Youth Sunday School lesson help for July: Ordinances and Covenants

2009 Inauguration of Barack ObamaI thought it could be helpful to others to post a few resources for how I approached this month’s topic, Ordinances and Covenants. I want to both normalize Mormon high church liturgy, and also highlight what is unique and special about our approach. (If you aren’t sure what those words mean, feel no shame because we don’t use them in our day-to-day, though they do nicely describe us. Click the words for simple definitions.) To do this, I showed a series of videos of formal oaths taken in secular contexts.

I have my own laptop and laptop projector (and use a white sheet or the wall for a screen). You’ll need at least a laptop that students can gather around to watch the videos. #techprivilege. Note that the Wifi in LDS meetinghouses blocks YouTube, so you’ll need to download in advance; there are greyish-market tools for doing this.

Video clips:

  • Barack Obama inauguration 2009:
  • New Bridgeport, MA Police cadet swearing-in (the post-production intro music is epic) (actual swearing in begins at 12:45):
  • LAPD Police Cadet swearing-in (includes more detailed commitments than the above New Bridgeport example):
  • Prince William and Catherine Middleton wedding vows:
  • Physician’s Oath (updated Hippocratic Oath). This very moving recitation happens to be from Grey’s Anatomy. For the youth, I especially like how it begins with an exhortation to always remember the oath:
  • Oath of Allegiance for becoming a U.S. Citizen through naturalization. It starts with a roll call of native countries of those present, which is fun to see. The oath starts at 2:42:

Questions:

  • What kinds of occasions call for a formal oath?
  • What kind of people/roles call for a formal oath?
  • What are common elements of the words of a formal oath?
  • What are common elements of the way the formal oaths are administered?  (I had in mind things like witnesses, an officiant, repeating of the oath one phrase at a time, raising a hand)

Students will notice some similarities between bits of these videos and what they’ve seen in church settings (Sacrament, baptisms, even baby blessings). Teachers will notice even more similarities with what happens in the temple. Remind students of some of our covenant language by reading the scriptures from the lesson:

This was enough material for the whole lesson. I wanted students to think about their roles as disciples of Christ in terms of public offices that they would hold throughout their lives. Like presidents and police, they act on behalf of a greater authority–representing Jesus Christ–and the words of the oaths commonly reflect our expectation that those with more power and authority than the average person will use that power and authority to act for the service and benefit of others. Covenants are promises that we make with God to undertake these responsibilities. One thing that is different in our covenant language compared to these oaths is that more time is spent talking about the benefits we get–the blessings from God–by virtue of the covenant. We are promised much more than the $400,000/year that the president makes in return. God promises us entrance into His kingdom and all He has. All this should come out in the discussion of the questions above.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I hope your young people appreciate the stellar pedagogy they get to experience in their class with you. Not everyone is blessed with a teacher who happens to be a lecturer at Stanford!

  2. Wahoo Fleer says:

    This would make for an excellent lesson. I wish I had had something like this as a youth. You could also add discussion of academic commencement ceremony regalia and traditions.

  3. Awesome! Much better than the fumbling around I did yesterday with asking questions, telling them to “be reverent”, and throwing Rolo’s to anyone with a right answer.

  4. Wahoo, great suggestion, thanks.

  5. Aaron, I was handing out cookies for good answers, forgot to mention that secret sauce. :-)

  6. *That* was spectacular, Cynthia L. So much of the emphasis on covenants and ordinances in the past, what? five? years has been talks where the word “covenants” is injected at every possible moment, without really making clear what a covenant is other than that it’s a covenant and covenants are good so make covenants and keep covenants because COVENANTS. Illustrating the principle with real-world examples, while still setting religious covenants in their proper (superior) place is a fantastic idea.

  7. Jason K. says:

    Awesome, Cynthia. I love the creativity that you bring to teaching the youth!

  8. I could have used this yesterday! That said, I took a similar approach. I love…LOVE…teaching the youth.

  9. What if someone brings up the fact that these oath-taking ceremonies and swearings-in above are nothing like baptism and confirmation? How are they different, one might ask? The person getting baptized and confirmed is to utter no words during the actual ordinance and the person performing the ordinance never states during the entirety of the ordinance what is being promised or covenanted to. Technically no covenant is formally made during the ordinances of baptism, confirmation, and priesthood ordination. The only covenant that LDS people actually make is during the endowment session of the temple.

  10. In modern LDS structures, the actual covenant is made during the interview, where the terms of the covenant are laid out in detail and the initiate must agree to each one before proceeding. Joseph Smith taught on several occasions that baptism is a *sign* of the covenant. It’s not the covenant itself, but the public and communal ratification of the covenant.

  11. Oh, and excellent post. I’ve been slowly collecting ideas and posts for what I could call non-traditional temple prep, and this is good stuff.

  12. seriously, this would have been nice BEFORE yesterday.

  13. You might have pointed out that the Chief Justice and President Obama made a total hash of the constitutional text–so much so that the Chief went over to the White House the next day and administered the oath again. An important lesson about the importance of getting the words right–which fits our insistence on the same thing in the sacrament and baptism prayers into a larger context.

    Another interesting example would be the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. I cannot find a video of the entire ceremony, and the sound on the parts I found was so quiet as to be almost inaudible. Still, the clothing of the Queen in robes prior to her being given the orb and sceptres and being crowned might be a useful pattern in preparing young people to start thinking of the temple ceremonies. The actual oath that the sovereign takes prior to being crowned can be found here: http://www.royal.gov.uk/royaleventsandceremonies/coronation/coronation.aspx

  14. Mark B., maybe that will make some of our young men feel better about times they’re asked to repeat the sacrament prayers–a mistake anyone could make!

  15. Mark B. says:

    Right. If two Harvard grads can screw things up that badly, why should a semi-literate 16-year-old feel bad?

  16. I think there should be a limit on how many times we make a priest re-attempt the prayer. It is cruel.

    In my lesson we focused on the baptismal covenant as outlined in Mosiah 18:8-10. It really isn’t a covenant in the way that we make promises during the sacrament or the types of covenants that we make in the temples. Instead, it is a set of obligation that we incur by entering the kingdom as followers of Christ. That path leads to eternal life. It is really the most important covenant. I think that the covenants we make during the sacrament and in the temple are meant to assist us as followers of Christ. But they are all rooted in the path that starts at baptism.

  17. Mark B. says:

    Or it can be an opportunity for amazing Christ-like service. One young man in our ward, who may well have had a learning disability, had tried two or three times and failed, when the other priest at the table, a young man of 16 or 17, knelt down next to him, put his arm around his shoulder, and whispered the words of the prayer in his ear so that he could fulfill his assignment. When they were finished, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the chapel.

  18. Ben S, you’re right that a sort of informal covenant is made during the interview process, provided that the bishop, counselor, or missionary conducting the interview follows the handbook of instructions and asks the person who is seeking to be baptized, “…you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life. Are you ready to make this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?” (Handbook 1, 16.3.3). And that is the only part of the interview as spelled out in the handbook where the word covenant is mentioned. As for the other baptismal questions, the initiate is not saying that they are covenanting. I wouldn’t say that the covenant is terribly detailed, nor does it resemble the oath-taking ceremonies and swearings-in in the videos above, nor it is a formal covenant in the way that covenants and oaths are typically recognized throughout the developed world. There are no witnesses, no public statements, no repeated words, just a simple yes to an interview question in a setting where the interviewer and interviewee are the only ones present. So what I said above is correct, although I should make a slight qualification that the only *formal* covenant that LDS people make is in the temple.

  19. I have seen that many times, too. We have two mentally disabled (not sure is that is a good term at all) who regularly participate in blessing and passing the sacrament. I think the priests get more out of helping Steve bless than they do any other aspect of the ordinance. It has pushed them to be patient and more compassionate. The most poignant moment for me is when Steve stumbled getting up from the prayer and one of the teen priest swiftly grabbed his arm and kepts him on his feet. It was pretty awesome, especially because they both kept their cool and turned back to the task at hand.

  20. Also, could you direct me to where Joseph Smith talks of baptism being a sign of a covenant? My cursory search has yet to reveal any results (I don’t deny that he said such, but I’m under the impression that references to such words are obscure and are not incorporated into modern LDS teachings). The LDS church leaders seem to repeatedly refer to the actual baptism as the covenant, not just a sign of one supposedly made during an interview. Consider the words of Elder Robert D. Hales in 2000: “At baptism we make a covenant with our Heavenly Father.” Also, what if a person says yes to the baptismal interview question that they will make a covenant to take upon themselves Christ’s name and keep his commandments, but then decide to not actually show up at their scheduled baptism? Could we say that they had made a covenant?

  21. Steve Evans, with the new loose outline lesson format you can you use this any week this month!

  22. Thanks for Grey’s Anatomy piece. I needed a good cry.

  23. I’m looking for my full notes on this. In the meantime, here’s what is obvious.

    First, baptism as a witness, a public sign.

    “Mos 18:10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, (and what are the stipulations of the covenant?) that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?”

    Alma 7:15 “show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.”

    Here’s one JS on baptism being a sign.

    “Baptism is a sign to God, to angels to heaven that we do the will of God ” Words of Joseph Smith, 108.

    As for the interview, it’s not necessary to say “I covenant to x” to constitute a covenant. From an Israelite/Hebrew Bible standpoint, a covenant is mutual agreement, a contract, or treaty, whether between humans, gods, kings, horizontal or vertical. Not every covenant explicitly included every aspect (there is more than what I’ve set forth here. See here , for example.)

    There are terms set that one must agree to, along with explicit blessings and (often) cursing, and some kind of ratification ceremony or ritual. We have separated the public ratification ceremony from the setting-forth and agreeing of terms (which are explicit in the interview), but it’s still part of the package. The witnesses are present at the public ratification ceremony, which one does not proceed to without agreeing to the terms. Also, I’m surprised you think “a simple yes” insufficient to make covenants…

    During the baptismal interview, one is to ask “What do you understand of the following standards? Are you willing to obey them?” and then run specifically through chastity, tithing, etc.
    This is pretty strongly analogous to Exo 24, where Moses reads to the people the set terms, and and they reply “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (Exod. 24:7 NRS) In that case, animal sacrifice serves as the public ratification ceremony (which was typical, and the reason why one “cuts” covenants in Hebrew.)

    Where do you get the idea that covenants must universally include the explicit declaration of “I’m making a covenant”?

    Church leaders tend not to split these kinds of hairs ;)

  24. Meh, I don’t have time to go note hunting, and they may be in storage back in New York anyway. I’ll just concede that this was probably an overstatement from memory- “Joseph Smith taught on several occasions that baptism is a *sign* of the covenant.”

    (Darn those lost notes! Why haven’t I transcribed you yet?!)

  25. Cat, right?? I never even watched the show, and I don’t work in medicine, but that was still feels.

  26. Angela C says:

    No fair, Cynth! Your youth lessons are superior to most of the adult lessons!

  27. Jack Hughes says:

    Brilliant. But no lesson on covenants is complete without a mention of the atonement. When I was younger I had a proclivity towards OCD/scrupulosity, and I grew up internalizing messages about how covenants were God’s way of “weeding out the weak” and “separating the boys from the men” so the idea of making covenants was frightening to me, and I ended up putting off receiving my own endowment for years. Something about making promises I really couldn’t keep (with serious eternal consequences) made me feel like I was being set up for failure, that it would be more comfortable and convenient to avoid the process altogether and not willingly jeopardize my eternal soul. I ended up not serving a mission because of it. I know now that this is faulty thinking, but it took a lot of time and soul-searching to get to a point of comfort with the sacred covenants of the temple.

    Any discussion of covenants needs to be couched in the atonement, with the understanding that even when we try our best, we won’t always live up to it.

  28. Thank you, Jack. That’s a really critical point that I know I struggled with as well (“wouldn’t I be better off not getting endowed than making a covenant and then screwing it up?”). We’re on the topic all month so I’m going to work that in this Sunday.

  29. J. Stapley says:

    This is really great, Cynth. Thank you.

    I also like the US oath of allegiance for becoming a US citizen in this context.

  30. One thing you could mention (in line with the Kate and William photo) is that when the English Kings and Queens are crowned, they are anointed in a separate ceremony that IS NOT televised. It is generally assumed that Edward was not anointed when he abdicated in the early 30s (or that’s how they explain his ability to walk away from the throne). The instruments and ceremony are specifically described in the crown jewels display at the Tower of London.

    On another note, one of the best religious books I’ve run across in years is the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library volume “Kinship and Covenant” by Scott W. Hahn, a Catholic scholar. The bibliography alone (along with the footnotes) are enough to keep anyone busy and his take on the application of covenants in God’s plan is amazing. You can plug your own references to LDS scriptures and they seem to fit right in.

    That second would be a little much for the youth, but all the readers of this blog would be interested.

  31. Sorry Mark B., I saw your post after I wrote the above, but the anointing I mention IS NOT in the films. It will be interesting to see if they televise it when Charles(if) is crowned.

  32. Ben S. and Brad L. The covenants made in the O.T. (and in our modern temple for that matter) typically are ended by some kind of sign. It often took the form of building a pillar, making a sacrifice, some kind of hand gesture, or some other physical act. Gordon L. Hugenberger argues in his “Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi” that the marriage covenant is solemnized by the “covenant-ratifying oath and oath-sign” and that the oath-sign is the “sexual union”. I agree with this based upon my own research and it is another reason to me why sexual relations outside of marriage are such a serious offense to God. The marriage union is to create life and therefore to make the “oath-sign” without making God a party to the act (i.e. through the marriage covenant) is a violation in many ways. Chapter 7 pp. 216-279 deals with this issue specifically.

    I also agree with Ben S. and I have believed for a long time that the thing that kept Nephi going when things got tough in going after the brass plates (1 Ne. 3-4) was that he had made a covenant. I read 1 Ne. 3:7 as covenant language, even though it doesn’t show an “oath-sign”. Nephi is clearly committing to the Lord, “I WILL GO AND DO”.

  33. Ben S, to clarify, I regard baptism as a sort of implied covenantal relationship between the individual and God because the precise time of the individual’s entry into the covenant and often the precise terms are not entirely clear (bear in mind that in Handbook 1, although there are clear questions laid out for the interviewer to ask the convert, there are only vague instructions for what interviewers are to ask 8-year olds, so what the person is actually covenanting to in the interview could very well vary from interviewer to interviewer). You say that the covenant is made during the interview, which would make the most sense since it is the place at which the initiate says yes to some terms laid out by the interviewer; however, 1) this does not seem to square with what LDS leaders say about baptism (that it is at baptism that the covenant is made) and 2) there are no witnesses present (at least I think that it would in most cases be only the interviewer and interviewee present) at the interview.

    On issue no. 1, I’ve never heard the leaders call the baptism ordinance a ratification of an earlier covenant, but instead the refer to it as the actual covenant-making itself. I can see how someone might construe Mosiah 18:10 to mean baptism as a sign of an earlier covenant, but the wording is unclear and it could just as easily be construed to mean that baptism is the actual time in which the initiate enters the covenant. This all goes back to my original point that baptism ordinance is very different from the oath-taking ceremonies and swearings-in in the video clips above because “the person getting baptized and confirmed is to utter no words during the actual ordinance and the person performing the ordinance never states during the entirety of the ordinance what is being promised or covenanted to.” Perhaps you could say that the interview is part of the ordinance, but I’ve never ever heard it explained that way.

    On issue no. 2, having physical witnesses present at the time that the initiate makes the covenant (either through a simple yes or by saying “I swear/promise/covenant/etc. to” and then repeating exact words) seems to be a vital part of covenant-making in humanity across time and space. It is what makes the covenant something more binding than an agreement between only two people. Witnesses undoubtedly play an important part in LDS ordinances. A baptism wouldn’t be considered valid without witnesses. Nor would the sealing ordinance in the temple. So the lack of witnesses at the interview wherein the initiate is probably in most cases saying saying to a question that is probably phrased in the form of “do you covenant to…” (we don’t know for sure how the person actually covenants in all cases) can really only be said to be informal.

    If you think I’m hair-splitting, well, bear in mind that the LDS church leaders have consistently emphasized the concept of obeying with exactness and give very specific instructions as to how ordinances are to be performed, which if not done in an exact way are to be repeated. If the person performing the baptism ordinance gets the words wrong, they are to repeat it. If the person being baptized is not completely submerged and a toe comes up or hair does not fully go under the water, they are not considered baptized. If no priesthood-holding male witnesses are present at the baptism, it is not considered a valid baptism. You would think that leaders would be more precise on the issue of the time and place and circumstances that an actual covenant would be made and be just as precise about the actual terms that a person would be covenanting to. But it really cannot be said that that is the case, can it?

  34. Brad L. I think it would be better to say that the baptism is the “completion” of the covenant. It is the “oath-sign” (see above) we make when we finalize the ordinance. I think the commitment is what we agree to do when asked by the Bishop (or by Alma at the waters of Mormon) and then the process. The baptizer makes God a party to the covenant, he names the person in the water, he makes an oath-sign (which has temple ramifications) and then we enter the water and rise again. Going in the water in that sense is the “sign to God” as JS said.

  35. Hedgehog says:

    Interesting discussion.

    Reminds me of a RS lesson I was in a while back now in which the oath and covenant of the priesthood was discussed. I asked at the time, given the number of ordinations of family members I had observed, at what point are those being ordained making this covenant? Do they really know what they are doing? It seemed to me a heavy covenant, not to be spelled out in very clear terms. One of the class members did suggest to me that it was perhaps much like the baptism covenant.
    Far from assuaging my concerns, that answer led me to to feel some concern about the way in which the baptism covenant is made also.

  36. J. Stapley, thanks. I’ve added a video of that to the post.

  37. I believe plenty of things that aren’t explicitly enumerated by Church leaders, particularly where the scriptures speak and they haven’t, as I believe is the clear case here.

    I should clarify, I do not believe the covenant is made during the interview. Rather, the terms are agreed to in the interview (which allows the process to continue) then the covenant is ratified through the public and witnessed ceremony of baptism.

  38. Terry H, look at it this way. Those who make covenants should be able to answer very clearly the following questions: 1) What exactly did you covenant/promise to do? 2) To whom did you make this promise? 3) Who authored the terms of the covenant? 4) By what means did you make the covenant (i.e., by saying, “I [your name] swear/promise/covenant/etc. to do…”, physically respond “yes” to a question in which you were specifically asked if you would do x, make a physical gesture indicating yes, perform a ceremonial gesture (raising a hand, placing a hand on a book, assuming certain stance, etc.), before witnesses, the public, authorities of a particular organization, etc.)? 5) at what point in time (exact day and minute) did you enter into the covenant? and 6) what makes the covenant binding (i.e., witness statements, signed documents, an enforcing body)?

    Now to go through the questions one by one in relation to an LDS baptism:

    1) At the actual baptismal ceremony, nothing is promised by the initiate and the ordinance performer asks nothing of the initiate. If we consider the interview the place where the covenant is made (which, again, is not specified by church leaders’ words and church manuals as the time of entry into the covenant), then we can say that the initiate probably promised to take upon themselves Christ’s name and keep his commandments, since interviewers are told in Handbook 1 (which is only made available to bishops, branch presidents, and stake presidents, and not full-time male missionaries, who are actually the ones who are to conduct the interviews with converts) to ask this specific question to converts. Now here’s where it gets tricky. For interviews with an 8-year-old child, bishopric members, who are to conduct the interviews, are not given specific instructions of what to ask or say. Here are the exact words from the manual: “A bishopric member who interviews a child [who is 8 years old but not 9 or older] for baptism ensures that he or she understands the purposes of baptism. He also ensures that each child understands the baptismal covenant and is committed to live by it. As guided by the Spirit, he could ask questions similar to the first two that are asked in convert baptism interviews.” So in essence, all people who were baptized at the age of 8 could have been promising to do all sorts of different things; whatever the bishopric thought they should be promising to do. Furthermore, what they are promising to do is not written down and not witnessed. I was baptized at eight. I can’t remember exactly what I promised in my interview with the bishop to do, and I’m fairly sure that he doesn’t recall his exact words either.

    2) It is implied that we are making a covenant with God, although it is not directly stated at any point in the actual baptism ceremony.

    3) Again, it is implied that God authored the terms of the covenant, but (provided we regard the interview as the time at which the covenant is made or is begun) the terms are bound to vary according to interviewer. There is likely to be variation among interviewers on their interpretation of what exactly the initiate is covenanting to and what they are supposed to have repented of before qualifying for baptism. While on my mission, I distinctly remember being given a list of instructions by the mission president for baptismal interviews and one of them was to ask initiates if they masturbated or not in order to qualify for baptism.

    4) The official doctrine appears to be that the covenant is made by you being immersed in water by a proper authority before two male witnesses who are either priests or hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, provided that the ordinance performer has conducted the ordinance properly. But again, we run into the problem of there not being any covenant actually made during the ordinance. How can something be a promise or covenant when you have never physically stated something from your own mouth or responded “yes” or gestured affirmatively to a direct question or request.

    5) The exact time is not clear at all. Ben and you seem to be suggesting that it is during the interview that the covenant is made, or at least begun, and that the baptismal ordinance is merely a sign of that covenant. But, again, according to various statements by LDS church leaders, the covenant is made at baptism, which as I pointed out earlier, doesn’t make sense, since no covenant was made during the ordinance.

    6) Nothing appears to make the covenant binding, at least not on earth. There are baptismal records, but those simply indicate that x person was baptized on x date.

  39. Ben S, ratification is the act of expressing approval for a statement or decision that was made in the past. If the covenant wasn’t made at the interview and the baptism ceremony is mere ratification of a covenant that was supposedly made in the past, then when and where was the covenant made?

  40. “How can something be a promise or covenant when you have never physically stated something from your own mouth or responded “yes” or gestured affirmatively to a direct question or request.”

    When it’s done in the required interview, of course ;)

    What force do you think baptism has, if it’s not a covenant, and the interview and attendant questions has no relevance or claim on the interviewee? IF baptism does not entail (assuming a convert baptismal interview) keeping the word of wisdom, chastity, tithing, etc., then why do we refuse to baptize people who can’t agree to those things in the interview?

  41. Brad, like baking, making a covenant is a multi-stage process. Cookies aren’t fully ready until all the ingredients are properly measured, mixed, baked, and cooled enough to hold. Similarly, a covenant is not in force until all of its steps are completed. The ratification ceremony is the final bit. After it’s ratified, it’s made and in force.

    You can discuss terms with the car dealership, take test drives, but the agreement (which includes all these previous things) isn’t in force until you actually sign the contract.

  42. eponymous says:

    Concerning the back and forth from Brad L and others it seems quite straightforward that in the dialogue with Adam in Moses 6:52-68 that God the Father was very clear in outlining why each of us needs to be baptized and what baptism accomplishes as a covenant.

    This particular set of verses spells it out quite well:

    59 That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and
    inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I
    have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the
    kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the
    blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the
    words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;

    60 For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by
    the blood ye are sanctified;

    The covenant is accomplished by an outward action of being baptized in water. Proper instruction prior to baptism as God models with Adam is what establishes an understanding and acceptance of the terms by the individual. It really is as simple as that.

  43. So, wait, Ben, now you’re saying that the covenant is made, or at least begun, during the interview? My argument is that there is a covenantal relationship associated with baptism, but it is informal and implied, since the terms of the covenant and the time at which it was made are unclear (among other issues, which I mentioned in a previous comment). People who were baptized do not covenant in any formal way to keep the word of wisdom, law of chastity, pay tithing, etc. (no witnesses at interview wherein interviewee says “yes” or “no” to “do you covenant” question(s), interviewers are not technically required to ask set questions, interviewers may interpret the content of what is to be covenanted to differently). Yet they become members of the LDS church upon confirmation, which cannot be performed until a proper baptism ceremony is performed. Once they are members, the church leaders may deny certain privileges to them (i.e., they may forbid them from partaking of the sacrament, holding a calling, etc.) if it is revealed to the leaders that they are in violation of the wisdom of wisdom, etc.

    I’m not sure if your analogy to signing a contract to buy a car works for a number of reasons. 1) I can negotiate what the terms of a car-buying contract are. I can’t negotiate what the terms of LDS membership are. They are told to me (and they could vary according to interviewer) and I either agree to them or not. 2) The test-drive is not part of contract process. It may be something that the potential buyer requests of the seller before they sign the contract. But you’re saying that the actual interview is part of the covenant process. 3) I can pinpoint the time and place that I made the agreement to purchase a car. This doesn’t appear to be the case with baptism.

    The question is, is the actual act of making a covenant a multi-stage process, or do we just have to go through stages to get to the point at which we can actually make the covenant? I get the sense from you that it is the former, but I get the sense from the words of the church leaders that it is the latter.

  44. eponymous, while those verses indicate that all should be baptized, they do not show in any sense that baptism is a covenantal relationship (although I do acknowledge that that can be shown in other parts of Mormon doctrine and the standard works). Furthermore, those verses don’t indicate what people are supposed to promise to do at baptism. And there is really no covenant without promise of action.

  45. Brad L., you have a very narrow and legalistic view of covenants. I am glad that works for you. It is not the only way to view covenants.

  46. Brad, I base my comments on the scriptures, my years of grad school studying Hebrew and the Old Testament, and the patterns that are there. In the scriptures, covenant making is a multi-stage process. Whether Church leaders are aware of that fact and the details is largely irrelevant to me, and I’ve made my points here.

    Is there anyone else still reading this who would like me to continue responding to Brad L? Is this a productive conversation?

  47. Crickets says:

  48. Hedgehog says:

    Well, I’m finding the discussion helpful Ben S.

  49. Terry H says:

    Brad, Ben and others. This has been the second best priesthood lesson I’ve ever been in where we’re discussing “High Priest” questions, as my missionary trainer described them too many years ago for me to admit. The best was where we were debating whether or not you had to be baptized to enter the telestial kingdom.

    I’m certainly in Ben’s corner on this one, except I don’t have the Hebrew training, but I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more years studying the Old Testament only because I’m older (although my professional training has certainly helped.)

    I strongly urge anyone who’s been interested in this track (which kind of derailed off the teaching the youth into the murky waters of doctrinal hair-splitting) to read the Scott Hahn book I mentioned earlier. Especially check the bibliography and sources and you’ll get a great overview of all the literature on ancient covenant-making and processes and how they were applied in the Old Testament. The more I study the Old Testament, the more I see how Joseph’s revelations have more of that flavor than even the New Testament.

  50. Ben, I don’t disagree that baptism process has the essence of a covenantal relationship, but only very loosely, for reasons I’ve already stated. My original point stands that the LDS baptismal covenant and the oath-taking ceremonies in the videos are really quite different for the simple reason that no formal covenant is actually made at the baptism ceremony itself.

    Chris, bear in mind that the baptismal covenant leaves members all sorts of wiggle room in the face of the commonly-heard response of members to news of someone’s inactivity or general disengagement from the LDS church: “but, you made a covenant!” OK, to what, where, and when? None of these questions can be properly nailed down in relation to the supposed baptismal covenant. Contrast this with covenant-making in modern law and it is completely different.

  51. If somebody ever said “but, you made a covenant!” to me, I would likely violate my baptismal covenant by breaking their nose. Brad, Mormons commonly say really stupid things which do not make sense in a doctrinal, let alone logical, sense.

    “None of these questions can be properly nailed down in relation to the supposed baptismal covenant. Contrast this with covenant-making in modern law and it is completely different.”

    Exactly. That is as it should be. This is the Gospel. It is not modern contract law.

    As a social contract theorist, I deal all the time with the idea of contracts, commitments, and obligations rooted in contracts and commitments that might not have ever been made at all. So vague and imprecise covenants are sufficiently concrete for me. :)

    Yes, yes, yes. The baptismal covenant is made in a way different than many of the ceremonies in the videos in Cynthia’s post. I do not think the post is about the ceremonies (whether inaugural or baptismal), it is about covenants. I think that might be where you got lost.

  52. Chris, I don’t think that we’re in disagreement per se. Except that this post is about promises made at ceremonies, I never said that it was just about the ceremonies. I merely pointed out that no promise (and a covenant is merely a type of promise) is actually made at the LDS baptismal ceremony.

  53. Thanks for the civil and interesting discussion, y’all.