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 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?