Why should I commit or covenant to something if I haven’t been told what I’m committing to? (Under Revision)
Though we do not specifically covenant not to discuss the content of the covenants we make in the temple, many LDS will not do so. Naturally, then, some going to the temple for the first time have been bothered to know that they are about to make covenants, without knowing the specifics of the covenants they are going to make. While there is an explicit opportunity to withdraw early on during the Endowment, I think most people are not comfortable doing so by that point.
There is something else to consider. Most people understand the idea that the Temples are holy, and that that holiness is safeguarded by only allowing the entrance of those who are prepared for and living its high moral and ritual standards. Those who conduct temple recommend interviews function as imperfect but important gate-keepers, checking on those standards.
The Temple recommend questions generally parallel the solemn covenants that one makes in the Temple. If your life is such that you can honestly answer all the temple recommend questions, than you are already living the requirements of the covenants that you will make in the Temple, and prepared to make those covenants. In this way, the temple recommend interview, like a gatekeeper, prevents anyone from entering the temple and making covenants they are not fully prepared to keep.
Note these similarities between the baptismal interview, the temple recommend interview, and the Israelite “temple recommend interview.”
Psa 15/24 | Baptismal Covenants | Temple recommend questions.
From this perspective, the covenants of the temple do not really go beyond the baptismal covenant. How can one covenant to do more than keep all the commandments and repent when we do not? Rather, the temple covenants differ in that they are more specific and thus more serious. Heber C. Kimball, speaking to a group of recently endowed members, said “You can’t sin so cheap now as you could before.” Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 196): 118.
Several General Authorities have spoken of temple covenants.
President Hinckley said that
the covenants of the temple [are] Sacrifice, the willingness to sacrifice for this the Lord’s work—and inherent in that law of sacrifice is the very essence of the Atonement, the ultimate sacrifice made by the Son of God in behalf of each of us. Consecration, which is associated with it, a willingness to give everything, if need be, to help in the on-rolling of this great work. And a covenant of love and loyalty one to another in the bonds of marriage, fidelity, chastity, morality. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997 ): 147.
Elder James E. Talmage wrote that
The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,-the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions…. In every detail the endowment ceremony contributes to covenants of morality of life, consecration of person to high ideals, devotion to truth, patriotism to nation, and allegiance to God. (Elder Talmage, The House of the Lord, 100. Also quoted by Elder Packer in The Holy Temple, 163.)
President Benson taught that
We covenant to live the law of consecration. This law is that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion. Until one abides by the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel, and chastity, he cannot abide the law of consecration, which is the law pertaining to the celestial kingdom. (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988): 121.)
(The law of consecration is not the same thing as the United Order, which was the attempt the early members of the Church made to put the law of consecration into action as a community. We can each live the law of consecration as individuals.)
President James E. Faust taught that
In the Temples of the Lord, we learn obedience. We learn sacrifice. We make the vows of chastity and have our lives consecrated to holy purposes. (To Reach Even Unto You (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 82.)
Elder McConkie taught
We are commanded to live in harmony with the Lord’s laws, to keep all his commandments, to sacrifice all things if need be for his name’s sake, to conform to the terms and conditions of the law of consecration. We have made covenants so to do—solemn, sacred, holy covenants, pledging ourselves before gods and angels. We are under covenant to live the law of obedience. We are under covenant to live the law of sacrifice. We are under covenant to live the law of consecration. With this in mind, hear this word from the Lord: “If you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.” (D&C 78:7.) It is our privilege to consecrate our time, talents, and means to build up his kingdom. We are called upon to sacrifice, in one degree or another, for the furtherance of his work. Obedience is essential to salvation; so, also, is service; and so, also, are consecration and sacrifice. (“Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice,” Ensign, May 1975.)
Hugh Nibley, though a scholar of ancient scripture and not a General Authority, had several things to say about covenants ancient and modern.
One does not enter lightly into such a covenant. To organize a race of priests in ancient as in modern days, God processed all volunteers by a series of preparatory steps. First, there is an initiatory stage in which one is physically set apart from the world: actually washed, anointed, given a protective garment, and clothed in sanctified robes. This is merely preliminary and qualifies one to proceed, in earnest not of what one has become, but of what one may and wishes to become.
After the initiatory, the candidates are assembled and asked (and this we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as in many other ancient works): “Do you agree and are you resolved to do things his way rather than your way—to follow the law of God?” The candidate is not told at this time what the law of God requires, only whether he is willing to trust God’s judgment and accept it no matter what it is. After that, all argument is out of the question.
Next the candidate is asked, “If so, will you be obedient to him no matter what he asks of you?”—a commitment to obedience before demand is made. The next step is more specific and more serious: “Will you willingly sacrifice anything he asks for, including your own life?”
Whoever accepts this in the solemnity of the occasion may easily relax his resolve in days that follow, and so the next question is, “Will you at all times behave morally and soberly?”—that is, take all this very seriously, not just now but every day throughout your life. Thus a pattern of life is set to implement this. Your determination must be confirmed by your deportment at all times. This is the law of the gospel.
Finally God says, “Very well, this is what I want you to do” (Deuteronomy 5:6). The next verse begins to describe the Ten Commandments…” - Approaching Zion, p. 424 – 425
“We have noted that the covenants of the endowment are progressively more binding, in the sense of allowing less and less latitude for personal interpretation as one advances. Thus (1) the law of God is general and mentions no specifics; (2) the law of obedience states that specific orders are to be given and observed; (3) the law of sacrifice still allows a margin of interpretation (this is as far as the old law goes—the Aaronic Priesthood carries out the law of sacrifice and no farther; and it specifies that while sacrifice is a solemn obligation on all, it is up to the individual to decide just how much he will give); (4) the law of chastity, on the other hand, is something else; here at last we have an absolute, bound by a solemn sign; (5) finally the law of consecration is equally uncompromising—everything the Lord has given one is to be consecrated. This law is bound by the firmest token of all.” -Approaching Zion, 441-442.
Once we understand the relationship between the temple recommend interviews and temple covenants, and become familiar with the statements of Latter-day prophets and apostles, one should be able to go to the Temple in relative comfort and assurance that they know what they are about to do. ©