Yesterday, I wrote that to be ordained is to be set in order.
An ordinance is the mechanism used to create order. It is an action that is formally prescribed by God which we perform to show our devotion to Him and draw closer to Him.
The prophet Nephi urged his people to “keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses” (2 Nephi 25:30). Subsequent prophets urged their people to follow the instructions for these ordinances “strictly” (Mosiah 13:30, Alma 30:3).
Precision and consistency in carrying out ordinances is an important element of religious observance.
Malachi attributed his people’s distance from God to their abandonment of His ordinances. Speaking on behalf of God, he said:
Participation in ordinances brings us closer to God.
But why is that so? Why would strict compliance with a set of instructions help us to deepen and strengthen our relationship with God?
I think the prophet Alma shed some light on this question when he explained the purpose of ordinances to the people of Ammonihah:
Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord (Alma 13:16).
Alma says that the ordinances are “a type,” or a symbol, of the Savior’s order. Then he says, in what appears to be a correction, that they actually are His order. How can they not only symbolize His order but also establish it?
- Ordinances reify (make concrete or real) our beliefs and commitments. Baptism represents a rebirth. The sacrament epitomizes the internalization of the divine nature. These symbolic acts have a far more powerful impact on our minds (and therefore on our future behavior) than merely making a verbal commitment.
- Ordinances unify the worship of a group of people. It may seem appealing to say, “Let everyone go off and worship God in their own way.” But God wants more for us than that. His ideal is for us to experience the joy of being completely unified with other people. Jesus prayed that we all might be one, even as He and His Father are one (John 17:21, 3 Nephi 19:23, 29). When He appeared to the Nephites, His began by teaching that they should perform baptisms in a consistent manner in order to achieve the unity experienced by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 11:27-28). Ordinances integrate us into a religious order, enabling us to operate as a single unit, just as the music of a choir enables them to create something together which none of them could have created on their own.
So ordinances establish His order both individually and collectively—individually as they concretize our beliefs and commitments, and collectively as they help us achieve “the unity of the faith” which the Savior wants us to have (Ephesians 4:13).
Today, I will be grateful for the role ordinances play in my life. I will be grateful for their role in making my faith more tangible and durable, in unifying me with other believers, and ultimately in bringing me closer to God.