Note on this section: The concept of progression between kingdoms (Telestial, Terrestrial, Celestial) is virtually non-existent in the LDS Church today, though it was understood by many in the former part of the history of the LDS Church. In fact, this is very essence of the eternal progression of man.
The Endowment portrayal also clearly demonstrates this: We are taught that we are now in the “Telestial world,” which is the “world in which we now live.” By receiving and honoring certain covenants and responsibilities, we are then permitted to move up to the “Terrestrial world.” By then receiving and honoring additional covenants and responsibilities, we are then able to enter the presence of the Lord in the Celestial realms. Just as one would pursue a sound education on this earth, Eternal Progression is step by step, not by making such kinds of huge jumps that we would completely pass over orders of existence that are essential to our progression.
I attended the Prayer Circle in the evening. . . . In conversing upon various principles President Young said none would inherit this Earth when it became celestial & translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods & able to endure the fullness of the presence of God, except they would be permitted to take with them some servants for whom they would be held responsible. All others would have to inherit another kingdom, even that kingdom agreeing with the law which they had kept. He said they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy & advancing to a celestial kingdom, but it would be a slow progress. (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, August 5, 1855)
Hiram [Smith] said Aug 1st 43[:] Those of the Terrestrial Glory either advance to the Celestial or recede to the Telestial [or] else the moon could not be a type [viz. a symbol of that kingdom]. [for] it [the moon] “waxes & wanes”. Also that br George will be quickened by celestial glory having been ministered to by one of that Kingdom. (“Words of the Prophet”, p. 24 (“Scriptural Items”); Scribe: Franklin D. Richards, August 1, 1843)
Those in the terrestrial kingdom are those who will come forth at the time when Enoch comes back, when the Savior comes again to dwell upon the earth; when Father Abraham will be there with the Urim and Thummim to look after every son and daughter of his race; to make known all things that are needed to be known, and with them enter into their promised inheritance. Thus the people of God will go forward. They will go forward, like unto the new moon, increasing in knowledge and brightness and glory, until they come to a fullness of celestial glory. During the Millennium multitudes of people who have not heard the Gospel will hear and receive it and go forward into this glory, while those who will not go forward to a fullness will go back to that lesser glory which is likened unto the stars of heaven, for as the Prophet Isaiah says, “There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days, for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.” (Franklin D. Richards, May 17, 1884, JD 25:236)
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 to by those of the terrestrial—that is, those of the higher glory minister to those of a lesser order of glory. We 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 of more or less the nature of conjecture. But if it be granted that such a thing is possible, they who at the first entered into the celestial glory—having before them the privilege also of eternal progress—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; and thus between them is an impassable gulf which time cannot destroy. Thus: those whose faith and works in this life were such as to entitle them to entrance into the celestial kingdom—they may arrive where these were, but never where they are. But if it be granted that the chief fact about Intelligences is that they have power to add fact to fact and thus build up knowledge, and through knowledge have wisdom, and thus make progress; and if to such intelligences there is granted eternal life—immortality—then it is useless to postulate any limitations for them; for in the passing of even a few thousands of millions of years, even if progress be very slow—there will come a time when these intelligences—men and women of even the telestial glory—may become very acceptable characters, and very important personages. (Brigham H. Roberts, “Outlines of Ecclesiastical History,” 4th Edition, 1925; “The Restoration of the Gospel”, pp. 416-417)
THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
OFFICE OF THE FIRST PRESIDENCY
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH 84111
December 17, 1965
Mr. Joe J. Christensen, Director
Institute of Religion
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112
Dear Brother Christensen:
Reference is made to your letter of December 7th in which you inquire what the teaching of the Church is relative to the possibility of progression from one particular glory to another after the resurrection.
The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point, though some 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 have taken an opposite view. As indicated, however, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.
Sincerely your brother,
Joseph L. Anderson
Secretary to The First Presidency
Note: the evolution (or rather “digression”) of this doctrine in the LDS Church may be further illustrated by noting the change in James Talmage’s book The Articles of Faith, from the first Edition to later editions. The affected phrases are in boldface in the two excerpts below:
Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage, First Edition:
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. (The Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage; 1st Edition, pp. 420-421, 1899)
Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage, Twelfth Edition:
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 within each of the three specified kingdoms will be provided for; though as to possible progress from one kingdom to another the scriptures make no positive affirmation. Eternal advancement along different lines is conceivable. 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. (The Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage; 12th Edition, pp. 420-421; 1917)