First Principles and Ordinances
This lesson is entitled “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel.” Can anyone recite for me the fourth Article of Faith?
4 We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Now when I first learned this article of faith as a Blazer A in primary (because I really wanted that button on my vinyl Blazer banner), I asked my teacher if those were the first principles and ordinances, then what were the second and the third? She patiently explained that in this case, when Joseph said first, he meant the most fundamental or basic principles and ordinances.
These are the things that if we receive them and adhere to them throughout our lives, we will find ourselves allowed to walk through the golden gates into the celestial kingdom.
These stamps in our spiritual passports, identify us as children of the Lord who have demonstrated that we are trying to be more like Jesus, even though we have repetitively failed. With these stamps, we will find ourselves in a safe and loving environment where we can perpetually grow and improve, line upon line and precept upon precept, until we have finally developed the character that our Heavenly Father wants us to have.
Of course, without these stamps in our spiritual passports, we will have no interest in living in such a holy place throughout eternity.
While there are certainly secondary, and tertiary, and quaternary principles and ordinances that we must receive to live with the gods, we aren’t privy to what they are. Here’s what the Prophet Joseph had to say about this.
By the way, he said this at my great-great-grandfather’s funeral, whose name was King Follett. His parents obviously had lofty hopes for him, but while he was never crowned a king, he was a constable in Nauvoo. He died at age 56 while helping a neighbor dig a well—they ended up digging him out of the well. At any rate, this is what the prophet Joseph said at his funeral, which was later repeated a month later in general conference. He said:
When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. 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. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six, 1843-44, p 348).
Today’s lesson will focus on these first four basic or foundational principles and ordinances that will carry us on our journey through life and into the eternities.
Joseph is told in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 21, that the whole purpose of the restoration is “that faith might increase in the earth.” And that meant faith in the living God. Which would lead to the establishment of the Church.
HBO currently broadcasts a talk show that is hosted by a comedian and political commentator, whose name rhymes with Mill Baher. He once said that “Mormonism is more ridiculous than any other religion.” With those stellar credentials in mind, let’s hear what he had to say about faith:
“Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction.” — Bill Maher, Religulous
Poppycock. And I’m not talking about that delicious combination of fluffy popcorn, premium whole nuts, tossed about in a sweet and crunchy glaze made with real butter and brown sugar.
I believe Brother Baher is not in full possession of all the facts. One day he will be, but not yet. His eyes are not yet open. You see, there’s an entirely different sphere of truth that he is not considering at all.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, the immensely influential 13th century philosopher once said:
To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. — Thomas Aquinas
So, let’s talk about what you and I know about faith. If I were to ask you for some synonyms for the word faith, what comes to mind?
These are all great answers, and are certainly part of it. Alma taught us that if we want to acquire faith, we can start by being hopeful and expressing hopefulness.
But then we must take action. Faith is always action-oriented. We must plant that seed—we must take a few steps in the darkness until we can see that we are still safe.
Then, if our hearts are full of thankfulness as we attribute our safety to the love of God and his involvement in our lives, and not our own efforts, we gain confidence in the Lord, trusting that he will always do what he says he will do.
That confidence inspires us to do more and more good things, because we believe there will be positive results, because we reap what we sow. This motivates us to start reaching out with kindness, love, and charity to try to bless the lives of others.
As we forget about ourselves, and focus on others, this pattern Christ-like behavior is eventually rewarded with revealed knowledge, given to us by one of the members of the Godhead.
Then we will find we can accomplish signs and wonders that are beyond the comprehension of those who don’t have faith. This is the power behind visions, healings, manifestations, speaking in lounges, and so forth. These are the signs that follow the faithful.
That’s why you are wicked if you seek a sign without exercising faith. You can’t harvest until you’ve planted and nurtured the seed.
The Prophet Joseph, in his lectures on faith, told us that faith is a principle of power. He said:
The principle of power which existed in the bosom of God, by which the worlds were framed, was faith. Take this principle or attribute—for it is an attribute—from the Deity, and he would cease to exist. Who cannot see, that if God framed the worlds by faith, that it is by faith that he exercises power over them, and that faith is the principle of power? And if the principle of power, it must be so in man as well as in the Deity? This is the testimony of all the sacred writers, and the lesson which they have been endeavoring to teach to man. (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, Lecture 1:13-17)
Let me ask you this question. Why do we need to have faith?
We need to have faith because of our dual-nature. We were sent here to see if our spirits could control our bodies and teach it eternal principles, like faith, which is a power that doesn’t require senses or reasoning to wield.
We need to have faith because we need to be humble to exercise this power. If we think we can figure things out empirically or rationally, then we have no need of the spiritual. We think more highly of ourselves than we ought, which is pride. Truly believing that we don’t have all the answers, but that God does, is an indicator of our humility (not stupidity).
We need to have faith because when thought, and reason, and language have reached their limits—and there are limits—what is left standing? Faith. Faith allows us to continue beyond the ordinary boundaries of thought. Do we know or can we conceive of how Jesus was able to take upon himself the sins of all mankind? No, we can’t. We cannot wrap our minds around it—no matter how smart and scientific we are.
We need to have faith because even if you saw Christ writhing in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane with your own eyes, and heard his anguished pleas with the Father, and touched his blood-soaked garments when it was all over with—as did his 11 remaining special witnesses—you might even deny the divinity of Christ a few hours later. We simply cannot understand things of a spiritual nature empirically. We can only understand them through the spirit—which we receive if we exercise faith.
Contrary to Mill Baher, faith is not an absence of reason—it is an absence of fear. It is not a sign of weakness when all else fails—it actually gives us strength when all else fails. It isn’t a creation of our imagination that helps us deal with the things we can’t comprehend—it helps us comprehend things that others can’t even imagine.
What would our life be like without faith in God, but only faith in science? Well, then there is no premortal life because we came from a random combination of chemicals, we’re here on earth for no purpose whatsoever, and we’re going nowhere after death. Therefore, you might as well eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die. Poppycock!
But our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ gives us quite a different answer. It doesn’t particularly matter how we got our physical bodies, because our spirits came directly from heaven where we lived with God, our spiritual father. These physical bodies we have here in this world, when coupled with spiritual bodies who mercifully cannot remember our glorious spiritual existence, are here to be schooled and tested to see if we really want to progress and reach our full potential. And because of faith, we know that this schooling and testing doesn’t end after death. If we pass our highly-individualized mortal tests, meticulously designed by a loving father, who only desires us to live in a far richer way that we can’t even comprehend, then we will be allowed to continue our eternal education for as long as we desire.
Faith, then, is just as important to our mortal existence as the air we breathe. While the oxygen in the air nourishes our bodies, faith nourishes our spirits. It’s the energy that courses through every single fiber and cell within our beings. It’s part of every muscle and every strand of thought. It is the fundamental foundation of our existence.
And if we want to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, here’s what the Doctrine and Covenants tells us to do:
118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
Just remember that knowledge itself can’t save us. Knowledge won’t make us perfect. Lucifer knew everything—one of the most intelligent spirits in the premortal world—remember his name meant “shining one” or “light bearer”. But when knowledge is coupled with faith and faithfulness, “all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23)”
Faith, if it is genuine, brings about results. Faith leads us to change. Faith leads us to realize just how much we have fallen from our potential, and inspires us to change. Therefore, the companion of true faith is repentance.
Over 40 years ago, Vaughn J. Featherstone, the second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, was speaking at the Stockholm Area Conference. He related this story:
A few months ago, a little over a year, I had the opportunity of going to Mesa, Arizona, and there at a stake conference I interviewed a young man. The young man had committed a major transgression and needed to be interviewed by a General Authority before going on a mission.
As I got into the interview, I said to him, “Now, my dear young friend, there must have been something in your life that caused you to have this interview. Would you mind telling me what that was? I want you to be very honest and frank with me.”
And then he kind of laughed, and he said there was not anything he had not done.
And I said, “Well then, let me be more specific. Have you had sexual relations?”
Then he very haughtily said, “Yes, I told you I’ve done everything.”
I said, “How many times?”
And he said, again sarcastically, “Do you think I numbered them?”
And I said to him, “My dear young friend, I would to God you could if you can’t.”
He said, “Well, I can’t.”
I said, “How about homosexuality?”
He said, “Yes. I told you I’ve done everything.”
I said, “Drugs?”
He said, “Everything.”
So I said, “Why do you think you are going on a mission?”
He said: “I’m going on a mission because my patriarchal blessing says I’m going on a mission. I have repented. I don’t do those things anymore. I haven’t done them for the past year. I’ve been living the law of tithing; I’ve attended my meetings; and I’ve repented. And I know I’m going on a mission.”
I said: “My dear young friend, do you suppose that we could send you out into the mission field with all those fine young [people] who have never violated the moral code? Do you suppose we could send you out to have you brag and boast about the things that you’ve done? You haven’t repented. You’ve just stopped doing something. As far as we’re concerned, we just cannot permit you to go out in the mission field.”
And then he started to cry, and I guess he cried for several minutes. Finally, when he finished crying (and I did not say a word while he cried) he said, “I guess that’s the first time I’ve cried since I was five years old.”
I said: “If you had cried like that the first time you were tempted to break the moral code, maybe tonight you would be going on a mission. But I’m sorry; we just cannot send you out. You need to go to Gethsemane and back first. Once you have been to Gethsemane and understand how the Savior suffered for those things which you so haughtily laughed about and sarcastically responded to my questions, after you have been to Gethsemane, you will understand what repentance is. You haven’t repented.” http://emp.byui.edu/marrottr/Gethsemane.htm
Repentance and change is not easy. Is it always painful. It causes sorrow and guilt and grief and serious mental anxiety. It is the awful realization that we have gotten off the path, and desperately want to get back on it, but recognize we can’t do it without help from our Savior.
He’s the only one that can possibly help us. Adam can’t help us. Noah can’t. Abraham can’t. Moses can’t. Buddha can’t. Confucius can’t. Muhammad can’t. Joseph Smith can’t. Only one person can. And that person is Jesus the Christ.
According to D&C 58:42–43, here is how we know that we have repented.
42 Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.
43 By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
A few years in Elder’s Quorum, I remember learning that there were seven R’s of true repentance. I always admire accurate and artful alliteration. It is awesome.
- Recognition: we see that what we did was wrong
- Remorsefulness: we have Godly sorrow for our sin
- Relating: we confess our sin to the Lord and, if necessary, to our leaders
- Restitution: we do all we can to right the wrong or make repayment
- Resolution: we have a firm resolve to forsake our sin
- Reformation: we act on the resolution by changing our behavior
- Realization: we realize the happiness that comes from righteous living.
Why do we need the Savior’s Atonement to be forgiven of our sins? (See 2 Nephi 2:6–9.)
2 Nephi 2:6–9
6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
9 Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.
As we realize that we have sinned and come short of our potential, and if we humbly and regularly approach the Lord for help with our repentance, and if it within his purview to forgive us, he will, because he has already paid the price for our transgressions.
Then, if and only if we try our best to demonstrate our faith through faithfulness, one day he will approach us, one by one, then, as we bathe his feet with our tears, he will wash us clean, clothe us in white robes, and welcome us into his kingdom. Which takes us to the ordinance of baptism.
We are told that we are a peculiar people. One of the things that makes us peculiar is the ritual or ordinance of baptism that occurs as a sign of the covenant that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ and become his true disciples.
Baptism is Ritualistic. This is a sacred ordinance that you just don’t stumble into by accident. It isn’t often that people, wearing clothing that covers most of their bodies—in fact white clothing that remains opaque when wet—walk into a waist-high pool of water along with a worthy ordinance giver, and are completely immersed after hearing a set 25-word phrase uttered by a man with his right arm lifted—all of which is witnessed by at least two Aaronic priests or Melchizedek priesthood holders, as well as many members of their family and friends. It is rather unusual, isn’t it?
Baptism is Immersing. By the way, the word “baptize” is derived from the Greek verb “baptizein” which means “to immerse” or “to overwhelm” or to “be over one’s head” like you were drowning in debt.
Baptism is Rescuing. In a way, we are all drowning in a debt that we cannot ever pay—a debt incurred because we chose to sin which spiritually separated us from God and made us subject to the demands of justice and the natural consequences of bad behavior.
It is like we have been overwhelmed by sin, and we will most certainly drown if we weren’t rescued by someone. And that someone is the Lord Jesus Christ or one of his assigned representatives. He has entered the water too—but has risen out of it.
We are quite literally grabbed out of the depths of debt and destruction and darkness and despair and rescued by the Son of righteousness, who will place us back in the realm of air and light and truth—a realm where we want to be more than anyplace else—a place that is quite heavenly compared with the hell we just experienced.
22 And as many as repent and are baptized in my name, which is Jesus Christ, and endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
Baptism is Submitting. Let’s look at this symbol in a different way. Notice that everyone who is baptized willingly walks into that water. They willingly allow themselves to be submerged into the water, and place their faith in the ordinance worker that the worker will not hold them under the water, but help them up out of it. It is as if we are saying, I willingly submit. I willingly give up my natural human instincts for breath and survival, and place my life—both my physical life and my spiritual life, which are now clearly united in purpose—into the hands of the Lord’s anointed. This is a dramatic symbol of faith and submission.
Baptism is Cleansing. Here’s another way to look at this. Let’s look at the symbol of water itself. Not only is water a symbol of cleansing, but it is cooling, it is refreshing, it is reviving. It also douses the flames of vice that destroy our character—anger, greed, pride, lust, gluttony, envy, sloth, and so on. Water is a symbol of healing, a symbol of adaptability, a symbol of freedom.
Baptism is Transformative. Water can exist in four states, just like we can. It sometimes prefers to be cold and unmovable and barren and hates the light and heat as it cleaves to polar extremes—it is, quite telestial. Or it can become warmer and more fluid and be used for both good and bad, but still is bound to this terrestrial world, flowing the path of least resistance down mountains and through the valleys to fill up vast seas. Or it can be heated up and empowered with energy to rise above the earth to fill the immensity of the celestial skies where it can condescend and bring life to others. Or it can be destroyed, broken apart to form its individual atoms floating about in the vastness of outer darkness, waiting for a chance encounter to break up their isolation and loneliness.
Baptism is Enabling. Baptism is a symbol of birth. For nine months, we resided in our mother’s womb, immersed in amniotic fluid. Then, through a painful ordeal for our mothers, which involved blood and sweat and tears, she enabled us to come into this world. Through her sacrifice, we were born into this world. Likewise, we must never forget that we have been spiritual born again through the blood and sweat and tears of our Savior. We have been cleansed by his blood, which he shed so that we can be enabled to live with him eternally.
On the other hand, baptism is also symbolic of death and destruction, where we are buried in the water like we are buried in a grave. In our temples, the baptismal fonts are located in the lower levels, often underground, like a grave, underneath the levels of the temple where most of the life takes place. What are we enabled to bury or destroy? Our old sinful life outside of the covenant of the house of Israel, as symbolized by the twelve oxen bearing the font on their backs.
Then suddenly, baptism becomes a symbol of revival and resurrection, where both our spirit and our body, now united in purpose and inseparable, are enabled to come forth from our graves. Like it says in D&C 128:12.
12 Herein is glory and honor, and immortality and eternal life—The ordinance of baptism by water, to be immersed therein in order to answer to the likeness of the dead, that one principle might accord with the other; to be immersed in the water and come forth out of the water is in the likeness of the resurrection of the dead in coming forth out of their graves; hence, this ordinance was instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of baptism for the dead, being in likeness of the dead.
But most importantly, we are baptized because it is a commandment. There is no other way to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
13 Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, according to the holy commandment, for the remission of sins;
14 And whoso doeth this shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of the hands of the elders of the church.
Speaking of the Holy Ghost, let’s move on to the fourth item on today’s list: the ordinance of confirmation.
Being baptized in water does not make you a member of the church. This occurs only after the ordinances of baptism and confirmation are both completed and properly recorded.
Having been washed clean from our sins, we are now prepared to receive personal ministrations and revelations that will guide us through the numerous purification and sanctification processes that lie before us. This is a spiritual process that can only be administered by a personage of spirit—the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.
We learn a bit more about him from D&C 130:22.
22 The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.
The Holy Ghost is a Truth-Teller. His desire and his mission is to mission is to constantly testify to our individual spirits about the reality of the Father and the Son and confirm the truthfulness of all things.
He communicates truths that cannot be learned by our physical senses of touch, sound, vision, hearing, and taste—metaphysical things. These are things that go beyond reason and thought and instinct and intuition—but directly to the spirit matter that gives life to our bodies.
The Holy Ghost is a Gift-Giver. The Holy Ghost is able to grant us special talents and spiritual gifts such as the gifts of wisdom, faith, knowledge, prophecy, healing, teaching, and charity. He can give us the gift to ponder, the gift to look to God for direction, the gift to use the small voice, the gift to calm, and the gift to care. All good gifts come from him and are to be used to bless the lives of others.
The Holy Ghost is a Revelator. As we learned in our past two Sunday School lessons, he is our revelator. And not just ours—but the revealer of hidden truths to honest seekers anywhere. For those of us who have been blessed to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, it is our privilege and obligation to not keep the truths he revealed to ourselves, but to share them with those who honestly desire to acquire further light and truth. Then, as they exercise faith, repent, and receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, they too will be able to have this divine guidance for themselves and their families.
The Holy Ghost is a Tutor. A tutor is a specialized teacher or coach who works one-on-one with you to help you master the task that is before you. The Holy Ghost gives personalized, individualized instruction that takes into account your preferences, circumstances, intentions, and capabilities. Because he knows your divine potential better than you do, he will constantly push you to do better and better. He knows when to push, and when to back off. He is the perfect teacher.
The Holy Ghost is a Guardian. I don’t know about you, but I happen to need a lot of guidance in life. I’m always drifting off on interesting tangents that catch my fancy. Even as I study the Gospel I find that sometimes I stumble across articles on the Internet that cause the Spirit to immediately say, “This is poppycock” and warns me to move along. The Holy Ghost always has my best interests at heart, and is always there to protect me and my loved ones from all sorts of spiritual and physical danger. His impressions are particularly loud and clear with imminent threats.
The Holy Ghost is a Comforter. Some of the most sacred experiences of my life have occurred when I have fallen to my knees because I simply couldn’t stand any longer. They happened when life’s circumstances were so overwhelming that I felt broken or felt like I had reached my limits and everything was crushing down on me. But then, after a heart-wrenching and tearful plea, the weight and the anxiety was mercifully lifted off my shoulders. In its place came feelings of love, peace, and comfort, as well as renewed strength to bear the burdens that were placed on me. This act of mercy and love came directly from the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost is a Refiner. As fast as we want to improve, the Holy Ghost will inspire us on how to improve our attitudes and behaviors. Then, as surely as the refiner’s fire burns away dross, our souls will become increasingly purified and sanctified until one day our natural man will be completely sacrificed and we will rise again, clothed with glory, immortality, and eternal lives.
The first four principles and ordinances of the gospel can convey us to a heavenly destination if we desire. Each one is like a wheel on a four-wheeled cart. As the wheel of faith turns, and we keep on gaining faith in all the principles of the gospel, we make forward progress.
As the wheel of repentance turns, and we recover from our errors and improve our lives, we make forward progress.
As we regularly participate in and immerse ourselves in saving rituals and ordinances, like the sacrament and the temple ordinances, we can be washed and pronounced clean, and we are able to make forward progress.
And as we are worthy of having the Holy Ghost influence our life, we will be able to recognize the truth, be given spiritual gifts, receive personal revelation, be tutored, be guarded and protected, be comforted, and be refined in a manner that can only be done by a member of the Godhead.
When these four wheels are always kept in motion, it won’t be long until we find ourselves back where we truly want to be—living with our heavenly families for all eternity.
May we always adhere to the first four principles and ordinances of the Gospel!