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Episode 133: Elder David A. Bednar on Latter-day Saint temples and the ‘​​power of godliness’ that comes through covenants and the ordinances

‘There is no such thing as a small temple. ... There is no such thing as small covenants or small ordinances,’ says Elder Bednar during Church News podcast interview

During the April 2023 general conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson announced 15 new temples, bringing the total number of  Latter-day Saint temples that are operating, announced, or under construction to 315.

This episode of the Church News podcast features Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He testifies about the blessings of the house of the Lord and how covenants and ordinances connect Church members to the Savior Jesus Christ.

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Transcript:

Elder David A. Bednar: The great blessing is that in a world that grows increasingly dark, … access to the power of godliness, through the covenants and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ is one of the greatest spiritual resources and blessings the members have… And the temple is a place where we learn about the Father’s plan for us. Typically, in the world, attempts are made to change people from the outside in… But God works in a different pattern. He works from the inside out… [T]he whole purpose of temples is to make sacred promises or covenants with God, which can change our hearts… to deal with all the circumstances that we encounter in our lives.

1:00 

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During the April 2023 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson announced 15 new temples, bringing the total number of operating, announced, or under construction Latter-day Saint temples to 315. As the Lord hastens His temple work, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about the house of the Lord, and how covenants and ordinances connect us to the Savior Jesus Christ. Welcome, Elder Bednar.

2:48 

Elder David A. Bednar

Thank you, Sarah, very much.

The Rome Italy Temple is reflected in the window of the Rome Temple Visitor’s Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. | Ravell Call, Deseret News

1:49

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, it is great to have you with us to talk about this important topic. We are constantly amazed at the interest in temple construction and announcements. We see a spike every time we put a new article on the Church News website. And we want to start just by having you talk to us about how we should be teaching our children and talking about temples. 

2:12 

Elder David A. Bednar: Let me see if I can cover a couple of different points. I think we are at a remarkable inflection point in the history of the Church. As a boy, I attended the dedication of the Oakland temple in 1964 (I was 12 years old)—which was the 13th temple in operation at that time. And now I live in a day when there are close to 300. So, this is a time, this is a real opportunity to maybe focus on what matters most in relationship to the temple. It is the house of the Lord. I am not suggesting we should never use the word “temple,” but it is most appropriately referred to as the “house of the Lord.” We are all aware that a number of years ago President [Russell M.] Nelson taught us that we should not speak of the Atonement separate and apart from the Savior. That the Atonement is not a separate thing, that we are not healed by the Atonement, we are healed by Christ because of and through the Atonement that He offered. We have an opportunity now to do the same thing with temples. That will always be a part of our vocabulary. But it just seems to me that if we just talk “temple, temple, temple,” we focus on the structure and we miss what matters most, which is the connection to the resurrected and living Christ that is possible through the covenants and ordinances available to us in the temple. So, I think we routinely talk about the temple, but I do not think we talk nearly as much about the covenants and ordinances. And I do not think we should even talk about the covenants and ordinances separate from—and apart from—the Savior. So, if we get the sequence of the Savior, we are connected to Him [through] the covenants and ordinances, and the place where we receive the covenants and ordinances is in the house of the Lord—I just think that is a better way for us to focus on what matters most, which is the Father’s plan and the role of Jesus Christ in the Father’s plan.

Replicas of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Christus and 12 apostle statues are on display in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center in Rome, Italy, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

4:24

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, all these years, I have been talking to my own kids about preparing for the temple, preparing for missions. Maybe we had it backward?

4:32 

Elder David A. Bednar: I do not want anybody who listens to this to think that somehow that is wrong. I just think we have a chance to improve it and make sure that we are focused on the Father’s plan and the Savior’s Atonement, parallel to what President Nelson encouraged us to do about speaking about the Savior’s Atonement.

4:51

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as we do this, we also have an opportunity with so many temple open houses coming up to talk about the temple—and the covenants and ordinances that we make inside—to people who are not of our faith. Is there something we should focus on as we approach some of those conversations?

5:09 

Elder David A. Bednar: I think every member of the Church, who has a friend or a family member that they would like to have go through the temple [on a tour], first and foremost, they will be individually inspired to know what is most needful for that individual. I will only describe briefly a part of what I tried to do at the Washington D.C. Temple, as we were taking world leaders, VIPs, and media people through. The Washington D.C. Temple is just stunning. When you drive around the [Capital] Beltway, and you see it—it is just magnificent. But I initially tried to have the people we were taking through [the temple open house] focus not so much on the building. The press people wanted to ask, “How many stories?” and “How many rooms?” and “Where does the marble come from?” And I said, “We can get you those answers, but that is not what matters. That is not what I would like you to focus on [during] this tour.” We are sons and daughters of God. He has a plan for us as His children. And the temple is a place where we learn about the Father’s plan for us. Typically, in the world, attempts are made to change people from the outside in. And the premise is that if you change a person’s environment or circumstances, then you are going to change the person. There are clearly times when that is useful and necessary. But God works in a different pattern. He works from the inside out. President [Ezra Taft] Benson taught how if you change a person’s heart, then that person is much more capable, much more able to change his or her circumstances. And the whole purpose of temples is to make sacred promises or covenants with God, which can change our hearts. So, we then leave the temple equipped better, with greater capacity, to deal with all the circumstances that we encounter in our lives. To just frame it in the beginning—in that way, I found it to be very helpful as we would take these people through the Washington D.C. Temple, as we would go to each room, you could tie it back to, “This is how this particular aspect of what you see in the temple helps us to change from the inside out, instead of from the outside in.” So, I think that is a way. It is not the way. That is just a way I found to be very helpful in helping people who do not know very much about the Church to better understand what happens in the temple. And I would add—I am sorry to use a sports analogy—but if you are a basketball player, you have a home-court advantage if you are playing in your home gym. Well, there is no greater home-field advantage to explain the basic beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than in the house of the Lord.

Elder David A. Bednar, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, left, laughs with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan after a tour of the Washington D.C. Temple and visitors’ center in Kensington, Maryland, on Monday, April 18, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

8:05

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I am glad we are talking about the Washington D.C. Temple, which has been this sort of epic symbol on the Beltway in the nation’s capital for so many years because not too long after you participated in that temple, which is big and so prominent, you were [assigned] to go to Guam and dedicate a temple there. Can you compare and contrast those two temples and talk to us about this idea that as we get more and more temples, they are going to be different in size and design?

8:37

Elder David A. Bednar: Sure. So let me make the first obvious point. I hear people say, “Oh, that is a small temple.” There is no such thing as a “small” temple. There are just temples. There is no such thing as small covenants or small ordinances. That, to me, reflects this fixation on “it is the building.” [What truly matters is] providing access to the same covenants and ordinances, whereby we have a covenant connection with the Father and the Son. So, there are different models, because you will never have the capacity needs in Guam that you have in Washington D.C. The different models [of temples] enable the Church to place temples closer to the people. I think this is one of the great indications that the restoration is ongoing. In the early history of the Church, the call to the Latter-day Saints all over the world was “Come to Zion.” “Come to Kirtland.” “Come to Nauvoo.” “Come to Salt Lake.” And Joseph [Smith] taught that the purpose of the gathering was so that the saints would be in a position, in a place, where temples could be built. They needed the people. They needed the resources. They needed the skills to be able to do that. But that began to change in the administration of President [Spencer W.] Kimball. When he and other Church leaders said, “No, stay where you are. Do not come to Salt Lake City. This is not the only place where you find Zion.” So, for the Saints in Argentina, Zion is in Argentina. If you look at the construction of temples, you begin to see in the 1970s increased construction of temples all around the world because of that proclamation from the leaders of the Church about where Zion is. But the people needed access to the temples. What we are seeing now is an acceleration of what began in the 1970s in bringing the temples closer to the people. That is a magnificent thing to behold in this remarkable season of the history of the Church. 

Construction continues on the Layton Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

10:44

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, Elder Bednar, several years ago at BYU Education Week you talked about the ability of members to use the internet to “share goodness.” And as we look at temples, the announcement of temples, and the construction of temples, this may be an opportunity for members in their own communities to share their excitement about what is coming. Is there something, or some advice, you can give members as they talk about and share the excitement of these big events?

11:14 

Elder David A. Bednar: Sure, invite them to “Come and See.” We have always said that what takes place in the temple is not secret, it is sacred. But now that we have so many temples and so many open houses, some of the mystery can be dissipated. And they can understand we have a baptismal font, we have instruction rooms, and we have sealing rooms. Again, it is a perfect opportunity to just pull back the curtain a little bit and explain what is appropriate to explain. People, frankly, are kind of surprised to find out how practical it is. Many people of other faiths believe that it is a kind of cathedral—which would be something they might experience in their own church. To go into a temple and see that it is a place of instruction, that it is a house of learning—I do not think I can count high enough to say how many people coming through the Washington D.C. Temple, said, “I had no idea this is what it looked like inside.” So again, I go back to what I said in terms that it is the ultimate home-field advantage—it dissipates some of the mystery. And it will engender questions from people that will help the members to explain the purpose of what we do. The mechanics of what takes place in the temple is not what matters. It is why we do what we do in the temple, which always goes back to the Father’s plan and the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. 

12:42

Sarah Jane Weaver: We also in addition to this great period of temple building, are seeing pioneer temples being restored, including—of course, the biggest is the Salt Lake Temple renovation project. But, also, the temple in St. George, [Utah], and in Manti, [Utah]. Talking about how, as a Church, we value these historic pioneer temples to the point that we are restoring [the] work that so many people put into building them.

13:11

Elder David A. Bednar: It is significant to see that these original temples, especially in Utah, are being renovated and updated. They are old. They have been well used. So, there is a need to kind of pull back the exterior covering. You certainly see that in the Salt Lake Temple for the strengthening of the structure to be able to withstand earthquakes. And in St. George—to go in and fix things that have been deteriorating over a period of time. Those temples serve the purpose of providing the covenants and the ordinances. They are also a symbol of the pioneer heritage that we have here in Utah. So, I think it is a marvelous thing to see these temples being brushed, cleaned, strengthened, and prepared for what the future is going to bring.

The future site of the Mexico City Benemérito Mexico Temple.
The future site of a temple near the Missionary Training Center in Mexico City on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

14:04 

Sarah Jane Weaver: We are also seeing something that I think is such an important and exciting thing with temple work right now, where President Nelson announced four temples for Mexico City in the October [2022] General Conference, bringing the total of temples in that area to six. We have 28 temples in Utah. We have multiple temples in Guatemala and in Manila, [Philippines]. Talk about this idea of multiple temples in one metro area.

14:32 

Elder David A. Bednar: So, if we take the example of Mexico City—we have a very substantial house of the Lord in Mexico City. But given the traffic concerns, given the distances that people [travel]—even if you live in Mexico City, it can take many hours to get to the temple. And you cannot build a temple large enough to address that capacity. So, if you simply have fewer large temples (I will not use small—different models of temples) you have, for example, one in the northern sector, one in the south, one in the east, one in the west, and the one that we have located in the center of the city—it simply enables the people to have access to the blessings of the house of the Lord more frequently. 

15:19

Sarah Jane Weaver: When we think about the history of the Church, sacrifice has always been so tightly connected to temple work—where members had to travel to the temple, or, you know, we talked about the early saints, building temples in Kirtland and Nauvoo, and even in the Salt Lake Valley. As we get more temples, how do we keep this concept of sacrifice in connection with our temple ordinances?

15:45

Elder David A. Bednar: The great blessing is that in a world that grows increasingly dark, and increasingly wicked, access to the power of godliness, through the covenants and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is one of the greatest spiritual resources and blessings the members have. So, we live in a very innovative season in the history of the world; we have airplanes, we have trains, and things have changed dramatically. It becomes maybe not so much a matter of sacrifice, but a matter of spiritual priority. What really matters? I can think of few invitations President Nelson has offered more frequently than, “Be in the temple as often as your circumstances will allow.” I do not think it is a sacrifice to play fewer video games, watch less TV, go to fewer sporting activities or whatever you are interested in. In the world in which we live in this day, I just do not see it as much of a sacrifice to be in the house of the Lord—learning what we need to learn and feeling the spiritual renewal and the spiritual fortification that comes because of the covenant connection with Christ. It is not being in the temple; it is not even the covenants and the ordinances—it is what those covenants and ordinances make possible in our lives spiritually. It is individual, it is specific and it is personal. So, it is time and priority. Perhaps, that is the sacrifice.

Thousands of youth gather on the lawn in front of the Jordan River Utah Temple a week before its rededication. A temple walk — where youth walked from various meetinghouses in the area to the temple — brought all of the youth in the temple district together on a rainy day, May 12. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

17:24

Sarah Jane Weaver: In recent years, we have also seen the number of young people who go to the temple increase. They go before school, they line up. What is it about the temple that draws our youth to it in such high numbers? 

17:39 

Elder David A. Bednar: It is His house. And they learn about Him. If they come prepared, they find Him in the temple. That is true for any person, not just the young people. But it is more than just a curiosity and it is more than just a kind-of-a-group thing that the young people are doing. As I visit with young people all over the world, they universally talk about what they feel when they are there performing the ordinances. So, I think it is a very spiritual experience for them. And they yearn for that. And they want to repeat it as often as they can.

18:16

Sarah Jane Weaver: And temple works only half the equation because we also need to be focusing on family history work. 

Elder David A. Bednar: That is right.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Taking our own family names to the temple.

18:25

Elder David A. Bednar: Well, especially for young people, I am not sure you ever know who you are unless you know where you came from. In a world where there is so much isolation and loneliness, family history work is the ultimate connection. It is about our origin and about our roots. So, young people resonate with that because it helps them to know where they come from and who they are. And then to cap that experience with performing the ordinances for your own ancestors in the temple—it is not hard for me to understand why young people love that experience.

19:01

Sarah Jane Weaver: What did we learn in the pandemic, about having temples that we may have taken for granted, unavailable to us?

19:10

Elder David A. Bednar: I will have two lessons if that is OK. One of the great lessons for me—I have always been drawn to the fact that the Savior’s ministry was one by one. He invited the 2,500 at the temple in the land of Bountiful to come forward, “one by one.” And during the pandemic, I performed a number of sealings (when that was permitted). And we only had eight people in the sealing room. We had the couple being sealed and two sets of parents, me, maybe my wife, or someone else that was invited. And I thought, “This is the way it is supposed to be.” So, it was a remarkable opportunity for us to see the pattern of one by one, which is Him. That is how we do His work. And to see that reflected so dramatically in the ordinances being performed in the temple, when that couple was in the temple, that was it. No one else was there, just that couple. So that is one lesson. Number two—we often take these things for granted. We live a very hectic, busy life, especially in the Western world. And so, it is easy to get so caught up in the busyness that we miss the mark in focusing on the things that matter the very most. So, we would not want anything like COVID again, to teach us that lesson. But, hopefully, we learned a great lesson about what matters most. And we will not be perhaps as casual about the availability of that blessing.

20:49

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now looking forward, 300 feels like a pretty big number, especially when you contemplate that in just your lifetime that number has grown exponentially. What is next for temples?

23:51

Elder David A. Bednar: Well, there will be more. It is not my purview to talk about numbers or anything else; that will come from President Nelson and the First Presidency. But he has clearly indicated that more will come.

21:16

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, what does it mean to be personally connected to and with the Savior through temple work and ordinances?

21:23

Elder David A. Bednar: The Savior said, “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That is beautiful imagery, and it is lovely language. It is also a spiritual reality. So, the question is: How do we take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ? “Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Is that all just symbolism? Or is there something real in that? We literally take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ by preparing for, understanding, and worthily receiving the covenants and ordinances of the gospel and in the house of the Lord. So, we are placed in a position of being yoked to and with Him. Now, we have all seen pictures of two animals that are yoked together, and they pull in unison. He invited us to take His yoke upon us so that we are connected by covenant with Him. It is a remarkable experience to read the Book of Mormon focusing on the word “covenant.” It is on the title page, it is throughout. That covenant connects us. We are the covenant people of the Lord. And in 1 Nephi 14:14, it talks about “the glory and the power of righteousness” that will be upon the covenant people of the Lord. That is real. So, to be connected [to the Lord] is to understand that connection by covenant is individual. If I have a concern, it is that I think lots of people believe that [generally], but they do not believe it for themselves. It is individual, it is specific, and it is personal. 

23:16

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, then, if you were to summarize one thing you wanted every Latter-day Saint to know about temples, what would it be? 

23:22 

Elder David A. Bednar: It is His house, and we learn of Him. We can be connected to and with Him. When Enoch was called, his first response was to say, “I am but a lad, and I am slow of speech, wherefore am I Thy servant?” And the response was, “If thou wilt abide in me, I will abide in you.” And then the admonition was: “Walk with me.” I think that is real. If we abide in Christ, then He will abide in us, and He will walk with us. I just believe that is real, that is tangible, that is a source of strength beyond our own to face the very normal challenges of mortality. We are blessed with strength beyond our own and we do not walk alone.

President Nelson, dressed in white, and Sister Nelson, pose for a photo with the Washington D.C. Temple in the background.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, walk the grounds of the Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland, on Saturday August 13, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

24:22

Sarah Jane Weaver: President Nelson has spoken so often about the importance of gathering Israel on both sides of the veil. And as you mentioned earlier, given us specific promises about what will happen as we do that. How can we engage members in this urgency our prophet feels?

24:43

Elder David A. Bednar: Repetition is one of the Lord’s patterns for our learning. We hear sacramental prayers every week and they are word for word the same. We participate in temple ordinances and the language is the same. Each time we hear it—if we are asking, seeking, and knocking—new things will come to our minds and hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost, about how that repeated statement, principle, or illustration applies to us. So, even though it is the same, [the experience] should be different every time. I think my best answer to your question is: We should review repeatedly [President Nelson’s] invitations to us and the promised blessings. Because each time we do, we will learn something new. Sometimes I think, “I have heard this before.” I think we need to be cautious if we have that attitude. You cannot read it too many times because, by the power of the Holy Ghost, it will be different each time.

25:53 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, when we record a Church News podcast, we always end with the same question. And that question is “What do you know now?” And so Elder Bednar, what do you know now, after serving as chairman of the Temple and Family History Executive Council? 

26:09 

Elder David A. Bednar: I would not say that we live in, you know, the best time. Every time is the best time. But we live in a remarkable season of the dispensation of the fullness of times. You mentioned at the beginning the excitement when temples are announced. I hope that only increases. It would be sad to me if an announcement of X number of temples in a general conference became kind of a common thing. It should not be just about, “Oh good, now this one is in our community, we have arrived. We now have the status symbol of having a temple here.” It is because the power of godliness through the covenants and the ordinances of the restored gospel are more readily available to the Latter-day Saints all over the world. I am filled with joy and deep emotion to think that we see the Lord hastening His work in this way, in this day. So, I go back to what I said before. What I know now and know better is the reality for each individual of the power that comes through the covenant connection with the Father and the Son. And that is only available because of the house of the Lord. I witness that He lives and He oversees and directs this work through His servants. I witness that He is the Father’s Only Begotten Son. And He came to this earth. He marked the path. He led the way. He was falsely accused. He was crucified. And I witness that He is resurrected, and He lives. The Father is the author of the Plan of Happiness. And Jesus the Christ offered the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice. The joy of my life is to bear witness that these things are true and that He lives, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, are interviewed at the Washington D.C. Temple and visitors’ center in Kensington, Maryland, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

28:26 

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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