Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sacrament and Baptism

What's the Issue 

It's now considered a truth beyond question that through the sacrament we renew the covenants we made at baptism. Many teach that the sacrament is like a re-baptism. I realize the depth of this idea in all of our heads. And I know it may therefore be difficult for many to consider other possibilities seeing how long the view has been ingrained in us. But hear me out, I think this is a topic and discussion worth having. Even if you disagree.

The scriptures say the sacrament (both 3rd Nephi 18, and NT accounts in Luke 22, Matthew 26) is to remember the Lord directly, His blood and body. Also to witness we will remember Him and keep His commandments. We all know that based on the sacramental prayers, and it says so directly in the scriptural account of when the sacrament was instituted. Something the scriptures do not say is that the primary purpose of the sacrament is to renew prior covenants or baptism. Of course that's not a bad thing doing during such moments...it's just not what scriptures clearly say is what the sacrament was for.

Another part of the issue comes to the surface when we read what the Lord says directly after telling us what the sacrament was specifically for. Found here 3 Nephi 18:11-13. 

11 "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. 12 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. 13 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."

Verse 13. "Whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock".... More or less than what?  Likely more or less than what was just said in vs 11 which were instructions regarding the sacrament.

When the sacrament becomes primarily about baptismal renewal it is a drifting away from what the Savior clearly taught was the purpose, and intent of the ordinance?  There is another important area of this to address which is what is meant by "baptismal covenant".  So as to stay on topic here, that post is separate, link here.

The Background

The official Guide To The Scriptures says this at the end of the section on the sacrament: "Through this ordinance, Church members renew their baptismal covenants." There is no citation for the idea, it's just stated like that.

Then this is an excerpt from the official index of topics from LDS.org. "Part of this ordinance is a promise to remember Him always and a witness of individual willingness to take upon oneself the name of Jesus Christ and to keep His commandments. In partaking of the sacrament and making these commitments, Church members renew the covenant they made at baptism (see Mosiah 18:8–10; D&C 20:37)."

Neither Mosiah 18 nor D&C 20 support the notion of the sacrament being a baptismal covenant renewal. In fact they don't mention anything like it. They are however wonderful baptism scriptures. The index and guide of course do state the primary purpose of the ordinance. However then those parts that I bolded present a curious addition to the ordinance and it's focus. Again, nothing wrong with using such moments to consider baptismal covenants. However for many that has sort of evolved into it's primary purpose. The problem with that is the scriptures said the purpose of the ordinance was something else.

I've read through dozens and dozens of talks that say that we renew our baptismal covenants during the sacrament. None of them give any citation or quote, or basis for it. I realize everything in the Gospel can connect at deep layers, and the meaning of the sacrament and baptismal covenants are obviously related. I get that. But this "common wisdom" has a vague and unspecific origin. It's not in the scriptures. I've had to dig around to try and find out where the idea came from. This is what I found.

President Brigham Young wrote in 1857 about the sacrament and the members of the Church, “The bread and cup [are for] a renewal of their covenants." (as quoted in Teachings of Pres Kimbal p509)

Elder James E. Talmage wrote in Articles of Faith (pg 149): "From the scriptural references already made, it is plain that the sacrament is administered to commemorate the atonement of the Lord Jesus, as consummated in His agony and death ; it is a testimony before God, that we are mindful of His Son’s sacrifice made in our behalf...in the hope that we may ever have His Spirit to be with us. Partaking of the sacrament worthily may be regarded therefore as a means of renewing our covenants."

These possible origins don't mention baptismal covenants. Elder Talmage's conclusion that the sacrament "may be regarded therefore as a means of renewing our covenants" is reasonable. In fact I like the idea. However, that STILL is not what the Savior himself said the sacrament was primarily for.

The whole idea of sacrament equaling baptismal renewal seems to have developed by a slow process that went step by step from one to the other. First partaking of the sacrament was done in remembrance of the Lord's blood and body, and always remembering Him. Then Second it became about covenant renewal. Third it became specifically baptismal covenant renewal. And finally it developed into what is is now, which is that the two are interchangeable, you can wash your sins away as if being re-baptized each week by partaking of the sacrament.

And that leads us to why this matters.

Why It Matters

I think the biggest casualty in this development is the loss of the communal nature of the sacrament. Most of us forget it was a meal. By emphasizing the covenant renewal aspect, the other specifically stated aspects of the supper have faded. As with anything in this world, understanding of truth is subject to erosion.... belief can morph into unbelief without anyone noticing, unbelief then becomes a tradition, then common practice, and then its accepted without question.

Re-baptisms were common during early days of the church. During those periods of church history members would often participate in another baptism, sometimes entire congregations would. It was also common for members to submit requests for re-baptism to the local leader. This began to be discouraged and so it died off with the passage of time. Such things are unheard of now days. But why? Well, as any good Mormon will tell you, it's because the sacrament is just as good. But what if that was our own invention?

I'm starting to wonder if this idea that the sacrament renews baptism may in fact stem in part from the church’s wish to discontinue re-baptisms. Now isn't that interesting? In order to do that it would be necessary for a development to occur regarding the understanding of the sacrament. People would need to infer that the sacrament is just as good as a re-baptism and viola, a new theology and justified procedure develops overnight. The whole matter is riddled with problems.

Common sense will tell you that of course being re-baptized is not the same as partaking of the sacrament. If you are distanced from the church or require or need re-baptism for whatever reason, you can't just take the sacrament. You actually need to be re-baptized.

Back to the scriptures. Vs 13 quoted above warns that when we do "more or less" than what was instructed we are told this amounts to us building our foundation on sand, which will fall. I pose this post as food for thought. I'm not saying anything church-wise should change, or what we're taught or read in the index about the connection between our baptism and the sacrament is wrong. This post is for individual reflection.

If we assume and repeatedly teach an ordinance's purpose is one thing (renewing prior baptismal covenants), when the Savior and the prayer clearly say it was actually something else ("eat, drink, this do in remembrance of my body, and blood", "always remember Him") do we risk doing more (and at the same time less) than what he said? 


  1. The Savior's gift of immortality comes to all who have ever lived. But His gift of eternal life requires repentance and obedience to specific ordinances and covenants. Essential ordinances of the gospel symbolize the Atonement. Baptism by immersion is symbolic of the death, burial, and Resurrection of the Redeemer. Partaking of the sacrament renews baptismal covenants and also renews our memory of the Savior's broken flesh and of the blood He shed for us. Ordinances of the temple symbolize our reconciliation with the Lord and seal families together forever. Obedience to the sacred covenants made in temples qualifies us for eternal life—the greatest gift of God to man—the "object and end of our existence."

    Russell M. Nelson, "The Atonement," Ensign, Nov 1996

    Elder Nelson makes the connection, not only between baptism and the sacrament, but among baptism, the sacrament, and temple ordinances. All point to the Atonement. Whether or not these ordinances point to each other is probably moot, as the important part is they all point to Christ's Atonement, but Elder Nelson does directly state that the sacrament is a renewal of the baptismal covenant, and he's one I tend to agree with.

    That said, making a list of the ordinances that are required for eternal life, the sacrament doesn't make the cut, as important as it is. The saving ordinances as they are called are baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, ordination to the Priesthood for males, endowment, and sealing. So there is a distinction between the sacrament and other ordinances such as baptism, to be certain. Promising to remember Christ is an important component of the sacrament, but it still does seem that the sacrament is secondary to baptism. If you want to get really deep on the topic, look very carefully at the differences between the two sacrament prayers, and you may find some interesting things.

    For a great talk on the topic of the covenants of baptism and the sacrament, see Robert D. Hales, "The Covenant of Baptism: To Be in the Kingdom and of the Kingdom", Ensign, Nov 2000.

  2. Right, if the sacrament were secondary to baptism as you say, then why would we teach the sacrament as a form of "rebaptism" each week? Such an essential ordinance to me is not properly renewed by something “non essential” as you put it. I think you and I actually agree as I consider what it is I believe you are trying to say. I say this in the Spirit of discussion and I’m very open to learning new things. You brought up a lot of other topics and quoted much of Elder Nelsons talk that are wonderful. However those things weren't the focus. The focus was whether or not our assumption about partaking of bread and water in remembrance of the Saviors blood and body is the same thing as a re baptism. I believe they are not the same although it's a long standing tradition I hear consistently across a few states and countries. The post was my investigation to find truth vs assumption.

    Substituting the symbols of one ordinance (the sacrament) in order to renew the covenants of a very different ordinance (baptism) to me doesn't even make sense. I can’t find a scripture to support it, nor does anyone cite scripture when making that point. I personally believe words spoken by a leader have the possibility of being said out of tradition, and sometimes not every single word is spoken by inspiration. All of us are human after all. I still love and support them. I’m in process of exercising my obligation to discern, and seek a confirmation of what I'm taught from the Spirit, the scriptures, and personal study. I believe that is an obligation we all have. I don't tend to agree with someone just based on what title or calling they have.

    Thank you Brother Smyth for taking the time to read the post and offer a response. I think I see where you are coming from. Trying to anyway. I enjoy a good discussion about things that are important. Feel free to comment anytime.

  3. It is a good discussion. The more I think about it, the less I know on which side I stand, which is always a good sign of a good discussion. There's not a lot in the scriptures that really delves into exactly what baptism means, other than the obvious symbolism of it. There are some verses in the BoM that come close, but even those don't really get down to listing exactly what the baptismal covenant entails. The sacrament is easy, as the words of the prayers provide 2 pretty straight forward sets of promises and blessings. Perhaps those two easily understood sets of promises and blessings in the sacrament, the similarities between the sacrament and baptism, and the lack of a precise definition of the baptismal covenant are what has led to such a tight association between the two.

  4. I think you may be right. As said before if you have additional thoughts or want to discuss more It's an open invite.

    Hope you don't mind if I say something a bit personal for a second. Deep down I sometimes think it would be beautiful to be baptized again. The sacrament as a re baptism just leaves me feeling a little empty. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my baptism at age 8, it was great. The scriptures say to first repent, believe in Christ and then be baptized. As an 8yr old I'm still not sure I did them in the correct order. I just knew baptism was a great idea and I certainly wanted to believe in Christ and repent. Years later now I see what it means to repent, have faith in Christ and as a result feel a desire to be baptized as a witness of my love and obedience to Him. Sometimes I wish I could now participate in the ordinance, out in nature, choosing for myself, without any pressures or outside influences.

    I wonder if others have ever felt the same.

  5. In the early days of the church, it was quite common to be baptized again. I think you'd have a difficult time either explaining or getting permission nowadays. :)

    Maybe as an experiment, don't take the sacrament for a couple months and then see how you feel about things.

  6. Not sure I'm following you. I like the sacrament, not sure abstaining would accomplish anything good.

    And I agree with you, explaining or permission to get baptised again would only make for difficulty with the church, and I don't wish for such things.

  7. IMHO, the term "renewal" in "sacrament is a renewal of baptismal covenant" may be misleading. When I hear of "renewal of a covenant", I cannot help but think that the covenant was broken and now needs to be renewed. Such idea has no mention in LDS Scriptures.
    I've read all the posts in this thread and there were phrases to the effect of "is viewed as" "is regarded as" and similar. I agree that "sacrament is only viewed as baptismal covenant renewal" by some people, mainly because the wording in Mosiah 18 is so close to the wording in Moroni 4. It is entirely up to the individual how to view it. Some view it as a renewal of temple covenants.
    I find no mention in the Scriptures that this is how the Lord views it. Maybe it is simply not yet mentioned.

    Another meaning that some invest in the word "renewal of baptismal covenant" is "renewal of our determination to adhere more closely to the covenant of baptism". Since the baptismal covenant is "to keep the commandments" such interpretation makes sense.

    I view the sacrament as
    A) a commandment to do oft
    B) as a ritual in which one can ponder Christ's Atonement

    As far as getting re-baptized, this is entirely Scriptural. To my mind come Alma Sr., JosephSmith who were rebaptised. This is certainly an attestment of one's renewed desire to follow Christ. The fact that your bishop may be too inflexible to permit this act shouldn't get i the way of your asking somebody with authority to administer the ordinance to you.

  8. P.S. sorry, even though this post was mine, it was copy-pasted from another forum. "read all posts in this thread" doesn't apply here

  9. Wow, interesting comment about the "renewal" implying that a covenant has been broken.

    Thanks for the comment ifreeman.

    I agree with your re-baptism comments. Totally agree.