- Church as an Aaronic Priesthood Temple – Part 1: Structure & Ordinances
- Church as an Aaronic Priesthood Temple – Part 2: Crowning Ritual
In the last general conference, Elder Oaks gave a talk titled “Sacrament Meeting & the Sacrament.” In this powerful talk he specifically addresses various behaviors related to the sacrament and church. He also speaks of the importance of the sacrament in making the Atonement a part of our lives. This is the most important part of his message. However, he repeatedly hinted at the power and sacredness of the sacrament and sacrament meeting:
- “The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church.”
- “Its like going to the temple.”
- “This is a very sacred act.”
- “All who officiate in this sacred ordinance stand on sacred ground.”
- “For sacred ordinances… we often use ceremonial clothing, and a white shirt could be seen as… an anticipation of the white shirt you will soon wear into the temple….”
- “I sense that some in the rising generation and even some adults have not yet come to understand the significance of this meeting and the importance of individual reverence and worship in it.”
As suggested by several of these quotes, I believe that our church on Sunday is meant to point us to the temple. The Lord intended it to be a weekly reminder of the covenants we make in the temple, as well as encouragement to return often to learn the “weightier” things of the gospel. I hope that I can help those mentioned in the last quote (probably all of us) to better “understand the significance” of church and the sacrament.
I believe the Lord has setup church as a temple in the pattern of the temple in Jerusalem: An Aaronic Priesthood, lesser law, or Levitical temple that points us to the higher ordinances of the Higher Law.
My purpose here is not to discuss the symbolism and importance of temples. I write assuming that readers have some knowledge of modern-day temples and will see the parallels between the organization, patterns, ordinances, and various symbolism I point out here.
The structure of Church is a key evidence that the Lord wants church to be our “lesser-law” temple to prepare us for, and help us return to, The House of the Lord. I have been told, but unable to confirm, that the Church handbook of instructions either says, or once said, that church can actually be scheduled either way, but it is preferable for Sacrament meeting to be last. Why? One reason is the symbolic progression. We go from individuals (Priesthood & Relief Society), to couples (Sunday School), to complete families (Sacrament Meeting) where we are united with the whole ward family.
Remember that all ward ordinances and meetings are carried out under the direction and authority of the Bishop of the ward. His is an Aaronic Priesthood position. In fact, he is the President of the Aaronic Priesthood. The keys he holds are Aaronic Priesthood keys. Elder Oaks alluded to this fact when he said that, “the sacrament is administered only when authorized by the one holding the keys to this preisthood ordinance.”
If a Levite is baptized into the Church, he will almost always serve as a Bishop, as is his birth-right, and is not required to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood to be ordained to that office (as far as I know, they still always give them the Melchizedek Priesthood, but it isn’t required). Thus, almost everything we see in Church and on a ward level, are organizations, ordinances, etc, that are performed under the authority and supervision of a High Priest, who is the head of the Aaronic Priesthood.
II: Ordinances or Sacraments
The next important clue is the ordinances associated with Church, and the way that they are structured, performed, and where they are carried out.
But first its important to note that in the church often call it “the sacrament,” but by definition, a “sacrament” can be any ordinance. For our purposes here we’ll follow the LDS tradition and refer to the ordinance of bread & water being symbolic of the body and blood of Christ, which is then partaken of by the members of the church. However, it’s important to note that each of the following ordinances could be considered a sacrament, or a rite, or there are other terms that denote a ceremonial ordinance that show’s one’s acceptance of the beliefs and practices of the organization.
Knowing that, lets look at the ordinances:
1. Baby Blessings. A newborn baby is presented to the body of the church, given a name, and blessed with promised blessings based upon their righteousness. This closely parallels the ordinances performed when Jesus was a baby. These were common Law of Moses ordinances, wherein the baby was circumcised and given a name at eight days old; then a short time later, taken to the temple and presented to the Lord with the sacrifice offering of a pair of turtle-doves.
2. Baptism. Baptism is a symbolic washing. The person is symbolically washed clean from their sins. It is also the first part of an initiation ceremony. The initiate has been presented to the body of the organization previously (name & blessing), and is now interviewed by the presiding High Priest (Bishop) to ensure worthiness.
Finally, a sacred ordinance or sacrament is performed, wherein the initiate is washed clean of all previous sins, and starts a new life as a new member of the Church organization. Traditionally the baptismal font where this ordinance takes place is located in the basement, beneath the “stand”, or in most newer buildings, at the back of the church building.
3. Confirmation and Gift of the Holy Ghost. What we call “Confirmation” or “receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost,” is a symbolic anointing. The initiate has been washed, and is now confirmed a member of the Church organization, as well as anointed with the promise of a gift of power. It’s an endowment of power as well as a completion of the initiation ceremony. If the individual is true to the gospel and church of Jesus Christ (of which they are a new member) they can have blessings of revelation, comfort, and companionship of the Holy Spirit.
Confirmation is usually done at the front of the Chapel, but not on the stand. Having completed their initiation ceremonies, they are presented as the newest member of the church organization.
4. The Holy Sacrament. This ordinance has much symbolism, and is the center of our church worship. It constitutes a communion with God as members symbolically partake of the body and blood of Christ. This symbolizes their desire, willingness, and worthiness to have the Atonement act in their lives, to purify and enable them to become better.
It occurs on an altar, in front of the entire congregation. The altar is often set at the height of, and by extension, behind the divider that sets the stand apart from the general assembly area. This divider is a symbolic veil, following the tradition of the iconostasis in Orthodox Christianity as well as a similar divider in Catholicism (for a great discussion on the Iconostasis, see this article at TempleStudy.com).
The sacrament closely resembles several Law of Moses ordinances including those surrounding the Table of Shewbread.
We will discuss more of the symbolism and temple connections of the sacrament in part 2 of this article.