Moroni 7:5-7 – Validity of Priesthood Ordinances – LeGrand Baker

5 For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
6 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness (Moroni 7:5-7) .

As was true with the first verses of this sermon, so it is here: there are different ways that we may read what Mormon said, and that difference is our perception of his audience. When discussing the first verses, I drew a distinction between an audience of high school seminary students, and the priesthood body to whom Mormon was speaking. That distinction is still important.

In these verses the differences in interpretation hangs on the definition of “works.” In the world of the teenager, works can mean taking warm bread to a neighbor or keeping the commandments as the Church teaches; being part of church activities, accepting church assignments, and just being nice to other people.

To teenagers, Mormon’s warning is easily translated into Church teachings. From the time we are little we are taught what God’s commandments are and that we should not only live those commandments but that we should also avoid being in the company of people who do not.

Mormon gives a stern reminder that evil men can produce attractive enticements, either by their actions or in the products they sell, and that those enticements can do real physical or spiritual harm. The Church reenforces those teachings by spelling out what many of those dangerous enticements are. Mormon’s words are a clear warning, insisting that we must not only look to the actions of an individual, but we must also examine his motives. If he hides his motives behind protestations of his own goodness, then we must look to the consequences of his actions, and their effects on others.

That is a helpful and perfectly legitimate way to understand this scripture.

However, if we read it as an address to a mature priesthood audience, then the interpretation is different, but no less scarey. Again, the understanding hangs on the meaning of “works.”

Probably the best place to begin looking for a priesthood definition of “works” is in Alma’s review of the Nephite temple drama. He says, “God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works.(Alma 12:30).” In this context “faith” must surely be pistis–the covenants. And “holy works” are the ordinances that instruct the participant and validate his covenants. “Repentance” validates both. {1}

There are other scriptures where “works” clearly refer to the ordinances. One of the most straightforward is in Alma’s Zarahemla conference address. Before we read it, a quick review: Righteousness is zedek — the same as zedek in Melchizedek, which means “King of Righteousness” or “My king is righteous.” Right or righteous is a perfect translation. Zedek means correctness in priesthood and temple things. To be done in zedek (righteousness), ordinances must be performed in the right place, at an appropriate time, with the right authority, dressed the right way, using the right words, and with the right hand or arm gestures. If all of these things are not in place, the ordinance is not valid. Baptism, for example. They go down into the water, dressed the right way, he holds his arm the right way, he speaks the right words with the right authority and he dunks the other person, then brings him up out of the water. If any of those things are lacking, or if anything is added, the ordinance is not valid. The word zedek/righteousness represents the correctness of that baptismal ordinance.

At Zarahemla, Alma invited the people to be baptized, and in preparation for that invitation he quoted God as saying,

35 Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness [zedek], and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire—
36 For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn (Alma 5:35-36).

In this context, “works of righteousness” is clearly a reference to correct priesthood ordinances.

In a similar context Ammon rejoices with his brethren because of their success with the Lamanites. Here he uses almost the same wording that Alma used in his review of the Nephite temple drama (Alma 12 quoted above). First, another quick review: “Mystery” in the New Testament means “the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites”{2} It is a reference to the New Testament Christian temple rites. If, as I believe, the Book of Mormon and New Testament meanings are the same, then Ammon’s promise, “unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God,” is a reference to the Nephite temple rites. The difference between what Alma said and what Ammon said is that where Alma says “holy works,” Ammon says “good works.”

22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith [pistis, keeping the covenants], and bringeth forth good works [ordinances], and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God [Nephite temple drama]; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance (Alma 26:22).

Alma used the same sequence, “faith and good works,” (pistis = covenants, and ordinances) when he described premortal priesthood callings.

3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such (Alma 13:3).

The ultimate importance of correct priesthood ordinances is emphasized by the sequence culminating in the final judgement.

The Book of Mormon repeatedly tells us that the final judgement comes AFTER the resurrection. In other words, when we stand before the Savior to be judged, we will already have received our resurrected body. Celestial persons will already have been judged to merit a celestial glory. So the question might be asked, “Then why do they need a “final judgement?” The answer is zedek — all things must not only be correct, but legally correct — we must be judged by our works according to the validity of the ordinances we have received and honored.

As I understand it, the judgement that could enable one to receive a celestial body was based on keeping his covenants. For example, the object of the perfection to which we strive is defined in the Book of Mormon as charity, just as that object in the Doctrine and Covenants is keeping the law of consecration. They are two sides of the same coin. When charity is what we are, the law of consecration is what we do.

Those characteristics (the ones that are discussed at length by Mormon in his sermon in Moroni 7) are the criteria used to determine whether we will receive a celestial body in the resurrection. The Lord explained that more succinctly to the Prophet Joseph.

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.
29 Ye who are [present tense] quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
30 And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness [etc.] (D&C 88:28-30).

Alma says that after we have received our resurrected bodies we will be judged “according to our works.” Here are two examples:

21 But whether it be at his resurrection or after, I do not say; but this much I say, that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works (Alma 40:21).

23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice (Alma 42:23).

Alma says we “are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.

The Lord explained to the Prophet Joseph why that final judgement must be “according to the law and justice.” D&C 132 says that not only must things done correctly, but that they must also be “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.” That sealing is the final and necessary validation. Then he adds:

8 Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.
9 Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name?
10 Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?
11 And will I appoint unto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?
12 I am the Lord thy God; and I give unto you this commandment—that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord.
13 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.
14 For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed (D&C 132:8-14).

The final judgement is when one stands before the Savior to be judged by him. If that judgement is an ordinance (Perhaps something like the Israelite king going through the Great veil in Solomon’s temple, as is described in Psalm 21), then it is reasonable to suppose that, like every other ordinance, it will have to be done according to set rules — in zedek, following a precise, even legalistic formula. If that is so, then it is also reasonable to suppose that one would be expected to give evidence that he had received ALL of the necessary ordinances. I suppose that is what the Savior meant when he told the Prophet Joseph, “my house is a house of order.”

This brings us full circle back to the three verses in Moroni 7 where we started. The question of the validity of priesthood ordinances was a major issue in Mormon’s day. There were false churches that were performing counterfeit ordinances. He tells us,

27 And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.
28 And this church did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity, and because of the power of Satan who did get hold upon their hearts. (4 Nephi 1:27-28)

Understanding that Mormon was speaking to his “beloved brethren” who were surrounded by murderous apostates, corrupt doctrines, and fraudulent ordinances, one can hear the ring of urgency in Mormon’s words:

5 For I remember the word of God which saith by their works [the validity of their priesthood ordinances] ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
6 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness (Moroni 7:5-7) .
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FOOTNOTES

{1} See the chapter called “Alma 12, Review of the Feast of Tabernacles Drama” in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition, 651-55, paperback edition, 556-58.

{2} That definition is in Strong, 1894 edition, # 3466. For a more complete discussion of the meaning of “mystery” in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon see footnote # 737 on page 463 of the paperback edition of Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, and also the chapter called “Sode Experience—Returning to the Council in Heaven,” pages 139-47. In the first edition, the footnote is # 726 on page 650 and the chapter is on pages 195-207.

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