Ordinance (Latter Day Saints)

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In the Latter Day Saint movement, there are numerous ordinances are sacred rites and ceremonies that have spiritual meanings. Ordinances can also mean God’s laws and statutes,[1] may be viewed as a physical act signifying a spiritual commitment, or a covenant. Latter Day Saints believe that certain ordinances involve the formation of a covenant with God and failure to honor that covenant means the ordinance has no effect. However, sincere repentance can restore the blessings associated with the ordinance. Ordinances are performed by the authority of the priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. The term has a meaning roughly similar to that of the term "sacrament" used by Community of Christ-derived denominations and "sacrament" used by other Christian denominations.

Some of these ordinances, such as baptism, confirmation and the sacrament (the Lord's Supper), are also practiced by other Christian denominations. While other ordinances are unique and usually performed within a Latter Day Saint temple. These ordinances include the Endowment and sealings.

Types of ordinances[edit]

Saving ordinances[edit]

A Latter Day Saint confirmation circa 1852.

Saving ordinances are those rituals that are a requirement for exaltation and empowered only by the Grace of Jesus Christ. Most Latter Day Saints denominations see saving ordinances as necessary, but they do not see them as sufficient for salvation. For example, baptism is required for exaltation, but simply having been baptized does not guarantee any eternal reward. The baptized person is expected to be obedient to God's commandments, to repent of any sinful conduct subsequent to baptism, and to receive the other saving ordinances.

Saving ordinances are usually performed only once for each individual. However, if a person is excommunicated or removes his or her name from the church membership rolls, all saving ordinances are revoked. Therefore, if the individual wishes to re-join the church, he or she may receive certain saving ordinances again, beginning with baptism.

  1. Baptism: Performed by immersion after the age of accountability, and rebaptism of excommunicated members. Baptism is seen as symbolic both of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection[2] and is also symbolic of the baptized individual putting off of the natural or sinful man and becoming spiritually reborn as a disciple of Jesus.
  2. Confirmation and reception of the Gift of the Holy Ghost: Performed by laying hands on the head of a newly baptized member. Through confirmation, the initiate becomes an official member of the church and receives the "gift of the Holy Ghost".[3]
  3. Ordination to the Priesthood: In the Latter Day Saint movement, the priesthood is the power and authority of God given to man, including the authority to perform ordinances and to act as a leader in the church. Latter Day Saint theology has recognized at least three orders of priesthood: (1) the Aaronic priesthood, (2) the Melchizedek priesthood; and (3) the Patriarchal priesthood. Although these are different orders, they are all subsumed under the priesthood held by Jesus Christ, or the Melchizedek priesthood. For most of the history of the Latter Day Saint movement, only men have been ordained to specific offices in the priesthood, and most Latter Day Saint denominations still restricts its priesthood to men. However some exceptions to this policy do exist, such as within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite),[4] a faction founded by James J. Strang and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now the Community of Christ), who began ordaining women to all of its priesthood offices in 1984.
  4. Restoration of blessings: An ordinance which is said to restore one's office in the priesthood, endowment, and sealings after the person has been excommunicated and then re-baptized.[5]:73

Temple ordinances[edit]

Robes of the Nauvoo endowment, circa the 1870s

Not all of these ordinances have been or are currently performed by every denomination, since these ordinances are only performed by sects that historically practiced the Nauvoo Endowment ceremony. Currently only LDS Church-derived and Cutlerite-derived[6] denominations within the Latter Day Saints movement practice the Nauvoo endowment ceremony. Other Latter Day Saint denominations, such as Community of Christ-derived[7] and Hedrickite-derived[8] denominations have never performed any of these ordinances or any endowment ceremony at all. Still other denominations, such Strangite-derived[9] denominations, practice ordinances such as Marriage and sealing, but have rejected the Endowment. Additionally some denomination, such as LDS Church have "practically discontinued"[10] some of these ordinance, such as the Second anointing[10] and Law of Adoption.[11]

  1. Endowment: Referred to as a gift of "power from on high" by Joseph Smith, but the purpose and meaning of the endowment varied during his lifetime. After 1842, the endowment usually consists of two phases: (1) an initiation, and (2) an instructional and testing phase. The initiation consisted of the ordinance of washing and anointing, culminating in the clothing of the patron in a "Garment of the Holy Priesthood". The instructional and testing phase of the endowment consisted of a scripted reenactment of Adam and Eve's experience in the Garden of Eden.[12] The instruction is punctuated with personal covenants, gestures, and a prayer circle around an altar. At the end of instruction, the initiate's knowledge of symbolic gestures and key-words is tested at a "veil", a symbolic final frontier for the initiate to face the judgement of Jesus, before entering the presence of God in the celestial kingdom.[13]
  2. Marriage and sealing: An ordinance where individuals are married and sealed as husband and wife as an eternal family. Any children born into this marriage after sealing are also sealed into that family which will live together forever, if obedient to God's commandments. This ordinances is particularly performed by the LDS Church[5]:57 and branches of Mormon fundamentalism.
  3. Ritual of the Law of Adoption: An ordinance practiced mainly between 1846 and 1894 in which priesthood men were sealed in a father–son relationship to other men who were not part of nor even distantly related to their immediate nuclear family. There is no surviving evidence that the "law of adoption" sealing practice was taught by Joseph Smith or his contemporaries prior to Smith's death in 1844. However, adoptions appeared on the records of the Nauvoo Temple in 1846, and scholars generally assume that the practice was instituted by Brigham Young.[14] Following an address on 8 April 1894 by Wilford Woodruff, the practice of the law of adoption ceased in the LDS Church.[11] However, some demoninations, such as the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ.[15] (commonly referred to as the "Gay Mormon Church"), continue to perform the ritual of the law of adoption.
  4. Sealing to parents: For children born before a marriage and sealing is performed or who have been adopted into a family, this ordinance seals them into that family as if they had been born into a sealed family.
  5. Second anointing: An ordinance performed for a sealed couple, sealing them up to eternal life, and anointing them as kings and queens, priests, and priestesses. Historically known as the fulness of the priesthood, it is an obscure and relatively rare ordinance that was an extension of the Nauvoo endowment ceremony. The LDS Church performed this ordinance from the 1840s to at least the mid-1900s,[10] but the practice was "practically discontinued" by 1949 within the LDS Church,[10] though until 1981 it may have continued "to be performed--albeit on a small scale".[16]:42–43 The ordinance is still performed by many Mormon fundamentalist groups.

Saving ordinances on behalf of the Dead[edit]

Baptismal font in the Salt Lake Temple, circa 1912, where baptisms for the dead are performed by the LDS Church

According to Latter Day Saint theology, ordinances can be performed vicariously (i.e. post mortem) on behalf of any person who would desire to accept the ordinance but did not receive it. While, some sects such as the Hedrickite denominations, have rejected some or all vicariously performed ordinances, other denominations, such as the LDS Church, still perform the saving ordinances on behalf of their deceased ancestors. These are performed vicariously or by "proxy" on behalf of the dead, and church members believe that it is up to the deceased to accept or reject the offered ordinance in the spirit world. Since deceased persons no longer have an earthly existence, they are unable to directly participate in these "saving" ordinances themselves. The physical performance of these ordinances by proxy is seen as fulfillment of the requirement. As with living ordinances, ordinances for the dead are seen as necessary but not sufficient. It is believed that the spirits in the spirit world are offered the teachings of the full gospel of Jesus Christ and have the opportunity to accept or decline vicarious ordinances done on their behalf. Some LDS Church members refer to the reference by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:29 regarding baptism for the dead as evidence that this was a religious practice of ancient tradition that has now been restored by the LDS Church.[17]

Non-saving ordinances[edit]

Ordinances which are not a requirement for exaltation are referred to as non-saving ordinances. A non-saving ordinance may be performed on behalf of an individual many times; in practice, however, some non-saving ordinances are only performed once per individual. While not every denomination performs each of these ordinances, they can be found throughout Latter Day Saint theology.

  1. Animal sacrifice: The ordinance of animal sacrifice was instituted in the Strangite denominations,[18] primarily as a part of Strangite celebration rituals. Though the chapter on "Sacrifices" in Strang's Book of the Law of the Lord speaks of them as being offered for sins, the prohibition on such sacrifices contained in 3 Nephi 9:19–20,[19] meant that Strang focused instead on sacrifice as an element of religious festivities,[20] especially the commemoration of the coronation a king.[21] The head of every house, from the king to his lowest subject, was to offer "a heifer, or a lamb, or a dove. Every man a clean beast, or a clean fowl, according to his household."[22]
  2. Anointing of the Sick/Administration to the Sick and Consecrating oil: A person who is physically ill, emotionally strained, or sick in any other way may request administration of this blessing or ordinance. The purposes to provide assurance of God's care and concern and also of the church's interest in that person. Often this included the anointing of the head of the person with consecrated oil, necessitating the ordinance of "Consecrating oil".
  3. Calling: This ordinance requires that a person having responsibility over a unit or an auxiliary of the church prayerfully seek revelation to determine which individual is to fill particular responsibilities within that organization. If the individual agrees—and many persons wait to receive spiritual confirmation before agreeing—then the individual is "called" to the position.
  4. Dedication of a church building or a temple: This ordinance is performed after the building is completed or purchased; if a building undergoes extensive remodeling, this ordinance may be performed again.
  5. Dedication of a grave: This ordinance is performed immediately before the body is placed in the grave; it is usually performed only once.
  6. Dedication of a land or country for the preaching of the gospel: This ordinance is usually performed before or soon after missionaries begin to preach in a particular country; it is usually performed only once (but may be performed again if missionaries have not been in a particular country for an extended period of time); it is typically performed by an Apostle.
  7. Fellowship: When a church member is newly baptized or moves into the geographic boundaries of a ward or branch, the individual's name is presented to the congregation. Members of the congregation are invited to raise their right hands in a covenant and token of fellowship to welcome the member into the congregation.
    Rigdonite/Bickertonite Foot washing in the Philippines
  8. Foot washing: The ordinance of foot washing was instituted in the Rigdonite/Bickertonite denominations as a demonstration of personal humility. Members follow the ordinance of as described in John 13:5 four times a year, when members greet each other with a "holy kiss", preferably on the cheek, to signify that they are greeting each other in the love of God, in accordance with the description given in the King James Version of the New Testament.[23][24] The Rigdonite/Bickertonite denominations believes that this is a very important ordinance, citing Jesus' statement to Peter: "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me."[24]
  9. Hosanna Shout: An organized ritual of a congregation of shouting hosanna, as a recitation of praise to God, while waving a white handkerchief, and is usually performed as a ritual in the dedication of a Temple. It was first used as part in the dedication the Kirtland temple and was part of the Kirtland endowment ceremony.
  10. Naming and blessing a child: Typically this ordinance is performed shortly only once after a child's birth in fulfillment of the commandment in the Doctrine and Covenants: "Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name."[25] The purpose of the practice is twofold: to give a baby an official name and to provide an opportunity to give a blessing for the child's spiritual and physical welfare.
  11. Patriarchal blessing/Evangelist's blessing: A blessing or ordinance given normally once by a patriarch to a church member. Patriarchal blessings are modeled after the blessing given by Jacob to each of his sons prior to his death and are considered a gift of knowledge and strength of one's coming challenges and blessings.
  12. Prayer circle: An antiphonic prayer around an altar, performed as part of the endowment and on other occasions, such among the Apostolic United Brethren and the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, where prayer circles within temples, endowment houses, and homes are still common.
  13. Priesthood blessing (including father's blessings): A prayer for healing, comfort or counsel given by a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, who lays his hands on the head of the person receiving the blessing.
  14. Rebaptism of faithful members: In late 1839, many who were already baptized members of the church, were rebaptised either to show a renewal of their commitment to the movement or as part of a healing ordinance. Some denominations, such as the Community of Christ, never performed this ordinance. While others, like the LDS church historically performed this ordinance, such as during the Mormon Reformation, but no longer do.
  15. Sacrament/Lord's Supper: An ordinance in which participants eat bread and drink wine, water, or unfermented grape juice[26] in remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is similar to the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, or communion in Protestant denominations. Normally, the sacrament is provided either every Sunday, on the first Sunday of each month, as part of the regular meeting, or other additional special occasions. Strictly speaking, this is a non-saving ordinance because a person could be exalted without ever having participated in the sacrament. However, individuals who have been baptized are expected to regularly participate in the sacrament.
  16. Setting apart: An ordinance where a person is formally chosen and blessed to carry out a specific calling or responsibility in the church. Once a person has accepted the responsibility of holding a calling and has been "Sustained" by the members of the church for that position, one or more priesthood holders "set apart" the person to serve in that calling, usually accomplish by giving the person a priesthood blessing by the laying on of hands.
  17. Shaking the dust from the feet: A cursing ordinance where a priesthood holder leave a cursing instead of a blessing, by casting off the dust of there feet "against them as a testimony, and cleansing your feet by the wayside." It was most often used against those who reject the teachings of the church, or who fail to provide missionaries, with food, money, or shelter. Since the early-20th century, the practice has been rare.
  18. Sustaining: Names of individuals called to responsibilities within the organization of the church are proposed to the congregation for a sustaining vote by common consent. Members may covenant to sustain, or raise a hand to dispute, or simply abstain from voting. While the vast majority of proposed callings are unanimously sustained, disputants are invited to discuss their concerns privately with the leader extending the calling, who may then withdraw or extend the calling as proposed. A solemn assembly is a particularly high profile sustaining performed for a new president and prophet.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scriptures: Study Helps: The Guide To The Scriptures: Ordinances, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint  External link in |title= (help);
  2. ^ Scriptures: Study Helps: Bible Dictionary: Baptism, ¶2, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint  External link in |title= (help);
  3. ^ Craven, Rulon G. (1992), "Confirmation", in Ludlow, Daniel H., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York, NY: Macmillan, pp. 310–311, ISBN 0-02-904040-X, OCLC 24502140 
  4. ^ Strang, James J. (1856) Book of the Law of the Lord, Being a Translation From the Egyptian of the Law Given to Moses in Sinai. St. James: Royal Press, pp. 199, 227.
  5. ^ a b Church Handbook of Instructions 2010.
  6. ^ Fletcher, Rupert J. and Daisy Whiting, Alpheus Cutler and the Church of Jesus Christ. Church of Jesus Christ, 1974, pg. 333-37.
  7. ^ Elbert A. Smith, Differences That Persist between the RLDS and LDS Churches, (1950), website accessed 2008-06-11.
  8. ^ Articles of Faith and Practice of the Church of Christ, Article 23. From the official church website. Retrieved on 2009-08-05.
  9. ^ "Women/Marriage". Strangite.org. Retrieved on 2007-10-28.
  10. ^ a b c d Buerger 1983, p. 42: "Judging from his remarks seven years later, however, in a 1949 letter presented to the Coucil of the First Presidency and Twelve, [George F.] Richards still express frustration: "For a ling time I felt that I would like to express to you the disappointment I feel in that we have practically discontinued the administration of Second Anointing in the church…..” ”
  11. ^ a b Irving 1974, p. 312
  12. ^ "President Gordon B. Hinckley", Ensign (supp.), Mar. 2008, pp. 2–13.
  13. ^ (Buerger 1987, pp. 44–45)
  14. ^ Brooks, Juanita (1992) [1961], John Doyle Lee: Zealot, Pioneer Builder, Scapegoat, Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, p. 73, ISBN 0-87421-162-X, OCLC 42329435 
  15. ^ Feliz, Antonio A. (1992) [1988], Out of the Bishop's Closet (2nd ed.), San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, ISBN 978-0-9624751-7-7, OCLC 26940235 
  16. ^ Buerger 1983
  17. ^ Burton, H. David; Stendahl, Krister (1992). "Baptism for the Dead". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. pp. 95–97. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140. 
  18. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 106–109.
  19. ^ Book of Mormon.
  20. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 293–297. See also http://www.strangite.org/Offering.htm.
  21. ^ Book of the Law, p. 293.
  22. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 293–294.
  23. ^ Cadman, W., Armbrust, J., Wright, W. (1897). Faith and Doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ. West Elizabeth, Pa: The Church of Jesus Christ. 
  24. ^ a b Valenti, Jerry (2000). Welcome to The Church of Jesus Christ. Monongahela, Pa: The Church of Jesus Christ. 
  25. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 20:70
  26. ^ Bolton, Andrew and Jane Gardner: "The Sacraments: Symbol, Meaning and Discipleship." Independence: Herald House, 2005.