The Covenant Path


WARNING TO READERS

This article contains information about the temple including specific wording of the covenants made in the LDS endowment ceremony from both the 1931 version and the 1990 version.  Some readers including active LDS members may consider this wording sacred and/or secret.  To those readers, please accept our apology and do not read this article.  This article is intended to enlighten and not to offend.  We tried to removed as much of the wording as possible while still maintaining those elements most critical to convey the content of the ceremony relevant to this discussion.  We hope that you will enjoy our other articles.

The Covenant Path

General Conference usage of “covenant” related terms

Since its introduction into the Mormon vocabulary in 2005 and General Conference in 2007, the term “covenant path” has seen tremendous growth in usage.  During the General Conference sessions in 2018, the term was used a total of 36 times, and surpassed other familiar terms such as “Honesty” (2), “Integrity” (0), and “Charity” (25).

It had a similar frequency to words such fundamental concepts as baptism (41) and sacrament (53) and had more usages in a single session than other covenant terms such as “baptismal covenant” and “renew covenants” had in the prior decade.

General Conference usage of “covenant” related terms

But what is exactly the “Covenant path”, and why has its usage exploded in this (October 2018) conference?

Mormons believe and teach that in order to achieve Gods greatest blessings in the afterlife, one must make and keep covenants in this life.  These covenants are viewed as stepping stones along the path to eternal salvation and exaltation.  In other words, making and keeping the covenants is required to get into “the good place”.

In a talk given by Apostle Renlund in October 2018 which mentioned the “covenant path”, he outlined the steps to salvation as follows:

  1. (exercise) faith in Christ
  2. repentance
  3. be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost
  4. conscientiously prepare for and worthily partake of the sacrament
  5. make covenants in the temple;
  6. choose to serve the living God and His children.

What are temple covenants?

The temple covenants are often spoken of, but rarely detailed.  In 1987, a temple preparation guide outlined these covenants as follows:

The covenants we make in the temple include the “promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means[1] to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King—the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions”.[2]

The opaque language of this official training material may have left first time attendees unsure as to what they should expect to encounter in the endowment ceremony.

The Old Temple Covenants[3]

The actual covenants have changed throughout the history of the church.  During the majority of the time that Elder Talmage was alive, the best records available indicate that there were 3 covenants made in the temple as follows:

LAW OF SACRIFICE

 You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will sacrifice your time, talents and all you may now or hereafter become possessed of to the upbuilding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

LAW OF CHASTITY

FOR MEN

You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will not have sexual intercourse with any of the opposite sex except your lawful wife or wives who are given you by the holy priesthood.

FOR WOMEN

You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will not have sexual intercourse with any of the opposite sex save your lawful husband, given you by the holy priesthood.

LAW OF VENGEANCE

You and each of you do solemnly promise and vow that you will pray, and never cease to pray, and never cease to importune high heaven to avenge the blood of the prophets on this nation, and that you will teach this to your children and your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.

The Penalties

In addition to these 3 covenants, temple participants had to promise to not reveal 4 secret signs (hand shakes and motions with their arms) with their accompanying names and signs.  The penalties for revealing these signs (or the associated penalties) was given as follows:

Penalty associated with the first token of the Aaronic priesthood:

(should we reveal the sign), we agree that our throats be cut from ear to ear and our tongues torn out by their roots.

Penalty associated with the second token of the Aaronic priesthood:

(should we reveal the sign), we agree to have our breasts cut open and our hearts and vitals torn from our bodies and given to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.

Penalty for the first token of the Melchizedek priesthood:

(should we reveal the sign), we agree that our bodies be cut asunder in the midst and all our bowels gush out.

Penalty for the second token of the Melchizedek priesthood:

(none, but secrecy charge is the same)

The New or Modern Temple Covenants[4]

The current Temple covenants are as follows:

Covenant to obey the Law of God

Females (whether married or single):

(promise and covenant to) observe and keep the law of the Lord, and hearken to the counsel of your husband as he hearkens to the counsel of the Father.

Males:

(promise and covenant to) obey the law of God, and keep his commandants.

 Law of Sacrifice

(attendees) covenant to sacrifice all that we possess, even our own lives if necessary, in sustaining and defending the Kingdom of God.

Law of the Gospel

(attendees covenant to keep) the Law of the Gospel as contained in the Holy Scriptures; to give unto you also a charge to avoid all light mindedness, loud laughter, evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed, the taking of the name of God in vain, and every other unholy and impure practice…

Law of Chastity

(Attendees promise or covenant that they) shall have no sexual relations except with your husband or wife to whom you are legally and lawfully wedded.

Law of Consecration

(Attendees covenant that they) do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.

Relative to the prior versions, the modern covenants have been changed as follow:

  • A new covenant is added – the ‘Law of the lord’ wherein women promise to obey their husbands and both sexes promise to obey the ‘law of the lord’.
  • The law of chastity has become more unified with the removal of the provision for plural wives.
  • The Law of Vengeance has been removed.
  • The Law of Sacrifice has been divided into two covenants (2, 5).
  • The Law of the Gospel added (including a prohibition of speaking “evil of the Lord’s anointed” -aka criticizing church leaders – and a promise to not laugh loudly).

In the old (pre 1930s) ceremony, all 4 covenants were made at the end of the ceremony whereas in modern ceremonies (both the pre 1990 and post 1990 versions), the covenants are spaced out throughout the ceremony.  In the modern version, one begins with more benign general promises to God and concludes with a promise to give all of their current or future possessions to the LDS church.

Other Temple covenants and ceremonies

In addition to the endowment ceremony, which in the early church took about 6-8 hours to complete and which currently takes about 1.5-2 hours, there are a number of other ceremonies including the following:

  • Washings and annointings: Once a literal scrubbing of the body followed by rubbing parts of the body with cinnamon flavored alcohol or oils, this ceremony now is performed with the participant clothed and with a small amount of water and olive oil.
  • New name: Members are given a new name when they go through the temple for their endowments or on behalf of dead persons.  The names are now chosen based on a list system with different days of the month corresponding to different names.  Between about 1842 and 1878, the new names were standardized (Abraham for men, Sarah for women).  Between about 1880 and 1964, the names were made up by temple workers.[5]
  • Temple Marriage or sealing: Couples (both living and dead by proxy) are sealed together in marriage in the temple.  The wording is similar to a standard marriage ceremony, but at the end of the ceremony the couple is promised that they will live forever, come forth in the first resurrection, and have eternal posterity if they are worthy (i.e. become a God).
  • Second Anointing: Rarely discussed and once commonplace (in the Nauvoo era), the second anointing now seems to be reserved primarily for upper church leadership including apostles, members of the 70, temple and mission presidents, and in some cases stake presidents.  This ceremony involves the washing of feet – sometimes by an apostle followed by the washing of the man’s feet by his wife.  The wife then lays her hands on the husbands head and blesses him.  Those who receive this ordinance are promised eternal life essentially regardless of any actions that they may take after the ceremony.  In modern Mormon theology, this ceremony is not believed to be required for exaltation.

The endowment ceremony was performed for living patrons only until 1877[6], after which they were also performed for dead ancestors of living church members.  Starting no later than the 1950s, members were encouraged to perform temple ceremonies regularly.  To facilitate this, the LDS church undertook a large-scale genealogy effort and provided names of unrelated individuals to temple patrons starting around this time period.  More recently, the LDS church has received negative feedback after baptizing hundreds of thousands of holocaust victims and has purportedly changed the practice and implemented safeguards to try to prevent members from baptizing Jews and other persons with whom they share no common ancestry.[7]

Performance metrics

Like many organizations, the LDS church looks at various metrics in order to see how many members are active and believing.  These metrics are used to determine when divide or combine congregations (among other things).  Some of the most important metrics include:

  • Weekly attendance at sacrament meetings
  • Number of male members holding the Melchizedek priesthood
  • Number of adult members holding temple recommends
  • Number of adult members who have attended the temple in the last quarter.
  • Number of full tithe payers.

Because of the oaths of obedience and sacrifice to the organization expressed in the temple covenants, they are considered to be a key metric of devotion.  In order to participate in many activities in the church, a temple recommend is required.  Some of these activities include:

  • To be a full time missionary
  • To be a member of a bishopric or higher in the leadership hierarchy.
  • To be a church employee (in any capacity, including secretarial, janitorial, or other duties).
  • To teach at an LDS owned school (if you are a church member).

Why the covenant path?

By emphasizing the covenant path, LDS church leadership is asking members to be fully committed to the movement.  This includes asking members to be willing to sacrifice all of their possessions for the church.  It also prohibits them from criticizing their church leaders, even when that criticism is accurate.  In short, emphasizing the covenant path an effective way of emphasizing increased devotion to the movement.

Going from annual rate of 1-3 mentions of “covenant path” to 36 in a single conference session may suggest some coordination or planning on the part of church leadership.  Without insider knowledge, one can only speculate and continue to monitor usage going forward.

Sources

[1] Further enumeration of the actual content of this promise or covenant was given in a 2003 manual available at https://www.lds.org/manual/endowed-from-on-high/lesson-4?lang=eng  “We covenant to give of our resources in time and money and talent—all we are and all we possess—to the interest of the kingdom of God upon the earth” (Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple, 35).

[2] Elder Talmage as quoted in The House of the Lord, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, p. 84.  See https://www.lds.org/new-era/1987/02/preparing-for-the-temple-endowment?lang=eng

[3] See http://packham.n4m.org/endow31.htm for a complete text.

[4] A copy of the post 1990 text can be found here:  http://mit.irr.org/mormon-temple-endowment-ceremony

[5] http://www.fullerconsideration.com/templenameoracle.php

[6] See Buerger, The Mysteries of Godliness, pp 108-109.

[7] https://religionnews.com/2017/12/21/mormons-perform-baptisms-on-holocaust-victims/

 

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