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by Immo Luschin
The word "ordinance" is derived from the Latin ordinare, which means to put in order or sequence; or to act by authorization or command. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regard religious ordinances not as arbitrarily established but as purposefully instituted by God and eternal in scope.
The power to perform ordinances whose validity is recognized by God is inseparably connected with the divine authority conferred on mortal man, that is, the priesthood of God: "Which priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations . Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh" (D&C 84:17, 20-21).
Ordinances in the Church contain instructions and rich symbolism. Anointing with consecrated oil (e.g., as in the temple) is reminiscent of the use of sacred oil in the coronation of kings and the calling of prophets in ancient days. Laying hands on the head of the sick symbolically suggests the invocation and transmission of power from on high. The "waters of baptism" richly symbolize the actuality of new birth.
Latter-day scriptures give ample evidence that God has established unchangeable, eternal ordinances as essential elements of the Plan of Salvation and redemption (Isa. 24.5; Mal. 3:7; Alma 13:16; D&C 124:38). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "the ordinances of the Gospel were laid out before the foundations of the world" and "are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles" (TPJS, pp. 367, 308).
A biblical example of the necessity of ordinances can be found in the Lord's statement to Nicodemus that one must "be born again" (John 3:3). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "being born again comes by the spirit of God through ordinances" (TPJS, p. 162). The process of salvation is experienced as a "mighty change in your hearts" (Alma 5:14) under the guidance and assistance of the Spirit of God through keeping the divine ordinances. The test of obedience is reiterated in modern times, a pattern that is said to apply "in all cases under the whole heavens." One is fully accepted of God and is "of God" if, and only if, she or "he obey mine ordinances" (D&C 52:14-19). Some ordinances are universal in nature (cf. Lev. 18:4; Rom. 13:2; Alma 30:3; D&C 136:4), while others are rites and ceremonies decreed for special purposes within the Lord's work (e.g., Num. 18:8; Heb. 9:10; Alma 13:8; D&C 128:12).
Ordinances, in the sense of rituals and ceremonies, embrace the entire mortal life of God's sons and daughters and are performed by the Lord's authorized representatives, the bearers of his priesthood. Indeed, ordinances are the visible aspect of priesthood efficacy, the operation of proper divine authority conferred upon mortal man.
Some ordinances are prerequisite for entering celestial glory (baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost) and for exaltation (priesthood ordination, temple Endowment, celestial marriage). Each human who lives, who has ever lived, or who will yet live upon the earth has need of these ordinances. Therefore, ordinances are to be performed vicariously in behalf of those who had no opportunity to receive them during their mortal lives.
Other ordinances enhance the physical, emotional, and spiritual Welfare of their recipients though they may not be prerequisites for celestial glory or entering into the actual presence of God the Father. Such additional ordinances include the naming of children, confirmation, consecration of oil, dedication of buildings, and dedication of graves. Administering to the sick contributes to health and well-being and to emotional relief and comfort. Spiritual guidance is provided by the bestowal on children of patriarchal and paternal blessings. Vital covenant renewal occurs in partaking of the Sacrament, when one makes a solemn commitment to conduct one's self appropriately as a bearer of the name of Christ, to always remember him, and to keep the commandments that he has given. Such obedience increases susceptibility to the guidance and sanctification of the Spirit.
Ordinances reflect the truth that the Lord's Church is a house of order. They also remind members of their standing in God's kingdom on earth.
Not only should the one performing an ordinance qualify to do so, but those receiving the ordinance should prepare themselves for the occasion. The fourth article of faith says, "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." These initiatory steps are in precise and divinely appointed sequence, and by following them one moves "from grace to grace" as did the Son of God himself (D&C 93:13; cf. Luke 2:52). Indeed, modern revelation teaches, "If a man gets the fulness of the priesthood of God, he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the House of the Lord" (TPJS, p. 308).
When ordinances are performed with authority and power, they are followed by divine blessings. They have "efficacy, virtue, [and] force" (D&C 132:7). They are enlightening to the mind and enlivening to the whole soul (JS-H 1:74). The first man, after he entered the process of baptism, was "quickened in the inner man" (Moses 6:65). Ordinances unify man with God, and man with man: "Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons" (Moses 6:68).
Regarding priesthood ordinances, Bruce R. McConkie taught:
God's decrees, his laws and commandments, the statutes and judgments that issue from him, are called his ordinances. The covenant of the saints, when they "promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord" is: "We will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord." (D. & C. 136:2-4.)
Indeed, the whole world shall be judged by their conformity, or lack of it, to the laws of the Lord. "He that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances. He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances," the Lord says. (D. & C. 52:15-16.) Apostasy is the result when men stray from the Lord's ordinances. (D. & C. 1:15; Isa. 24:5.)
2. Among his laws and commandments, the Lord has provided certain rites and ceremonies which are also called ordinances. These ordinance-rites might be pictured as a small circle within the larger circle of ordinance-commandments. Most of these rites and ceremonies, as illustrated by baptism and celestial marriage, are essential to salvation and exaltation in the kingdom of God; some of them, such as the blessing of children and the dedication of graves, are not ordinances of salvation, but are performed for the comfort, consolation, and encouragement of the saints.
Mormon Doctrine, p.549
Smith, Joseph F. GD.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Ordinances
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