Ordinances and the Ship of Theseus

The ship of Theseus was an old Greek philosophical question. Over time a ship has various elements replaced – boards, masts, sails, etc. Over time less and less of the ship is the same as when it started. When is it the same ship? Various thinkers over the centuries have had different answers for what makes the ship’s identity. Some argue there is no identity and we just call things the same if they resemble one an other close enough in some arbitrary fashion. Others think the ship slowly loses its identity over time as it changes. Others think there’s some basic design or intent and so long as that intent forms it, it’s the same ship even if some elements differ.

It’s worth considering something Orson Pratt spoke of the development of the endowment starting with the Kirkland Temple.

These same administrations in the Kirtland Temple were revealed little by little, corresponding with what I have already been saying, that the Lord does not give the fulness at once, but imparts to us according to his own will and pleasure. (JD 19:15-16)

It’s worth considering an other ordinance that people are more familiar with and that we can talk about more freely. The Sacrament. Our Sacrament prayers are given in D&C 20:76-79. That however is just quoting Moroni 4:35:2. We’ve also changed it since we replaced wine with water starting in 1912 and finalized with the rise of prohibition. Going the other direction though, Moroni’s record of the Sacrament most likely arises out of 3 Nephi 18. Some have argued though that arises through an evolution of phrasing and understanding of covenants going back to King Benjamin. (See for example John Welch’s arguments in “Our Nephite Sacrament Prayers“)

Given that development in the new world, we wouldn’t expect the Church in ancient Palestine to have phrases arising out of King Benjamin’s sermons.[1] When we look for early Palestinian sacrament prayers we find something similar, yet also different from Moroni’s prayers. The ancient text the Didiche likely represents very early 1st century Sacrament prayers. It reads (9:2-10:6)

First, as regards the cup:

We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the holy vine of Thy son David, which Thou madest known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever.

Then as regarding the broken bread:

We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord hath said: Give not that which is holy to the dogs.

And after ye are satisfied thus give ye thanks.

We give Thee thanks, Holy Father, for Thy holy name, which Thou hast made to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which Thou hast made known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. Thou, Almighty Master, didst create all things for Thy name’s sake, and didst give food and drink unto men for enjoyment, that they might render thanks to Thee; but didst bestow upon us spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Thy Son. Before all things we give Thee thanks that Thou art powerful; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in Thy love; and gather it together from the four winds – even the Church which has been sanctified – into Thy kingdom which Thou hast prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever. May grace come and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If any man is holy, let him come; if any man is not, let him repent. Maran Atha. Amen.

But permit the prophets to offer thanksgiving as much as they desire.

The same elements are there. Giving the spirit (grace). Unity. Perfection in God’s love. The importance of the name. Some elements we attribute to the Sacrament, such as repentance are more explicit. Without getting into a debate about whether we should trust the Didiche, for the sake of argument let’s say it’s an authentic document representing the views of the Elders & Apostles in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the temple. Is the Sacrament there the same sacrament as we do today?

We can make the same argument about baptism. Consider Mosiah 18:13 where we find the baptismal prayer Alma used.

Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.

Compare that to the prayer we are to offer when we baptize following D&C 20:73. Again they are admittedly similar in some ways, but also different.

People who find changes in ordinances problematic typically are fine with small changes they’re used to. Most members are fine doing ordinances in the native language of the person performing or receiving the ordinance for instance. Not everyone is though. Some might remember several years ago when the Catholic Church started doing Mass in people’s native languages rather than Latin there was a huge turmoil. I suspect we don’t have something similar only because the Church was restored in English rather than Hebrew (or Greek or Aramaic or even “Nephite” whatever that was). I assume almost no one is bothered by switching from using wine to water so long as the intent was the same. At a certain point of change though, some start wondering if it is the same ordinance.

That gets us back to the ship of Theseus. When was the ship the same? And what made it the same ship? As I said over history there have been many answers to the ship of Theseus.

While I don’t want to embrace platonism, the platonists did have a good argument that it wasn’t in the details (“the accidents”) that identity lay. Rather it was in some idea that was not coming from any particular person. While I reject platonism, in this case I think the idea that what gives the ordinance its identity is its relationship to God and his thinking on the matter. That might seem a dodge, just like it might seem a dodge for the platonist to say the ship of Theseus’ identity wasn’t in the boards but in some immaterial idea of the ship of Theseus. However note how this solution works. It allows for various change but what gauges the change is God’s authority in that it is up to him to make changes, not man. It also explains the apostasy and the changing of ordinances there since the real issue is unauthorized changes that slowly move ordinances away from what God wants. (Or in the case of the endowment radically transforming them into gnosticism or removing them entirely in the various surviving forms of Christianity)

As I said this will seem a dodge to many. After all, who is to say when something is approved of God. But I think we have an answer there. A prophet does.

1. I don’t want to say they couldn’t since clearly Christ brought teaching and presumably phrasing that was used in Palestine to Bountiful. However we don’t have any record that when he appeared to the disciples in Palestine that he brought Nephite records to them.

47 comments for “Ordinances and the Ship of Theseus

  1. I was raised in the McConkie Mormonism of the 70s and 80s, where “changing the ordinances” was the very definition of the great apostasy. (Baptism by sprinkling rather than immersion, as the prime example) Isa 24:5 and D&C 1:15, formed the scriptural backbone of the argument.

    Regardless of whether changes in the ordinances suit my personal preferences and political sensibilities, I’m uncomfortable with all changes to the ordinances, as they are supposed to be the most unchanging part of the unchanging Gospel. If the ordinances can change, what part of our theology cannot?

    FWIW, in the world of sailboats, you can rebuilt the every single stick in a ship with new timber in a single operation and call it a “restoration,” as long as the original one is destroyed in the process.

  2. I’ll put the links here in a separate comment, in case they get caught in the spam filter. The view that changing ordinances is the prime sign of apostasy is still taught, for instance in the current (well, retired last week) Gospel Principles manual
    “After the Savior ascended into heaven, men changed the ordinances and doctrines that He and His Apostles had established. Because of apostasy, there was no direct revelation from God. The true Church was no longer on the earth.”

  3. This made me think of my pioneer ancestor who replaced each wagon piece as it wore out, so that in 1906 he still had his “original” wagon that had crossed the plains a half-century before, but every piece had been replaced. Much to consider with the adjustments, the gains and losses.

  4. I don’t think that this recent change to the temple ordinance was thought through too well by Pres. Nelson and others. Of course, they claim that this was a result of revelation, but it seems to be a response to feminist complaints about the lack of gender equality in the church. Of course, this isn’t the first time that the temple ordinance was changed, but the change in 1990 seemed to edit out all of the more controversial parts of the ordinance. This appears to be more something that was initiated and undertaken more by the leaders and not so much by God. Besides, I thought God was supposed to be unchanging.

    It is one thing to change policy, but a whole different thing to change doctrine. What if the leaders for their next change starting making edits and changes to the scriptures to the extent that it made what was taught as doctrine actually appear different. That is what they’ve done to the temple ordinance. The changes are enough to make the doctrine different. Bear in mind that the temple workers are under instruction to enforce every last thing in these ordinances. Everything has to be done exactly right, every word has to be exactly right. If not, then the ordinance is considered null. If someone is baptized and the baptizer gets a word wrong, it has to be done again. If so much as the baptizee’s hair remains above water, it has to be done again. If there is no one who can witness the baptism, then it can’t be done. All this suggests that the ordinance words and actions are of such importance that they cannot be done without exactness.

    Lastly as for how the ceremonies and ordinances were done as written in the scriptures, the sacrament prayer and baptismal prayer have never changed since the times of Joseph Smith, as far as I know. It almost seems that either the leaders are steadily tweaking doctrine (and that Joseph Smith may have been making it up as he went along) as they go along in response to pressures from elements of the membership and anticipated future reactions, or that God is a tricky guy who keeps changing things up all while insisting to his leaders that he is unchanging. For it is one thing for in earlier times to be partially revealed and then completed later, and a whole different thing for the fullness of the revelation to supposedly be here and then fundamentally changed.

    The ship has changed. If Joseph Smith were to come back from the dead, he wouldn’t recognize what the LDS church has become today.

  5. Agreed, John W. Joseph Smith would hardly recognize what the Church has become today. He put in place a fully independent Relief Society, governed by women who exercised priesthood authority. He envisioned women would use that priesthood to bless others by the laying on of hands. He would hardly recognize a Church where making these recent changes would even be necessary.

  6. John W, I gave an example in the OP of how they changed. (Wine ? Water; English ? foreign languages) There’s lots of other changes for instance particularly in administration. I can go through them if that would be helpful.

    However clearly the ordinances change in the Book of Mormon, which matters a great deal.

    The problem I was getting at is that if you say some changes are fine and others aren’t, one has to have some criteria for what constitutes an acceptable change. That is when the ordinance is the same and when it isn’t.

    Other Clark, the problem is that even during McConkie’s period as a GA ordinances changed a fair bit. There were specific content changes in the early 60’s as well as significant ones in 68-72. (See Buerger, “The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment”, 119) For instance the use of film in the early 70’s was while McConkie was alive. (Opposed to moving through rooms) Surely that’s a pretty huge change. All before my time but presumably the people living then were aware of the changes. Presumably they thought those unessential changes but that just raises the same question I raised of when a change is an essential one and when it isn’t.

    Turtle, would the Joseph Smith of 1834 recognize the Church of 1844? Compared to the rate of change when he was alive we’ve been moving at a glacial pace. Is the Church of 1830 the same as the Church of 1834 and 1844? What about 1855? How about 1910? See the problem?

  7. Clark- you’re right, things moved so fast during Joseph’s lifetime that he would EXPECT things to look different. Maybe he would be surprised that the things he had been trying to implement, with difficulty, hadn’t been resolved yet. Anyway, my previous comment was mostly snarky, so I’m not going to waste everyone’s time defending it.

  8. I think that’s more or less what I’m getting at. People have some expectations of change that are pretty difficult to justify.

  9. Clark, I noted the examples you gave. At some point, the sacrament prayer and baptismal ordinance seemed to fossilize. Rapid change under Joseph Smith seemed justifiable because he claimed he was learning line upon line. But after an ordinance has become the norm for a significant period of time and when that exactness of that norm is strictly enforced, then it comes to appear to be the exact way of God, not just some mere policy designed to increase faithfulness.

    I can see how members might be prone to take other things about the LDS church’s teachings less seriously simply because it could very well change.

    Also, bear in mind that Joseph Smith saw himself and presented himself as correcting false doctrine and restoring the true church. Much of what he taught was true doctrine can’t change. Otherwise it appear that what matters is not so much what he taught, but he himself. The changes seem to be a changing of the goal posts convenient for somehow improving the image of the church leaders before the membership’s eyes.

  10. Does the Ship of Theseus analogy work for a “living” church? (D&C 1:30) Perhaps for something like the Catholic Church which believes its mission is to preserve the “deposit of faith” given to it by the Apostles.

    Jeremiah 36:28-32 recounts how Jeremiah was commanded to rewrite scripture that had been previously burned, and to then add additional words. Verse 32 concludes “and there were added besides unto them many like words.”

    9th article of faith: We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

  11. Am I still the same person? I’m not a biologist, but I understand that cells live and die, and constantly refresh themselves. At the level of molecules or atoms, how much of me was actually present at my birth? Zero percent?

  12. Bryan, I think the analogy work best for a living church. It’d seem preserving a “deposit of faith” would emphasize stasis. (Which in some ways I think happened – even the creeds while arguably introducing change were intended to maintain stasis) I think the very mindset of continuing revelation, many things left to reveal, missing scriptures (116 pages and sealed plates at minimum plus records of the 10 tribes), not to mention eternal progression really make for a culture within Mormonism that privileges change over stasis.

    JI, there actually are some cells that persist through your whole life. But not many. I think there’s also starting to be questions about how they persist too – i.e. whether everything inside remains the same. (Clearly in some sense all cells are dynamic since there are ongoing chemical processes producing proteins and other such things)

    John W, I think he’s talking about the start of the Relief Society where he turns a key over to them or else the making women priestesses in the temple. The problem with the former is it’s a bit unclear exactly what’s going on. Some argue it was priesthood but it’s not at all clear it was. The problem with the latter is the possible equivocal nature of priesthood. So Jonathan Stapley in his recent book argues we should consider there being two senses of priesthood: the ecclesiastical and the cosmological. The temple deals with the latter and how we normally use priesthood in conversation deals with the former. Not everyone agrees. Quinn famously sees it all as one priesthood and thus argued controversially back in the 90’s that women already have the priesthood. I don’t think Quinn’s position was widely accepted though, although he still holds it.

    As for fossilizing a rite, some elements may be stable for time but I don’t really think that’s an argument for a full representation of an eternal form. At minimum you then have to deal with the issue I raised between the Palestinian prayer and the prayer of Moroni. Further you have to deal with the apparent evolution of the words of the prayer. If they’re indexed to a particular historic culture, then that seems to presuppose they aren’t eternal. Further the very fact our ordinances aren’t stable in many key ways seems to argue against that fossilization thesis. But even if one buys the fossilization thesis then clearly the rites that have been changing since Nauvoo haven’t fossilized and thus there shouldn’t be concern about their continuing to change.

  13. The way I see it is that the Lord has a vision for his church, love, equality, no discrimination etc. The prejudices/culture of man have not yet reached his standard. Joseph ordained women, Brigham stopped that. As the letter on racism says the culture of the day. When our conservative leaders can cope, the church changes closer to the Lord. Or in Brighams case further away.

  14. Clark, here is what Joseph Smith had to say on changing the ordinances:

    “Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.”

    You could argue that a change of a few words to clarify meaning could be justifiable much as you might update a translation of the ordinance in a different language in order to clarify meaning or because the previous translation wasn’t as good. But changes in the actual covenant are being made and in the fundamental relationship between men and women in the church. The 1990 change to the endowment ceremony was even more substantive than this recent one. These changes seem to violate what Joseph Smith said.

    You could always justify the changes by saying that God mandated the changes, but then that makes God appear to be not so unchanging.

  15. One more thing. Clark you write:

    “Further the very fact our ordinances aren’t stable in many key ways seems to argue against that fossilization thesis.”

    Your argument presupposes that the ordinances are correct no matter what and therefore because they’ve changed in the past we shouldn’t be fazed by these recent changes.

    If that is the case then that suggests that the ordinances don’t really matter too much and it is really just about following the leaders no matter what they say. But that clearly can’t bee the case. For why then do we even have temples of not to do work for the dead according to a specific ordinance. Also because work is done for the dead suggests that the ordinances can’t be culture specific and change accordingto the whims of predominant cultural trends, but are eternal.

  16. Baptism, Confirmation, Priesthood for males, The Endowment, and Sealing are saving ordinances. However, we don’t say the specific language or symbology of the endowment is a saving ordinance. Therefore, the changes within the endowment (language/symbology) itself shouldn’t bother anyone.

  17. John W, no my argument doesn’t presuppose that the ordinances are correct no matter what. Quite the contrary. The second to last paragraph goes through that.

    I don’t follow how from vicarious ordinances it follows there’s no cultural aspect to how an ordinance is performed. I’m guessing you’re making a claim about the culture of whom it’s performed for, but you’ll have to make the argument explicit as I don’t think it works.

  18. You’re claiming that we shouldn’t be worried by changes to the ordinance because there were changes in the past and because the ordinances were described a bit differently in the scriptures. That would reasonably cause many to ask how this can be reconciled with the idea of a unchanging God. Your argument is that God changed the ordinance to accommodate different cultures. What culture? The LDS church is spread across the world and consists of many different cultures. Not only that, but the members are commanded to do ordinances for all of the dead. How can the ordinances be understood to be culture-specific if that is the case?

    The ordinance is supposed to transcend culture and Joseph Smith, the man who was first in the modern day to receive revelation about the ordinances, said that the ordinances weren’t supposed to be altered or changed. And yet you aren’t concerned that it was changed and are not presupposing that the ordinances are correct no matter what changes the leaders say are to occur? For you it is all about the leaders and not questioning what they say. They could mandate that smoking marijuana be part of the temple ordinance and you’d be fine with it and take their word for it that this was revelation and still believe that God is unchanging.

    But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. For changes to the ordinances suggest one of three things:

    1) God keeps changing the goal posts and isn’t unchanging at all.

    2) If 1 isn’t true then the leaders are making stuff up and calling it revelation.

    3) If 1 and 2 aren’t true then the ordinances don’t actually matter and are just tests of faith/litmus tests. But if this is the case then why baptisms and endowments for the dead?

    See the problem?

  19. FWIW, the first major revision of the endowment took place in the 1920s. Parts of it weren’t even written down until then, leading to variation among temples.

    It seems to me that the notion of God being unchanging is doing a lot of work here. Since change is readily apparent throughout the scriptures and history of the church, I think it’s best to take it as a statement about his character rather than proscribing any particular change in doctrine, ordinance, or practice. I’m reminded of the quote by Harold B. Lee, “[Have] you ever thought that what was contrary to the order of heaven in 1840 might not be contrary to the order of heaven in 1960?”

  20. Jared, yes change is apparent throughout history. But doesn’t that undermine the LDS Church’s claims to be restoring the true gospel in its fullness? If it changing even fundamental nature of covenants in its temples (women no longer covenant to obey husbands), then how is this gospel that it preaches full?

  21. John W: Your statement 1) includes an assumption that does not seem to be true, namely: “An unchanging God cannot require different practices at different times.” I’m pretty sure the teachings of the church would completely reject that assumption. See for example its understanding of animal sacrifice in OT times, or how it views the bestowal of the law to Moses as God’s reaction to human shortcomings.

    But the sense I get is that you aren’t talking at all about what you personally believe, but rather what you think members of the church should be in some sense required to believe. We get that fairly often – visitors will say, in effect, ‘I demand that you believe in the historical inerrancy of the Book of Mormon so that I can more easily prove your rigid beliefs are wrong.” Unsurprisingly, it results in unsatisfying discussions.

  22. Jonathan, the LDS doctrine is that the gospel was not full in OT times because Christ hadn’t come yet. Christ came, introduced the higher law and then the gospel was lost and only restored to its fullness by Joseph Smith. The LDS doctrine on the Law of Moses is that it was a lesser law, not because God changed his mind later. If we already have the fullness of the gospel today, why does it need to be changed, especially something as central as a temple covenant? It would be one thing to change some of the script and maybe make it a little less repetitive. But this is an actual covenant we’re talking about. Plus, Joseph Smith said that the ordinances should not be “altered or changed.” This is what Joseph Smith said, which I quoted earlier, but I’ll quote it again, because no one seems to be addressing it:

    “Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.”

    I understand that President Nelson recently said that the restoration was still occurring. But why is this resulting in corrections of things we already thought were restored, like a temple covenant? Shouldn’t a continuing restoration be revealing new unknown things about the original Church of Christ, and not correcting what Joseph Smith said was already revealed and restored? Changing a key part of a temple ceremony seems akin to changing one of the D&C revelations by saying, “actually, Joseph Smith revealed this incorrectly.” Furthermore the part of the temple ceremony that was changed seems to be more motivated by the leaders wanting to change the image of the LDS church to make it more palatable to future generations, whom the leaders anticipate might be more sensitive about gender equality issues.

    I’m not trying to demand that anyone believe anything or create a straw man to prove someone wrong with some sort of gotcha tactic. My questions are sincere. But let’s acknowledge other parts of LDS teachings that the temple change doesn’t sit well with. It is just that what seems to motivate you and Clark more than anything is vindicating and defending the LDS church leaders no matter what they do and say rather than objectively and reasonably evaluating what they say and do. The overwhelming concern to appear loyal hinders your ability to subject issues to a full and fair treatment of reason. As far as the issue of the recent change to the temple ceremony goes, I can’t really see anything other than compromise and contradiction.

  23. John W., You might want to reconsider the meaning or meanings of “fullness of the gospel.” E.g., D&C 39:11 makes it clear that in 1831 the fullness of the gospel had already been “sent forth in these last days” more than 10 years before any LDS temple rites. On the other hand, the phrase seems to be used by some to mean something else.
    “Ordinance” is also a word with multiple possible meanings. There is no clear reason to think JS’ comment on unchanging “ordinances” was meant to include everything that was set out in the temple scripts at any particular time. At least parts of those scripts constitute teaching, exhortation, and perhaps other kinds of things that are not rituals, or “sacraments” — to use a general Christian term that seems to cover much of what LDS now call ordinances. It is not even clear that JS’ quoted reference to “ordinances” meant anything like what the Church now commonly means by “ordinance”. JS’ usage could have been standard English, as in the legal doublet “laws and ordinances” — equivalent or near equivalent terms and not different kinds of things. If so, the sentence on “ordinances” was merely another way of stating that “All must be saved on the same principles.” See definition 1 in Webster’s 1828 dictionary. JS’ usage could also have been ambiguous — intentionally or not. See definition 4 in Webster’s 1828 dictionary. Some people are much more comfortable with ambiguity than others — without seeing only “compromise and contradiction.” Some have struggled to learn to accept or deal with ambiguity, vagaries of language, paradox and uncertainty. Some might equate “fullness of the gospel” with Christ’s declaration of and limitation on what constitutes His doctrine in 3 Nephi 11:31-40,

    You seem to assume that what you see as having been a key part of a temple ceremony was “key” to the Lord for all time and cultures and to assert that a change to language codified by (or at least first written down under instruction from) Brigham Young might mean that “actually, Joseph Smith revealed this incorrectly”. But note, in connection with various sections of the D&C, JS himself made additions and corrections, though the originals were written as if they were the precise words of the Lord. You may have a very different understanding of revelation than JS did.

  24. Jared, the same thing actually took place in 1877 – the first writing of the ordinance and an attempt to get all temples to follow exactly the same rite. There were still substantial revisions apparently going on then. There also were some discussions of some major changes in the 1890’s although they apparently were never implemented. But the 1921 through 1927 revision was the first substantial simplification of the rites. I confess the bit about what was unwritten still confuses me a bit since the papers in 1877 suggest it was all written down but the 1921 simplification wrote down what was called “the unwritten portion” which was apparently the explicit covenants themselves and possibly a lecture. I’m not sure if that means such things weren’t written in 1877 or if it was a revised version that was written that hadn’t been written before.

  25. The issue is whether changes to the church are of Christ or of men. If Christ gave changes to us in person we wouldn’t wonder. Instead, our theology is Christ reveals changes to intermediaries – apostles who hold the leadership positions in the church. Technically, we aren’t obligated to accept any pronouncement as revelation from the Lord unless we ourselves receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost. In practice, those who don’t receive confirming revelations are deemed out of tune with the Spirit.

    A problem with the Ship of Thesus analogy is when the church makes a change, it doesn’t discard the replaced elements. It just adds it to the baggage. How do you get rid of something that was once declared the will of the Lord? For instance, it’s both the Lord’s will that all men can receive the priesthood but it was also the Lord’s will to withhold the priesthood from black men. It is the Lord’s will that women not be treated like second class citizens in Temple ceremonies but it was also the Lord’s will that they were treated that way until last week. It would make more sense to allow that prophets get things wrong in their stewardship. However, despite the theory prophets aren’t infallible, in practice, the church does not allow that a prophet could have been wrong in his stewardship. Instead of the Ship of Thesus, the Church is more like the Hotel California where doctrines and teachings may check out but they can never leave.

    To admit past practices were wrong instead of “revealed” would open the door that future prophets can be wrong in their pronouncements. But that’s not part of the programme. So the church is left using pretzel logic to explain how in-congruent practices can all be the result of revelation.

  26. Am I supposed to be receiving emails when someone makes a comment on a post after I’ve posted? I used to, but I’m not anymore.
    @John W. How would you like to reconcile the idea of an unchanging God with one who reveals things “Line upon line, precept upon precept”? One who “Has yet to reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God”? One who compared Himself to an unjust judge in a metaphor that teaches us to implore Him for change? A God who has blessings waiting for us, but are conditional upon us asking for them?

  27. Jader, there was a plugin that let that happen. But you have to select it. I checked WordPress and that’s not there. I’ll ask if there was a reason it was removed. It might have just been lost when we transitioned to a new server.

    Dave, I’m not sure that is correct. Rather I think that it’s just never made clear whether what was removed was something true that people couldn’t handle, an error, or something simply non-essential. But unless God gives an explicit revelation explaining a change, I’m not sure even the prophet knows. That’s something that each individual has to figure out themselves – hopefully in communion with God. Certainly with the recent changes some will see it as getting closer to what things should be and the removed elements as mistakes. Others might see it as correct, but that people because of culture simply misinterpreting it so it was removed.

  28. JR,

    ““Ordinance” is also a word with multiple possible meanings”

    You are leaning in the direction of the ordinance not really being all that significant, since it can mean various things and can be changed. Joseph Smith said that the ordinance can’t be altered or changed. Furthermore, LDS leaders have taught repeatedly that in order for the dead to be saved that they have to have these ordinances done for them vicariously. That sounds pretty significant to me.
    It sounds like the ordinances are more than just temporary tests of faith. They appear to be eternally set rites of passage that, again, Joseph Smith said cannot be altered or changed. Of course, the substance of the change would matter. It is one thing if the change is a few grammatical elements or style of the sentence. But when it is an alteration to a covenant so that women are no longer covenanting to obey their husbands as long as they obey God, that appears to be evidence that this a significant change that compromises the original ordinance and contradicts Joseph Smith.

    “JS himself made additions and corrections”

    OK, why not interpret these as contradictions and compromises, much like just what happened with the change to one of the temple covenants? Are the leaders above contradicting what was already revealed as doctrine? Are they above compromising what was taught as doctrine in the past? Why can’t you call a spade a spade (that goes for Clark and others) and just admit that LDS teachings contain contradictions and changes to actual doctrine (which is leaders have repeatedly said is unchanging)? Does pointing out something out as a contradiction amount to an offense so great that you risk appearing disloyal to the leaders and must dance around and perform insane acts of mental contortionism in order to save their name and for you to appear a good devoted loyalist? It is either that explanation or that the LDS God is a tricky God.

    I grow tired of the we-don’t-know-ism logical fallacy, which is appealing to the idea of not knowing or not being able to know not out of sincerely not knowing, but as an excuse to defend the pristineness of the leaders and the LDS teachings. We don’t know what fullness was supposed to mean. We don’t know what ordinance is supposed to mean. Give me a break. This is a lame excuse to avoid having to consider the painful but likely fact that the LDS leaders are engaging in blatant contradictions for the purpose of maximizing membership numbers by trying to save face on a piece of past Mormonism that seemed kind of embarrassing and antiquated, figuring that appearing contradictory but in vogue is more likely to protect Mormonism’s future than stubbornly holding onto tradition.

  29. jader3rd, line upon line suggests new additions rather than changes to what was already established. For decades women covenanted to obey their husbands (as long as the husbands obeyed God), and every last female who lived on the planet earth was to make this covenant in order to be saved, most through proxy. And now they don’t have to? Seems unfair to the women who made the old covenant.

  30. John W, how does allowing ordinance to be indexed to culture and understanding imply it’s not significant? Clearly you see that as the case but you’ve not explained why you think that.

    As to doctrine, I know we’ve gone through this before but I’ll repeat it. There are several senses we mean by doctrine. One is a descriptive sense where a historian or sociologist might describe the main ways a population thinks about key beliefs. An other is in a prescriptive sense in which it’s what someone thinks that population should believe at a given time. Yet an other is an idealized prescriptive sense which is what someone ought believe that applies at all times. It seems to me you’re conflating all those senses and flattening the distinctions.

    To give an example I consider the Word of Wisdom a doctrine of the church. I consider myself to have covenanted to follow it. Yet the meaning of the Word of Wisdom clearly has shifted over time. Today it includes taking recreationally medicines like oxycodin for instance. In the 1920’s it didn’t. In the 1850’s it was seen as much more strong suggestions. At Jesus’ time I don’t think there was a Word of Wisdom. Now following your logic this is deeply problematic. I just don’t see why it is. Certainly there are contradictions in the sense that what is true at one time isn’t true at an other. That’s not a logical contradiction though. To follow an example Joseph Smith gave, just because God commanded Noah to build an ark doesn’t mean we are supposed to. More or less all you are saying is that there should only be eternal in the sense of not indexed to time/place commandments. That’s fine of course if you believe that. I simply don’t.

    So to answer you, certainly I agree there are changes to doctrine. If we’re still learning new things there would have to be. However often when we use the term doctrine we’re making a claim about future beliefs about doctrine when we know much more than we do know. That doesn’t mean in the least I can’t have beliefs now. I just have to acknowledge that I may be wrong.

    However that doesn’t necessarily apply to the question of ordinance since you’ve still not explained what makes an ordinance the same ordinance. Clearly you allow some things to change. But you’ve not given a criteria of what can or can’t change while remaining the same ordinance. (Which was after all the whole point of the OP) That tends to imply that you don’t have one or don’t want to propose one because you know if you do propose it people can simply find ways it fails.

    Consider your hypothetical example without my commenting on any actual ordinance or promise. “obey your husband as he obeys God.” One rather obvious way to interpret that is that you only obey your husband’s commands repeating God’s commands.” In other words it’s just a fancy way of saying obey God. Now you might object and say it can be and was interpreted in other ways. But do you not see how that just opens up the very criticism I’ve made of your position? It’s not enough to simply point to a change. You have to ask about the meaning and what are essential and non-essential meanings. But that’s exactly what you are refusing to do.

  31. John W., Your comment adopts a significant change made in 1990 by complaining that the 2019 changes include “that women are no longer covenanting to obey their husbands as long as they obey God.” Prior to 1990, your version is very clearly not what the covenant was. As to change and the nature of “doctrine”, I think you have me confused with someone else. Perhaps you don’t want to consider history, language, or culture as relevant to communication, covenant or contract, but prefer to imagine bad motives and excuses on the part of others. Since I doubt that your imagination reflects reality any better than others’, I expect further discussion is futile.

  32. Thought-provoking post and comments. I have come to dislike the term “saving ordinances.” Maybe I’m out of tune, I don’t know. But the term I think has led to many in our church looking more toward going through the motions of an ordinance to save them than they do looking toward Christ and focusing on His doctrine (see D&C 10:63-68). No ordinance can save a single soul. Only the blood of Christ. His is the only name to which we can or should look.

    So what about ordinances? My reading of all the scripture (old and “modern”) has led me to believe that all that Christ asks of us is to have faith in Him, to repent, and then to Come Unto Him (I know that could mean a million things). Ordinances, I think, are required for the reason stated in the scripture quoted in the OP: Mosiah 18:13–the ordinance is our taking an active motion, doing something, to show the Lord we have are in fact on his path and have accepted Him as a partner etc. That we have given our lives over to Him. And a way to demonstrate that as a witness to our fellow brothers and sisters here on earth. From the scriptures, these “required” ordinances include baptism and confirmation. The endowment, in my opinion (and although I feel this is correct of course I could be wrong and thus why all should seek their own confirmation), is exactly what the Lord has said it is in the Doctrine & Covenants over and over–a gift to receive “power from on high.” It is a huge blessing and, when all the symbolism is understood correctly, can provide great power and enabling faith etc. But not required to make it to the celestial kingdom. Then the sealing ordinance, per our doctrine, is necessary to seal all humanity back to our Father (as Joseph taught it). And because current policy is to not permit sealings without the endowment first, then I suppose it is necessary for that. I may be considered apostate in that belief.

    Still thinking through the changes. But as far as changes in general to ordinances, I can look to baptism as an example. To me it seems the necessary elements are form (immersion), authority (priesthood), and a certain age.

    Overall, I agree with the comment above that it is the duty of all to get their own confirmation of what is right or not.

  33. Other Mike, this seems the faith/works distinction. Yet I’d say those who have faith also have the works. Certainly there are lots of members without faith (or works) who just show up pretending to do things while not really believing. The stereotype of the dishonest businessman who acts like a virtuous member of Sundays is the obvious example.

    To the point about the ordinances, salvation typically is seen as just getting into the Celestial Kingdom. As you said, it only requires baptism and possibly confirmation. The endowment is tied to exaltation which is theologically different and consists of being like Christ in full. There’s some debate over whether D&C 131 relates to this distinction of levels within the Celestial Kingdom or not. I tend to suspect it does.

  34. Clark Goble: I’m not so sure I see it as faith/works–I agree if one has faith they will exercise that faith unto repentance and other good works etc. But it still holds true that no ordinance saves anyone. Only Christ. I’m not saying ordinances are not necessary. That is how we indicate to God we accept Christ. We take an active step as a witness to him and to our fellowman.

    As far as ordinances, I know we teach that to obtain exaltation one must receive the endowment. I know there are quotes from all the prophets from Brigham Young down discussing that. I may be absolutely forgetting a scriptural reference, but can you cite one scripture that states the endowment is required for exaltation? In D&C 76 when describing exaltation (according to the section heading verses 50-70 teach what is exaltation) it only mentions receiving a testimony, being baptized, receiving, by laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit. And in Section 131 the common reading is that exaltation requires entering into eternal marriage. Still no mention of endowment. In the early days of the church people were sealed without first receiving the endowment. Now policy prohibits being sealed unless first being endowed so by policy of course it is required. I’m just not so sure that is scripturally supported. The endowment is described by the Lord as a powerful gift and blessing that can endow one with power from on high to help lead them in this life. I know Brigham Young taught that the endowment taught us what we needed to know “to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.” But even know the temple teaches that all the signs and tokens are symbolic. There won’t actually be someone sitting there at a gate keeping it closed if we can’t repeat by memory those tokens and signs.

    Like I said, I could be wrong. I’ll keep doing the best I can and hope for the best, putting all my trust in the Lord.

  35. I certainly agree ordinances don’t save in some mechanistic sense. Whether they’re required but in some arbitrary way or whether they have an essential function I couldn’t say. Most people assume they’re arbitrary in some sense and only are necessary because God says they’re necessary. Does God require them because they do something or merely as a teaching aid? I just don’t know.

    To your final point, in Nauvoo and even early Utah I’m not sure there was a separation between marriage and endowment. They were seen as very intertwined. Which raises the interesting question of when singles started getting endowed. I just don’t know the answer to that either. Anyway I’d say that D&C 132 is wrapped up in the endowment. Verse 19 in particular ends up being the same as Brigham rather explicitly describes as the endowment.

  36. JR,

    “Your comment adopts a significant change made in 1990 by complaining that the 2019 changes include “that women are no longer covenanting to obey their husbands as long as they obey God”

    You’re missing the point, which is that the change now and in 1990 were contradictions that compromised the integrity of the temple covenant and made God look like a goal-post changer.

    “Perhaps you don’t want to consider history, language, or culture as relevant to communication, covenant or contract”

    I already addressed this previously, but I will say it again. The temple covenant is to be applied to all humanity that ever existed. How could it possibly be interpreted to be culture-specific? Should we have recently converted Rastafarians smoke weed as part of their endowment ceremony?

  37. Clark,

    “how does allowing ordinance to be indexed to culture and understanding imply it’s not significant”

    I’m going to just stop you there. The fact that the temple covenant is to be made by every last human that ever existed on earth suggests that it can’t possibly be “indexed to culture.” That would be too many cultures to “index” it to. By claiming that changes to it are appropriate because of cultural shifts seems to undermine everything the leaders have claimed about the church and its doctrines: that they do not change in spite of cultural changes and are eternal. The changes are nothing more than contradictions that compromise the integrity and consistency of the doctrines.

    I find it funny that in response, many, including you, have pointed to the fact that the temple ceremony was changed in the past as evidence that it is OK and not a compromise of doctrine. OK, yeah. That only seems to confirm my point. They changed the goal posts in the past and they apparently keep changing them. What is so true and eternal about doctrine that is changing and being compromised all the time? It is like the current leaders keep throwing the previous leaders under the bus. How is it appropriate to claim that a past leader who said something was solid doctrine based on revelation is now wrong?

  38. The Other Mike,

    “Ordinances, I think, are required for the reason stated in the scripture quoted in the OP: Mosiah 18:13–the ordinance is our taking an active motion, doing something, to show the Lord we have are in fact on his path and have accepted Him as a partner etc. That we have given our lives over to Him. And a way to demonstrate that as a witness to our fellow brothers and sisters here on earth.”

    You seem to take the position that the ordinances don’t actually matter all that much. Then why require that every last human who lived on the earth have a living person perform a vicarious ordinance for them in order to be saved? The LDS leaders regularly and repeatedly stress the importance of temple work.

  39. Clark: I don’t think the ordinances are arbitrary. I think there is very real power in the ordinances. The spirit is manifest in the ordinances thereof. I’m not good with words so I can’t explain well. I just think that many members actually think the ordinances themselves save us. Or have any saving power. Nonsense. Only Christ does. But, for a repentant soul who has exercised faith unto such repentance, when they bring forth a broken heart and a contrite Spirit to baptism and the Sacrament (or any other ordinance), that step, that taking a step toward God and performing a ritual as a testimony to God and to your fellow man, can have a powerful change on people.

    As far as 132 verse 19, I think that verse actually goes more to my point. Nothing in that verse talks about the endowment. Or any guards at the gate refusing entrance to the pure of heart unless they have certain things memorized. Brigham Young added all those requirements in his quote to that verse. That verse is discussing the sealing. Indeed, says that as a result of the sealing, if sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise etc., you’ll have all the blessings Brigham Young discussed, without any reference to the endowment or reciting back words or anything else.

    And there is plenty of documented evidence demonstrating that sealings were taking place before the endowment was introduced.

    John W: I actually take the ordinances very, very seriously. I believe God commanded them. Every last human if you believe the scriptures. I just don’t think endowment is scripturally laid out anywhere as one of the “necessary” ordinances. It certainly is a powerful one that has blessed my life and truly can endow with power from on high. I think it was intended as a gift to all who wanted it. I think we have turned it into a required ordinance by refusing sealing to anyone unless they have first been endowed. Every human must accept Christ, and demonstrate that acceptance by exercising faith unto repentance. Then witnessing the same to God and all others by baptism/confirmation.

    Just my opinion of course and belief based on study, life experience, holy ghost etc. I am just as prone as any man to be wrong and take no personal offense to anyone who has reached a different conclusion.

  40. Mike, Arbitrary things can have power. Words are all arbitrary. Now rites typically aren’t purely arbitrary but have some resemblance to some embodied action people perform (such as cleaning). But there’s a fairly arbitrary aspect to them as well. The question then becomes how and why an essential rite or ordinance takes the form it does, but also how it functions. That’s tied in with the idea of covenants and promises, which is what I think John W is focusing in on. However I’d just note that in the ordinance of baptism we perceive it as covenantal and a performance of making a promise, yet in the ordinance itself as conducted there’s no explicit promise made. The temple is slightly different (and I won’t go into the details there) but I think there’s a sense that one promises more than is made explicit and has promises given more than is made explicit.

    The overall question really becomes what is the nature of these ordinances. After all I can make a performance in a practice or speech such as promising. But the form I make a promise is typically fairly arbitrary so long as it is understood. I think some attempt to reduce ordinances to promises, but I don’t think that works. Further some attempt to reduce ordinances to what is “literal” in explicit propositions. But I don’t think that works either – especially given how we view baptism. (Although I think our perception of the Sacrament and other rites fits there as well)

    To D&C 132, I think the question is the context. Joseph was very strong about keeping details secret. Brigham less so particularly in Utah. Sealings were taking place before endowments, but D&C 132 was after the endowment was occurring. Of course part of the problem is that there wasn’t a single point where there was the endowment – the Kirtland temple had a kind of endowment. Although the masonic influenced endowment comes in later (although I think masonic influence prior to Nauvoo has been downplayed too much). But Joseph was formally a mason in March 15, 1842 and the next day is the famous Relief Society organization with its masonic (and possibly adoptive masonry) influences. The May 1, 1842 sermon is very similar to the Brigham Young quote we’ve all seen though. “The keys are certain signs and words…which can not be revealed…til the Temple is completed. […] There are signs in heaven, earth, and hell, the Elders must know them all to be endowed with power…” D&C 129, a few months later, is generally seen as tied to this and the expansion from masonry to endowment. So the endowment is in full swing in 1842 and D&C 132 is more than a year later. No one reading those verses would miss the allusion to the endowment. “Keys and power” are explicit reference to the endowment as is the reference to the resurrection. Even verse 23 was explicated the prior year in 1842 by Joseph Smith as tied to the endowment.

    There were of course sealings before the endowment. But that’s beside the point for D&C 132.

    John W, I think the ordinances are key. I think they matter a ton. The question is how they function. You are taking the position that all that matters are a literalist take on them where exact wording controls everything and nothing can change. I’m just saying I don’t think that works, and I’ve given extended arguments for why. I certainly understand your position. I just haven’t seen you engage why you think your position is correct. Just critiques of the other positions in terms of your position. It’d be helpful if you could actually make an argument for why you think your interpretation of the meaning of ordinances is correct (and make explicit what you see as the meaning).

  41. Clark Goble: Agreed that arbitrary things can be powerful. As I noted earlier, I struggle with words at times and mix-mash thoughts. I don’t think the ordinances are arbitrary because I don’t think they are random, casual, or just pulled out of thin air. I do believe God has his hand in them. And I think he knows human nature better than we do and the power that can be felt in the overt acts associated with ordinances when done with the repentant and sincere heart.

    As to the endowment, we will just have to agree to disagree. I don’t see a scriptural reference or words from the Savior, anywhere in any revelation or canon, saying that you must receive endowment to go to heaven or to be exalted (if those are different). To the contrary, there are dozens of scriptures in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price that seem to contradict that. I still believe the endowment is a powerful and wonderful ordinance, given as a gift to all those who receive it. I think sometimes we read too much into 132 outside of polygamy. And 131, which was given in 1843, also makes no mention of the endowment for exaltation. I know Brigham Young said many things. But as he readily admitted, he was usually wrong.

  42. To be clear arbitrary means simply that they could have been done an other way. I use the word “simply” but could have used the Swedish “helt enkelt.” I used the English form because I’m speaking to English speakers and that’s how the language evolved. So I’m using arbitrary in the broad sense as not necessary, although there may be compelling reasons to pick one above the other. I don’t mean by it in the sense of casual or random. There’s almost always a history to why they’re chosen the way they are. However we could imagine a different set of signs that would convey the same information.

    As I said I don’t think rites are purely arbitrary because there are basic human behaviors they resemble. So the metaphor of cleaning as a rite will involve something akin to what’s necessary for human beings given the kind of life we live. That’s washing, rinsing in water, immersing in water, perhaps (in the ancient world where cleaning was harder) applying ointments that hide body odor. In that sense it’s not arbitrary because there’s a resemblance to an essential practice. (What in semiotics they call an iconic relationship) However even there we find different sorts of cleansings that could be used. If we add in that we want to communicate something about resurrection though then that narrows what is possible for the rite and still communicate.

    Regarding D&C 132 and 131, I think you’re downplaying the context for those scriptures which give them their meaning. That is you want something simple and explicit. I fully admit that’s not there, but then that’s usually not there in such matters. Also the quote in that last comment wasn’t Brigham but Joseph. But I’ll not push down that direction further.

  43. @ John W,
    There is a way to reconcile truth with change. It involves an understanding of Christ as the literal Truth. If you’re willing to do some reading, you can find more on this topic at http://www.ldsphilosopher.com/series/who-is-truth/ . But basically, the premise is that there is a difference between idea-truth and person-truth, and that although both exist, we should be focusing on the person-truth of Christ rather than the platonic idea-truth of never-changing doctrine.
    Personally, I think that I’ll follow the prophets on this one. The adjustments the Brethren have made speak peace to my soul.

  44. All these comments to this article are very good and show a lot of thought. I have asked all these same questions every time there was a change in the temple ordinances and even a change in temple garments in my 60+ years.
    I would like to mention something that I have not read in any of these remarks. I am one of what I am sure are many members who managed to find a list of changes on the internet before going to the temple and witnessing the changes for myself. One of these changes upset me. I saw it as a change of unchangeable doctrine. I saw it as a literal betrayal of all my hard work to be a good, gospel-centered husband. I saw is as Heavenly Father “pooping” on the good, hard-working men of the church. I prayed very hard to know if this really is the will of the Lord. My prayers was that when I made it to the temple that the Lord would confirm to me if these changes were from Him, and in the case of a couple of the changes, please tell me WHY the change was made.
    I went to the temple with this prayer and with an open mind. The Spirit confirmed to me that these changes were from the Lord. When it came time to witness the change I was having the hardest time with, I very clearly received several answers as to why. The main thing I received was that one of those changes actually puts more RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY on the good Sisters of the church. My daughter who had gone with me that day felt the same impression.
    I’m not completely happy, but I’m 100% satisfied that it was from the Lord. I will come to accept His changes. I am grateful He answered my WHY questions as swiftly and readily as He did, as He rarely answers those sort of questions. I look forward to returning to the temple and allowing the Spirit to whisper more answers to me as to why the changes.

  45. After all is said and done, the basic question is who is directing the Church is it the Lord or is it man? To quote the Saviour speaking as a prophet said, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me, If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself”. (John 7:16-17)

    On another point, a long time ago when I was at school we had an English teacher who by nationality was German. He taught a very important principle. “Obedience is the fundamental foundation of every successful organisation”. Have we been asked not to discuss what we are taught in the Temple outside of the Temple?

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