Musings on the Sacrament

Preface

Seven weeks ago, Joy and I began writing the following “document.” It was subsequently forwarded to a significant number of associates for review and comment. With one notable exception (thank you LL), we received virtually no feedback. It may be that people are simply too busy. Perhaps it is too long. It may be that it is far outside the comfort zone for those raised in an LDS culture. It may be that my writing style is simply too much to endure. Whatever the case, now is probably the time to put it “out there,” since without dialogue, it is pretty much stuck in amber.

I do not doubt that the Lord will continue to teach and guide us and continue to help us to refine and answer our questions. If so, we hope to add/modify/correct this as time progresses. Regardless, we greatly appreciate the Lord opening our minds to some of our unbeliefs and helping us to better understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Bless Him!

1st Introduction

My family has been concerned about the administration of the ordinance of the sacrament for some time now. Many sacrament traditions appear to be in conflict with scripture, and the various mechanics of the administration are the least of these. Having seen many recent articles and blog posts on the topic, I have “felt” compelled to document our current understanding and thoughts regarding “best practices” based upon:

  • Scripture

  • Personal revelation

  • Inspiration and other spiritual confirmations related to:

    • historical documents (e.g., The Joseph Smith Papers),

    • scripture study, and

    • other’s opinions, commentaries, and practices.

I am not particularly comfortable sharing these things (more especially the personal revelations, which I deem to be to me, not to the world), but much of what I write hinges on these experiences and were these excluded your understanding would not be complete. I have no prophetic calling. I am not a messenger. I’m not called to be a teacher. I am only one man working out his salvation with fear and trembling.

Our preferences are not set in stone. As we continue to learn, as the Lord answers our prayers to expose our unbeliefs, we continue to adapt. No offense will be taken if you choose to disagree with various points herein; I will likely violate one or more traditions and/or beliefs to which you have some affinity and welcome dialogue. To this end, I will attempt to be honest about my own biases, which include:

  • a bias towards scripture and the revelations/teachings of Joseph Smith (and chary of cultural norms, traditions, handbooks, commentaries, and philosophies; including some practiced by Joseph Smith, et. al.),

  • a bias towards the sacrament being primarily coupled with worship and sabbath day observance, and

  • a bias towards personal revelation.

Biases

Please allow me to elaborate on the latter two biases.

Sabbath Day Bias

Mormon worship is insipid and includes erroneous teachings and practices concerning the doctrine1 of the sacrament. Our thoughts throughout the day are far from the Lord and we fall far short of the expectations set by the Lord for sabbath day observance. If you are the exception, my family would like to worship with you! This Sabbath day bias is deeply rooted and worthy of substantial discussion. Here, it is only necessary to provide a broad context by taking a closer look at Isaiah 58:14, below (from four translations, highlights mine):

 

Avraham Gileadi Translation

If you will keep your feet from trampling the Sabbath — from achieving your own ends on my holy day — and consider the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord venerable, and if you will honor it by refraining from your everyday pursuits — from occupying yourselves with your own affairs and speaking of business matters — then shall you delight in the Lord, and I will make you traverse the heights of the earth and nourish you with the heritage of Jacob your father. By this mouth the Lord has spoken it.

 

 

Complete Jewish Bible 

If you hold back your foot on Shabbat from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight, ADONAI’s holy day, worth honoring; then honor it by not doing your usual things or pursuing your interests or speaking about them. If you do, you will find delight in ADONAI – I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya’akov, for the mouth of ADONAI has spoken.

 

 

KING JAMES’ VERSION

If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. 

If we take Isaiah literally, it would be pretty easy to read this as:

 

JONATHAN’S VERY LOOSE, COLlOQUIAL VERSION

Would you please, on this one day, this one sacred, holy, and covenant day quit being so full of yourselves. Put aside all your vain, vapid, vacuous, vulgar, verbose, and even venomous words, thoughts, and deeds.  Instead, delight in the Lord. Then He will bestow upon you all the covenant blessings of your father Jacob. Pay attention, for such is the very word of the Lord. 

In case you missed it, that would be the “lower law;” Isaiah sets the bar pretty high. High enough to make it possible to have the Holy Spirit as our constant companion or high enough to “always have [the Lord’s] Spirit to be with us?” Please excuse me for quoting myself: 

 

JONATHAN’S rAZOR

If the higher law you live has a lower bar than the lower law you disparage, you are probably missing something.

Personal Revelation

There is important context here. There are times when I hear the voice of the Lord in specific language. For example, “the church is true [long pause], but not all of it.” Generally, this was not the case here. The answers were provided in a more holistic manner, which was not entirely consistent with the linear thought required by human language. Therefore, I struggled greatly to translate/interpret what I was instructed in a way that could be recorded. In contrast, the Lord did give me a few specific words and those in italics are His.

My family has been consistently praying that the Lord would show us our unbeliefs. One of the first fruits of those prayers was the understanding that the sacrament was not being performed appropriately in any meeting in which we participated. Joy prompted me to see if the Lord would authorize me to bless and administer the sacrament in our home. We had discussions regarding the taking of the challah and wine/grape juice at the synagogue on Friday nights and whether I could in silent prayer bless those emblems that we might thus partake of the sacrament. Similarly, we had discussed the propriety of young children partaking of the emblems in various fellowship meetings we attended when they were not yet old enough to be baptized, understanding that one was to be baptized prior to partaking of the sacrament.  We also had numerous conversations regarding the fact that the sacrament prayer contains no direct covenant language. I therefore presumed and contended publicly that it was simply a request for a blessing, albeit still an ordinance. I thus resorted to the top of a local mountain to ask these several questions of the Lord.

 

6/22/2015

My son hearken and understand. A righteous desire to worship is a pleasing thing unto me. To partake of the bread and water, or bread and wine in a worshipful and purposeful manner in remembrance of the body and blood of the Only Begotten of the Father -- in short, in remembrance of the atonement -- is a righteous act. To partake of the bread and water or bread and wine with the intent of making a covenant to always remember Him that you may have His Spirit to be with you is an ordinance, which cannot be done in secret and is counted as a righteous act only by those who are worthy to partake and who comprehend the covenant being made. Cursed is that person who would take unworthily or would take with no real intent to keep the covenant made. 

You are authorized to perform this ordinance for those who may appropriately participate. Whether bread or cracker, water or wine mattereth not. Whether breaking the bread before the blessing or breaking after, whether pouring the wine before or pouring after mattereth not as long as the ordinance is performed worshipfully, reverently, and with full purpose of heart by those performing the ordinance and those receiving the ordinance. Nevertheless, a warning I give unto you that if you allow those who are unworthy or without real intent in taking upon them the name of the Son of God and keeping His commandments, it will be unto your condemnation.

 

 

6/23/2015

Listen. Those changes that were made [to the previous day’s revelation] and the way they were recorded are quite acceptable. Regarding your question as to the passing of the sacrament and what it means to conduct it, so long as it is done in a reverential and worshipful manner it is appropriate. It is not necessary for that person presiding or that person who is blessing and administering the sacrament to be passing the sacrament about. It is perfectly acceptable for it to be handed person-to-person [as is done within the LDS church with the water and the bread]. It was never prescribed that the Deacons are to pass the sacrament in meetings nor is it proscribed that they should not. You may thus record the following: “there is no prescription nor proscription by which the sacrament should be passed from person-to-person so long as it is done worshipfully and reverently.

I wish I could tell you that I had fully researched those scriptures that are directly related, and that I immediately understood the connections. I did not. Understanding only began after returning home, transcribing my phone recordings to text, and doing keyword searches of the scriptures. More correctly, the scriptural consistencies and insights were distilled upon Joy and me over a rather long period of time and have continued to do so even up to and including last week. Rather than comment here, I will simply lace these into the subsequent discussion.

As a consequence of writing this document and struggling with the common elements of the baptismal and sacramental covenants (in addition to the various relationships between the covenants: in the time before Christ; within the Mosaic Law; in the time between Christ’s birth and atonement; during Christ’s ministry to the Nephites; following the restoration; and again today) and not fully understanding how it is that the sacramental covenant is not “a renewal of the baptismal covenant,” I begged for further insight.

 

4/25/2017

The covenant of the sacrament includes [encompasses] all prior covenants.

Oh. Right. Q.E.D.2

2nd Introduction

Why is it that these things always seem to apply to the other guy and not us?

 

“The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5, KJV, highlights mine)

For forty-some years, I “knew” that this related to the Catholic and Reformed Christian Churches. I fully ignored that comparing current LDS practice with scripture and early church practice makes it pretty clear that these aspects of the sacrament have all been changed:

  • how it is to be understood,

  • who administers the sacrament,

  • who receives the sacrament, 

  • how it is administered, and

  • the language of the LDS sacrament prayer (though this is inconsequential by comparison).

One sees a certain doctrinal irony when comparing the Catholic Church encouraging the baptism of unaccountable children, but requiring children to be accountable prior to taking the sacrament, to the LDS church requiring children to be accountable prior to baptism, but encouraging unaccountable children to take the sacrament.

Without elaborating, I note that the original Hebrew word used by Isaiah and translated as ordinance has a substantially broader definition than currently understood. In my humble opinion the changes to the ordinance most certainly include changes to the doctrine. More importantly, this is the primary reason the everlasting covenant is broken. Let’s make sure you got that. The mechanics of the sacramental ordinance have changed, yes, but more important are those changes to the doctrine of the sacrament that consequentially void the everlasting covenant. Is it any wonder that there seems to be a dearth of “His Spirit?”

The Doctrine of the Sacrament

Up front, let me be clear that there are two aspects of this covenant that elude me: “His name” and “His Spirit.” On the surface, both seem straightforward. As I study, ponder, and pray about these more deeply, there is an ever-increasing impression that my understanding is but as a child and that I am looking through a glass, darkly. Let us begin by looking where the Lord has been gracious and shown some light on a few unbeliefs that have long prevented me from understanding the sacrament and other quintessential gospel principles. Other related material is addressed after this section (e.g., who should take the sacrament and why).

The Sacrament Is Not a Step in the Repentance Process

Simply said, the repentance process should be complete prior to partaking of the sacrament. This includes our receiving the sanctifying confirmation that our sins have been forgiven. How else could we partake worthily? This does not imply that components of the sacramental covenant should not be part of the repentance process. For example, could we repent without a commitment to keep the commandments? Considering the gravity of this idea, let’s sharpen to a finer point using the metaphor of Plan A vs Plan B.

Plan A VS Plan B

The Father wants us on Plan A. He wants us to never depart from the path that is Plan A. Knowing our fickleness, He has graciously provided a Plan B, which has the singular purpose of putting us back on the path of Plan A. I repeat, God does not want us to depart Plan A. He does not want us to have to execute Plan B. The intent is not for us to fall off the high wire and into the safety net. The net is not there to encourage us to fall. Do nets encourage us to take risks? Yes. Welcome to mortality, spelled RISK with all caps. Without risk, there can be no faith. How many teachers preach that not only are we supposed to learn from our mistakes, but that we are intended to make mistakes in order to learn. Rubbish! Is that how Yeshua learned? He stayed on Plan A, and yet was baptized. He stayed on Plan A, and yet partook of the sacrament. It is my belief that all ordinances are part of plan A, even baptism. Repentance is intended to return us to the path leading to eternal lives.

The responsibility to judge our worthiness to partake of the sacrament is ours. Paul thus teaches the Corinthians3:

 

And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. (1 Corinthians 11:24–31, highlights mine)

What ordinance is designed to be received by one who is impure or unworthy? To more fully comprehend this, we should take a serious look at how the ordinance of baptism has changed by virtue of changing the doctrine of baptism. As with the sacrament, the change in doctrine is more important than the mechanical changes to the ordinance.

Baptism

Perhaps you are thinking, “baptism is for the remission of sins.” Please consider this, what is supposed to occur prior to baptism?

 

And now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it. Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins., having a determination to serve him to the end. And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:1–4, highlights mine)

See also Acts 2:38, 2 Ne 9:23; 2 Ne 31:11; Alma 62:42; Helaman 16:5; 3 Ne 11:23, 3 Ne 11:37-38; 3 Ne 18:11, 16, 30; 3 Ne 21:6; 3 Ne 23:5; 3 Ne 27:16, 20; 3 Ne 30:2; 4 Ne 1:1; Mormon 3:2; Mormon 7:8; Ether 4:18; Moroni 7:31; Moroni 8:10; D&C 18:22, 41-42; D&C 20:37, 68; D&C 33:11; D&C 84:27; D&C 138:33; Articles of Faith 4. Does this not say the same?

 

See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out. (Mormon 9:29, highlights mine)

If I understand this correctly, we can claim to be worthy to take the sacrament after we repent and are told that we are forgiven. Then we are prepared to make a covenant to keep the commandments and thus never sin again (true for both baptism and sacrament). As a consequence, the Holy Ghost cleanses and purifies us.

Let’s look at this differently. Many of us have been taught that Christ, being without sin, was baptized to fulfill all righteousness (see 2 Ne 31:4-7) and that we on the other hand are baptized to cleanse us from sin. So, why are eight-year-old children -- who are presumed to be without sin --baptized, (don’t go into sophistries like, “they had time from when they turned eight until they were baptized to sin”)? There must be a rationale for getting baptized that has nothing to do with repentance. Perhaps we should take it more literally that baptism is the gate to enter onto the path that is Plan A? 

 

…for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 31:17–18, highlights mine)

Am I wrong to presume that there is typically this order: we repent, are forgiven, are baptized, receive a remission of our sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost, and then through that gate enter “the straight and narrow path (Plan A)” that takes us forward to ultimately stand purified and holy before God? It is interesting to ponder if the gate is actually baptism by water or if it is baptism by fire (which necessarily presumes the former; though there are examples in scripture where the order of these baptisms seems to be reversed). 

If you are feeling contrarian, most of the following scriptures use the term(s) “baptism {of, unto} repentance,” and will seem to support your cause: Matt 3:11; Mark 1:4; Acts 19:4; Mosiah 26:22; Alma 5:62; Alma 6:2; Alma 7:14; Alma 8:10; Alma 9:27; Alma 48:19, 30; Helaman 3:24; Helaman 5:17,19; 3 Ne 1:23; D&C 55:2; and D&C 107:20. This would leave us in a conundrum were it not for this record in 3rd Nephi, possibly written by Mormon.

 

Now I would have you to remember also, that there were none who were brought unto repentance who were not baptized with water. Therefore, there were ordained of Nephi, men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water, and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins. And there were many in the commencement of this year that were baptized unto repentance; and thus the more part of the year did pass away. (3 Nephi 7:24–26, highlights mine)

Here we seem to have an explicit definition for the term baptized unto repentance: receiving baptism as a witness of having repented and been forgiven4.

Baptism deserves its own paper, but before moving on, please consider this. If we do not have a correct understanding of the doctrine of baptism, how can we possibly have a correct understanding of the doctrine of Christ? If we do not have a correct understanding of the doctrine of Christ, how can we expect to covenant with the Father?

Incomplete

This topic is hardly complete5. It would be good to explore essential skills needed to identify unworthiness and more expeditiously return to and remain on Plan A. Satan is very good at confusing, guilting, and (like a good martial arts master) using our strengths against us. As but a single example, I had a church leader once respond to my wrestle with worthiness6 in a temple recommend interview by quoting Joseph Smith from the King Follett sermon, “It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.” I didn’t say it at the time, but I really wanted to scream at him, “learning and knowledge should not be confused with worthiness!” I was still too passive-aggressive to do so. I have so many more examples. The point is, these topics are generally suppressed in our religious experience as we focus solely on the positive. When was the last time someone actually called you to repentance? When was the last time that someone walked with you through a deeper and more useful discussion than the seven R’s?

The Sacrament Is Not a Renewal of the Baptismal Covenant

Okay, now that I have your attention, actually it is a renewal of the baptismal covenant along with all other covenants we have previously entered into with our Heavenly Father. So, technically, this is correct as long as we have taken upon us no other covenants. The problem with teaching it that way is two-fold: first, it leaves out all the other covenants; and second, we frequently teach and accept the “baptismal covenant” to be much less than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, this teaching from Alma is important:

 

Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—(Mosiah 18:8–9)

Still, is this not a subset of all the laws and commandments we agree to keep, even if this is the first covenant we are making with the Lord? Without prejudice, I note there is nothing here about loving God, worshiping Him, keeping His covenants, coming to know Him, etc.

The Sacrament Prayer Is Not the Covenant

During 40-some years since my baptism, and up until very recently, I do not know if I ever understood or made the requisite covenant while partaking of the sacrament. If that isn’t a “broken” covenant, what is? Imagine the bread has just been blessed, you have heard a priesthood holder say, 

 

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.  (Moroni 4:3, highlights mine)

That looks like an intent to make a covenant, which is not a covenant. It is rightfully called a prayer.

I contend that if you have done something similar to the following, then you have made a sacramental covenant with the Father: 

 

You took the bread and in your heart raised it high above your head in remembrance of Yeshua being raised on the cross. You praised and blessed the Lord for His mercy, grace and love, and your whole soul cried out in your heart, “O Lord, I thank Thee that Thou hast taken upon Thee and forgiven my sins, and purified and sanctified my heart that I might in worthiness make a covenant with the Father.”

Then, in concert with the very act of partaking of the bread, you said within your heart, “O God the Eternal Father, I covenant with Thee that I willingly and gratefully take upon me the name of Thy Son; I covenant with Thee that I will always remember and look to Him; I covenant with Thee that I will keep His every commandment, His every instruction, His every word, now, and for eternity. Amen.”

If, on the other hand, you have (like me) simply eaten a piece of blessed bread (perhaps thinking that it was endowed with some mystical power), then you have (like me) taken the sacrament in vain. Is it too strong to say that this would be to our condemnation? I can’t help thinking that this is serious stuff. We need to be on the path that Yeshua trod. We need to be following His lead. I repeat, we need to be on the straight and narrow path; we need to be living Plan A. 

Some have suggested that we might substitute personal pronouns into the sacrament prayer as the priest recites that prayer as a way of personalizing the sacrament. This implies that they think the sacrament prayer is the covenant and inculcates that notion. It similarly implies that they do not think they need to join in the prayer asking the Father to bless the emblems to the purpose of others making a covenant.

Others have suggested that we might raise our hand to the square during the sacrament prayer as a symbol demonstrating acceptance of a covenant. This has the same problem of teaching away from actually making a sacramental covenant. Additionally, and perhaps worse, it substitutes the presumed eternal, prescribed symbols of the body and blood of Christ that are ordained symbols to be used in conjunction with the sacramental covenant with something entirely different.

How are these things not changing the doctrine of the sacrament? How are these things not “changing the ordinance?”

We will leave the water/wine and the distinctions to the bread as an “exercise for the student.”

The Sacrament as a token

I have a hypothesis that most ordinances we receive are tokens. In the LDS temple endowment, this is said in different language, making it clear that there are contingencies and an expectation that there is something of far greater worth to follow. I wonder if the “power of God [being] manifest” might have more to do with future, righteous obedience to the requirements of the ordinance/covenant than it does with obediently receiving the ordinance itself.

In this sense, one must wonder if the sacrament is also a token. Might it foreshadow an invitation to participate at the great marriage feast (Matthew 22:1-14, Matthew 25:1-13; Revelation 19:5-9), and, like the original last supper, to sup at His table? See also Luke 14:7-11.

In a different sense, is the promise of receiving the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, the first comforter, to be supplemented by the second comforter and all that is implied therein? Is that to be supplemented by being in the presence of the Son in His Kingdom, and/or the Father in the Father’s Kingdom, and to “go no more out?”

In yet another sense, with respect to both the sacrament and baptism, it seems that such a token may be other-directional. Meaning that our performance of the ordinance is a token of our obedience to the will of the Savior, a token of our remembrance, and a token of our willingness to take upon us his name (more on this point, below). “Token” seems to be an appropriate description of the obedient act of partaking of the sacrament and committing to keep the commandments and remembering Him. But, clearly, it cannot represent that we will in fact “always” do so. In that sense, it is a gesture indicating a point-in-time obedience to be further tested. This is no way implies that this token is insincere or an anticipation of a return to Plan B. Nevertheless, there may be an implication that Heavenly Father, knowing our faithlessness, has provided the token as part of the greater safety net, awaiting the gifting of greater blessings for the time when we have proven our worthiness.

This token may also be important as a signal to one another that we are worthy and that we truly are prepared to receive both individually and as a group the greater blessings promised. In this, I am thinking of the incident where Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery retired to the woods to receive a more-sure testimony of the Book of Mormon. Subsequent to failing on the second attempt, Martin Harris withdrew himself, believing himself to be the cause. If one person can thus impact a group’s spiritual progress, is it not reasonable to communicate to others that we take this seriously and publicly declare ourselves to be worthy? Would this not be another reason why the Lord would so strongly condemn us for making a false public declaration (i.e., partaking unworthily)? This, again, is another topic that deserves far greater attention given our current cultural norm.

His name

The idea of “taking His name upon us” seems pretty straight forward. Many seem to agree that by doing so we become His begotten sons and daughters, and He becomes the Father of our salvation. Nevertheless, there seems to be something inherent in the entire concept of (the power of) names that I do not comprehend. We can probably agree that it is not just a badge we put on our pocket. It is not just a declaration of a religious sect. It is more than just a handle we use to refer to something, more than a capitalized word given to a person, place, or special thing (i.e., proper noun).

It is clear from various scriptures that the use of the name of God is an authority granted that is like unto a power-of-attorney. In the old testament, the word name (Hebrew: shem) also means renown (see Numbers 16:2 and Ezekiel 16:14). So, perhaps we find here a nuance of reputation? In the Hebrew tradition, since it is not known how to correctly speak the name of God, and there is no desire to insult Him by slaughtering the pronunciation, the Jews say “the name” (Hebrew: Ha Shem) whenever the written name of God is found. You are probably aware that His name (יְהוָה) is thus frequently translated in the KJV as “The Lord”. You are probably also aware that there are a variety of commandments regarding His name. “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD (יְהוָה  HaShem) thy God in vain” (vain in early English means “something of no value” Exodus 20:7). We get that. Treat His name with respect. In other scriptures, we see His name declared as Holy (Matthew 6:9). It is not the Father who is declared holy, it is His name that is hallowed. Jesus declared, “ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake (Matthew 10:22).” Not for His sake; for His name’s sake. Christ quotes Isaiah regarding himself, “and in his name shall the Gentiles trust (Matthew 12:15).” Not trust in Him, but in His name. How do we receive Him? “…receive [a] little child in [His] name.” If we want Him to be in our midst? “…gather together in [His] name.” This scripture is rather profound: “…then began men to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26).” We could go on for a long time. There are literally hundreds of examples. In each, there is a presumption that we understand how name is being used.

There seems to be something sublime going on here that is beyond my grasp. Perhaps this is due to culture, to language, and/or tradition. Perhaps it is just obstinacy on my part or unbelief or lack of faith. Even so, I can’t help but wonder if there is a distinction between becoming His adopted sons and daughters, and taking upon ourselves His name. For example, 

 

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:22-23; highlights mine)”

Isn’t Jesus effectively saying that they professed to have “taken upon them His name?” Could they have been his adopted children? He would certainly know His adopted children. Doesn’t this appear to be a case of them having taken upon them the name of Christ without it having been offered (yes, we could rephrase that to say taken upon them the freely offered name without having accepted the requisite conditions, but this would appear to be a distinction without a difference)?

It is curious that in the account of the people of King Benjamin, they start out as a rather unrighteous people. Through the care and teaching of holy prophets, they are converted and become an obedient, blessed, and presumably righteous people, almost Zion-like. Having become such, an angel comes to King Benjamin and teaches him what he is to teach the people so that they can make a sacred covenant and thus, as a people, receive the name of Christ.

Is there a sequence? What Moroni says in Moroni 6:1–4 (quoted above) seems to indicate a different sequence than is found in the record of King Benjamin: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ.” Should this have been, “…they were willing to take…?” Is there an implication here of a ladder? Is there a duality as is seen in temple ordinances where we receive a token of the real thing in order to encourage us to strive after the real thing? Or – and this is currently my preferred interpretation – is there is a distinction between receiving His name individually and receiving His name as a body of believers?

And while we are on Benjamin (Hebrew: bin·yä·mene' or Son of the/my right hand), we see again this idea of a name being tied to sonship. Peter, or Simon-bar-Jonah (Greek: son of Jonah) would have been a “bin.” It is common practice among the Jews when calling a man up to read from the Torah to introduce them as X-bin-Y, where Y is either their father’s name, or Moses, or in the case of the Messianic Jews, Yeshua. So, I would want to be called jonathan ben Yeshua. This may be more than a “genealogy thing.” It may be that in our modern culture, being the son or daughter of someone just doesn’t have the same import as it once did. Is this true in the Scandinavian countries where one’s surname reflected the Father’s first name (e.g. Larsen, Jorgensen)? In China, the veneration of the family name was once extremely important. That too seems to have changed. Is there any modern-day country/culture where there remains a substantial import to carrying the family name? I carry my father’s first and last name, but it really doesn’t go a whole lot deeper than that. More to the point, have we lost something that makes it more difficult to understand the significance of names? Are we missing a cultural context?

I can’t help but believe that there is something profound in all this, and that it is very different from what we are frequently taught, and that we only have a mere shadow or hint to what it means to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. Yes, we witness that we are willing to take upon ourselves His name, but does that mean that it has actually been given? If it hasn’t actually been given, can it have been received? If it hasn’t been received, can we claim it as our own? Do we presume something that we don’t own? Said differently, are we looking forward to something greater as we make a token commitment? Is this like so many other gospel principles (taught by clueless people of good intent) that have had the DNA sucked right out of them, leaving behind a hollow and impotent shell?

his Spirit

Another key element of the sacramental covenant relates to the resultant blessing of “always [having] His Spirit to be with [us].” As with the point about roles (footnote above), likewise there is good reason to have a firm understanding of what “His Spirit” actually means. So, what is Yeshua’s Spirit and how does it relate to the “Spirit of God,” the “Holy Spirit,” the “Holy Ghost,” “the Mind of God,” “the Light of Christ,” the “Comforter,” the “Second Comforter,” the “record of heaven” and other similar names/titles?

Since I do not understand these things, can I even pretend to claim to fully understand the doctrine of the sacrament? Rewording from above, If I do not fully understand the doctrine of the sacrament, can I claim to fully understand the doctrine of Christ or the gospel of Christ?

Personal note:  If you comprehend either of these, we need to talk, because the more I dig, the more confused I become. While I learn linearly (line upon line), my ignorance appears to be growing exponentially. I include this rather personal frustration to make the point that I trust that our Heavenly Father answers prayers. What you have read here is a testimony to that fact. I desire and pray to fully comprehend the doctrine of the sacrament and the doctrine of Christ. While I have been taught quite a bit, the Lord has not chosen to show me these things. Perhaps the answer to that prayer will come through one of you. :- )

Best Practice(S) -- Thoughts and discussion

Preparation

We all know that preparation is important. It seems that the most important preparation must include:

  • a fundamental understanding of the gospel of Christ and the doctrine of Christ (including baptism),

  • a proper understanding of the doctrine of the sacrament, 

  • receiving a forgiveness of our sins (i.e., full and complete repentance), and

  • a Spirit-rich environment.

One or more of these may require instruction.

Presupposing that those who are ready to make the sacrament covenant have repented and are worthy, there remains the expectation that partaking of the sacrament should be a sacred, spiritually uplifting, and worshipful experience. It seems reasonable to (generally) consider these elements:

  • a peaceful environment conductive to the Spirit,

  • a sacrament hymn,

  • a pre-sacrament prayer,

  • the sacrament (always conducted in a reverential and worshipful manner), 

  • additional time for personal prayer, reflection, and continued personal worship, and ideally,

  • one or more post-sacrament hymns, and

  • one or more post-sacrament prayers.

Before elaborating, let me summarize the point: making a sacramental covenant is a big deal. It is likely the biggest deal of the week for most people. Let’s give the experience its due. Now, for some personal preferences (biases). I strongly prefer a pre-sacrament hymn that is directed to God. It should focus on gratitude and praise, ideally for having been forgiven, purified, and made7 worthy to partake of the sacrament. Most hymns are about directing thoughts, prayers, and praise to God. This is not the same. An example would be the difference between “Come praise the Lord,” (directed to one another) and “We praise Thee Lord” (directed to God).

The intent of the pre-sacrament prayer is the same as the pre-sacrament hymn, to express gratitude and praise for Christ atoning for our sins and making us worthy to stand before the Father and make a solemn covenant. 

I skip the actual sacrament here, as the remainder of the document will focus thereon.

The time following the sacrament is not infrequently occupied by things that are far distant from sincere worship. Metaphorically, this is not unlike spending days to create the perfect Thanksgiving feast only to see guests gulp it down in a few seconds in order to get back to the game. Is it any wonder that the leftovers frequently taste better than the meal?

The point of having a post-sacrament hymn (or hymns) and post-sacrament prayer (or prayers) is to further emphasize the covenant just made. It is further intended to amplify the fact that the best context for the sacrament and the covenant is worship. Most of us have been brought up in a culture where hymns, and more especially prayers, are only incidental to our worship (talk to God, but make it quick, #ThanksGod). It is my personal belief that we could do with a great deal more singing and praying in our worship (praising and blessing God) and a lot less speaking. More yearning, less regurgitating. If you are anything like me, you feel the presence of the Spirit more during hymns and other prayers than you do during talks and presentations. Why shouldn’t worship be the primary objective of a sacrament meeting?

FREQUENCY

Tradition within many, but not all, Christian religions is to take the sacrament during each Sabbath. Some do so during both Saturday night and Sunday services. Some provide the sacrament but once a month. Many Messianic Jews choose to partake of the sacrament once a year, during the Passover, because that is when the Savior partook, and they take very literally the admonition to do what Jesus did, including the entire context of the first supper. Given that they do not embrace the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants, this isn’t an unreasonable interpretation and at the very least seems to set the lower bound.

 

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 you to rest from your 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. (D&C 59:9–12, highlights mine)

While it is reasonable to presume that the concept of “thy sacraments8 should include “the sacrament” as we currently understand it, we should allow for other interpretations (see footnote).

In D&C 46:2-4 there is the implication, but only the implication, that sabbath meetings are sacrament meetings. It is my opinion that Joseph Smith and other early members of the restored church enjoyed the cultural tradition of partaking of the sacrament at a sacrament meeting (see D&C 46:4-5) each sabbath and considered this so obvious as to require little exhortation. If the church (members, not institution) strictly obey the law of the sabbath, then meeting together on that day to worship seems like the natural thing to do. It also seems natural to partake of the sacrament at that sabbath meeting.

You would think that there would be more provided by the Lord tying the sacrament to sabbath day observance. All I see is in D&C 59, above. I don’t find it elsewhere in the scriptures, and I have not found it in the teachings of Joseph Smith (search for sacrament, bread, wine, emblems, supper, etc.). You may be thinking, once ought to be enough! Quite right. And yet, when something is important to the Lord, we typically see more than a little repetition. What we have from scripture is:

 

And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ. But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven. And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done. (Moroni 6:7–9, highlights mine)

See also D&C 20:55, 75. 

So, what is “oft?”

During His visit to the people of Nephi, Jesus administered the sacrament two days in a row (see 3 Ne 18:3, and 3 Ne 20:3). Perhaps this is because there were many there who were not present on the first day. More frequent taking of the sacrament is similarly suggested in D&C 88:141, in conjunction with the ordinance of washing of the feet. From the Joseph Smith Papers, we have the sacrament taken on various occasions that were not on the Sabbath. For example:  28 Aug 1830 (Sat), 20 Feb 1834 (Wed), 21 Apr 1834 (Mon), 1 Sep 1835 (Tue). Unlike current LDS tradition where the sacrament is avoided during conferences, some of these were during conferences and meetings adjunct to those conferences.

Bottom line? While Joseph Smith does appear to have centered his sacrament worship on the sabbath, it appears from his journals and other early church documents that he did not allow this to limit him/them. If there is an upper bound, I don’t know where it is, other than that taking the sacrament in vain is problematic, no matter what the frequency.

Blessing the sacrament

In this section, let us consider these things:

  • what should be used for the bread and the wine

  • who should receive the sacrament,

  • who should bless the sacrament, 

  • how this should be conducted, and

  • who should preside.

Before we begin, let me reassert (in case you jumped forward to this point and skipped the more important content) that I believe that these mechanics are far less important than the doctrine of the sacrament, discussed above.

The Emblems

 

For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins. Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies; Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth. (Doctrine and Covenants 27:2–4, highlights mine)

To say that we are given carte blanche about what to use for the emblems might be a bit strong (e.g., we probably don’t want to start drinking blood). From this it seems reasonably clear that having the right mind and heart is more important than the emblems themselves. With that said, we might reasonably have preferences that help us promote an eye single to His glory. Before looking at possible preferences, this counsel from Paul to the Corinthians regarding food choices seems applicable.

 

But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Corinthians 8:8–13, highlights mine)

My read on this is, don’t do those things that you know will cause your brother/sister to take offense; it would be better to abstain. You will have to decide how to apply this principle here.

Water vs Wine

If wine tastes nasty to you, perhaps that is symbolic to you of the pain and suffering of the atonement (if so, should you open it a couple weeks before using it – please excuse me for being tongue-in-cheek here -- to increase its nastiness? :-). If you really like wine, well, you will need to determine what message you are presenting to yourself. Either way, we should probably be cautious to make sure that we are not twisting our interpretations of the scriptures to conform to our personal biases and/or preferences. If, for example, I were to have a preference for using red wine, I’m pretty confident that D&C 27 (above) would justify its use; I do not believe that it would justify pressing others to conform to that preference. Should we not be very liberal in allowing others to determine their own preferences and ensure there are no commendations or contentions of opinion in this regard? If you are concerned that fluid of choice will not be available, and have verified that bringing what you prefer will cause no offense, take some with you. If someone brings a fluid of choice to your sacrament, don’t be offended; welcome this with enthusiasm and gratitude. 

It seems reasonably clear that “[making] it new among you” (D&C 27:4, above) has much more to do with the then exigent risks of poisoning posed at that time than it does with having a personal stake in its creation. I haven’t sought any confirmation or explanation from the Lord on this. Maybe it should be more important to me.

As an aside, I find it most interesting that throughout scripture the consumption of blood, which is the life (Genesis 9:4), is prohibited and associated with vile behavior (see: Jarom 1:6; Alma 49:27). Since we believe that all things point to Christ, and more specifically the wine of the sacrament points to drinking of the blood of Christ, who is The Life and the Light of the World (granted, metaphorically; 3 Nephi 20:8), how are these related?

Bread VS Cracker

Clearly the aforementioned scriptures apply equally to the bread. If you need gluten-free, and aren’t sure it will be provided, verify; bring it; welcome it. Nevertheless, it would probably be unkind to ask if it is okay to bring a dainty pastry. There is difference between not being proscribed and being appropriate. Done.

With respect to symbolism, consider the following. When Christ originally shared the sacrament with His disciples, it was most likely unleavened. There is a pretty good chance that this would have been true in the new world, also, given the timing of His appearance. In the Hebrew tradition, leaven is symbolic of sin. That is why during Passover, Jews go to great lengths to remove all leaven from their homes. It isn’t just about not having time to make a proper meal before leaving Egypt. It takes longer to gather, kill, dress, and prepare a lamb for a meal than it does to bake some (at least partially) leavened bread. For He who was the Sinless Offering to use a symbol that would be readily recognized as representing freedom from sin is unlikely to be coincidence.

Receiving the sacrament

Based on the material above, it should be obvious that I equate being worthy to partake of the sacrament with being free of sin. That leaves two likely-to-be sensitive topics: should one who is not baptized partake of the sacrament, and as a subset thereof, should young children partake of the sacrament.

Baptism Before Sacrament

We have examples in the scriptures that appear to go both ways, but do they?

 

The duty of the members after they are received by baptism—The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning the church of Christ to their understanding, previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order. And the members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures—walking in holiness before the Lord. (D&C 20:68–69)

Some may say, well, that’s easy, that particular section of the Doctrine and Covenants is problematic for any number of reasons. Can you hear me give out a big sigh? Even if you believe this, please consider that the revelation received by Oliver Cowdery referred to as the “Articles of the Church of Christ,” received in June 1829 contains the following words:

 

And now behold I give unto you a commandment that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh & blood unworthily when ye shall minister it for whoso eateth & drinketh my flesh & blood unworthily eateth & drinketh damnation to his soul Therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat & drink of my flesh & blood ye shall forbid him nevertheless ye shall not cast him out from among you but ye shall minister unto him & shall pray for him unto the Father in my name & if it so be that he repenteth & is baptized in my name then shall ye receive him & shall minister unto him of my flesh & blood but if he repenteth not he shall not be numbered among my people that he may not destroy my people.

This is the basis for the language in D&C 20 and predated the formal organization of the church by almost a year. While the wording changes, this specific doctrine remains intact through all those changes. Perhaps more importantly, we have no indication to which I am aware that Joseph Smith ever challenged this doctrine, based at least on the fact that he had the remainder of his life to make those changes. Opportunity certainly existed while numerous other changes (primarily additions) were made. Nor do we have any indication that he objected to Oliver receiving this revelation on behalf of the church.

I could elaborate further and quote other scripture, but I believe the point is well enough made.

Sacrament before Baptism

What can we say? The Savior seemed to like to mix it up. For example, in this verse, we see individuals receiving baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost in advance of baptism by water.

 

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)

In the Book of Mormon, we have Christ teaching about baptism in 3 Ne 11: 20 through 3 Ne 12:2. We should not miss the part of this sermon that explicitly shows order to receiving baptism by water and then baptism by fire.

 

after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost…. (3 Nephi 12:1, highlight mine)

What can I say? His church, His rules. For us? It appears that we are expected to follow the prescription given in 3 Ne 12:1.

Christ then moves on to the New World version of the sermon on the mount, which continues with additions through Chapter 16. In Chapter 17 He then blesses the sick and then has the “little children” (those less than the age of accountability?) brought to Him. He kneels. He prays words that could not be written, and the multitude were overcome with joy. Jesus then claims that His joy is full and weeps. Subsequently, angels descend from heaven in the midst of fire and encircle the little ones. Wow. If only.

Christ then administers the sacrament.

 

And it came to pass that Jesus commanded his disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him.

And while they were gone for bread and wine, he commanded the multitude that they should sit themselves down upon the earth.

And when the disciples had come with bread and wine, he took of the bread and brake and blessed it; and he gave unto the disciples and commanded that they should eat. And when they had eaten and were filled, he commanded that they should give unto the multitude.

And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the disciples: Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name. And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you. And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. 

And it came to pass that when he said these words, he commanded his disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it. And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude, and they did drink, and they were filled.

And when the disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you. And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock. But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them. Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you. (3 Nephi 18:1–14, highlights mine)

See also verse 30. 

Many were not there. On the following morning, the disciples taught the people who had missed the prior day’s events all that Jesus had taught, had them kneel and pray, and then they [presumably the disciples] went to the water and were baptized (3 Ne 19:11-12). Following this the multitude witnesses them [the disciples] encircled with fire (3 Ne 19:13-14). Immediately thereafter, Christ appears again, has the people pray, and then provides the sacrament:

 

And it came to pass that he commanded the multitude that they should cease to pray, and also his disciples. And he commanded them that they should not cease to pray in their hearts. And he commanded them that they should arise and stand up upon their feet. And they arose up and stood upon their feet. And it came to pass that he brake bread again and blessed it, and gave to the disciples to eat. And when they had eaten he commanded them that they should break bread, and give unto the multitude. And when they had given unto the multitude he also gave them wine to drink, and commanded them that they should give unto the multitude. Now, there had been no bread, neither wine, brought by the disciples, neither by the multitude; But he truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink. 

And he said unto them: He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled. Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard. (3 Nephi 20:1–9, highlights mine)

Returning to the disciples, some would say that they were baptized into a new dispensation. Some would say they were baptized via a new authority. Some would say both. Some would cry foul because, again, there is no indication that on either day that all who partook of the sacrament were previously baptized.

Prior to the destruction, we know that Nephi and others were out preaching repentance and baptism.

 

Now I would have you to remember also, that there were none who were brought unto repentance who were not baptized with water. Therefore, there were ordained of Nephi, men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water, and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins. And there were many in the commencement of this year that were baptized unto repentance; and thus the more part of the year did pass away. (3 Nephi 7:24–26)

It is highly probable that these same men had previously been baptized, and were teaching and baptizing at Nephi’s side before the destruction (allowing for the possibility of an Alma the Younger or Paul type of conversion). We also know that of the “more righteous” that were spared destruction, some of these had not repented and must have rejected baptism. 

 

And in another place they were heard to cry and mourn, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and had not killed and stoned the prophets, and cast them out; then would our mothers and our fair daughters, and our children have been spared, and not have been buried up in that great city Moronihah. And thus were the howlings of the people great and terrible. (3 Nephi 8:25)

This probably shouldn’t be interpreted as the fine-tuning kind of repentance we should be doing on a continual basis. To these Christ speaks after His death and presumably prior to His resurrection:

 

And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:19–20)

Now, what happened in the lives of these survivors, and what do you think Nephi, his brother, and other prophets and priests were doing during the year9 between Jesus’ death, and His coming to visit and teach? Do you think they were called to their high and holy calling without having labored diligently to bring all who remained into the fold of God, teaching them the path to salvation? Go. Pray about it. I’m pretty sure you will be told whether or not Christ was administering the sacrament to those who had not been baptized. So, while He most certainly had the right to be free-lancing, I testify that He wasn’t. It might be helpful to review the last couple of verses in the Words of Mormon, as well as Mosiah 1-6 (with special consideration of Mosiah 6), and look for parallels between these two accounts.

Young Children Partaking of the sacrament

Well, what then about the young children who have not reached the age of accountability?

Curiously, scripture does not seem to provide direct guidance on this topic. One can read from the examples/instances in the Book of Mormon that there was no indication that children were excluded. True. There is also no indication that they were included. Likewise, true.

I can find no instruction anywhere in scripture regarding the sacrament (bread or wine) and children. Similarly, I find nothing in the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith or in the Joseph Smith Papers. New Testament accounts and teachings regarding the sacrament include: Matt 26:26; John 6:54; Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7; and 1 Corinthians 11:26. Some people have equated Christ's feeding of the 5000 to be a sacrament. While this may be true in the broader definition of the word sacrament, there is no indication that “the sacrament” was offered prior to the “last supper.” Looking at this from a Mosaic Law vantage, while young children participated in feasts related to various offerings and ordinances, we run into a wall with Jesus teaching that those are to be replaced with a “broken heart and contrite spirit,” not with a sacrament. Nevertheless, this may have been implicit, especially in his teachings to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood.

In this section, while my personal opinion is guided principally by personal revelation, I shall attempt to present the information is an impartial manner to more strongly encourage you to ponder these things. I note in advance that there are multiple possible directions to take, including combinations of: let them; don’t let them; follow the group-think du jour; adjust according to circumstances, etc.

Young Children Partake

Young Children Don’t Partake

PRO: Young children are innocent and therefore worthy. They do not sin by partaking of the sacrament. Denying them the sacrament implies that they are unworthy, which very thought is offensive.

CON: It is true that they are worthy. That does not mean that they understand the doctrine of the sacrament and are prepared to take upon them a covenant. More importantly, if there is a condemnation, it will be to those who allow them to do so. They are innocent. We are not.

There are two criteria for taking the sacrament: being worthy, and having been baptized. These should not be conflated. One can be worthy without having been baptized, and one may be baptized by water and not be worthy.

PRO: There were those in the Book of Mormon account that were not yet baptized partaking of the sacrament, so it is reasonable that young children that were not baptized could do likewise.

CON: As indicated earlier in the paper, that might not be the case. There is no indication that those assembled had not been previously baptized. It is more likely that all who should have been baptized, were indeed baptized. We may unambiguously conclude that they had not yet been re-baptized.

PRO: There is no doctrine that supports withholding the sacrament from young children.

CON: Au contraire! We may readily apply that same doctrine that declares that those supposing “that little children need baptism [are] in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for [they have] neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should [they] be cut off while in the thought, [they] must go down to hell. (Moroni 8:14) 

What possible basis is there to believe that young children should not make a baptismal covenant, but should make a sacramental covenant? What is the distinction in these covenants that would proscribe the one and prescribe the other? We should be teaching everyone that young children are alive in Christ through the power of the atonement and not teach anything that dilutes that doctrine.

PRO: This has been a tradition within the LDS church from the beginning. If Joseph Smith had thought it wrong, he would have surely made it known.

CON: This is the strongest argument made for allowing this practice and is impossible to refute as it depends upon the very lack of information that inspires the question in the first place. Joseph Smith, like the rest of us, grew up with biases based upon culture and traditions. Perhaps everything would be different if he had thought to ask the question (or if he did, to have written down the answer).

Who Blesses

Again, we refer back to D&C 20, with all the same caveats as before. It seems pretty clear that the sacrament is to be blessed by either a Priest or an Elder, and while we might discuss what those “offices” actually mean in this context, I leave that off to discuss more specifically when the Priest should do so. If we compare the duties of the Priest when there is no Elder present with those when an Elder is present, we are left with the fact that the only distinction is the blessing of the sacrament.

 

The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. And he may also ordain other priests, teachers, and deacons. And he is to take the lead of meetings when there is no elder present; But when there is an elder present, he is only to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, And visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. 

In all these duties the priest is to assist the elder if occasion requires. (Doctrine and Covenants 20:46–52, highlights mine)

We must presume that the “priest is to assist the elder” in those duties listed immediately preceding, which exclude administering the sacrament. In short, it seems pretty clear that the priest is not to administer the sacrament if an elder is present.

In this case, Oliver’s Articles of the Church of Christ makes no such distinction. I believe that the first recorded instance where we see Joseph Smith modifying these articles is found in Revelation Book 1.

 

The Priests duty is to preach teach expound exhort & baptize & administer the Sacrement & visit the House of each member & exhort them to pray vocally & in seecret & also to attend all familiy duties & ordain other Priests Teachers & Deacons & take the lead in meetings but none of these offices is he to do when there is an Elder present but in all cases are [p. 55] [to] assist the Elder &c (Revelation Book 1, recorded as  received April 10th 1830, but clearly transcribed between Jan 2 and Jan 5 of 1831, highlights mine)

So here, presumably, we have Joseph Smith modifying Oliver Cowdery’s work to specifically prohibit many of a Priest’s duties when an Elder is present. While later changes to this text reinstate a number of those duties while in the presence of an Elder, administering the sacrament is not one of them.

It is at least a curiosity that in each recorded instance we have available where the Savior participates in the sacrament, it is He that blesses the bread and the wine. Said differently, the sacrament was blessed by the most senior priesthood leader. 

In the Mormon tradition, there are a plethora of priesthood. In that context, this statement hardly makes any sense: “…Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name (3 Nephi 18:5). It seems reasonable that this could be interpreted as “there shall be at least one,” meaning that this is important enough that even when there are few of you, you need to be able to do this. I don’t know how else it would make any sense unless it was intended that the sacrament be taken when the people were gathered for feasts.10

While there are various other questions regarding priesthood authority, I generally consider that topic beyond the scope of this paper.

Administering the sacrament

I note here that I have written nothing about the “preparation of the sacrament” and cleaning up after the fact.

Regarding the actual administration, please note a couple of things from these same three sources we have referenced, above.

Articles of the Church of Christ

Revelation Book 1

Doctrine and Covenants 20:75–79

And the Church shall oft partake of bread & wine & after this manner shall ye partake of it The Elder or Priest  shall minister it & after this manner shall he do he shall kneel with the Church  & pray to the Father in the name of Christ & then shall ye say O God the Eternal Father we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ to bless & sanctify this bread to  the souls of all those who partake of it that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son & witness unto thee O God the Eternal Father that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son & always remember him & keep his commandments which he hath given them that they may always have his spirit to be with them Amen

And it is expedient that the Church meet together oft to partake bread & wine in Rememberance of the Lord Jesus & the  Elder or  Priest shall minister it & after this manner shall he do he shall kneel with the Church & call upon the Father in mighty prayer saying O God the Eternal Father we ask thee in the name of thy son Jesus Christ to Bless & sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it that they may eat in Rememberance of the body of thy son & witness unto thee O God the Eternal Father that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy son & always Remember him & keep his commandments which he hath given them that they may always have his spirit to be with them amen

It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus; And the elder or priest shall administer it; and after this manner shall he administer it—he shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer, saying: O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

And then shall ye take the cup & say O God the Eternal Father we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ to bless & sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it that they may do in remembrance of the blood of thy Son which was shed for them that they may witness unto thee O God the Eternal Father that they do always remember him that they may have his spirit to be with them Amen

The manner of administering the wine Behold they shall take the cup & say O God the Eternal Father we ask thee in the name of thy Son Jesus Christ to bless & sanctify this wine to the souls of all <those> who drink of it that they do it in Rememberance of the blood of thy Son which was shed for them that they may witness unto thee O God the Eternal Father that they do always Remember him that they may have his spirit to be with them amen

The manner of administering the wine—he shall take the cup also, and say: O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen

Consistent between the three documents, we see the instruction that the person blessing the sacrament should kneel with the church. Given the principle of greater and lesser laws, we would presume that this would not be a requirement to those who are physically unable to do so without pain. It is difficult to imagine any other rationale for not doing this. It isn’t like we would ever be kneeling in the mud.

Curiously, when the Savior was administering the sacrament on the 2nd day in Bountiful, it appears that He has the disciples come forward and stand while He blesses the emblems (see 3 Ne 20:2-5, highlighted above). Curiously, He breaks the bread and then gives it to them. They eat. He then had them also break the bread and give it to the multitude. We do not know if they personally took it to each individual (thus ensuring worthiness?) or simply expedited the administration.

Flipping continents, in Acts 6, we have the twelve calling on the multitude of disciples to select seven men to “serve tables.” Did that mean pass the sacrament? It seems difficult to equate passing the sacrament with “leaving the word of God.” One last point on passing, why there is a distinction regarding the authority required to bring the sacrament to the end of a row of congregants and the authority required to pass between people within the row is beyond me.

In the original Articles, we see Cowdery suggesting a pre-sacrament prayer. Joseph Smith eliminates that and it stays gone. Clearly, I have a bias towards saying such a prayer, as it can put the entire ordinance in perspective. I know of no information indicating why the change was made. Somebody thought that entirely too much time was being spent in prayers? Yeah, hard to believe that one.

Then there is that change from “hath” to “has.” While this seems to be a big deal to many who claim that the ordinance of the sacrament has been changed, this seems the most insignificant of all the changes. The point is not to refute the fact, but to keep in perspective the relative import of all the various changes.

It was a practice in the early church for the priesthood holder to raise or “lift up” their hands when blessing the sacrament. It would be interesting to know if the Savior lifting His eyes to heaven was a typical practice during His prayers, including His blessing of the sacrament (see John 11:41 & John 17:1).

As a strictly personal preference, I prefer to lift the sacrament high above my head when blessing it. I was prompted to do this one day with a simple breakfast I was enjoying at the end of a day of fasting. It was such a profound experience that I now repeat it often, and always when I bless the sacrament. Part of this may come from understanding that in the original Hebrew, “offering” strongly implies “lifting,” which is certainly prescribed to look to Him who was to be lifted up. See: John 12:34, D&C 45:52, Numbers 21:8 and most of all this (“ya gotta love” these chiasms and the inherent redundancy/emphasis they put on important concepts):

 

Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.  And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil — 

And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father. 

And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words. 

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom;

therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

(3 Nephi 27:13–22, highlights mine)

While this is not prescribed anywhere in scripture, it most certainly enhances the sacred experience of the sacrament for us. Per the revelation, I noted at the beginning, I am of the belief that whether the bread is broken before or after, and the wine/water poured before or after is of as little consequence as the actual items used for the emblems. It seems that the breaking of the bread doesn’t have to be done by He who blesses it. I presume a similar case can be made for the wine. In short, these mechanics seem only to be important in order to provide a worshipful and reverential experience and minimize any distractions while people partake the sacrament and simultaneously make/renew covenants with the Father.

Presiding authority

Where did this concept of a presiding authority taking the sacrament first come from? As just mentioned, if this matters, perhaps it matters most in the context of who should be administering. If we want to follow Christ’s example, and be at least partially consistent with scripture, then the most advanced priesthood holder should be blessing the sacrament. As an aside, in the case of Christ in 3 Nephi, we presume that He did not partake of the wine, given His statement regarding not partaking in Matt 26:29, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” So, interestingly, in the New World the presiding authority is presumed to have not partaken (there is no indication that He did).

CONCLUSION

While this document attempts to reasonably address and document those controversial aspects of both the doctrine and practice of the sacrament, Joy and I make no pretense of being academics, scholars, historians, anthropologists, or having any credentials. We leave it to those of greater sophistication to resolve the issues described herein.

While watching several congregations implement the sacrament in any variety of ways, we’ve noted a couple of things of interest. In one recent meeting at the conclusion of the sacrament the person conducting thanked everyone “for being reverent during the worship portion of the meeting” and then went on to announce the speakers. The implication was that within the three-hour block, only that 10 minutes qualified as worship. While confident that he would have re-phrased his comment were it pointed out, it still rings too close to home. In my humble opinion, that just isn’t good enough. In another congregation, they have separate emblems for young children to partake that are not blessed. In yet another congregation, I noted that when they get together to fellowship (not worship), they include the sacrament. Can you imagine if we started our scripture study groups with the sacrament? How about immediately following a baptism? When would it be appropriate? When would it be inappropriate? 

If frequency is any indication of importance, the sacrament should reign supreme. This is how many Jews feel about the sabbath as compared to other feasts and required calendar observances. It is the most frequent. It is therefore the most important. This is opposite the typical idea that that which is most precious is that which is most rare. What do you think, is the love of God most precious because it is so rare?

In closing, I sincerely hope that there are elements of this discussion that help you fine tune your sacrament and sabbath worship and help you to come closer to our Lord and our God. I hope that pondering the doctrine of the sacrament (what the covenant actually is, why it isn’t a renewal of the baptismal covenant, what worthiness means, etc.) has allowed you to evaluate your own traditions, especially in light of the many criticisms regarding the mechanics of administering the sacrament. I similarly hope that you have been able to put these concepts into the context of sabbath worship. These things have dramatically changed our perspectives – we believe for the better – and focused our attention on that which is fundamental: our covenant to look to Christ and obey His word with the hope of being adopted as His children and having His Spirit constantly confirm to us the truth of all things.

1

 Doctrine” has come to take on a variety of meanings. For example, I believe that all Mormons would agree that foremost is the doctrine of Christ. Some might even conclude this to be the only doctrine. In deference to those sensitivities, were there another word that might be even a close substitute, I would use it. I can find none. It is therefore presumed that there are many doctrines, of different degrees, with the doctrine of Christ being foremost. Then there are the greater doctrines, including the doctrine of repentance (D&C 68:25), the doctrine of baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, eternal judgement (Hebrews 6:1–3), the doctrine of the priesthood (D&C 121:46), and the doctrine of faith (implicit in the very name of the Doctrine and Covenants). We may even presume that there are lesser doctrines.

This seems consistent with the idea of there being greater and lesser commandments, which priorities the Savior seems to endorse. “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (KJV Matthew 22:36–40). He also seems to encourage keeping those priorities in proper perspective. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23–24). Clearly, unless the lesser commandment conflicts with a greater commandment in a specific instance (e.g., saving a life on the sabbath), we are expected to do both. Such should also be the case with doctrines.

We should be careful not to conflate doctrines and commandments.

No attempt is made herein to rank the doctrine of the sacrament as to its relative importance other than to say that we can probably put it well above many cultural traditions, mores, and expectations, not to mention personal preferences, more especially those that conflict with gospel doctrines and commandments.

2

 Q.E.D.,which was to be shown or demonstrated (used esp. in mathematics to communicate the completion of a proof). [1810–20; < Latin quod erat dēmōnstrandum]. In colloquial words, “case closed.”

3

 Earlier Paul makes a clear distinction between this and other meals taken together.

4

 It may be an interesting exercise to parse “repented and received a remission,” and appropriately interpret and punctuate it

5

 To more completely scope how incomplete this discussion is, can you comprehend how essential it would be to first have a common understanding of the roles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in this process? Given how much my understanding of those roles keeps changing, I have little confidence that such a common understanding is possible. For example, would we agree on who forgives and redeems us of our sins, and to whom we should pray for such forgiveness?

6

 I’m referring to that final question: “Do you consider yourself worthy….”. I was pondering why I didn’t have the spiritual gifts promised in scripture. I wondered what delusions I must have been harboring. I was flummoxed by why a temple worthiness interview, outside of the final question, had nothing to do with the “weightier matters of the law” such as loving God and loving my fellow man. There was a question regarding honesty, but little of the other virtues, etc. I was thus attempting to hold myself to an interpretation of worthiness that today I would say is more in line with the requirements of partaking the sacrament than it does with [here I choose to redact some very unkind words].

7

 Made seems to be the wrong word here in that it implies a lack of personal responsibility and effort in overcoming trials. It is better than many others that diminish the role of the Savior in the process of being purified. So, until a better way is found to state this….

8

 From the 1844 American Dictionary of the English Language:

 SAC´RA·MENT, n. [Fr. sacrement; It. and Sp. sacramento; from 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. – Addison.

9

 Compare the time of the resurrection on the “…thirty and fourth year, first month on the fourth day (beginning of the year; 3 Ne 8:5)” with the “…ending of the thirty and fourth year (3 Nephi 10:18)” In another interpretation, this conflicts with “…soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself” (also 3 Nephi 10:18),” presuming that soon meant within a couple of days.

10

 This would support the Messianic Jewish interpretation in concert with the fact that these events most likely took place at the time of Passover and the “bread” used by the Savior on these occasions was most probably unleavened (i.e., matzah).

 

2 Replies to “Musings on the Sacrament”

  1. Hi Jonathan and Joy,

    For those of us seeking “truth” over “tradition”, your careful parsing of scripture and thoughtful research on true covenant practices that redeem and save, rather than damn, is so critical to know and correctly practice. Thanks to God for the Book of Mormon’s witness of true covenant making/keeping concepts taught by our Lord. Would that all truth seekers give it consideration despite the arrogant people attempting to control it (ala Intellectual Property Reserve, Inc.). I am sharing your work with others, Thank you!

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