Ordinances are extremely important in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are more than milestones in our path toward God, but most are outward symbols of covenants that make us more like Christ and lead us back into His presence.
In the LDS Church, babies are given a name and a blessing in a simple ceremony similar to the Jewish brit. This may be performed in a Mormon meetinghouse or at home, if the bishop (leader of the congregation) is present. However, this is not an ordinance of the Church, and there is no covenant associated with it. Family gathers, and worthy holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood hold the baby in their arms while one gives the baby its name and pronounces a prophetic blessing upon the child.
The first ordinance in the Church of Jesus Christ is baptism by immersion. Children are baptized at the age of 8, which the Lord has declared through revelation, is the “age of accountability,” wherein a normal child can discern right from wrong and understand the process of repentance. (Some people who are mentally handicapped never attain “accountability” and therefore are considered innocent; they have no need for this ordinance or any others.) Baptism by immersion is symbolic of the death of the old person, and his or her rebirth as a new creature in Christ, washed clean of all sin. It is also symbolic of Christ’s death and resurrection. The covenant of baptism requires the person to repent, and to take upon him- or herself the name of Christ, to always remember Him. His promise to the newly baptized is to give them His spirit to be with them, which brings the next ordinance.
Baptism by water is followed by “baptism by fire,” or the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the conveyor of revelation from God, and is a comforter and testator of truth. He warns of danger, helps us make good decisions, and brings us peace that is not of the world. He becomes the personal companion of the person who receives him through this holy ordinance, as long as the person remains worthy. The Holy Ghost cannot dwell in an unclean place. It is the presence of the Holy Ghost that creates the identifiable “Mormon Glow.”
The partaking of the Holy Sacrament every Sunday (except during larger conferences) is the next ordinance. Mormons partake of bread and water as representations and reminders of the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for them in His great and infinite atonement. This ordinance renews the covenant of baptism. Mormons repent of minor sins in preparation for taking the sacrament worthily.
Higher ordinances take place in Mormon temples, and these require more commitment to do the work of God’s kingdom, more desire to do God’s will, and more purity. Purification ordinances are symbolic of those described in the Old Testament when Aaron was prepared to officiate in the temple. Women have the priesthood authority to perform these symbolic ordinances for other women, while men perform them for men. This ordinance purifies one to participate in the “endowment.”
An endowment is a gift, and the ordinance of the endowment bestows us with protection and power to fulfill our callings on the earth. The endowment reviews God’s plan of salvation, including the creation and fall, and the pivotal atonement of Jesus Christ. It demands of us a deeper connection with the Savior, and a deeper desire to follow Him. The Mormon endowment really is the difference between sacrifice and consecration. In participating in the endowment ordinance, worthy Mormons become like the priests in other faiths. The symbolic vestments of their priesthood however, is private and inward. Thus, the wearing of a sacred undergarment instead of robes or collars.
The final ordinance is the sealing of a husband and wife together in an eternal marriage covenant, and if they have already been married civilly and have children, the sealing of their children to them for eternity. The pattern of this ordinance is not unlike a Protestant or Catholic wedding ceremony, except that it is even more reverent, and the vows are eternal, the person performing the ceremony in the Holy House of God holding the authority directly from Christ to seal in heaven what is sealed on earth.
All of these covenants are performed also in holy Mormon temples for our dead ancestors who have not had access to them during their lives on earth. We know that they live on and have the full ability to learn, repent, and choose to accept or reject these ordinances. They are contingent upon the acceptance of the people for whom they are performed, and if rejected, have no binding power.
What is most unique about Mormon ordinances is that the power and authority to perform them was restored and delivered to men on earth by heavenly messengers in modern times, having been lost in the period after the original apostles were killed.