Safety through ordinances and covenants

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[I gave this talk in our stake’s Spanish branch. I don’t speak much Spanish so I relied on a translator of the bulk of the talk.]

Buenos días, hermanos y hermanas. Estoy feliz de hablar con ustedes hoy por asignación del Presidente Graham. Hablo solamente poquito Español y hablo como un niño y un gringo, por lo que se traduce el resto de mi discurso.

I’d like to talk about two things that help us to return to Heavenly Father. The first are ordinances. The second are covenants.

“An ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. With each of these ordinances, we enter into solemn covenants with the Lord.”

“Ordinances and covenants help us remember who we are. They remind us of our duty to God. The Lord has provided them to help us come unto Him and receive eternal life. When we honor them, He strengthens us spiritually.” (https://www.lds.org/topics/ordinances?lang=eng)

The prophet Joseph Smith taught of the importance of ordinances in the Articles of Faith. The 3rd article of faith states: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

We are obedient to the ordinances of the gospel when we keep the covenants we make. Obedience saves us by unlocking the power and path of Christ’s Atonement.

The fourth article of faith tells us how to start on this path: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

The first covenants we formally make with God are baptism and confirmation. Any person who wants to live with God has to be baptized and confirmed. All ordinances and covenants have to be done through the proper authority. This is why we have full time missionaries. This is why we perform work in temples.

The fifth article of faith is about the authority of God: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/a-of-f/1.3-5?lang=eng#2)

Ordinances are not valid without the proper authority given from God. Ordinances also do not have any power without righteousness. If we do not keep the commandments, our baptisms and confirmations will not allow us into heaven.

Saving ordinances and covenants were restored to the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith. The ordinances and covenants were first given to Adam and Eve. They were also given to their children. Abram also made the covenant with the Lord, who told him: “But as for thee, behold, I will make my covenant with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. And this covenant I make, that thy children may be known among all nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be called Abraham; for, a father of many nations have I made thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:8-9).

Abraham truly is the father of many nations. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are numbered among the children of Abraham and partakers of his covenants. This Abrahamic covenant, which includes the promise of numberless posterity, blessed and still blesses the children of Abraham.

This covenant of Abraham is clear in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis: “And thou [Abraham] shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:12)

We find a record of God’s covenants with His children in the scriptures. The Old Testament contains covenants given to God’s children before the coming of Christ. The New Testament contains covenants offered by Christ and His apostles. The Old and New Testaments are rightly called the Old and New Covenants.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Saints in the Roman province of Galatia: “Wherefore then, the law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first covenant, (the law.) Now this mediator was not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham.” (JST, Galatians:19-20)

The new covenant given by Christ was lost from the earth not long after the Savior’s death and resurrection. The Book of Mormon is another record of covenants. This record contains the covenants given to small groups of people in the Americas but Mormon wrote The Book of Mormon for us. It is a book of teachings spanning more than one thousand years. The prophet Mormon edited and wrote the book and then gave it to his son Moroni. Moroni finished the book and then buried the plates. He sealed them up unto the Lord so that they might come forth later by the power of God.

Just as the prophets in the Americas were killed, Jesus Christ’s apostles in Israel were killed and the gospel became polluted. Over the next 1700 years, people wandered in darkness. There was light and faith but no authority. The true covenants of the Lord were not available upon the earth.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of the apostasy, which is still happening: “And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:14-16).

To reverse the apostasy, God and Jesus Christ appeared to young Joseph Smith. I recently walked through the Sacred Grove. It is a special place of peace. My small children recognized the spirit there. We also climbed the Hill Cumorah where Moroni buried the plates. We felt the Spirit there too. In the Kirtland Temple we saw the place where Jesus Christ and angels appeared to Joseph Smith. What an experience that was! They visited to restore truth, authority, ordinances, and covenants.

These restored covenants are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states: “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9)

Thus, we can be guided by the light of the new covenant; we can rally around it as armies would gather around a standard. We have ordinances and covenants to light the path back to Heavenly Father. They provide safety for us. God blesses us through ordinances and covenants. As we promise to follow Him, He promises us rich blessings. The greatest blessing is the gift of eternal life. Eternal life is a life with God; it is a life like God’s.

As a boy, I often went rappelling with my family – going down a cliff on a rope. When I first started out, these “cliffs” were no more than 15 to 20 feet tall. As skills progressed, the cliffs we went down were taller. It might not seem particularly safe to walk, jump, or run down the face of a cliff but with secure anchors and strong equipment, rappelling is safe. If safety procedures are not followed, however, rappelling can be fatal. This is true for many activities in life, including driving a car. My father had three main safety principles. 1) In order for rappelling to be safe you must be securely anchored. My father would, whenever possible, tie a rope to one anchor and then tie that anchor to a second anchor. He had a backup anchor in case the first anchor failed. In this manner, we always knew we had a sure foundation when we bounded down the cliffs. 2) As an additional safety precaution, someone would remain at the bottom the cliff acting as belayer. The belayer is able to provide friction on the rope by pulling it away from the cliff face to stop the person on the rope. 3) Another safety principle was to never use faulty equipment. Once our ropes showed signs of significant wear, they were replaced. Before and during each rappelling outing, we inspected our ropes and other equipment to make sure all were in working order. If we had a question about any piece of equipment, it wasn’t used. New equipment was always cheaper than a person’s life.

Ordinances – baptism, priesthood ordination, the temple endowment, a temple sealing – are like the equipment we used to go rappelling. They anchor us to a sure foundation through the journey of life. The covenants we make and keep are additional safety equipment. Covenants bind us to God the Father and to Jesus Christ. If we break our covenants, we are at risk of falling. One of the miracles of the gospel is if we fall, Jesus Christ can lift us up. When we fall, we can be saved by the Atonement.

I know God gives us ordinances and covenants to strengthen and bless us. They keep us anchored to God and open the path of Christ that leads home. I pray that God blesses you as you strive to be true to the ordinances you receive and covenants you make.

Reflections on Churches

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The other day I was driving through town (I live in the southern United States where churches are particularly abundant). I paid attention to the names of different churches I passed. There were “Living Water” churches, “Missionary” churches, “Blessings” churches, “Miracles” churches, “Community” churches, “Family” churches, “Covenant” churches, and “Grace” churches (in addition to Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and more). The three that really stuck out to me were a “Temple” church, a “Church of the Apostle”, and a “Church of Prophecy”.

I thought that it was interesting that the churches would reference temples, apostles, and prophets (implied from “prophecy”) in their names yet have none of those in their churches. I know the Catholic Church claims apostolic authority (papal lineage through Peter) but this particular “Apostle” church was not Catholic. The churches might have been founded in recognition of the significance of the temple and apostles (I’ll combine prophets and apostles) but they were founded without either apostles or temples (see also Ezek. 37:26), which are vital parts of Christ’s Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of Christ’s church with both apostles and temples. We claim authority from Jesus Christ, given to Joseph Smith and passed on to subsequent prophets and apostles (just as Elijah’s authority passed on to Elisha). We make much of covenants as well in the LDS Church. We believe in grace, family, miracles, blessings, missionary work, and Christ as the source of living water. The LDS Church encompasses all truth; we accept all good and all truth, regardless the source (“We are after the truth. We commenced searching for it, and we are constantly in search of it, and so fast as we find any true principle revealed by any man, by God, or by holy angels, we embrace it and make it part of our religious creed.” Pres. John Taylor). However, necessary covenants and ordinances are only performed through proper authority (see also: Priesthood).

The Churches are most likely doing good (I qualify that statement because there are some churches that spread hate and evil) but they are lacking the authority that was restored to Joseph Smith. It is through this authority that we have apostles, prophets, and temples in the LDS Church.

Establishing the Word of the Lamb

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Last night I was really struck by the following verses in the Book of Mormon:

“And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records [the “other books” – likely the Doctrine and Covenants and other scriptures], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first [the Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.

And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.” (1 Ne. 13:40-41).

I love these verses because they really establish the centrality of the Savior to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not that there is any doubt of Christ’s role but there are many who do not believe members of the LDS Church are Christian. That’s another discussion but what verse 40 states is that the additional scripture that we Mormons have clarify the Bible and serve the purpose of establishing that “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men [and women] must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.” We recognize and proclaim Jesus’ divinity. He was and is much more than a great teacher. Jesus is the Savior of the World.

The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price all serve to establish the veracity of the Bible. The contain the words of the Lamb of God. What we know is that it is not sufficient to believe just the Bible. “All men must come unto [Christ], or they cannot be saved. And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed [the Book of Mormon], as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb [the Bible].” This means that we can only and truly come unto Christ by heeding His words as contained in the Book of Mormon; the Bible is necessary but not sufficient. Even the Book of Mormon is not sufficient – there are living prophets we must heed and ordinances we must receive and perform.

That might sound like a bold proclamation – that the fulness of the gospel and the only true path to salvation resides in the teachings and actions of Christ as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This does not negate any of the good in other teachings and religions but Christ established the way and that way is inseparable from the LDS Church. That is one reason why we do so much work for the dead in the mountains of the Lord’s houses – baptisms, confirmations, endowments, and sealings. God established the way home and that way can be understood from reading the scriptures – ancient and modern.