PHILADELPHIA — The first Mormon temple to be built in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was dedicated on Sunday in the birthplace of America, drawing applause from some and concern from others.
According to the LDS website, President Thomas Monson announced intentions to build the Philadelphia Temple on in October 2008, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in September 2011. The facility has been open for public viewing since Aug. 10—a rare allowance since only Mormons are customarily allowed inside “sacred” temples.
An estimated 141,000 visitors walked through the doors over the past month.
“Visitors included key leaders from religious, business, academic, and civic organizations as well as families, neighbors, journalists and community members,” Milan Kunz, an official with the Phildelphia LDS, said in a statement. “Visitors came from across the United States and more than 20 countries were represented.”
“The overwhelming welcome has been wonderful,” Public Affairs Director Jonathan Stephenson also told the Salt Lake Tribune. “As church members, we revere William Penn as one historical figure who paved the way for religious freedom. … It’s the Quaker way. That mindset is still active in this community.”
James Cuorato, who leads Philadelphia’s Redevelopment Authority, likewise expressed pleasure with the development.
“Everyone respects the fact that the Mormons came in and built this temple … which is jaw-droppingly beautiful,” he said. “They played by the rules and did things the right way.”
But non-Mormon members are now no longer allowed inside the building, and only members in good standing were allowed to participate in Sunday’s ceremonies, held at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m., Lancaster Online outlines.
The temple includes an instruction room, a sealing room, a bride’s room, a celestial room and a baptistry, photos of which have been posted to the LDS.org website.
Eric Johnson with Mormonism Research Ministry in Draper, Utah told Christian News Network that there is a purpose for each of these rooms and for the temple itself.
“Faithful Mormons hope that they can be with their families for eternity,” he said. “The sealing room is a place where couples can get married both for this life, as well as for eternity. The bride’s room is where she prepares for her ceremony.”
“On their wedding day, the couple will each receive a new name that they are not supposed to reveal to anyone except themselves. The husband is told to call his wife’s new name on the Resurrection Day in order to raise her from the dead,” Johnson stated.
The instruction rooms, of which there are three, serve as places for training.
“The first is called the telestial room, where a video will be shown depicting the creation of the world. In the terrestrial room, members will learn special tokens (handshakes), which they practice with temple workers who stand behind a veil,” Johnson explained. “Once the participant has completed the rite, he or she is brought through the veil into the celestial room, which is the grandest room in the temple symbolizing a life of living as gods forever in the next life.”
He explained that baptism is also important in the Mormon religion.
“Mormons take genealogical research very seriously, even religiously. They take the names of their relatives to the temple so they can perform works on their behalf, including getting baptized in a baptismal font that they believe is patterned after a font in the biblical temple,” Johnson outlined. “Mormons can also perform sealings that bind deceased spouses and children, making it possible for those spirits existing in ‘spirit prison’—an intermediate state—to accept the Mormon gospel in the next life.”
But he noted that the temple should not be confused with biblical Christianity, for it is antithetical to it.
“Mormonism denies or distorts every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church, including the Godhead and salvation by grace through faith alone, among other things. What takes place in the temple is not Christian,” Johnson said.
He also said that the temple is going to further push Mormons deeper into its traditions and false doctrine, for only those in good standing may attend.
“There is great pressure on Mormons to become qualified, as many Mormons don’t accept those without their recommend cards as serious about their faith,” Johnson explained. “Very often those who don’t have a special temple recommend cards will work hard to qualify when a temple comes to their area.”
“If a Mormon child gets married in the temple, only those with the recommend cards are allowed to attend the ceremony. Therefore, Mormon relatives and parents who want to attend the ceremony—the holiest rite in Mormonism—will get very serious about their duties,” he continued. “Otherwise, there won’t be much of an effect for non-Mormons because the temple is off-limits to everyone else. In essence, the ability to enter the temple is the motivation for many members to follow their church’s teachings.”