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Why ordinances and sacraments

When speaking to the members of His church in these latter days about ordinances and sacraments, the Lord has referred to ordinances as “mine” ordinances and to sacraments as “thy” sacraments.

…and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; for they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; they seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall. (Section 1:3c-3e)

And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations; wherefore he that prayeth whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me, if he obey mine ordinances. He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek, and edifieth, the same is of God, if he obey mine ordinances. (Section 52:4b-4d)

And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; for verily this is a day appointed unto thee to rest from thy labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High; nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days, and at all times; but remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations, and thy sacraments, unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord. (Section 59:2f-2h)

Briefly understood, an ordinance is an appropriate arrangement prepared and governed by God to provide us with a setting in which to offer up our sacraments unto Him. Said another way, God establishes ordinances as lawful venues in which we are to offer Him our sacraments as the sacrifices He requires of us. Regarding the Lord chastening those He loves, any chastisement the Lord may bring upon us represents the ordinance or venue.  The principal sacrament we are to offer Him in response to His chastening is the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  Put in terms of repentance, the conditions of repentance define the ordinance (setting, timing, events, etc.) and the act of repenting of our sins on our part is our sacrament.  Together, ordinances and sacraments hold the promise of reconciliation and restoration between God and mankind.

Mine Ordinances, Thy Sacraments

God sets appointments for us, known as ordinances,[1] based on His wisdom and His determination for our lives.  According to these appointments, we are to meet Him in specific places, in right conditions of heart and mind, and at set times to address matters and fulfill purposes of His own choosing.  God creates for these appointments certain venues[2] (places, settings, timings, actions, events, etc.,) in which we are to engage God on His terms and according to the conditions He defines.  They are specially crafted by Him according to His design and are set apart for His unique purposes.

There, in these unique venues of His choosing and preparation, the Lord gives us the means and the guidance needed for offering to Him the right and lawful[3] response to His callings and the demands He places upon our lives. There, in these special venues (ordinances), our God intends to bestow upon us fitting blessings that are needed by us[4] and graciously given by Him to fill us with the abundant life He designed and created us for in Christ.[5]  Each venue into which He calls us is appropriate to and in accordance with the blessings to be granted.  Neither can exist independent of Him or the other.

The Lord’s Supper demonstrates how our Lord establishes ordinances[6] in which we are to offer appropriate sacraments[7] unto Him so that He might bless our lives and set us apart for His service.  The night Jesus instituted this precious meal, He referred to it as an ordinance.

And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them; and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is in remembrance of my blood which is shed for many, and the new testament which I give unto you; for of me ye shall bear record unto all the world. And as oft as ye do this ordinance, ye will remember me in the hour that I was with you and drank with you of this cup, even the last time in my ministry.  (Mark 14:22-23)

Yet, today the Lord’s Supper is often referred to as the sacrament.[8]  Without delving deeply into the history of its use, the word sacrament was defined by Daniel Webster in his 1828 Dictionary as follows.[9],[10]  Based on its etymology, it involves a sacred oath producing an obligation.[11]

SAC’RAMENT, n. [L. sacramentum, an oath, from sacer, sacred.]

  1. Among ancient christian writers, a mystery. [Not in use.]
  2. An oath; a ceremony producing an obligation; but not used in this general sense.
  3. In present usage, an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace; or more particularly, a solemn religious ceremony enjoined by Christ, the head of the christian church, to be observed by his followers, by which their special relation to him is created, or their obligations to him renewed and ratified. Thus baptism is called a sacrament, for by it persons are separated from the world, brought into Christ’s visible church, and laid under particular obligations to obey his precepts. The eucharist or communion of the Lord’s supper, is also a sacrament, for by commemorating the death and dying love of Christ, christians avow their special relation to him, and renew their obligations to be faithful to their divine Master. When we use sacrament without any qualifying word, we mean by it,
  4. The eucharist or Lord’s supper.

As the Lord’s ordinance, the Lord’s Supper is the proper and lawful venue in which we are to offer to God our sacrament of remembrance of Jesus Christ according to His words, “this do in remembrance of me.”[12]  The venue He prescribes is fitted with all that is needed for us to offer our oaths and devotions to Him in a manner designed of God, e.g. emblems, prayers, body of believers, sacramental charge (preaching), etc.[13]  In effect, He provides the setting into which we bring Him our service.  This principle was stated most succinctly by Jesus when He spoke to the woman at the well.

And the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him. For unto such hath God promised his Spirit. And they who worship him, must worship in spirit and in truth.  (John 4:25,26)

Note the pattern and the promise. Our worship is the sacrament.  The ordinance described by Jesus is “in spirit and in truth.”  Combining these elements together, God has promised His Spirit to those who offer Him the sacrament of their worship in this special venue called “in spirit and in truth.”  The New Testament provides many direct references to this special venue, allowing us to explore it in greater depth and to enter into it appropriately.[14]  However, without the mind of Christ spoken of by Paul,[15] we will miss its meaning and the opportunity to enter into this unique venue in a manner prescribed and acceptable to God.

A Broken Heart and Contrite Spirit

This leads us to examine more carefully the nature of the sacrament that we are to offer to God. As discussed in the prior section, the Lord creates venues[16] in which His people are to offer Him the specific sacrifice He desires and requires.  Common to all sacraments is that of a broken heart and contrite spirit[17] as attested to by David the Psalmist.

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.  (Psalm 34:18)

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.  (Psalm 51:15-17)

God hates pride and has purposed to stain the pride of all glory so that no flesh glories in His presence.[18]

These six things doth the Lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto him; a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

The Lord of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honorable of the earth.  (Isaiah 23:9)

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are mighty; That no flesh should glory in his presence.  (I Corinthians 1:28,29)

As you will recall, being lifted up with pride is the condemnation of the devil.

A bishop then must … not [be] a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.  (I Timothy 3:2,6,7)

John warns us accordingly with these words:

Love not the world, neither the things that are of the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all in the world that is of the lusts of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. (I John 2:15-17)

It is the Lord’s will, then, that each and every time we enter into one of His venues, we do so in a contrite and humble manner so He might revive our spirits and our hearts.

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.  (Isaiah 57:15)

There, in each of His ordinances, we must offer to God the sacrifices He requires of us and in the manner ordained of Him, not as we feel most appropriate or convenient.

Not everyone is happy with this arrangement. Hence, the call for unconditional love by them.  However, if it were allowed to prevail, unconditional love would make all the world and the heavens above a venue in which anything and everything goes.  Pride, especially, would be allowed to flourish and, with it, would come anarchy and conflict; for, as it is written, “Only by pride cometh contention.”[19]  In the end, everything would become profane and could not be sustained.

Consider Cain for an example of someone who despised God’s dominion[20] along with His covenants and commandments.[21]  Cain was not satisfied with the sacrifice that God required of him – namely, that of a broken heart and contrite spirit – so he yielded to temptation and changed the ordinance to suit or fit his alternate sacrifice, one he could be proud of, one that reflected his own industry and ingenuity, one that was self-justifying.  In fact, Cain was first in a long line of people who try to justify themselves by their works.  Rather than relying upon the commandments and ordinances of God, they prefer to keep their own ordinances so they can offer the sacrifices they prefer.

And he said unto them, Yea, altogether ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.  (Mark 7:9)

God had respect for the sacrifice Abel offered Him in righteousness. In this way, Abel obtained the justification that comes of God through Jesus Christ by obeying Him in keeping His ordinances.[22]

The same is true of those who would offer up the sacrifice of unconditional love. It sounds good and seems appropriate, at least to the carnal mind.[23]  However, it is not the sacrificial love God requires of us, which is charity.[24]  Our Lord requires us to take up our cross and follow Him.[25]  Unconditional love subverts this ordinance of the Lord by keeping its own traditions.  It dismisses and dispenses with God’s justice and mercy without so much as a second thought, and it offers nothing in return to God in terms of compensating Him for their departing from His righteousness, which is established in His ordinances and covenants.  It only serves to rob Him of His justice and to deny His mercy the opportunity to carry out its gracious and perfecting work.

With these concepts in mind, we can better understand why Jesus began His ministry with the command to repent and believe the gospel.[26]  He was calling people to enter into the ordinance (venue) of repentance, which God has equipped with certain conditions, called the conditions of repentance.[27]  These conditions are designed to provide the necessary venue in which we might repent of our sins and be received back into His fellowship.

If God Peradventure Will Give Them Repentance

Repentance is not something we can arrange or establish independent of the ordinance of God. Rather, repentance is something God grants or gives as an ordinance in which we are to meet Him to repent of our sins as led by His Spirit.[28]  Consider the time when Peter testified of how God had brought salvation to the house of a Gentile named Cornelius.  The other disciples replied to his report by acknowledging that God had granted repentance to the Gentiles unto life.

When they heard these things, they held their peace and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.  (Acts 11:17-18)

Consistent with this understanding is the following counsel which Paul gave Timothy regarding repentance:

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient; In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.  (II Timothy 2:24-26)

Outlined, the several elements discussed above look like the following:

  • Ordinance (venue): The conditions of repentance, or simply the repentance which is granted by God
  • Sacrament: The act or process of our repenting of our sins which we offer to God as the sacrifice He requires of us
  • Promise: Reconciliation and restoration by God

An excellent example of this order is found in the record of King Solomon, David’s son, at the time of the dedication of the temple of God. There we read of how God put in place His ordinance in which His people were to offer to Him their sacraments.

And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for a house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:12-14)

  • Ordinance (venue): “a house of sacrifice” and “… shut up heaven … no rain … locusts to devour the land … pestilence among my people
  • Sacrament: “If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways
  • Promise: “then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land

Noting again the pattern, God chastises those He loves by placing them in certain circumstances designed by Him and equipping them with certain means, methods, and effects for their repentance. God then calls to His people to turn back to Him and receive healing by way of the pathway He lays before them.  If they repent and offer the sacrifice He requires and return to Him, they will be healed.  Otherwise, the harvest may pass (time of accounting) and the summer end (limits when venue is open) without their souls being saved.[29]

Come and Dine

Consider Peter as another example of how the Lord prepared the venue in which He might chasten and recover Peter unto Himself. It occurred in a meeting Jesus set up between them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee following Jesus’ resurrection.  We read from John’s account the following:

Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine… Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise… So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs… (John 21:12-15)[30]

Peter had just been out fishing with others of his fellow apostles when Jesus called them to shore to dine with Him on some bread and fish. Jesus provided the venue, complete with the backdrop of the sea and the shore, the fire and the fish, and a specific conversation with His disciple.  Peter had given up all, he said, to follow Jesus and become a fisher of men.[31]  Yet, when Jesus was arrested in the garden, Peter went on to deny Him, three times.[32]

As the scene unfolds in John’s narrative describing their meeting on the beach that day, we see the compassion in Jesus’ correction of His beloved Peter. Through the course of it, Peter was restored and began anew to follow Jesus, more humbly and carefully in his thoughts toward God and His calling on his life.

Many similar examples are provided for us in the scriptures. Each one helps us understand and appreciate the calling of God on our lives and how He leads, even takes us into many different venues throughout our lives to mold and shape us as a potter molds clay into useful vessels and to care for us as the Good Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.[33]

I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God besides me; I girded thee,[34] though thou hast not known me; That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it. Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? (Isaiah 45:5-9)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  (Psalm 23)

God Will Provide Himself a Lamb

Consider, for example, Abraham and Isaac. God called them to the mountains of Moriah to offer a sacrifice – the ordinance.  There, Abraham was to offer Isaac, his promised son whom he loved, in sacrifice unto the Lord – a unique sacrament which God required of Abraham.[35]  They carried out His instructions up until the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham, saying, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only Isaac from me.”[36]  God then completed both the ordinance and sacrament by providing the lamb.[37]  With their cooperation and obedience in carrying out what God had commanded, Abraham and Isaac met their appointment that day, and thus fulfilled, not only the will of God, but they also worshipped Him in spirit and truth with broken hearts and contrite spirits.

Another of God’s promises to Abraham was to give his posterity the land from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates.[38] This land and how it is equipped to sustain them is to be a venue which will be completed at the appointed time to fulfill the New Covenant.  Of that time and place of fulfillment, it is written:

For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.  (Hebrews 8:8-13)

NOTE:  for more discussion on this topic, see Why Not Live For What Gets Heaven Excited?



[3]    II Timothy 2:5

[4]    Ephesians 4:11-16

[5]    John 10:10 with Matthew 16:25-30 [16:24-27 KJV]



[8]    See D&C 17:10a, 17:11e, 17:18b, 26:1b, 46:1d, 46:2, 59:2f,h, 62:2a, 86:1b, 92:3e, & 119:5a,c



[11]   cf. Moroni 4:4 & Moroni 5:3 with D&C 52:4b-5a & D&C 59:2e-2h

[12]   Luke 22:19

[13]   D&C 59:2a-h with III Nephi 12:34,35

[14]   cf. Galatians 5:16,25, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 3:3, Colossians 1:8, 1 Peter 4:6, I John 1:1-2:2, Revelation 1:10, etc.

[15]   I Corinthians 2:9-16


[17]   cf. III Nephi 4:49,50

[18]   I Corinthians 1:29

[19]   Proverbs 13:10

[20]   II Peter 2:1-22 with Jude 1:8-11

[21]   Genesis 5:4-27 [4:1-17 KJV]

[22]   Hebrews 5:9 with Hebrews 11:8

[23]   Romans 8:5-9

[24]   I Corinthians 13:1-13 with Moroni 7:51-53

[25]   Matthew 16:25-30 [16:24-27 KJV]

[26]   Mark 1:12,13 [1:14,15]

[27]   D&C 16:3c-e, Helaman 2:74,75

[28]   John 16:7-15

[29]   Jeremiah 8:20


[31]   Mark 1:15 with Luke 18:28,29

[32]   Luke 22:54-62 with Luke 22:31-34

[33]   I Peter 2:25

[34]   John 21:18,19

[35]   Genesis 22:1-7

[36]   Genesis 22:13-15

[37]   Genesis 22:10,16-18

[38]   Genesis 15:22