Scott Taylor: How Elder Stevenson taught me to see ‘Holiness to the Lord’ as an invitation

Elder Gary E. Stevenson opened the Sept. 13 news conference and media tour of the Pocatello Idaho Temple with a welcome and a public introduction to the newest temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“It is considered a holy and sacred building in our faith,” said the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “And we have a unique opportunity — a window between the completion of the construction and the dedication, which will take place at the beginning of November — to be able to share the beautiful building and to be able to describe some of the things that take place.”

After mentioning several design elements and features unique to the Pocatello temple, he underscored the sacred worship that happens inside the walls of a temple, calling attention to the phrases over each temple’s entrance: “THE HOUSE OF THE LORD” and “HOLINESS TO THE LORD.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Pocatello Idaho Temple is pictured on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Pocatello, Idaho.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Pocatello Idaho Temple is pictured on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Pocatello, Idaho. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“We believe it to be the house of the Lord, which gives us devotion that we feel as we enter,” Elder Stevenson said.

And then he described the second in a way that I had never before heard — and in a way that made me pause and ponder.

“You’ll notice there is an invitation,” he continued, focusing on the “holiness to the Lord” phrase.

I’ve always seen it not as an invitation but more of a statement, a declaration or an expectation. “Holiness to the Lord” had seemed to me to be more about the temple itself, and not about its patrons.

The invitation, said Elder Stevenson to the media group, is “for us to conduct ourselves in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord.”

Intrigued, I later asked him to elaborate about the “holiness” invitation, as we spoke in a one-on-one interview following the temple tour.

The words “Holiness to the Lord — House of the Lord” are inscribed on the Barranquilla Colombia Temple.
The words “Holiness to the Lord — House of the Lord” are inscribed on the Barranquilla Colombia Temple.

“There is so much power in what I see engraven over the doors of the temple,” he said, recalling his time as presiding bishop and visiting temples worldwide with responsibility for their construction, maintenance and other temporal matters. “I would always walk around the temple first, and I would stand and see those words carved in stone — and it was very meaningful for me.”

The Apostle spoke about how a great addition and blessing a temple is to any faith-based community. “But to the Latter-day Saints, it is ‘the house of the Lord,’ and that is what we are bringing here (to Pocatello).”

And when he reads the words “holiness to the Lord,” Elder Stevenson said, “it feels like an invitation from the Lord to become more holy.

“When we step into the temple, everything takes place creates ‘holiness to the Lord,’” he explained.

The stained-glass art treatment and "Holiness to the Lord / House of the Lord" inscription above the entrance to the Frankfurt Germany Temple at dusk on Oct. 18, 2019.
The stained-glass art treatment and “Holiness to the Lord / House of the Lord” inscription above the entrance to the Frankfurt Germany Temple at dusk on Oct. 18, 2019. Credit: Scott Taylor

He listed promises to be obedient, to become selfless and to follow the gospel of Jesus Christ — “and all other elements that are embodied in the larger gospel to be virtuous and chaste people and to dedicate our lives to Heavenly Father’s light and glory.”

I asked Elder Stevenson when he first sensed “holiness to the Lord” as being an invitation.

He said it was a progression of instances that led to him recognizing it as an invitation.

“I think it is because I had a chance to be on the outside of so many temples around the world, and I was always struck and stunned by the words and the reality that this is the house of the Lord,” he said.

“But then those other words — ‘holiness to the Lord’ — for me almost became a pattern that I needed to follow, of doing everything that we are taught. And as we enter the temple and as we do that, it creates holiness. And this is what we need in the world today — we need more holiness.”

Holiness can be expressed in terms more familiar for the world to better understand, Elder Stevenson said.

“These include righteous unity, obedience, kindness. It includes love and compassion and empathy.

“And all of that comes together in something called ‘holiness.’”

The words “Holiness to the Lord — House of the Lord” are inscribed on the Sapporo Japan Temple.
The words “Holiness to the Lord — House of the Lord” are inscribed on the Sapporo Japan Temple.