Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Saving Ordinances

A new bishop was called in my ward just over a week ago (9 days to be exact).  This is the fourth bishop called in six years, but that's an issue for another day.  The fact that I have a new bishop is relevant because, well, I don't believe in cautiously easing your way into these callings and trying to find your feet.  So, I'm going to do my part to welcome my bishop into his new role with a bit of a head turner.

Having said that, please understand that I'm not about to write a bunch of stuff I don't actually believe just for the sake of provoking a reaction.  I've been thinking about this topic for a little bit and I genuinely mean everything I'm about to say.  The fact that it could cause some head scratching is just a bonus.

While washing the dishes one night, I was absently thinking about ordinances and trying to identify where the scriptural background may be.  As my line of thought evolved, I began trying to identify the scriptural background for what the Church defines as the "saving ordinances."  More than that, I was trying to figure out what scriptural background there was for denoting those ordinances as necessary for salvation.

The Church stated in The Church Handbook of Instructions, "The ordinances of baptism, confirmation, Melchizedek Priesthood ordination (for men), the temple endowment, and temple sealing are required for exaltation for all accountable persons. These are called the saving ordinances" (Handbook 2, 20.1).  Usually, the Handbooks are pretty good about showing the scriptural background for statements such as these, so I'm a little surprised that there aren't any references for delineating these ordinances as saving ordinances.  No matter, I think we can easily find these on our own.
  1. Baptism -- John 3:5
  2. Confirmation --  John 3:5; D&C 20:41
  3. Melchizedek Priesthood ordination -- (??)
  4. Endowment -- "Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels" (Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1971], page 416, quoted in Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple).
  5. Sealing -- D&C 131:2
So, a couple of observations.  First, there is no strictly scriptural foundation to include the Endowment as a saving ordinance.  I'm willing to take Brigham Young's statement as a foundation, however, since it is included in the introduction to the endowment itself.  And considering the Doctrine and Covenants is really only a small collection of the revelations received, I'm willing to give a little leeway here.

The second observation I make is that there is no scriptural foundation for ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood as a saving ordinance.  It's tempting to sweep this under the same rug under which I swept the justification for the Endowment.  However, I don't know of any statements regarding the Priesthood that don't assume that the Priesthood is required (for men) because it is required to enter the temple for the Endowment.  In fact, the best justification I can come up with is Doctrine and Covenants 105:3, "Verily I say unto you, it is expedient in me that the first elders of my church should receive their endowment from on high in my house...."  That's fairly weak evidence, if you ask me--and I don't imagine anyone would use that as justification for calling ordination a saving ordinance.

So here's the question: Is ordination a doctrinal requirement for exaltation? or is it a procedural requirement for exaltation?

Fill me in if I'm missing something.  But from what I can see, I think it's a procedural requirement.  Which has me wondering--could we drop the requirement that men hold the Melchizedek priesthood in order to enter the temple?  Could we allow men to be sealed to their wives without requiring them to hold the priesthood?  How would such a policy change affect the way we read and interpret our scriptures and doctrine?  Is the Melchizedek priesthood truly the essential to government of families?

I'm not so sure any more.

I'll probably have more to say about that later, but first, I'll give a chance to people smarter than me to point out if I've missed the scriptural basis for ordination as a saving ordinance.

Oh, and Bishop [new guy], have fun.  You're going to be great1!

1 And with any luck, you'll be great long enough that we don't see 5 bishops in 7 years.


  1. You raise some interesting points here. My main reaction is to point out to you the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood as stated in D&C 84. But when first reading it, I wondered at first to whether it was a requirement, or if I was taking more responsibility for the same prize. But then, I re-read verse 42: "wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood"

    1. That's a pretty good argument. I could debate it either way. It states in verse 33 that those who receive the priesthood and magnifiy their callings "are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies." But we use similar language to describe the Sacrament (not a saving ordinance).

      To your point about verse 42, does recognizing that this was a message given to a group of men who had already received the priesthood change the interpretation? What if we add verse 41, "But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come. And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received, which I now confirm upon you who are present this day, by mine own voice out of the heavens; and even I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you." Is 42 better interpreted as a generalized charge to the rest of the world, or as a continuation of verse 41*? Given that the Lord is back to addressing those present, I'm inclined to conclude that the charge is directed at those who have already received the priesthood, not those who have yet to receive it.

      * That isn't to say that a specific charge can't be interpreted broadly. I'm just saying that it is an interpretation, and I'm unclear on when an interpretation becomes doctrine.