Some of the most fundamental and central parts of the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are marriage and family—they’re what prophets and apostles call “the order of heaven.” While the world may order marriage and family in a variety of different constructs, our Heavenly Father created His pattern of marriage and family long before the world was created. This specific formulation is essential and foundational to His entire eternal plan.
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) taught that “family is divine [and] encompasses the most sacred of all relationships” and Elder Dieter F. Uchdorf taught that “Families are not just meant to make things run more smoothly here on earth and to be cast off when we get to heaven. Rather, they are the order of heaven. They are an echo of a celestial pattern and an emulation of God’s eternal family.” (link)
In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” prophets and apostles “solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” and testify that “the family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.”
In other words, the family, created between a man and a woman, is the same way God’s eternal marriage and family are ordered. This specific pattern is central. It’s essential.
But why? To answer this, we need to first look at the theology of the family—and how it’s centered in Christ’s doctrine.
The Theology of the Family
In a 2009 landmark address, former Relief Society General President Julie Beck taught and trained Church Educational System administrators and employees about this “order of heaven” when she taught about Christ’s doctrine of the theology of the family. Perhaps the simplest way to explain this is to piece together the following eternal, unchangeable truths:
- In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a theology of the family.
- The theology of the family is based on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.
- The Creation of the earth was the creation of an earth where a family could live. It was a creation of a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was not about a creation of a man and a woman who happened to have a family. It was intentional all along that Adam and Eve form an eternal family. It was part of the plan that these two be sealed and form an eternal family unit. That was the plan of happiness.
- The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. Through the leadership of Eve and Adam, they chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for Adam and Eve to have a family, to have sons and daughters. They needed to grow in numbers and grow in experience. The Fall provided that for the family.
- [Christ’s] Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally. It allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness and the plan of salvation was a plan created for families.
- The proclamation on the family was written to reinforce this. It reinforces the family being central to the Creator’s plan. Without the family, there is no plan; there is no reason for it.
Without the pattern of marriage, the earth would not have accomplished its foreordained purpose—to establish a family system patterned after the order of heaven. (See D&C 2:3; JS—H 1:39: “If it were not so [that is, if Elijah had not come], the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his [Christ’s] coming.”
Marriage, Family and the Order of Heaven
With the foundational elements of the theology of the family fully understood, we can then understand why marriage and family are the order of heaven. Without a theological foundation, it can be easy to view marriage and family as fluid and socially constructed, with the ability to be deconstructed and then reconstructed into many differing forms. Yet there are countless teachings on why the Lord’s pattern of marriage is the order of heaven. Here are a few that seem to explain it best:
Elder D. Todd Christofferson: “Our claims for the role of marriage and family rest not on social science but on the truth that they are God’s creation. It is He who in the beginning created Adam and Eve in His image, male and female, and joined them as husband and wife to become “one flesh” and to multiply and replenish the earth. Each individual carries the divine image, but it is in the matrimonial union of male and female as one that we attain perhaps the most complete meaning of our having been made in the image of God—male and female. Neither we nor any other mortal can alter this divine order of matrimony. It is not a human invention. Such marriage is indeed “from above, from God” and is as much a part of the plan of happiness as the Fall and the Atonement.” (link)
Elder Bednar on why we have the family, why we have marriage. “Reason 1: The natures of male and female spirits complete and perfect each other, and therefore men and women are intended to progress together toward
exaltation” (p. 3). “Reason 2: By divine design, both a man and a woman are needed to bring children into mortality and to provide the best setting for the rearing and nurturing of children” (p. 4). (See “Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Supporting the Family, February 11, 2006).
President Spencer W. Kimball: “From the beginning, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has emphasized family life. We have always understood that the foundations of the family, as an eternal unit, were laid even before this earth was created!” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1980, 3; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, 4).
Elder Robert D. Hales: “The family is not an accident of mortality. It existed as an organizational unit in the heavens before the world was formed; historically, it started on earth with Adam and Eve, as recorded in Genesis. Adam and Eve were married and sealed for time and all eternity by the Lord, and as a result their family will exist eternally” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” in Dawn Hall Anderson, ed., Clothed with Charity , 134).
President Ezra Taft Benson: “This order is … described in modern revelation as an order of family government
where a man and woman enter into a covenant with God—just as did Adam and Eve—to be sealed for eternity, to have posterity, and to do the will and work of God throughout their mortality.” (See D&C 84:22 and “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 9).
Elder Richard G. Maynes: “Recognizing that we have a heavenly family helps us understand the eternal nature of our earthly families. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches us that the family is fundamental to the order of heaven. … Understanding the eternal nature of the family is a critical element in understanding Heavenly Father’s plan for His children.” (link)
President Ezra Taft Benson: “The temple is an ever-present reminder that God intends the family to be eternal. [The temple is] a constant, visible symbol that God has not left man to grope in darkness. It is a place of revelation. Though we live in a fallen world—a wicked world—holy places are set apart and consecrated so that worthy men and women can learn the order of heaven and obey God’s will.” (link)
Don’t forget to check out our latest podcast on how everyone fits into “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” The interview covers a unique circumstance with someone who might not be your typical defender of the family. Hear your own invitation in the latest episode of the “Raising Family” podcast.