Lesson 7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel” #DandC2017

We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that these ordinances are 1st, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2d, Repentance; 3d, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; 4th, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

– Joseph Smith, the Wentworth Letter, 1842

So I have some fun news. My book The Power of Godliness got picked up by Oxford University Press. I’ll know soon whether it will be published for the end of the year. I bring this up because I’m a little conflicted about what to present for this lesson. I don’t want to spill the beans if you will, as the discussion of what ordinances are is one of my favorite bits in the book. Let’s see how it goes.

First, compare the quote above to the text in the Articles of Faith. What is different? In my book I thank the illustrious Kevin Barney because he pointed out in this comment that “laws and ordinances” is a legal doublet. Does that change how we read the Wentworth Letter? This will require some digging, but you should take the time to read up on what these terms mean outside of the Mormon context: 1) Sacrament, and 2) Ordinance. How does that jibe with how we use the terms in Mormonism?

Now, what would you say is the first law of heaven (hint: it is not obedience)?

Unsurprisingly “faith” pops up a lot in the Doctrine and Covenants, let alone the entire “Lecture on Faith,” that used to be Doctrine of the Doctrine and Covenants. First what is faith? And please don’t recite that whole substance of things not seen bit. That has lost all meaning for over use. There are a lot ways to approach faith, but I really quite like using fidelis. What does Hi-Fi, and Semper-Fi, and being faithful to one’s spouse mean? Does having faith in God mean we are faithful to God?

Here is one verse. Do we believe it?

Doctrine and Covenants 35:9
And whoso shall ask it in my name in faith, they shall cast out devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk.

Another big word for the D&C. Do you need to be a member of the church in order to repent? Look at where it comes in the order of first ordinances. Look at the date of all the early revelations telling people to preach repentance. What does it mean to repent? Note that you have to wait until the New Testament, and Paul to talk about Godly Sorrow.

Here is a fun one. Read Doctrine and Covenants 22. It is short. What is it saying about non-Mormon baptism?

If you want to get into baptism and Mormon sacramentalism, check out Ryan Tobler’s article here. It is nice because it ties into the legalism of the Wentworth letter.

the gift of the Holy Ghost
Honestly, this is one of the most interesting bits in our history, and I don’t think that there is a single treatment available. Laying on hands was essentially tantamount to anti-cessationsim. I know that is a big leap. What do we expect from this ritual? What did early Mormons? From Orson Hyde’s journal (digital copy of holograph available at the CHL):

May 13, 1832
Sunday, held meeting in ColexBrook Hollow; one came forward for baptism by the name of Randall a female, widow. In the evening held a confirmation meeting – two were; the power of the Lord was manifest conspicuously.

How conspicuous is the Holy Ghost in your life?


  1. Aussie Mormon says:

    It’s never twigged to me before that AoF 3 and 4 are linked like that.

  2. “The Power of Godliness” — an intriguing book title. I’ve previously shared my confusion on what that phrase might mean (if anything!) in its D&C context. I hope I remember to look for the book after it becomes available. In the meantime, thanks for some useful comments and questions in prep for Lesson 7.

  3. Ordinances manifest the Power of Godliness, so says D&C 84. What I think is unfortunate, is it seems a great many members equate that to the idea that the ordinances ARE the power of godliness, or that by virtue of partaking in them, the power of godliness is automatically shared with the participant.

    Instead, it might better be said that ordinances manifest what power God is inviting us to by participation in them.

    Baptism invites us to die to our old selves, and to rise in a new life in Christ. We are promised that performing this ordinance in sincerity will result in a powerful spiritual transformation and rebirth, or a Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost. Interestingly, in the BoM, the BoFatHG is hardly ever associated with the laying on of hands. It is something God gives to one who is sincere in their faith and repentance. Only 3 Ne/Moroni mention the idea of the laying on of hands…it appears to be the exception to the rule, and not the rule itself. As countless others are powerfully reborn with out it.

    Whereas Baptism invited us to communion with one part of the Godhead (or the power of Godliness) – The Holy Spirit….Sacrament invites us to communion with the next level of the Godhead – The Son of God. Our focus on the sacrament renewing baptism is likely a giant error…it is pointing the faithful FORWARD to deeper relationship with the Godhead, and therefore the Power of Godliness. Just like the washing in the basin occurred in the outer court, and the table of the shewbread and wine was in the inner court….so too baptism is a symbol of progression in the Telestial Sphere, and Sacrament a symbol of progression in the Terrestrial. The sacrament does not convey to the participant automatically the Spirit of the Son…but invites them to seek it, and find it. Joseph Smith’s terminology might have suggested it is leading us towards seeking a second Comforter experience.

    And what of our Temples? The ordinance itself comes out and says it doesn’t convey anything to you, except for a promise that you may obtain something by your faith and diligence. And what is it inviting you to? Some stages of the progression there remind you that you should have learned how to receive the fulness of the Telestial sphere (the Holy Ghost), the fullness of the Terrestrial Sphere (The Son of God), and then invite you to enter into the Communion with the Father, and the reception of a covenant of Life and Salvation.

    Ordinances don’t “convey” any of these things….in that they are not in themselves the Power of Godliness. Instead, they manifest it to you through symbol, and let you know such power is yours for the taking, if you are sincere in your faith, and repentance, and in seeking your God.

    Nephi calls all of this the “Doctrine of Christ”. And in 2 Ne 31-32 points out what “power” you are being invited to. Though the only ordinance he uses as symbol is baptism…the rest he just says is what should happen to you afterwards. The sincere follower of Christ, who is truly Born of Fire and the Holy Ghost, should be able to do the following:

    1) Speak with angels (2 Ne 31:14 and 2 Ne 32:2),
    2) have all things that are needed revealed unto you (2 Ne 32:3-5),
    3) receive the ministry of Christ as a second comforter (2 Ne 32:6)
    4) hear the Father covenant with you “Ye Shall Have Eternal Live” (2 Ne 31:20-21)

    He apparently would have liked to speak more about these things, but was constrained because his audience is too slow on the uptake. These statements from him parallel the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood found in D&C 84, where we learn the relationship between ordinances and the power of Godliness. And his statements mirror what our temple symbolism lays out in ritual.

    Except…the Book of Mormon is full of authors and witnesses who transcend the symbol, and go onto experience the real thing. Thus…they actually receive the “power of Godliness” that the symbols of ordinances point to. 3 Nephi 19 is the best example of this, as Jesus walks participants through 3 degrees of cleansing and ministering, until they are capable of hearing that which is unutterable. Their progression is first a baptism by fire, followed by the ministry of angels. Then being washed and made clean and white and made into a similitude of the Son. Finally a ministry is conveyed which cannot be written.

    Sound familiar?

    We would do well to learn more about experiencing the POWER of Godliness, and not merely the forms of it.

  4. Whoops, I meant to say Holy Place instead of inner court. I’m sure I made other errors, but that one stood out to me.

  5. Congratulations Jonathan. And yes, it has always driven me nuts when people say that the first law of heaven is obedience. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, obedience isn’t a law. How can you be obedient to obedience? That is circular thinking. Saying obedience is the first law of heaven is saying nothing. It is a meaningless platitude. But we all know what it implies.

  6. Great news on the book! The question of LDS sacramentalism is a great one. Thanks for the notes.

  7. Christopher Jones says:

    Congrats again, J., on the book contract!

    And a thousand times yes to a close reading of D&C 22. It is quite at odds with how most Mormons think about non-Mormon baptisms and speaks in interesting ways to the earlier lesson on the apostasy and restoration.

  8. Christopher, could you elaborate on how you think D&C 22 is at odds with how most Mormons view non-LDS baptisms? Thanks

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks all.

    dk, I think it may be worth revisiting some core assumptions here. Viz., what is the “power of godliness” that Paul is talking about. It is worth checking out another translation besides the KJV. Also check out Christopher Jones’ [that guy who commented above] article “The Power and Form of Godliness.” Then, per our conversation here, during JS’s lifetime, what were ordinances? Does that change your thoughts at all?

    Christopher, I went back and read your stuff on Covel and baptism. I decided to wait until the lesson on those sections before linking to your excellent article. So great.

  10. J. Stapley says:

    Also, for the extended meditation, check out Sam’s book, First Principles and Ordinances.

  11. Congratulations! Wow. Just. Wow.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    So excited for the book! Congratulations. And thanks for the notes.

  13. Thanks J. Stapley….I look forward to reading your recommendations, and I’ll report back how those things might change my insights or views.

  14. So, I’ve read your suggestions, which I loved by the way. I’d done my own study of methodist and evangelical conversion stories in preparation for the “First Vision” lesson, but this was much more exhaustive, so thank you.

    If anything, having read Christopher’s article, it actually supports what I was trying to say (although perhaps imperfectly). The Methodists were worried that much of religion was merely a form, that lacked transformative power. People were getting baptized, going to church, participating in Sacraments, but having no direct conversion or experience with God.

    That’s my whole point. We tend to look at our own ordinances in a way that “denies the power” in a certain sense. We often say that it is the ordinance that provides and offer salvation, that it is the ordinance that is necessary to be redeemed fully. That without baptism and the temple, one cannot be exalted.

    But we fail to, and in some cases even discourage, seeking for the “power of Godliness” that defines Joseph’s experience and the other methodists that inspired him to pursue it. When was the last time anyone bothered to quote Lectures on Faith and suggest that unless you KNOW that the course of life you are following is approved by God, it is vanity to assume that you have life and salvation, and an inheritance with Abraham or other saints? Basically never. Joseph wanted people to experience the miraculous, he expected others to get visions, he expected them to be powerfully born again, he expected them to have spiritual gifts, and because of that he had to regularly teach discernment of spirits so people wouldn’t be led astray.

    We do the opposite. We silence anyone who claims to have been visited by an angel (unless they are a GA), we say that visions and dreams and powerful experiences with Grace are the exception…..where as one underlying point of Christopher’s article seems to suggest that Methodists thought it the RULE….and Joseph did too. To have a radical encounter with Grace (like Alma the Younger) WAS the Power of Godliness.

    That puts God’s words to Alma in a new light, and makes the expectation of others experiencing something like it pretty high….”24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit. 25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; 26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”

    My point was Ordinances are often merely a “form”…but through symbol they describe the “power” or miracle available to you by faith. Baptism is nothing (a la D&C 22)…if it isn’t accompanied by the Power of the Holy Ghost Remission of Sins. But mormonism goes deeper than that….and the Lectures on Faith and Oath and Covenant and Book of Mormon suggest that you can even have a visit from the Son as Second Comforter, and receive personally and directly a covenant of Life and Salvation. That, to me, would be “Power”…but any ordinance that typifies it in symbol is merely “form”.

    God’s inviting us to actually be redeemed, and not simply to perform a bunch of ordinances designed to ritualize redemption. If parts of the BoM are to be believed, he’s waiting for some Gentiles to have the same faith the Brother of Jared had, so that they can receive the same mysteries he did…by experience.

    And by the way, if your question about which “ordinances” existed refers to a question about Faith and Repentance also being an ordinance, I’m in full agreement. Baptism is merely the “sign” or “form” that such ordinances of Faith and Repentance for a remission of sins has existed. D&C 20:37 says people should be able to manifest to the church that they have received a remission of their sins…BEFORE baptism. In other words…they should have already experienced Power, before they participate in the form/ritual of baptism.

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