When sitting in Sunday School or other church environments the topic of eternal progression (and/or regression) between kingdoms of glory comes up far more frequently than one might imagine. Well, it doesn’t actually get discussed, but questions get asked that could so easily be answered by reference to this doctrine. I’m somewhat unorthodox (by “chapel Mormon” standards), and I tend to keep my thoughts to myself and mentally pull my hair out during church instead of speaking up. This happened last Sunday as we discussed D&C 76 and the kingdoms of glory in Sunday School.
This doctrine makes much fuller sense of otherwise hard-to-understand teachings such as promises to parents that their wayward children will someday, somehow, be with them in the CK. Also, it helps explain (at least for me) how it is that the incredibly enormous number of infant deaths (or any death before the age of accountability) supposedly gets a one-way ticket to heaven. It also makes a lot of sense in light of my belief that salvation is defined as our development of Christ-like attributes which causes us to desire an ever closer friendship with God, and causes God to desire an ever-closer friendship with us, and makes us comfortable to dwell in his presence. There is no reason to believe that learning and development only exists in mortality, or stops once we resurrect and are placed in a kingdom. Salvation (as just defined) is not a race, but a marathon. It is about finishing, even if it takes eons. A person in the Telestial Kingdom who has, over the course of time, developed Christ-like attributes that he did not have before arriving there cannot be justly witheld from the relationship with God that he is now capable and desiring of. I also cannot believe that God’s forgiveness and mercy end upon resurrection and initial judgement into a kingdom of glory. A loving parent will always be willing and waiting to forgive and bless her child. What does God have to gain by not allowing that person to progress?
I also believe it is true that if a person in the CK desires (for some reason I can’t fathom) to sever his relationship with God, he must be allowed to do it. Free agency is always preserved, along with the consequences of it.
I readily admit that the doctrine of progression/regression between kingdoms is not explicitly taught in the scriptures, and in fact scripture passages exist which are most easily interpreted as contrary to the doctrine. I believe McConkie specifically repudiated the idea in one of his books.This wouldn’t be the first time I disagreed with scripture (or with McConkie, especially).
I thought I’d post here a few quotes in favor of the concept of progression/regression between kingdoms. I began to look up all the quotes until I discovered that the folks at the New Cool Thang blog had already done all the hard work. I reproduce the quotes here for my own benefit so I can always find them in the future when the need arises, giving the credit to others for finding them.
“The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.”
-Secretary to the First Presidency in a 1952 letter; and again in 1965
“None would inherit this earth when it became celestial and translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods — all others would have to inherit another kingdom — they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom but it would be a slow process [progress?].”
-Brigham Young, in Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5 Aug 1855
“Once a person enters these glories there will be eternal progress in the line of each of these particular glories, but the privilege of passing from one to another (though this may be possible for especially gifted and faithful characters) is not provided for.”
-Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 14:87 [November 1910]
“I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can: and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to those eternities that are to come.”
-J. Reuben Clark, Church News, 23 April 1960, p. 3
“It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.”
-James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith [1899 edition] pp. 420-421
You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity. When Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross, He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and sistersCthe sons and daughters of GodCwould be gathered in, with but few exceptionsCthose who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan. I believe that every man and woman who comes into this life and passes through it, that life will be a success in the end. It may not be in this life. It was not with the antedeluvians. They passed through troubles and afflictions; 2,500 years after that, when Jesus went to preach to them, the dead heard the voice of the Son of God and they lived. They found after all that it was a very good thing that they had conformed to the will of God in leaving the spiritual life and passing through this world.
Lorenzo Snow, MS 56:49-53; Collected Discourses 3:364-65.
The question of advancement within the great divisions of glory
celestial, terrestrial, and telestial; as also the question of
advancement from one sphere of glory to another remains to be
considered. In the revelation from which we have summarized what has
been written here, in respect to the different degrees of glory, it is
said that those of the terrestrial glory will be ministered unto by
those of the celestial; and those of the telestial will be ministered
unto by those of the terrestrialâ€”that is, those of the higher glory
minister to those of a lesser glory. I can conceive of no reason for
all this administration of the higher to the lower, unless it be for
the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of
eternal progression. Whether or not in the great future, full of so
many possibilities now hidden from us, they of the lesser glories
after education and advancement within those spheres may at last
emerge from them and make their way to the higher degrees of glory
until at last they attain to the highest, is not revealed in the
revelations of God, and any statement made on the subject must partake
more or less of the nature of conjecture. But if it be granted that
such a thing is possible, they who at the first entered into the
celestial gloryâ€”having before them the privilege also of eternal
progressâ€”have been moving onward, so that the relative distance
between them and those who have fought their way up from the lesser
glories may be as great when the latter have come into the degrees of
celestial glory in which the righteous at first stood, as it was at
the commencement. Thus: Those whose faith and works are such only as
to enable them to inherit a telestial glory, may arrive at last where
those whose works in this life were such as to enable them to entrance
into the celestial kingdomâ€”they may arrive where these were, but never
where they are.”
B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God 1:391-392.
Some years ago I was in Washington, D.C., with President Harold B. Lee. Early one morning he called me to come into his hotel room. He was sitting in his robe reading Gospel Doctrine, by President Joseph F. Smith, and he said, â€œListen to this!
â€œ â€˜Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission.â€™ â€ 22
â€œThere is never a time,â€ the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, â€œwhen the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin.â€ 23
Boyd K. Packer, â€œThe Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,â€ Ensign, Nov. 1995, 18