SANDY, Utah — Many modern Christians think the temple was not an important element of early Christian thought or ritual. Matthew Brown presented an in-depth rebuttal of this view Friday morning at the 10th annual Mormon Apologetics Conference presented by the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy.
Brown, an author of eight books exploring the doctrine and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Christians who believe that the temple has no relevance to Christianity usually give two reasons:
1. The atonement of Jesus Christ made Israelite temple worship obsolete.
2. The temple ceremonies were never part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Although the claim is made that temple worship was obsolete under the gospel of Christ, Brown said the New Testament doesn't say this. He used several scriptural references to illustrate that the early Christians' activities were centered in the temple. For example, Acts 2:46 says members were "continuing daily with one accord in the temple."
"In all this it can be seen that first-century disciples of Jesus Christ attended the temple often, experienced purification rites there, prayed there, taught there and received revelation from the resurrected Lord there," Brown said. "Notice that all these things happened after the tearing of the temple veil that occurred during the crucifixion. It is obvious that the destruction of that particular curtain did not signal to first-century Christians that the temple had become obsolete and should therefore be abandoned."
Brown also rejected the idea that the temple was merely a part of the Law of Moses. He referred to the role of Melchizedek as a high priest before the Law of Moses as indication of rituals that predated and were independent of Mosaic Law.
The center of Brown's talk went over 12 promises to those who were saved by Christ as described in the Book of Revelation. The promises parallel the coronation psalms in the Old Testament and all are seeped in temple-related imagery.
"But the question that still needs to be asked at this point is, 'Didn't the early Christians view this connection with ancient temple initiation rites as merely allegorical, or is there any evidence that the connection took place in liturgical forum?'" Brown said.
Brown believes it was not just symbolic but was reflected in early Christian rituals.
According to Brown, most scholars still believe Christian liturgy or rituals were adapted from the Jewish synagogue. However, scholars such as Margaret Barker believe it is more likely that early Christian rituals derived from the "heavenly temple."
A large collection of early Christian initiation texts edited by Maxwell Johnson contains many temple references. "There are even statements in the documents that initiates will enter the temple of God to receive certain ordinances," Brown said.
Brown described many of the temple aspects of the anointing ceremony of the Christian initiates. Consecrated olive oil was poured into the hand of the person performing the anointing who, according to an Armenian ceremony, then anointed the initiate's forehead, eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, hands, heart, backbone and feet.
Often the initiates would wear white robes, crowns, and aprons.
Brown quickly described various examples of the white Christian garments. He told of discoveries of robes and aprons being worn by those who were buried in early Christian cemeteries.
The symbols of the compass and other ancient symbolic marks were used on veils in sanctuaries and in other iconography, according to Brown. He also reviewed ceremonies of the Orthodox Christians that are reminiscent of ancient temple initiation rites such as putting on a tunic, baptismal washing, taking vows that "angels witness" and even a ritualistic embrace.
"Even after the atonement took place, those people who personally knew the Savior still held onto a distinct temple ideology," Brown said. "But more than that, they were promised by the Lord himself . . . that the faithful could receive temple-related blessings that were experienced by the kings and the priests of ancient Israel. Liturgical practices of the Israelite temple found expression in some of the rites of early Christians, and some of those practices are echoed among the Orthodox followers of the Lord even today."