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?