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Conference Counsel: Latter-day Saints and importance of covenants

By Ryan Comer - | Jun 8, 2024

Photo supplied, Intellectual Reserve

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, speaks during the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

A question common to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by those who don’t have a lot of familiarity with the teachings or the doctrines is “How is your church different from others?”

This question has many possible answers, and President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of the church, addressed in depth one potential response at the most recent general conference of the church this past April.

Specifically, President Oaks spoke about “the history and role of covenants in our worship” as well as the purpose of Latter-day Saint temples, now numbering 350 when you factor in all the temples that have been announced but not yet constructed.

The topic of covenants was addressed by a few speakers at general conference, which President Oaks acknowledged when he said his remarks would “supplement the inspired teachings of earlier speakers.”

They each bring unique commentary and it is all helpful. Even though a certain topic may have been addressed many times at conference before, it is always beneficial to hear a new speaker address it because I know they will address it in a unique way.

Photo supplied

Ryan Comer

One reason I appreciate President Oaks is because of how polished of a speaker he is. He always finds a way to clearly and succinctly articulate his thoughts on whatever topic he has chosen to speak about in a way that is both instructive and faith-promoting.

So, what is a covenant? Simply put, as President Oaks stated, “a covenant is a commitment to fulfill certain responsibilities.”

Expounding on that to explain why covenants are important, President Oaks continued:

“Personal commitments are essential to the regulation of our individual lives and to the functioning of society. This idea is currently being challenged. A vocal minority oppose institutional authority and insist that persons should be free from any restrictions that limit their individual freedom. Yet we know from millennia of experience that persons give up some individual freedoms to gain the advantages of living in organized communities. Such relinquishments of individual freedoms are principally based on commitments or covenants, expressed or implied.”

Even those who are part of what President Oaks called “the vocal minority” would have to acknowledge that covenants serve an important purpose. Where would we be as a society if covenants didn’t exist? Ponder the changes you might see in some important areas of society, which President Oaks spoke about next.

“Here are some examples of covenant responsibilities in our society: (1) judges, (2) military, (3) medical personnel and (4) firefighters. All of those involved in these familiar occupations make a commitment — often formalized by oath or covenant — to perform their assigned duties. The same is true of our full-time missionaries. Distinctive clothing or name tags are intended to signify that the wearer is under covenant and therefore has a duty to teach and serve and should be supported in that service. A related purpose is to remind the wearers of their covenant responsibilities. There is no magic in their distinctive clothing or symbols, only a needed reminder of the special responsibilities the wearers have assumed. This is also true of the symbols of the engagement and wedding rings and their role in giving notice to observers or reminding wearers of covenant responsibilities.”

If we see covenants in society, we should not be surprised to see them in religion as well.

“The foundation and history of many religious affiliations and requirements are based on covenants,” President Oaks said. “For example, the Abrahamic covenant is fundamental to several great religious traditions. It introduces the holy idea of God’s covenant promises with his children. The Old Testament frequently refers to God’s covenant with Abraham and his seed.” (Genesis 17:2-9; Exodus 6:2-4; Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 26:42)

And if you see covenants in the Old Testament, you should not be surprised to see them in the Book of Mormon, the early part which was written during the Old Testament period, which President Oaks pointed out:

“Nephi was told that the Israelite writings of that period were ‘a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel.’ (1 Nephi 13:23) The books of Nephi make frequent reference to the Abrahamic covenant (1 Nephi 15:18; 1 Nephi 17:40; 1 Nephi 22:9; 2 Nephi 29:14) and to Israel as ‘the covenant people of the Lord.’ (1 Nephi 14:14; 2 Nephi 6:13; 2 Nephi 9:1) The practice of covenanting with God or religious leaders is also recorded in the Book of Mormon writings about Nephi, Joseph in Egypt, King Benjamin, Alma and Captain Moroni.” (2 Nephi 1:5; 2 Nephi 3:4; 2 Nephi 31:7, 13, 14; Mosiah 5:5-8; Mosiah 6:1; Alma 7:15; Alma 46:21-22)

A question to consider after reading all of that would be “Why do we see in scripture that covenants are so important to God? The answer to me is that God wanted everyone to be closer to him, and this was achieved through covenants. The obvious follow-up question to that would be, if covenants were important in the past because God wanted everyone to be closer to him, why would he not want a covenant relationship with us today? To say that God no longer wants that kind of relationship with us today would suggest that God no longer wants us to be closer to him, and that is obviously incorrect.

All of that leads to a discussion on covenants and their role today in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Said President Oaks:

“We do not know the full content of the angel Moroni’s early instructions to (Joseph Smith). We do know he told Joseph that ‘God had a work for (him) to do’ and that ‘the fulness of the everlasting Gospel’ must be brought forth, including ‘the promises made to the fathers.’ (Joseph Smith–History 1:33-34, 39)

“We also know that the scriptures young Joseph read most intensively — even before he was directed to organize a church — were the many teachings about covenants he was translating in the Book of Mormon. That book is the restoration’s major source for the fulness of the gospel, including God’s plan for his children, and the Book of Mormon is filled with references to covenants.

“Being well read in the Bible, Joseph must have known of the book of Hebrews’ reference to the savior’s intent to ‘make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.’ (Hebrews 8:8) Hebrews also refers to Jesus as ‘the mediator of the new covenant.’ (Hebrews 12:24) Significantly, the biblical account of the savior’s mortal ministry is titled ‘The New Testament,’ a virtual synonym for ‘The New Covenant.’

“Covenants were foundational in the restoration of the gospel. This is evident in the earliest steps the Lord directed the prophet to take in organizing his church. As soon as the Book of Mormon was published, the Lord directed the organization of his restored church, soon to be named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4) Revelation recorded in April 1830 directs that persons ‘shall be received by baptism into his church’ after they ‘witness’ (which means solemnly testify) ‘that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 20:37; Mosiah 18:10-13)

“This same revelation directs that the church ‘meet together often to partake of bread and wine (water) in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus.’ The importance of this ordinance is evident in the words of covenants specified for the elder or priest who officiates. He blesses the emblems of the bread for ‘the souls of all those who partake of it … , that they … witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 20:75, 77)

“The central role of covenants in the newly restored church was reaffirmed in the preface the Lord gave for the first publication of his revelations. There, the Lord declares that he has called Joseph Smith because the inhabitants of the earth ‘have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 1:15) This revelation further explains that his commandments are being given ‘that mine everlasting covenant might be established.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 1:22)

“Today we understand the role of covenants in the restored church and the worship of its members. President Gordon B. Hinckley gave this summary of the effect of our baptism and our weekly partaking of the sacrament: ‘Every member of this church who has entered the waters of baptism has become a party to a sacred covenant. Each time we partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, we renew that covenant.’

“We have been reminded by many speakers at this conference that President Russell M. Nelson often refers to the plan of salvation as the ‘covenant path’ that ‘leads us back to (God)’ and ‘is all about our relationship with God.’ (2 Nephi 4:32; 2 Nephi 33:9) He teaches about the significance of covenants in our temple ceremonies and urges us to see the end from the beginning and to ‘think celestial.'”

I am grateful that I was able to be baptized at 8 years old so that I could make a covenant with God at such a young age, and I am grateful that most every Sunday I have the opportunity to partake of the sacrament and renew that baptismal covenant. I have certainly had my share of trials in life, but I have also felt a lot of strength, and I attribute that to my willingness to make and keep covenants with God, who I know is the source of that strength.

At the start of his address, President Oaks mentioned temples as being a theme of his talk. Temples and covenants are connected because it is in temples where Latter-day Saints make covenants with God.

“In fulfillment of his responsibility to restore the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the prophet Joseph Smith spent much of his final years directing the construction of a temple in Nauvoo, Illinois,” President Oaks said. “Through him the Lord revealed sacred teachings, doctrine and covenants for his successors to administer in temples. There, persons who were endowed were to be taught God’s plan of salvation and invited to make sacred covenants. Those who lived faithful to those covenants were promised eternal life, wherein ‘all things are theirs’ and they ‘shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 76:59, 62)

“The endowment ceremonies in the Nauvoo Temple were administered just before our early pioneers were expelled to begin their historic trek to the mountains in the west. We have the testimonies of many pioneers that the power they received from being bound to Christ in their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple gave them the strength to make their epic journey and establish themselves in the west.”

It is amazing to compare the status of the church as the members were beginning their journey out west to what it is now. It has truly become a global church, and it all happened because of those strong, faith-filled members who endured all the sufferings of journeying west. Imagine how would you have managed on that kind of a journey. Do you think you could have done it? Even now, with all the technological advances, do you think you could? Would you dare to even try? I can imagine it would have only been possible with God helping them — and because of their temple covenants with him, he did.

Speaking more about temples, President Oaks said:

“Persons who have been endowed in a temple are responsible to wear a temple garment, an article of clothing not visible because it is worn beneath outer clothing. It reminds endowed members of the sacred covenants they have made and the blessings they have been promised in the holy temple. To achieve those holy purposes, we are instructed to wear temple garments continuously, with the only exceptions being those obviously necessary. Because covenants do not ‘take a day off,’ to remove one’s garments can be understood as a disclaimer of the covenant responsibilities and blessings to which they relate. In contrast, persons who wear their garments faithfully and keep their temple covenants continually affirm their role as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is constructing temples all over the world. Their purpose is to bless the covenant children of God with temple worship and with the sacred responsibilities and powers and unique blessings of being bound to Christ they receive by covenant.”

Latter-day Saint garments are often ridiculed in popular culture. But I wonder how many would join in that or otherwise tolerate it if they knew just how sacred the clothing is to Latter-day Saints. They are not worn to simply be worn or because they are believed to have some magical component. Wearing temple garments is an affirmation that someone is a disciple of Jesus Christ and serves as a constant reminder of sacred covenants made with God. Faithfully wearing them blesses the lives of Latter-day Saints.

“The Church of Jesus Christ is known as a church that emphasizes making covenants with God,” President Oaks said as he concluded his remarks. “Covenants are inherent in each of the ordinances of salvation and exaltation this restored church administers. The ordinance of baptism and its associated covenants are requirements for entrance into the celestial kingdom. The ordinances and associated covenants of the temple are requirements for exaltation in the celestial kingdom, which is eternal life, ‘the greatest of all the gifts of God.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7) That is the focus of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Contact Ryan Comer at rcomer@standard.net. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rbcomer8388 and on X at @rbcomer8388.


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