Chapter 10: Covenants, Ordinances, and Temples in the Plan of Salvation

Introduction to Family History Student Manual, (2012), 84–91


Introduction

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught about the importance of covenants and ordinances:

“Life is a homeward journey for all of us, back to the presence of God in his celestial kingdom.

“Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into His presence. To worthily receive them is the quest of a lifetime; to keep them thereafter is the challenge of mortality” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 27; or Ensign, May 1987, 24).

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about the importance of temples and temple ordinances: “A temple is literally the house of the Lord, reserved for ordinances of eternal significance. Those ordinances include baptisms, marriages, endowments, and sealings. …

“… Ordinances of the temple are absolutely crucial. We cannot return to God’s glory without them” (“Prepare for Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign, Mar. 2002, 17–18).

This chapter contains an overview of the ordinances of salvation and the covenants associated with them. It will help you better understand the importance of these ordinances and covenants for yourself and for your family members. It is hoped that these teachings will reinforce your desire to make and keep your covenants with God and further motivate you to pursue these ordinances in behalf of deceased family members.

Commentary

A Covenant Is a Solemn Agreement between God and Man According to God’s Terms [10.1]

A covenant is a sacred agreement. [10.1.1]

“A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and a person or group of people. God sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey those conditions. When we choose not to keep covenants, we cannot receive the blessings, and in some instances we suffer a penalty as a consequence of our disobedience.

“All the saving ordinances of the priesthood are accompanied by covenants” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 44).

God determines our covenants with Him. [10.1.2]

Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander

Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander, an emeritus member of the Seventy, taught that saving covenants originate with God and are validated by His authority:

“Eternal covenants are extended or offered to us only by God. He is the originator of all such covenants, as He is the only one who has authority and power to guarantee their validity beyond the grave.

“‘And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God’ [D&C 132:13].

“We cannot originate such covenants because we do not possess the power to guarantee them. Consequently, we can only enter into covenants that are offered to us by God, and we can enter them only in the way He prescribes” (“Ordinances and Covenants,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 24).

Keeping covenants is the crucial test of life. [10.1.3]

President Henry B. Eyring

President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency explained the crucial nature of our covenants with God: “The Latter-day Saints are a covenant people. From the day of baptism through the spiritual milestones of our lives, we make promises with God and He makes promises with us. He always keeps His promises offered through His authorized servants, but it is the crucial test of our lives to see if we will make and keep our covenants with Him” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 40; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 30).

Covenants and Ordinances of Salvation Are Necessary for Exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom [10.2]

Ordinances and covenants help us return to God. [10.2.1]

“In the Church, an ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. With each of these ordinances, we enter into solemn covenants with the Lord. …

“Ordinances and covenants help us remember who we are. They remind us of our duty to God. The Lord has provided them to help us come unto Him and receive eternal life. When we honor them, He strengthens us” (True to the Faith, 109–10).

Ordinances and covenants are essential for exaltation. [10.2.2]

President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) summarized the crucial nature of temple ordinances and covenants:

“In the ordinances of the temple, the foundations of the eternal family are sealed in place. The Church has the responsibility—and the authority—to preserve and protect the family as the foundation of society.

“All of these priesthood temple ordinances are essential for the salvation and exaltation of our Father in Heaven’s children. …

“All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God’s presence without them” (“A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Mar. 2004, 40, 43).

Eternal covenants have an accompanying ordinance. [10.2.3]

Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander taught about the importance of the ordinances associated with the covenants of salvation:

“Sacred ordinances and the divine authority to administer them did not begin with the Restoration of the gospel and the founding of the modern Church in 1830. The sacred ordinances of the gospel as requirements for salvation and exaltation were ‘instituted from before the foundation of the world’ [D&C 124:33]. They have always been an immutable part of the gospel. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: ‘Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles” [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 308]. …

“…  Sacred gospel ordinances are the gateway to solemn covenants with God. Ordinances and covenants can hardly be understood apart from each other. By ordinances we enter into covenants, and by covenants we receive the ordinances. Though there may be ordinances that do not have an associated covenant—such as the blessing and naming of children, anointing of the sick, or blessings of comfort—there is no eternal covenant that is not connected to an ordinance. Our important steps toward God are introduced by sacred ordinances and are governed by the conditions of the covenants associated with those ordinances” (“Ordinances and Covenants,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 22–24).

Down Into the Water

Baptism is the foundational covenant we make with God.

Baptism is our first covenant with God. [10.2.4]

Baptism is the first covenant we make with God on the pathway to exaltation. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

“We enter into covenants by priesthood ordinances, sacred rituals that God has ordained for us to manifest our commitment. Our foundational covenant, for example, the one in which we first pledge our willingness to take upon us the name of Christ, is confirmed by the ordinance of baptism. It is done individually, by name. By this ordinance, we become part of the covenant people of the Lord and heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.

“Other sacred ordinances are performed in temples built for that very purpose. If we are faithful to the covenants made there, we become inheritors not only of the celestial kingdom but of exaltation, the highest glory within the heavenly kingdom, and we obtain all the divine possibilities God can give (see D&C 132:20)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2009, 17; or Ensign, May 2009, 20).

In the Temple, We Participate in Sacred Ordinances and Make Covenants Essential for Exaltation [10.3]

The primary purpose of temples is to provide saving ordinances. [10.3.1]

Though temples serve various purposes in our lives, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out their primary purpose:

“The opportunity to enter the temple and to take upon ourselves the sacred covenants therein is one of the greatest blessings available to us in mortality. …

“The primary purpose of the temple is to provide the ordinances necessary for our exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Temple ordinances guide us to our Savior and give us the blessings that come to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Temples are the greatest university of learning known to man” (“Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign, Oct. 2009, 46, 48).

bridal couple in front of temple

Ordinances are essential for the dead. [10.3.2]

All saving ordinances, whether for the living or the dead, are performed under proper priesthood authority. Baptism, confirmation, and ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood for the living are performed outside of temples, usually in ward or stake buildings. All saving ordinances for the dead are performed in temples. Following are brief summaries of the essential ordinances performed in temples today:

Baptism and confirmation. The saving ordinances of the gospel on behalf of the dead begin with vicarious baptism by immersion and confirmation as a member of the Church, for the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands (see Articles of Faith 1:4–5). Baptism and confirmation for the living is performed outside of the temple (usually in a stake center baptismal font or in another location approved by proper priesthood authority). Baptisms for the dead are performed by living proxies only in a temple baptismal font.

Ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood. Melchizedek Priesthood ordinations for males who are dead are vicariously performed in the temple.

Washing and anointing. References to washing and anointing are found in the Old Testament (see Exodus 28:2–3, 41; 29:4–7; 40:12–13; Leviticus 8:6). “The ordinances of washing and anointing are referred to often in the temple as initiatory ordinances [because they begin the endowment]. It will be sufficient for our purposes to say only the following: Associated with the endowment are washings and anointing—mostly symbolic in nature, but promising definite, immediate blessings as well as future blessings.

“In connection with these ordinances, in the temple you will be officially clothed in the garment and promised marvelous blessings in connection with it” (Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple [2002], 32; see also D&C 124:39).

Endowment. Church members usually receive the endowment when they are preparing to serve full-time missions or be sealed in marriage in the temple. Spiritual maturity is important for those receiving their endowment. The endowment is a gift of knowledge and is accompanied by sacred covenants wherein the individual being endowed promises to live according to the gift of knowledge he or she receives. To endow also means to prosper, as in bequeathing something of value to another. “To endow is to enrich, to give to another something long lasting and of much worth” (Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple,  29).

President Brigham Young (1801–77) defined the temple endowment: “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 302).

Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave an overview of the covenants associated with the endowment: “The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the [human] race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King,—the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions” (The House of the Lord, rev. ed. [1976], 84).

Sealing. The power to seal a family for time and eternity is the culminating experience of the temple. President Howard W. Hunter taught about temple sealings: “Another temple ordinance is that of celestial marriage, where wife is sealed to husband and husband sealed to wife for eternity. We know, of course, that civil marriages end at death, but eternal marriages performed in the temple may exist forever. Children born to a husband and wife after an eternal marriage are automatically sealed to their parents for eternity. If children are born before the wife is sealed to her husband, there is a temple sealing ordinance that can seal these children to their parents for eternity, and so it is that children can be sealed vicariously to parents who have passed away” (“A Temple-Motivated People, Ensign, Mar. 2004, 40).

Ordinances for Deceased Ancestors Can Only Be Performed in Temples [10.4]

Baptism for the dead was restored in the latter days. [10.4.1]

The Prophet Joseph Smith, while speaking at the funeral of Seymour Brunson on August 15, 1840, introduced the doctrine of baptism for the dead. Church members were both surprised and excited. After that event, the Brethren spoke frequently of this new doctrine, and the Saints began performing baptisms in behalf of their deceased loved ones in the nearby Mississippi River (see Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History, Classics in Mormon Literature Series [1979], 252–53; Church History in the Fulness of Times: Student Manual [2003], 251).

During the October 1841 general conference of the Church in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Lord wanted the Saints to cease performing baptisms for the dead until they could be performed in His house (the Nauvoo Temple). On November 8, 1841, President Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the font in the basement of the unfinished temple, and Church members began performing baptisms for the dead (see History of the Church, 4:426, 446, 454).

Doctrine and Covenants 127 and 128 contain further direction from the Prophet Joseph Smith on baptism for the dead. Since then, all of the saving ordinances for the dead have been performed only in temples.

youth on temple steps

A group of youth leaving the temple in Ghana, West Africa

We have a responsibility to perform ordinances for the dead. [10.4.2]

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught about our responsibility to provide the ordinances of exaltation for our deceased ancestors:

“One of the works He has commissioned in these latter days is that we who have received the ordinances of exaltation do the ordinance and sealing work for our progenitors who have not had the opportunity to receive the gospel while in mortality. Ours is the privilege of opening the doors of salvation to those souls who may be imprisoned in darkness in the world of spirits, that they may receive the light of the gospel and be judged the same as we. Yes, ‘the works I do’—proffering the saving ordinances of the gospel to others—‘shall [ye] do also.’ How many thousands of our kindred yet await these sealing ordinances?

“It is well to ask, ‘Have I done all I can as an individual on this side of the veil? Will I be a savior to them—my own progenitors?’

“Without them, we cannot be made perfect! Exaltation is a family affair” (“Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also,” Ensign, Apr. 1993, 6).

All of Heavenly Father’s children will be offered the saving ordinances. [10.4.3]

President Boyd K. Packer explained that the ultimate intent of work for the dead is to bring the gift of salvation to all who will receive it:

“In the temples, members of the Church who make themselves eligible can participate in the most exalted of the redeeming ordinances that have been revealed to mankind. There, in a sacred ceremony, an individual may be washed and anointed and instructed and endowed and sealed. And when we have received these blessings for ourselves, we may officiate for those who have died without having had the same opportunity. In the temples sacred ordinances are performed for the living and for the dead alike.

“… Someday every living soul and every soul who has ever lived shall have the opportunity to hear the gospel and to accept or reject what the temple offers” (“The Holy Temple,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 32).

All have agency to accept or reject vicarious ordinances. [10.4.4]

Some individuals have expressed concerns with the Church’s practice of performing vicarious baptisms for those who have died. One concern is that they feel it might be going against the desires of the deceased. Elder D. Todd Christofferson clarified the Church’s respect for the agency of deceased persons for whom we perform ordinances in the temples: “Some have misunderstood and suppose that deceased souls ‘are being baptised into the Mormon faith without their knowledge’ or that ‘people who once belonged to other faiths can have the Mormon faith retroactively imposed on them.’ They assume that we somehow have power to force a soul in matters of faith. Of course, we do not. God gave man his agency from the beginning [see Moses 7:32; see also Alma 5:33–36; 42:27]. ‘The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God’ [D&C 138:58], but only if they accept those ordinances. The Church does not list them on its rolls or count them in its membership” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2000, 8; or Ensign, Nov. 2000, 10).

We Are Blessed through Temple Worship [10.5]

Prepare to attend the temple. [10.5.1]

“The ordinances and ceremonies of the temple are simple. They are beautiful. They are sacred. They are kept confidential lest they be given to those who are unprepared. Curiosity is not a preparation. Deep interest itself is not a preparation. Preparation for the ordinances includes preliminary steps: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, worthiness, a maturity and dignity worthy of one who comes invited as a guest into the house of the Lord” (Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple,  2).

The temple is a place of revelation. [10.5.2]

Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles indicated that those who worship in the temple faithfully should expect to receive revelations: “To the man or woman who goes through the temple with open eyes, heeding the symbols and the covenants, and making a steady, continuous effort to understand the full meaning, God speaks his word, and revelations come. … I believe that the busy person … who has his worries and troubles, can solve his problems better and more quickly in the house of the Lord than anywhere else. If he will leave his problems behind and in the temple work for himself and for his dead, he will confer a mighty blessing upon those who have gone before, and quite as large a blessing will come to him, for at the most unexpected moments, in or out of the temple will come to him, as a revelation, the solution of the problems that vex his life. That is the gift that comes to those who enter the temple properly, because it is a place where revelations may be expected” (“Temple Worship,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Apr. 1921, 63–64.)

The Spirit of the Lord will permeate our lives. [10.5.3]

Elder Royden G. Derrick (1915–2009) of the Seventy testified of the various blessings of temple worship: “Temples of the Lord are a resource to be used by faithful members to spiritually enrich and ennoble their lives and the lives of their immediate and extended family members. When members of the Church attend the temple regularly, inner peace calms the soul; the Spirit of the Lord permeates the home; love and respect deepen between family members; problems are more clearly defined; solutions are more apparent; emotions are more serene in family relations; divorces significantly decrease in the Church community; lives of participants and their associates are spiritually enriched; and children are more likely to socialize with good friends, be more communicative with parents, attend seminary and institute, serve missions, be active in the Church, better understand gospel principles, and qualify for a forever family relationship” (Temples in the Last Days [1987], 156).

The endowment is a protection to us. [10.5.4]

Promises always accompany covenants we make with the Lord. President Joseph Fielding Smith reflected upon the Lord’s promise of protection that accompanies temple covenants:

“If we go into the temple, we raise our hands and covenant that we will serve the Lord and observe his commandments and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. If we realize what we are doing, then the endowment will be a protection to us all our lives—a protection which a man who does not go to the temple does not have.

“I have heard my father [President Joseph F. Smith] say that in the hour of trial, in the hour of temptation, he would think of the promises, the covenants that he had made in the house of the Lord, and they were a protection to him. …

“This protection is what these ceremonies are for, in part. They save us now, and they exalt us hereafter, if we will honor them. I know that this protection is given for I, too, have realized it, as have thousands of others who have remembered their obligations” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:252–53).

Temple attendance assists proper living. [10.5.5]

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) taught that temple worship helps us avoid destructive addictions: “Make a habit of going to the house of the Lord. There is no better way to ensure proper living than temple attendance. It will crowd out the evils of pornography, substance abuse, and spiritual atrophy. It will strengthen marriage and family relations” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2005, 109; or Ensign, May 2005, 102).

Personal blessings come from doing work for the dead. [10.5.6]

Mary Ellen Smoot

Sister Mary Ellen Smoot, former Relief Society general president, pointed out some of the reciprocating rewards that come to those who go to the temple to do work for the dead: “We see sisters who rejoice in the blessings of the temple—sisters who seek to make and keep their covenants, do work for their kindred dead, and in the process find their own loads lifted and their power to resist temptation fortified, daughters of God who understand their divine destiny, catch a vision of their potential, and focus on overcoming weaknesses” (“Rejoice, Daughters of Zion,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 94).

    Questions to Ponder

  • What impressions come to you as you ponder the covenants you have made with your Heavenly Father?

  • What goals can you set to increase your ability to honor your covenants?

  • What blessings have you received because of the ordinances and covenants of the temple?

    Suggested Assignment

  • Write three or four goals to help in your own temple worthiness or attendance. Place them in a priority that best fits your circumstances.

    Additional Resources

  • Ezra Taft Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 6–10.

  • Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple [booklet, 2002].

  • D. Todd Christofferson, “The Power of Covenants,” Ensign, May 2009, 19–23.