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Exaltation is a belief among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) that mankind can reach the highest level of salvation, to eternally live in God's presence, become gods themselves, and continue as families. Exaltation is believed to be what God desires for all humankind. The church teaches that through exaltation believers may become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ as stated in Romans 8:12 and Revelation 21:7. The objective of adherents is to strive for purity and righteousness and to become one with Jesus as Jesus is one with God the Father. A verse in the canonized Doctrine and Covenants states that those who are exalted will become gods, and a 1925 statement from the church's highest governing body said that "All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother ... [and are] capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God." A popular Mormon quote--often attributed to the early apostle Lorenzo Snow in 1837--is "As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be."
According to LDS beliefs, certain ordinances are required of all those who hope to obtain exaltation. The ordinances that are required for exaltation are called "saving ordinances". The saving ordinances are
The endowment, celestial marriage, and sealing to parents take place in temples.
Latter-day Saints are taught that they can receive exaltation through performing saving ordinances. Performance of the saving ordinances does not guarantee exaltation. Rather, individuals must do their best to be faithful to the covenants that the ordinances represent.
For those who have lived and died without having received these ordinances, it is believed that exaltation will be available through LDS Church vicarious temple work. Latter-day Saints perform the saving ordinances on each other in temples on behalf of those who are dead. Latter-day Saints believe that all individuals will have an equitable and fair opportunity to hear the "fullness of the gospel" and that those who did not have an opportunity to accept the saving ordinances in this life will subsequently have the opportunity to accept them in the spirit world.
Acceptance of the saving ordinances by those who have died is voluntary and does not take away the agency of those individuals. Should an individual who is in the spirit world subsequently reject saving ordinances performed for them, it would be as if these ordinances were never performed. It is taught that some will accept them, and others will reject them.
There is currently a less common temple ordinance which confers exaltation called the second anointing. It is the pinnacle ordinance of the temple and an extension of the Nauvoo endowment which founder Joseph Smith taught was to ensure salvation, guarantee exaltation, and confer godhood. In the ordinance, a participant is anointed as a "priest and king" or a "priestess and queen", and is sealed to the highest degree of salvation available in Mormon theology. The ordinance is currently only given in secret to a few select couples chosen by top leaders, and presently most LDS adherents are unaware of the ritual's existence.
The LDS Church teaches that those who receive exaltation will (1) live eternally in the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ; (2) become gods; (3) be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal offspring; (4) receive a fulness of joy; and (5) be given everything that God the Father and Jesus Christ have--all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge.
The church teaches that after death exalted individuals will continue having marital sexual relations, create worlds, and bear spirit children over which they will govern as gods. Recent examples of this include a 2010 church manual which states that "Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people." This teaching is also echoed in a 2002 church manual which says exalted people "will even be able to have spirit children and make new worlds for them to live on, and do all the things our Father in Heaven has done", and a 2006 Ensign article which says if adherents are faithful and follow God's commandments they can receive, "a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever, and perhaps through our faithfulness to have the opportunity of building worlds and peopling them." A 2020 Sunday School manual says, "marital intimacy is glorious and will continue eternally for covenant-keeping husbands and wives." A 2013 student manual quotes a former church president who taught future exalted people can "organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods."
Those who reject the ordinances are still believed to have the opportunity to inherit a kingdom of glory distinct from and of less glory than the celestial kingdom: the terrestrial kingdom or the telestial kingdom Exaltation in the celestial kingdom is the ultimate goal of faithful LDS Church members.
In an LDS scripture, the Book of Moses 1:39, God tells Moses that "this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." God shows Moses a vision depicting some of His vast creations including a vast number of worlds created for other people, a sampling of what God created in the past and what he will continue to do forever. Each world was prepared and peopled by God for the purpose of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of all of His children. Immortality refers to personal resurrection by which each individual can continue to enjoy a perfect, physical body forever. Exaltation refers to living in the presence of God and Jesus Christ; to becoming like God both in terms of holiness or godliness and sharing in God's glory.
It is commonly believed by members of the Church that as God's children, people may, through the merits and mercy accorded all through the Atonement of Christ, become like God the Father. As Paul taught the Romans, "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." Eternity will be spent in a process of eternal progression becoming more like the Father (God).
Latter-day Saints posit that God has the power to exalt mortal man and even that without the possibility, there is little reason for mortality. They also point to comments made by Christ and Psalmists among others that refer to the Divine nature and potential of humans as children of God. They include passages in the Book of Revelation that describe the joint heirship with Christ of those who overcome by faith in Jesus Christ.
No one will be coerced into accepting ordinances performed on his or her behalf by another. Baptism for the dead offers an opportunity, but it does not override a person's agency. But if this ordinance is not performed for them, deceased persons are robbed of the choice to accept or reject baptism.
On 10 March 1844 Smith delivered a discourse on the subject of Elijah in which he gave his most complete explanation of the second anointing. He said ... [t]he function of the ordinance was to assure salvation ... Other ordinances considered essential for exaltation were generally held to be conditional--that is, the ordinance enabled exaltation, but the subsequent righteousness of the recipient secured it. By contrast, the second anointing guaranteed one's exaltation, and thus may be viewed as the crowning ordinance of Smith's ministry.
[Alpheus] Cutler was among the few trusted followers of Joseph Smith to receive their endowments during the Mormon Prophet's lifetime. And when Smith revealed the pinnacle ordinance of Mormonism, the second anointing, Cutler was the sixth person to receive it--on November 15, 1843, a week before the president of the quorum of twelve apostles, Brigham Young, received his second anointing. Through this ceremony, Joseph Smith ordained Cutler to the office of king and priest, a position that contained the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
[E]ven faithful temple-goers, know little of the capstone of the endowment: receiving the 'fulness of the priesthood' through the 'second anointing,' an ordinance also sometimes referred to as the 'other endowment,' 'second endowment,' 'second blessing,' 'higher blessings,' etc.
Godhood was therefore the meaning of this higher ordinance, or second anointing, for the previously revealed promises in Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-26 implicitly referred not to those who had been sealed in celestial marriage but to those who had been sealed and ordained 'kings and priests,' 'queens and priestesses' to God. ... [I]t is not known to what degree the conferral of godhood by the second anointing was held to be conditional or unconditional. Most of the earliest nineteenth-century comments explicitly dealing with the second anointing clearly imply that the ordinance was then held to be unconditional. ... The unconditional promise of exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom as gods and goddesses inherent in this priesthood sealing ordinance of Elijah was weighty indeed ....
Brother Brigham Young, I [Heber C. Kimball] pour this holy consecrated oil upon your head and anoint thee a king and a priest of the most high God ... And I seal thee up unto eternal life, that thou shalt ... attain unto the eternal Godhead and receive a fulness of joy, and glory, and power; and that thou mayest do all things ... even if it be to create worlds and redeem them.
The public/open secrecy of temple-work in general stands in contrast to the actual and absolute secrecy of one particular feature of its ritual corpus: the ordinance known variously as the Second Anointing (or Second Anointings), second endowment, or the Fullness of the Priesthood. The blessings of this ordinance are conferred onto only a very small number of Mormons, usually after the better part of a lifetime of faithful and loyal service. ... These rites are a closed, absolute secret. Only those Mormons considered most trustworthy by high Church leadership are invited to participate, and they are expressly instructed not to disclose anything about the ordinance, including their own participation in it, to anyone, including family (only married couples participate in the rite).
Currently some women have received this 'fullness of the priesthood' with their husbands. In the Salt Lake temple, the second anointing still occurs in the 'Holy of Holies' room which James E. Talmage wrote 'is reserved for the higher ordinances in the Priesthood...' The second anointing for both men and women is distinct from ordination to church priesthood offices.
In practice today the second anointing is actually the first of two parts comprising the fullness of the priesthood ceremony. ... First, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or First Presidency recommends a couple to the president of the church.
The frequency of second anointings declined after the turn of the century, and they were virtually eliminated under the authority of Heber J. Grant in the 1920s, to the point that modern Mormons are generally unaware of the rituals existence ....
Today, an accepted doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints interprets verses in Doctrine and Covenants 132 as references to the birth of spirit offspring by exalted married couples in the celestial kingdom
They [resurrected and perfected mortals] will dwell again with God the Father, and live and act like him in endless worlds of happiness ... above all they will have the power of procreating endless lives. ... Those who become like him will likewise contribute to this eternal process by adding further spirit offspring to the eternal family.
Worldly sex becomes a total obsession because it never fulfills its promises. God-ordained marital intimacy is glorious and will continue eternally for covenant-keeping husbands and wives.