In this post, I'm going to discuss our common unbeliefs about the meaning and efficacy of our ordinances. If you're not familiar with the term "unbelief" I recommend you read this post first. And maybe the following two as well.
But assuming we're all on the same page about unbelief, let's look at our ordinances.
The biggest unbelief we have about ordinances is that they actually do something.
Let me explain what I mean. The ordinances are important, even essential, but they don't do what we think they do, and it's time we came to a better understanding so we can receive the gifts offered us by a loving Father in Heaven.
Let's look at D&C 132:7. Skim through the following:
And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.Now, this is a hard verse to read because it has a huge idea inserted right in the middle of another idea, and a parenthetical insertion inside the insertion. So let me excise that middle double insertion and sew the ends together to make it clear, as follows:
All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise...are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.In practicality, what this means, is that no ordinance, no covenant, NOTHING entered into in this life matters in the next unless it is sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.
Really? Nothing else lasts?
Joseph used a lot of synonyms to make that crystal clear. EVERY priesthood ordinance we perform, expecting to gain eternal benefit thereby, is really just a rehearsal. Nothing is binding until the Holy Spirit of promise binds it. Period.
Now, I know this doesn't come as a surprise to some of us. But I think a sizable number of us actually ARE surprised, shocked, and emotionally devastated by this idea because of the mistaken notion that once you do the ordinance, it's a done deal--forever.
I've been in so many testimony meetings where people testify how thankful they are for their eternal marriage, forever family, eternal companion, or any other combination of adjective and noun implying their marriage is a done deal, forever, no matter what. They made it to the temple, they knelt at an altar, and that's that. It's good as gold forever and nothing can change that. Even civil divorce can't "cancel" this sealing.
But I hold, that in many instances, even most, the celebrated sealing does not yet even exist in heaven because it has not yet been ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise.
So let's talk about our ordinances, and what they ACTUALLY do.
Unbelief #1: Baptism Remits Sins
I've been to any number of baptisms where the claim is spoken that baptism "washes away your sins." We tell the grinning 8-year-old that they're clean as they day they were born, while all those nasty sins committed before the age of accountability (huh?) are now safely washed down the drain and on the way to the sewage treatment plant. Let's eat some cake!
Hey, I'm definitely in favor of cake, but first let's take a look at some relevant scriptures:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.(2 Nephi 31:17)
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Nephi 27:20)
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:4)
But that's no problem, because the very next ordinance takes care of the Holy Ghost part of the equation, right?
We talk about "giving" the Gift of the Holy Ghost--and that once you've been given this gift you "have" the Holy Ghost. That means that the above-mentioned 8-year-old is eating cake with a new spirit, right?
But the confirmation ordinance itself doesn't say that. The priesthood holder does not say "I give you the gift of the Holy Ghost," but rather "receive the Holy Ghost." It is nothing more than an authoritative invitation to receive what is offered. The actual reception of this gift is completely up to the recipient. You can choose to receive or you can choose to reject.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 31:13)If the repentance before baptism is sincere; if there is full purpose of heart and no deception; if the desire and willingness so witnessed have real intent, then the actual reception of the Holy Ghost may indeed take place at the time of baptism. Such was the case with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery:
No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation. Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of. (JSH 73-74)But this is rare. How many baptisms have you attended where the Holy Ghost was manifest in this kind of abundance? Where prophecies were uttered, and rejoicing was proclaimed? How many 8-year-olds have you seen speaking with the tongue of angels and shouting praises unto the Holy One of Israel?
Fact is, for many of us it may take years and years before we finally accept the invitation and actually receive the Holy Ghost. Some of us never will, though we will attend a lifetime of lessons telling us we already received the Holy Ghost at confirmation and therefore there is nothing more to seek. Our unbelief prevents us from receiving more.
Actually Receiving the Holy Ghost
Though we may all, at times, be led by, taught by, and feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, the fulness of what is offered, and what we all must receive is referred to as the "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost." (2 Nephi 31:13-17, D&C 39:6) This event is the milepost telling you that you have, indeed, received the Holy Ghost; that your baptism and confirmation have been ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise; that your sins are indeed remitted; that you have been made, in actual fact, a new creature in Christ.
The name, baptism of fire, is an apt description. You know what it feels like to be immersed in water; and there is no doubt in your mind when you've been dunked. Well, the baptism of fire is similar. You may not know what to call it when it happens, but something so powerful, so unmistakable takes place, that it is likened to being engulfed in fire, because that's how it feels. It changes everything: Your outlook, your understanding, your desires, your sinful nature, your feelings toward your fellow man--all are renovated and repaired by this baptism of fire.
Like your water baptism, it is not a process; it is an event. And as I said, it may be many years after your baptism when you receive it. If you have not experienced this, or you're not sure, you should ask the Lord about it.
I was 25 years old, a lifetime active Mormon, returned missionary, married in the temple, and a father before I received the Baptism of Fire. It came because the circumstances of my life were well beyond my capacity to handle, and I literally cried out to God in absolute desperation, with complete, abject surrender of everything I could possibly lay on the altar.
I'm not telling you this to boast or set myself up for praise. I'm merely hoping to testify by my own experience that this is absolutely real, and that you can--and should--receive this gift. When I was engulfed in spiritual fire, because I had never been taught about this doctrine, I had no idea what was happening, and it took quite a bit of study for me to recognize what had taken place. But it did, indeed, happen, and it did, indeed, change everything.
I share this in hopes that you will seek to receive this gift, if you have not yet done so. If you've been baptized, this is the next step in your spiritual progression, no matter how long ago your baptism took place.
Unbelief #3: Priesthood Ordination Confers Power
When we talk about "giving" someone the priesthood, we treat it like that man (or boy) is now endowed with a new power to act in God's name, and have those acts binding in heaven and on earth.
And yet, Elder Packer lamented in a recent general conference:
We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be. (The Power of the Priesthood, April 2010.)In other words, ordination may indeed give authority, but until that authority is matched with power from heaven, that priesthood is incomplete. It has a form of godliness, but lacks the power thereof. This is exactly the condition the Lord himself lamented in Joseph Smith's first vision, (JSH 19) and the condition that prompted the restoration in the first place.
Would the Lord say the same today?
Priesthood ordination is better viewed as an authoritative invitation for that boy or man to rise up and obtain actual priesthood power from God.
Unbelief #4: The Temple Endowment Guarantees Something
We speak of being "endowed" and perhaps we are indeed endowed in the temple with symbolic knowledge and offered the opportunity to make covenants. But, like all other ordinances, until these are ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise, what we have is only preparatory.
We are told unequivocally that the washing and anointing that precede the endowment ceremony are preparatory in nature and not the real thing. We are informed that if we are "true and faithful" the time will come when we will be "chosen, called up and anointed" to the actual blessings promised. Are we seeking the fulfillment of that promise? Do we even discuss how to seek it? Or do we assume that it will just happen, someday, if we follow the rules?
In a similar vein, the endowment symbolically represents the journey back into the presence of God, after being cast out into the lone and dreary world, or the Telestial Kingdom where we now find ourselves. Of course, what is portrayed in the temple is symbolic. We are not actually conversing with the Lord through the veil, we are not actually passing through the veil into His presence. We are merely rehearsing for this great event.
The endowment is an authoritative invitation to receive in actuality what is portrayed symbolically. God intends for us to return to his presence, even in this life, in the flesh. This should, can and does happen, even today. (John 14:21-23, D&C 130:3, D&C 93:1, D&C 107:18-19, D&C 88:68) Are we seeking to meet the Lord personally? To make the endowment a reality in our lives? Or do we merely rehearse over and over, ad infinitum, never realizing it is only a rehearsal?
You can read testimonies of the real thing here and here. If you want to experience it yourself, I recommend this book.
Unbelief #5: Your Temple Marriage is Sealed
Many of us labor under the mistaken notion that a temple marriage is "sealed." Of course this comes from the terminology we use, calling it a "sealing" but we give it meaning beyond what we ought to give it.
This really came home to me on my mission, when a church member confessed privately to me and my companion that she had a real problem with the idea of eternal marriage, because she couldn't stand her abusive husband, but she was stuck with him forever. She was terribly depressed and despondent over the idea that there was nothing she could do now, and that her heaven would be her hell. She considered divorcing him, but she knew he would never agree to a cancellation of sealings, so he would just get her back in the next life and the abuse would continue.
Yes, she actually believed this. Isn't that what it means to be "sealed" in the temple?
I fear there are others who think this is true.
I assured her that there was no way she was stuck with that guy, because, first of all, marriage only continues in the Celestial Kingdom, and, though I'm not the judge, this guy didn't much sound like celestial material to me. It was the best I could offer as a 19-year-old kid, but it actually helped her feel better.
The point is, there is absolutely NO danger you'll be stuck with someone you don't love. Heaven doesn't work like that.
But what about looking at it the other way? What if you really love your spouse, have a wonderful marriage, and WANT to be together forever?
Well, I'd say you've got a great start on the right path. That is exactly the kind of marriage God is interested in preserving. If it reflects Heaven while yet on earth, then that marriage will be at home in heaven as well.
And so it is that your temple sealing is an authoritative invitation to develop a marriage that can be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, and thus preserved eternally. Elder Eyring recently spoke on this very subject in general conference:
The Holy Spirit of Promise, through our obedience and sacrifice, must seal our temple covenants in order to be realized in the world to come. President Harold B. Lee explained what it means to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise by quoting Elder Melvin J. Ballard: “We may deceive men but we cannot deceive the Holy Ghost, and our blessings will not be eternal unless they are also sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. The Holy Ghost is one who reads the thoughts and hearts of men, and gives his sealing approval to the blessings pronounced upon their heads. Then it is binding, efficacious, and of full force. (Families under Covenant, April 2012)By now, I hope you've noticed that EVERY priesthood ordinance is actually a beginning, not an ending. Each is an authoritative invitation to receive what is actually offered. But the real gift is always received directly from God, and not from a man. And all these blessings are only received if they are sought.
Damned by Unbelief
This is why unbelief damns us. As long as we labor under the mistaken notion that we have actual remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost, priesthood power, genuine endowment, and eternal sealing, we will never seek to receive these things. One of Satan's most effective lies is that we have already received the offered gifts because we received an ordinance. This is a lie.
The first step to receiving what is offered is to awaken and arise. We must understand we have been offered, and not yet received, these gifts. Then we must receive them.
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. (D&C 88:33)Rejoice in the gifts! Rejoice in He who is their giver! Receive what is offered! This is how we Come unto Christ. Please come to Him.
The Preparatory Church
By now, it should be clear that the things we do in the church are rehearsals. They are designed to prepare us for greater things. The ordinances, teachings, service opportunities, and fellowship afforded us by the church are good and right, and are all designed to prepare us for, and point the way toward, the real thing.
And what is the real thing?
Christ's church. Not the one on earth that bears His name (Jesus Christ) and ours (Latter-day Saints), but the one in heaven that bears His name alone. He is the Firstborn, and His church is the church of the Firstborn:
They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace; (D&C 76:94)
And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn. (D&C 93:22)
It's good, necessary, and important to rehearse. But rehearsing can only get you so far. At some point you must accept the invitations, step out from behind the curtain onto the stage and into the light, in front of gods, angels, and witnesses for the actual performance. And when THAT performance is successfully delivered, the reaction of the audience is praise indeed as an overjoyed Savior offers his high praise:
Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)May we overcome our unbelief, awaken, arise and receive what is offered.