Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Theology of the Sacrament in the LDS Church

The main passages of scripture (apart from the Bible) expounding the LDS doctrine of the Sacrament are in the Book of Mormon, with smaller passages in the Doctrine and Covenants. I will quote the passages, with the most significant verses highlighted, and briefly comment on them afterwards. Jesus instituted the Sacrament among the Nephites in the Book of Mormon when He visited them after His resurrection. Here is the account:

3 Nephi 18:

1 And it came to pass that Jesus commanded his Disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him.
2 And while they were gone for bread and wine, he commanded the multitude that they should sit themselves down upon the earth.
3 And when the Disciples had come with bread and wine, he took of the bread and brake and blessed it; and he gave unto the Disciples and commanded that they should eat.
4 And when they had eaten and were filled, he commanded that they should give unto the multitude.
5 And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the Disciples: Behold there shall one be ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.
6 And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you.
7 And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony 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.
8 And it came to pass that when he said these words, he commanded his Disciples that they should take of the wine of the cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it.
9 And it came to pass that they did so, and did drink of it and were filled; and they gave unto the multitude, and they did drink, and they were filled.
10 And when the Disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.
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.
14 Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you.

The first theologically significant clause occurs in verse 5, where it says, “there shall one be ordained among you, . . .” This suggests that the Eucharist is a true sacrament. It requires priesthood authority to be administered. The next significant clause occurs in verse 7, where we are taught that it is done “in remembrance of my body, . . .”. The first part of that clause, “in remembrance of my body . . .” also occurs in the Bible:

Luke 22:

19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

1 Corinthians 11:

24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

The significant bits that the Book of Mormon passage adds, that is not found in the Bible, is “And it shall be a testimony 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”. This adds clarification. It informs us that the Sacrament is indeed a memorial of the sufferings of Christ; not that we will eat or drink His flesh or blood literally. It also informs us how we are blessed spiritually when we partake of the Sacrament worthily. That happens when we are promised that we should have His Spirit to be with us.

The next significant passage occurs in verse 10: “for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you”. Participation in the Sacrament, like baptism, is not a difficult or demanding requirement; nevertheless, like baptism, it is a token of our willingness to obey God’s commandments.

The next theologically significant passage is verse 11, which is a repeat of what was said in verse 7, except that this time it is in relation to the wine rather than the bread. And the last significant verse is 13, which states, “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.” This is a warning to those who add or remove unauthorized material to the Sacrament, either doctrinally or procedurally. They are building their house on sand; and when the winds blow and rains descend, it shall fall, and “great shall be the fall of it”.

In the continuation to the same chapter, the Lord then proceeds to give the warning to those who partake of the Sacrament unworthily:

3 Nephi 18:

27 Behold verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you another commandment, and then I must go unto my Father that I may fulfil other commandments which he hath given me.
28 And now behold, this is the commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it;
29 For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him.
30 Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that he repenteth and is baptized in my name, then shall ye receive him, and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood.

The interesting thing about this passage is that it uses the same language that Catholics like to associate with Real Presence. Well, since every church seems to have its own definition of Real Presence, I am willing to accept that term provided that I can define the conditions of it myself—although I would rather not use those theological terms at all, because they carry connotations and nuances that do not sit well with the theology of the Restoration. LDS is a new dispensation of the gospel. It is not dependent on those archaic terminologies developed in historical Christianity. It uses its own. Nevertheless, I will accept Real Presence if I can define the terms of it myself. My definition of it (if I have to use that term) is that the administration of the Sacrament makes Jesus “Present” with us when the promise is fulfilled that we will “always have His Spirit to be with us”. That is how Jesus promised His disciples that He would always be present with them:

John 14:

16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Ephesians 3:

16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.

That is how Jesus has promised that He will always be “Present” with His disciples—by giving them of His Spirit to always be with them, and dwell in them by faith. The idea that we must literally eat His flesh and drink His blood is not scriptural. That is not what the scriptures really mean.

Chapter 18 of 3 Nephi gives a description of how Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper among the Nephites. The day after that event, Jesus visits them again, and administers the Sacrament to them the second time. This is a shorter passage, but still contains theologically significant verses that are worth discussing:

3 Nephi 20:

1 And it came to pass that he commanded the multitude that they should cease to pray, and also his disciples. And he commanded them that they should not cease to pray in their hearts.
2 And he commanded them that they should arise and stand up upon their feet. And they arose up and stood upon their feet.
3 And it came to pass that he brake bread again and blessed it, and gave to the disciples to eat.
4 And when they had eaten he commanded them that they should break bread, and give unto the multitude.
5 And when they had given unto the multitude he also gave them wine to drink, and commanded them that they should give unto the multitude.
6 Now, there had been no bread, neither wine, brought by the disciples, neither by the multitude;
7 But he truly gave unto them bread to eat, and also wine to drink.
8 And he said unto them: He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled.
9 Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit; and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus, whom they both saw and heard.

Verse 8 again uses a language that the Catholics would tend to identify with their understanding of Real Presence; although it uses it to suggest a kind of “spiritual feeding”. Verse 9 describes how that “feeding” takes place: it is done, again, by being filled with His Spirit. The idea of physically eating Jesus Christ is not a theologically valid doctrine. The scriptures that are cited to support that are not correctly understood.

The theology of the Sacrament in the LDS Church is even more completely and comprehensively, but in a highly condensed form, taught in the actual Sacramental prayers themselves, which were given by revelation. Here are the two Sacramental prayers for bread and wine:

D&C 20:

77 O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and 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; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

79 O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

There are many theologically significant phrases in these prayers. First, note that the emblems are “blessed and sanctified”. To “sanctify” means to consecrate or make holy. This does not mean that actual emblems in themselves are made holy; rather, they are sanctified “to the souls of all those who partake of it”. The sanctification rebounds on those who partake of it by faith and in worthiness. In the early Christian church, all church members were called “saints”. That did not mean that they were sinless. It means that they had undergone the sanctifying experience of receiving the ordinances of the gospel, such as baptism and confirmation, but most importantly, of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. That is what makes us holy, or turns us into saints. If we wanted to express that in Catholic terminology, I suppose it would translate into “receiving grace”. But I don’t like using those old terms, because they tend to be ambiguous. “Becoming sanctified” is a more meaningful expression for me than “receiving grace,” which seems to defy a clear definition. This process of sanctification as we participate in the life of the Church is referred to in several places in the modern LDS scripture:

D&C 43:

9 And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me.

D&C 59:

9 And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;

D&C 60:

7 And in this place let them lift up their voice and declare my word with loud voices, without wrath or doubting, lifting up holy hands upon them. For I am able to make you holy, and your sins are forgiven you.

The Bible also teaches that it is required of us to become holy:

Exodus 19:

6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.

Leviticus 11:

44 For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: . . .
45 For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

1 Peter 1:

15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

1 Peter 2:

9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light
We achieve this holiness primarily through regular participation in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, while observing to fulfil all the conditions laid down therein.

Returning to the sacramental prayers, there are other significant phrases that need to be discussed. Note first that the words “remember” and “remembrance” occur frequently in both prayers. That is the key word. “Always remember him” means what it says: always! It means remembering Him in every waking moment of our lives. Some may think that is impossible. I don’t think so. God has commanded it. It is through this constant, ceaseless, incessant remembering that we are guaranteed to have His Spirit to always be with us.

Other covenants we make are to declare our willingness to “take upon us His name,” and also to “keep His commandments which He has given us”. To “take upon us His name” means to be willing to be identified by His name, in other words, to become true Christians.

Latter-day Saints often describe the Sacrament as a “renewal of our baptismal covenant”. That is because there is a striking resemblance between the covenants we make at baptism (Mosiah 18:8–10; D&C 20:37); and those we make as we partake of the Sacrament.

The only other thing that needs to be added to this brief summary is that we currently do not use wine for the administration of the Sacrament, but water. This is because of a commandment we received from the Lord owing to the circumstances that prevailed at that time, as recorded in the following revelation:

D&C 27:

1 Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God, and your Redeemer, whose word is quick and powerful.
2 For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.
3 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies;
4 Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.

Verse 2 in this passage contains more doctrinal insights into the theology of the Sacrament. It teaches that we partake of the Sacrament correctly when we do so “with an eye single to the glory of God;” and it reemphasizes once again the centrality of “remembering” Jesus Christ as the most important element in the Sacrament.

Such is the simplicity and beauty of the theology of the Sacrament in LDS scripture. Everything is plain, clear, meaningful, and dovetails perfectly with what is taught in the Bible. There are no dark shadows and mysterious ideas to fathom. That is the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concerning the Eucharist, or the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

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