the covenants they make with God as they do the wearing of special garments. They feel that since it was God who personally revealed the need for modern-day temples and the wearing of special garments, to mock them is to mock God and God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7).
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