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Heaven and the Degrees of Glory
by W. John Walsh
Also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial, and bodies telestial; but the glory of the celestial, one; and the terrestrial, another; and the telestial, another.
Latter-day Saints use the term heaven to describe the eternal dwelling place of all those have received the reward of a glorious afterlife. Heaven itself is comprised of three progressive kingdoms or degrees of glory: "the celestial, the highest; the terrestrial, the next below it; and the telestial, the third." Even the glory of the telestial kingdom, the lowest kingdom, "is so great that we would be tempted to commit suicide to get there." Since "the revealed nomenclature involving the hereafter in latter-day scripture is precise in detailing the varied conditions that exist in the afterlife," the term heaven itself is not as regularly used in LDS culture as the more specific celestial, terrestrial, and telestial terms.
After mortal death, Latter-day Saints enter the world of Spirits where they receive a partial judgment. Those who are sinless through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, enter into Paradise to dwell in "a state of happiness, ... a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow… until the time of their resurrection" and final judgment. Those people tainted by sin enter the damnation of Hell until they can "free themselves from darkness, unbelief, ignorance, and sin. As rapidly as they can overcome these obstacles-gain light, believe truth, acquire intelligence, cast off sin, and break the chains of hell-they can leave the hell that imprisons them and dwell with the righteous in the peace of paradise."
Holding an "optimistic view" of the afterlife, Latter-day Saints believe that-through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ-eventually every person will be saved in a kingdom of heaven (or a degree of glory) except those who have committed the unpardonable sin. Bennion said: "All men will receive a degree of salvation commensurate with their desires, their faith, and their good works. This is the divine will and plan." While the vast majority of mankind will eventually be saved in heaven, this does not mean that all residents will enjoy the same quality of eternal lifestyle.
After their resurrection, Jesus Christ will issue the final judgment to all the inhabitants of this world. The Lord will deliver to every person an individually tailored reward based upon how that person used their agency during mortality. The Savior will consider not only the absolute decisions that were made, but the surrounding context as well. People with more knowledge and privileges will be held to a higher standard than those without such advantages. Based on their final judgment, everyone-except those who committed the unpardonable sin-will be assigned to either the celestial, terrestrial, or telestial kingdom. Each of these kingdoms has its own rewards, privileges, and responsibilities associated with it. Those who have committed the unpardonable sin are "doomed to suffer the wrath of God" for eternity in a kingdom without glory.
Latter-day Saints believe we are not assigned our eternal kingdom in an arbitrary manner. Our Father in Heaven desires all of his children to dwell with him in the celestial kingdom. However, we would not be happy dwelling there if we had not developed a spirit aligned with the principles associated with that kingdom. While the Lord issues our final judgment, we in effect choose our own eternal dwelling place by the law that we chose to obey in mortality. President Brigham Young taught:
"Some will obey the celestial law [in mortality] and receive of its glory [in eternity], some will abide the terrestrial and some the telestial, and [those who committed the unpardonable sin] will receive no glory."
In the Celestial Kingdom-the highest degree of glory, people have the opportunity to enter into the exalted state of Godhood. In the presence of God the Father, they will live in family units and continue to have children after the resurrection. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the faithful can expect that the "same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy." In similitude of the family sociality to be enjoyed in the celestial glory, Latter-day Saints are encouraged devote themselves to their families and "make [their] homes a little heaven" on earth. Regarding the inhabitants of the Celestial Kingdom, the scriptures teach:
"They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given--That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power; And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true."
Since only faithful members of the restored, true Church of Jesus Christ are baptized with proper authority, only Latter-day Saints can inherit the Celestial Kingdom in these last days. Of course-as explained above-while authoritative baptism is necessary, it alone is not sufficient. Most Latter-day Saints will not meet the other requirements and therefore will not enter celestial glory. Nor will everyone who inherits the Celestial Kingdom also be granted the great privileges associated with Godhood and eternal family relationships:
"In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase."
'The highest' heaven or degree is that of Godhood-also called exaltation or eternal life. Dahl said: "'Increase' in this instance means the bearing of spirit children after mortal life." No authoritative information is available on the privileges associated with the lower degrees of the celestial kingdom. All those who die before reaching a state of accountability-including children under the age of eight and the mentally incompetent-are heirs of the celestial kingdom and will be exalted through the grace and atonement of Jesus Christ.
Because Latter-day Saints desire everyone to enjoy the blessings of eternal family relationships and live in the Celestial Kingdom, they conduct extensive missionary efforts imparting "the word of God…without money and without price." Church members believe that bringing "souls unto Christ [is] the greatest service" they can perform during their mortal sojourn. Since everyone does not have the opportunity to receive these ordinances in mortality through no fault of their own, the Church performs them vicariously in their temples. The Church also believes that extensive missionary work occurs among the dead in the spirit world:
"And the chosen messengers went forth [in world of departed spirits] to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." (See Salvaiton for the Dead)
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: "All who have died without a knowledge of the gospel, or the opportunity to receive it, who would have accepted it had the opportunity been presented to them while living, are also heirs of [the celestial] kingdom." People who rejected the gospel during their mortal sojourn, but later received it in the world of spirits will inherit either a terrestrial or telestial salvation.
In the Terrestrial Kingdom-the next highest degree of glory, people do not have the opportunity to enter into the exalted state of Godhood. While they do not dwell in the presence of God the Father, the inhabitants of this kingdom do receive the ministrations of Jesus Christ-the second member of the Godhead. Black said:
"The terrestrial glory is for those who lived honorable lives on the earth but 'were blinded by the craftiness of men' and were 'not valiant in the testimony of Jesus.' Those who did not receive a testimony of Jesus while on earth, but who could have done so except for their neglect, are also heirs to the Terrestrial Kingdom (D&C 76:72-74, 79). They obtain not 'the crown over the kingdom of our God' (D&C 76:79) and remain without exaltation in their saved condition (D&C 132:17). They 'receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father,' and their kingdom differs from the celestial 'as the moon differs from the sun' (D&C 76:77-78)."
Some people have incorrectly suggested that those inheriting the terrestrial kingdom bypass the damnation of hell and directly enter paradise upon death. However, God predicates remission of sins on true repentance. True repentance leads one to the ordinances of baptism and confirmation and thus membership in the Church:
"And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins"
If an accountable person has not procured these ordinances, kept the associated covenants, and experienced the other aspects of the full repentance process, then the Atonement of Jesus Christ does not cover his or her personal sins and he or she must personally suffer for them in Hell. As soon as payment has been made in full, he or she will be released form hell to dwell in the paradise of God awaiting their terrestrial resurrection.
In the Telestial Kingdom-the lowest degree of glory, while the inhabitants do not receive the ministrations of Jesus Christ or enjoy the presence of God the Father, they do enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost-the third member of the Godhead. Williams said:
"Within the telestial glory there will be varying degrees of glory even as the stars vary in brightness as we see them. It embraces those who on earth willfully reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, and commit serious sins such as murder, adultery, lying, and loving to make a lie (but yet do not commit the unpardonable sin), and who do not repent in mortality. They will be cleansed in the postmortal spirit world or spirit prison before the resurrection (D&C 76:81-85, 98-106; Rev. 22:15). Telestial inhabitants as innumerable as the stars will come forth in the last resurrection and then be 'servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come' (D&C 76:112). Although the least of the degrees of glory, yet the Telestial Kingdom 'surpasses all understanding' (D&C 76:89)."
The Earth's Future
"If we live for it, our Heavenly Father will give to us eternal life in the celestial kingdom-and that celestial kingdom will be this earth which we dwell upon, when it is cleansed and purified and when it becomes the kingdom that will be presided over by Jesus Christ our Lord."
 1 Corinthians 15:40, Joseph Smith Translation, The Holy Bible, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987.
 Young, B., Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. by J. Widstoe, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1941, p. 391.
 Smith, E., BYU Speeches, March 10, 1964, p. 4.
 "Heaven," Arthur Wallace, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
 Smith, J. Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1919, p. 449.
 Alma 40:11-14, Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
 McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p.755
 "Degrees of Glory," Larry E. Dahl, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
 Bennion, L., An Introduction to the Gospel, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Utah Printing Co., 1955, p. 42.
 See "Judgment Day, Final," Donald N. Wright, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
 "Every man will receive according to his works and knowledge." (Smith, J., Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1919, p. 106.)
 Doctrine and Covenants 76:33, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
 Young, B., Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. by J. Widstoe, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1941, p. 56.
 See "Eternal Lives, Eternal Increase," Shirley S. Ricks, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
 Doctrine and Covenants 130:2, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
 Taylor, J., The Gospel Kingdom, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1987, p. 284.
 Doctrine and Covenants 76:51-53, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
 "There are many false churches, but there can be only one true Church. There are many false gospels, false prophets, and false Christs, but there can be only one true system of religion, only one gospel that has power to save and exalt fallen man. Christ is not divided; truth is not at variance with itself; conflicting doctrines and ordinances cannot all be right. The Divine Voice in the spring of 1820 said of all the sects of men: `They are all wrong.' (JS-H 1:19.) After he had restored his own church, 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' (D&C 115:4), he called it 'the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.' (D&C 1:30.)" (McConkie, B., The Millennial Messiah, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1982, p. 125 - p. 126.)
 Only a "very select group, an inner circle of faithful members" of the Church will are valiant in the testimony of Jesus Christ and live according to his precepts to the best of their ability. (McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 217.)
 Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
 "Degrees of Glory," Larry E. Dahl, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
 "Attainment of the age and state of accountability is a gradual process. Thus the Lord says that 'power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.' (D. & C. 29:47.) Children who develop normally become accountable 'when eight years old' (D. & C. 68:27), and they are then subject to the law of baptism. Obviously if children or adults do not develop mentally to the point where they know right from wrong and have the normal intellect of an accountable person, they never arrive at the years of accountability no matter how many actual years they may live. Such persons though they may be adults, are without the law, cannot repent, are under no condemnation, 'and unto such baptism availeth nothing.' (Moro. 8:22.) Because they have no 'understanding' it remains for the Lord 'to do according as it is written' concerning them (D. & C. 29:48-50) that is, save them through the power of his redemptive sacrifice. (Moro. 8:22.)" (McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 853.) "We do not expect mentally deficient children to remain so after the resurrection; the condition under which they suffer now is one that pertains to the mortal condition, with all its defects and restrictions." (Smith, J., Doctrines of Salvation Vol.2, Compiled by B. McConkie, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, p. 56.)
 Alma 1:20, Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
 Kimball, S., The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 255.
 See "Salvation for the Dead," Elma Fugal, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
 Doctrine and Covenants 138:31-34, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
 Smith, J., Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 2, Compiled by B. McConkie, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, p. 21.
 See comments from Elder Melvin J. Ballard quoted in Otten & Caldwell, Sacred Truths of the Doctrine & Covenants, Vol.2. LEMB, Inc., 1982, p. 32 - p. 33.
 "Terrestrial Kingdom," Susan Easton Black, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
 Moroni 8:25, Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.
 "These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial" (Doctrine and Covenants 76:86, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.)
 "Telestial Kingdom," Clyde J. Williams, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
 "For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father; That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified." (Doctrine and Covenants 88:19-20, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981.)
 Quoted in "We Believe, Earth," Burton, R., We Believe: Doctrines and Principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah: Tabernacle Books, 1994.
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