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Holy Ordinances

In its broadest meaning, an ordinance is simply a law. In Mormonism, an ordinance is a formal ritualistic act, often including a covenant, performed by the authority of the priesthood. There is a similarity between ordinances in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sacraments in other Christian churches.

In its broadest meaning, a covenant is a formal promise to do or not to do something. In Judaism and Christianity, covenants are made with God and are binding aspects of an alliance with God.

Biblical Framework

Ordinances—Old Testament
The Old Testament details many ordinances—all given to prepare God’s chosen people for the coming of the Savior and to discipline them in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Ordinances are meant to be understood (Job 38:33) and kept (Leviticus 18:4, Malachi 3:7 Isaiah 58:2, Psalm 99:7, and Psalm 119:91). The Lord expects those who love him to act upon the ordinances received (Ezekiel 43:11) and to teach them to others so they too may walk in the ways of the Lord (Exodus 18:20). Ordinances are eternal and have no end (Exodus 12:14, 43 and Jeremiah 31:36).

Covenants Associated with Ordinances
Ordinances are given by God as part of his laws, decrees, and commandments to the children of men. Joshua as a servant of the Lord made a covenant with the people as a similitude of an ordinance given in the land of Shechem (Joshua 24:25). The Lord spoke to Jeremiah of his covenants and ordinances (Jeremiah 33:25). The prophet Isaiah chastised the people for distorting the Lord’s ordinances and their associated covenants (Isaiah 24:5). The relationship of ordinances and covenants extends far beyond the Old Testament times as Paul wrote to the Hebrews about the importance of certain ordinances as prefigurings of the ministry of Jesus (Hebrews 9:1).

Why Ordinances and Covenants
The Lord warned Moses that the Jews had to keep his covenants to be a treasure unto him and to obtain the blessings of being his chosen (Exodus 19:5-6). The Lord gave the prophet Ezekiel a similar warning when he said that as the people keep the Lord’s statutes and ordinances, they become his people (Ezekiel 11:20). The Lord takes sacred covenants (or vows) so seriously that he teaches it is better not to make a covenant than to make a covenant and break it (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5). Jesus told his disciples that unless they were “born of water” (born again through the ordinance of baptism), they could not enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5). When the children of God participate in sacred ordinances and keep their associated covenants, they are protected from Satan and are exalted as the people of God.

The words baptize and baptism, do not appear in the Old Testament. However, these words appear dozens of times in the New Testament, and Paul assures the faithful that the spirit of the ordinance of baptism was alive and well in Old Testament times. He taught that the children of Israel were baptized “…in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). Paul was so inspired by his own baptism (Acts 9:18), that he feverishly urged his followers to repent and be baptized (Acts 19:3-5). The Savior was intent on his own baptism, not for the remission of sins, but to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22).

Peter invited the faithful to repent and be baptized and thereafter receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). Thus, confirmation, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, follows baptism. A confirmation is carried out through the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17 and Acts 9:17) by those in authority holding the Melchizedek Priesthood (Acts 8:18-20). Paul referred to the human body as the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19).

The Sacrament
During the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the ordinance of the sacrament whereby emblems of his body and blood were given in remembrance of his atoning sacrifice (Matthew 26:26-28). As a precursor to introducing this sacred ordinance, Jesus broke bread among his disciples (Mark 8:6), saying to them that he was the “bread of life” (John 6:35). Paul reaffirms the importance of the sacrament in his letter to the Corinthians, emphasizing the word remembrance. This is the word Jesus spoke to his disciples in reference to his infinite Atonement for all mankind and how it would be “remembered” throughout eternity in the form of an ordinance (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Healing the Sick and Afflicted
Jesus often demonstrated the ordinance of the healing of the sick, typically by the laying on of hands (Luke 13:12-13, Mark 6:5 and Luke 4:40). Jesus gave the authority of the priesthood to his apostles who then went forth to perform the ordinance of the healing of the sick (Matthew 10:8, Mark 6:13 and Acts 28:8). The apostles passed on the authority to perform this ordinance, each time by the laying on of hands (Mark 16:15-18). Sometimes the ordinance of healing was performed with the anointing of oil and an accompanying prayer (James 5:14).

Blessing Children
Jesus loved children and began the ordinance of blessing them. He took them into his arms to administer this blessing (Mark 10:16 and Matthew 19:13).

Priesthood Ordination
The priesthood is the power and authority of God on earth. Moses laid hands upon Joshua to ordain him to the Aaronic Priesthood (Deuteronomy 34:9). Priesthood ordination comes as a calling from the Lord (Luke 9:1 and Mark 6:7) and is carried out by those in authority through the ritual laying on of hands (Acts 6:5-6).

Baptisms for the Dead
Baptisms for the dead are referred to by Paul in his dissertation to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:29).

Washing and Anointing
The ordinances of washing and anointing (or purification) are introduced in the Old Testament (Exodus 29:4 and Exodus 40:12), and continued in the New Testament both before and after the ascension of Jesus (John 13:5, Acts 21:26 and Acts 24:18).

The act of being endowed with power from on high is an ordinance introduced as a similitude of the Savior being taken up into heaven (Luke 24:49-53).

The crowning ordinance of the sealing of families comes through the power of the priesthood to bind on earth and in heaven as given by Christ to Peter and his successors (Matthew 16:19).

Mormon Doctrinal Clarification

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints an ordinance is a formal sacred act performed under the authority of the priesthood. Several ordinances performed in the Church today are frequently mentioned in the Bible. These include baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, and the healing of the sick. Other ordinances include priesthood blessings, ordinations, and temple ordinances. The lack of biblical detail on some ordinances is explained in a prophecy from Isaiah: “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5). Because of this falling away, some ordinances were lost or distorted. Modern revelation has restored these ordinances.

In both the Old and New Testaments, the Lord instituted ordinances as a means of spiritually committing his chosen people to making and keeping covenants. Ordinances are gateways to covenants. Covenants are sacred contracts, two way promises with the Lord. The combination of ordinances and covenants helps the children of God remember who they are, where they come from, and where they are going.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts the biblical teaching that there are saving ordinances that are required for exaltation (entry into the Kingdom of God). Baptism is such an ordinance. However, an ordinance alone does not save or exalt. It is faith and keeping of the covenant associated with the ordinance that have saving power. When a person acts upon faith, makes a covenant with God, and participates in the ordinance, the doorway to the heavens is opened. However, the covenant must be kept and faith in Christ maintained for the full measure of blessings to be received.

Baptism is primary among the saving ordinances. Not only was Jesus himself baptized to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), but he boldly proclaimed that unless an individual was baptized, he could not enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5). The ordinance of baptism symbolizes death (buried under the water) and rebirth in the resurrection (coming out of the water)—thus the ritual importance of full immersion. The covenant made at baptism is that the baptized person will take upon himself the name of Jesus Christ as savior and redeemer, always remember him, and keep his commandments.

An extension of the ordinance and covenant of baptism is the ordinance of confirmation, through which the baptized person is confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and granted the gift of the Holy Ghost. This ordinance is performed by the authority of the priesthood with the laying on of hands. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the Lord’s promise of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost as long as the confirmed person remains worthy of this companionship. In this state of constant companionship, the confirmed person’s body is the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians. 6:19).

The Sacrament
Receiving the ordinance of the sacrament, consuming bread and the water as emblems of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, is spiritually integrated with the ordinance and covenant of baptism. According to the example set by the Savior, the sacrament is usually received each week. The sacrament is a reminder of the Atonement of Christ, an invitation to renew covenants made at baptism, and a prompting to repentance through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The sacrament includes an examination of conscience and a humble petition for forgiveness.

Healing the Sick and Afflicted
Healing of the sick is an ordinance performed by Jesus, carried on by the apostles, and continued to this day. Healing of the sick is performed typically by priesthood authority and may include a preliminary anointing with sacred oil. Latter-day Saints believe that this ordinance and others like it have the plain and simple purpose suggested in the title—in this case, healing the sick. Latter-day Saints do not believe that such ordinances were a widespread manipulation by Jesus and his apostles to strengthen faith or add to the ranks of the early Christian church. Jesus taught that those who had faith in him would do even greater works (John 14:12), laying the foundation for the healing ordinances and other miraculous events in modern times.

Blessing Children
A traditional ordinance in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the blessing of infants. Shortly after a baby’s birth, parents present their child to the congregation, announce the name by which the child will be known in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints records, and give the child a blessing through the authority of the priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. This ordinance follows the example of Jesus blessing the children during his public ministry. Latter-day Saint children must wait until age eight to be baptized. At that age they are considered capable of repentance and of making a free and informed choice to be baptized.

Priesthood Ordination
Priesthood ordination is another ordinance that has its roots in the Old Testament, was carried over to the New Testament, and is continued in these latter days. All worthy Latter-day Saint men, young and old, are eligible to hold the priesthood, either Aaronic or Melchizedek. A man is ordained to a particular office in the priesthood. The offices of the Aaronic Priesthood are deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. Bishop is the highest office in the Aaronic Priesthood; bishops also hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and are called as high priests so they can preside over the entire ward. The offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood are apostle, seventy, patriarch, high priest, and elder. (See priesthood web page for more details)

Temple Ordinances
Among the most sacred and important of all ordinances are those administered in the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of these ordinances are performed for the person attending the temple. These include washing and anointing, the endowment, and the sealing of families for eternity. The endowment, which literally means “gift,” includes making covenants associated with sacrifice, consecration, and love and loyalty to spouse. These ordinances are also performed vicariously for the dead. In this case, the ordinances have no efficacy unless and until they are freely accepted by the deceased person in the spirit world. No ordinance is forced on anyone, living or dead. Some of these temple ordinances were introduced in the Bible; all were brought forth in full bloom during the restoration.

See chapter17 in The Biblical Roots of Mormonism for a more comprehensive explanation, scriptural references and commentary on Ordinances and Covenants

See the following Sword SeriesTM papers for summaries:

Also see the Sword SeriesTM papers:

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