A long-time friend and former student recently asked this question in the title.  It seemed logical to him that the ability of a resurrected being would be equal to, if not greater than a mortal.  After-all couldn’t our omnipotent God do all that we can do and much more?  But if resurrected beings can do earthly ordinances then why all the temple building and press to do family history and ordinances by mortals during mortality? 

Without pretending to knowledge of the after-life or trying to do more than say, “I don’t know,” perhaps the better question here is, “What is the purpose of ordinances?”  They cannot be simply seen as essential “merit badges” that permit entrance into the kingdom of heaven or we would be doing the baptisms, ordinations, endowments, etc. for those infants who died before the age of accountability.  But we know that they are inheritors of eternal life without those ordinances.[1] Even though Christ himself was baptized, “to fulfill all righteousness,” it was to show the way for all of us.  When teaching Nicodemus, He said that one CANNOT enter the kingdom without this ordinance.  Avoiding the “merit badge mentality” causes us to then ask “why, what is the purpose of the ordinance, then?  Elder Packer underlined their essential nature,

“Can you be happy, can you be redeemed, can you be exalted without them?

“Answer: They are more than advisable or desirable, or even than necessary. More even than essential or vital. They are crucial to each of us.”[2]

Perhaps the answer to the purpose of ordinances lies in what they do TO and FOR us rather than whether we do them.  The scriptures and prophets suggest at least four purposes that can help to understand why God has taught us as pre-resurrected humans, the essential mortal nature of ordinances.

ONE: Ordinances make covenants available

“There is no eternal covenant that is not connected to an ordinance. “[3]

Of all the plain and precious things removed from the Bible during the apostasy that could have been highlighted, one stood out to the angel speaking to Nephi:

“And the angel said unto me: Knowest thou the meaning of the book? Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel… they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles…when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord… And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.” 1 Nephi 13:21-27

The value of a covenantal relationship with God is exponentially essential.  The process of covenant-making includes God’s conditional promises to those entering into this relationship.  What a merciful plan from a Father who knows that the veil produces uncertainty and doubt.  He provides a way to test Him and thereby know, wherein He says, “prove me herewith.”[4]  Care must be taken here with the understanding that God sets the conditions of the covenant and determines when and how the promises are bestowed.[5]

“Eternal covenants are extended or offered to us only by God. He is the originator of all such covenants, as He is the only one who has authority and power to guarantee their validity beyond the grave.”[6]

The process of our efforts to grow faith in God, therefore, relies on covenant keeping.  On the other hand, we also make promises during this relationship agreement.  It is by our keeping our promises to God that His faith in us grows, allowing Him to incrementally entrust us with greater and greater knowledge and capacity.[7]

This covenantal invitation to a relationship with the creator cannot be seen as a simple business agreement or two-way promise…a contract of sorts.  Elder Eyring insisted,

“Alma knew the covenant was not like a business deal—“you do this for God, and God will do this for you”—but it was an opportunity for them to become His, to become God’s people.

Every covenant with God is an opportunity to draw closer to Him. To anyone who reflects for a moment on what they have already felt of the love of God, to have that bond made stronger and that relationship closer is an irresistible offer.” Henry B. Eyring; Making Covenants with God; September 08, 1996 BYU Fireside

He would later add, “A covenant is a love affair with God.”  No wonder Lucifer would want these sacred invitations to be removed from Holy Writ, or misunderstood as just legalese, or unnecessary complexity! 

Two: Ordinances serve to establish and help us remember the order of the universe and kingdom and our place in it.

In his book, “The Holy Temple,” Elder Packer explains,

“Order, Ordain, Ordinance!

Order—To put in ranks or rows, in proper sequence or relationship.

Ordain—The process of putting things in rows or proper relationship.

Ordinance—The ceremony by which things are put in proper order.

From all of this dictionary work, there comes the impression that an ordinance, to be valid, must be done in proper order.”

But in order for the significance and volumes of meaning available on this element, one needs the third.

Three: Ordinances serve as channels of communication with God, whereby He reveals both His most important eternal truths and, through them, His power.

“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; DC 84:19-22

All of the infinite divine powers culminate in His capacity and purpose of His work and glory, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) He can exalt what He creates.  In so doing, He makes incrementally available to us this divine capacity; to exalt others.  But this instruction and empowerment comes through the symbols of the ordinance as they call forth the revelatory instruction available to our finite minds.

“Could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam, on the relation of man to God and angels in a future state, we should know very little about it. Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.” TPJS p324

The ordinance symbols catalyze this “gaze into heaven” through the power of the Holy Ghost unto those that seek most diligently.

“they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves.” DC 26:116-117

We live in a world of symbols. No man or woman can come out of the temple endowed as he should be, unless he has seen, beyond the symbol, the mighty realities for which the symbols stand.

To the man or woman who goes through the temple with open eyes, heeding the symbols and the covenants, and making a steady, continuous effort to understand the full meaning, God speaks his word, and revelations come. . ..

I believe that the busy person . . . who has his worries and troubles, can solve his problems better and more quickly in the house of the Lord than anywhere else. If he will leave his problems behind and in the temple, work for himself and for his dead, he will confer a mighty blessing upon those who have gone before, and quite as large a blessing will come to him, for at the most unexpected moments, in or out of the temple will come to him, as a revelation, the solution of the problems that vex his life. That is the gift that comes to those who enter the temple properly, because it is a place where revelations may be expected.”

 (Elder John A. Widstoe, “Temple Worship,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Apr. 1921, 62–64.)

The symbols used aren’t puzzles to be figured out but rather invitations to inquiry by which revelations follow.  They are recognizable to our spirit selves, in spite of our memory loss.  These, and all other conditions of our mortality, were agreed to and sustained by us before submitting to this difficult phase of our becoming.

“If men would acquire salvation, they have got to be subject, before they leave this world, to certain rules and principles, which were fixed by an unalterable decree before the world was. … The organization of the spiritual and heavenly worlds, and of spiritual and heavenly beings, was agreeable to the most perfect order and harmony: their limits and bounds were fixed irrevocably, and voluntarily subscribed to in their heavenly estate by themselves, and were by our first parents subscribed to upon the earth. Hence the importance of embracing and subscribing to principles of eternal truth by all men upon the earth that expect eternal life.” TPJS 325

This figurative piercing the veil requires serious desire and effort that allow the Spirit to bring us through the transformative re-birth process required for our re-entry, this time as embodied beings.[8]

“The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.  TPJS p137

Four: Ordinances provide a powerful means whereby we pierce the dark clouds of doubt, discouragement, distraction, disbelief and despair, and thereby maintain our faith sufficient to lay hold onto salvation.[9]

Joseph Smith knew those dark clouds all too well.  He warned us in saying,

“Such was and always will be the situation of the saints of God, that unless they have an actual knowledge that the course that they are pursuing is according to the will of God, they will grow weary in their minds and faint.” Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith 6:4

This “actual knowledge” comes by revelation through the ordinances.  Adam couldn’t help but be discouraged.  By the end of the record written as Moses 5, Adam and Eve had received the reassuring knowledge during a sacrifice ordinance, of the Atonement of Christ.  The symbols used were briefly explained but exciting significance came as the Holy Ghost was shed forth upon them and their posterity.  They enthusiastically held a family home evening only to be countered by lucifer who enticed them away.  They sought to start again and were pleased to receive two sons who benefited from the teachings of the Atonement and meaning of their sacrifice, but in the context of agency parental success was dashed in the murderous jealousy that drove Cain, who then continued to organize the murderous secret combinations with which the chapter seems to end.  In this context, Adam and Eve must have been discouraged, approaching despair.  They may have sung the same song later parents would sing, “what could we have done more?”  We have certainly failed since “no other success can compensate for failure in the home.”[10]  It is in this context that Father responds,

“And thus all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance…” Moses 5:58

Centuries later the great patriarch and Abraham, father of our covenant, faced the same questions about his course in life.  He had been promised posterity for ten years, and Sariah was certainly still asking.  What was he doing wrong?  They were now too old to have children, so we find him one night in his tent praying but this time he needed some confirmation, like his father Adam before him,

“And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless… lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, this shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” Genesis 15:2-5

He knew the voice of God, that wasn’t the variable.  He had been told for over ten years the same promise, only with a grains of sand metaphor.  Sariah would not be satisfied, yet, verse six states,

“And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

Yet he still asks for some evidence, some sign that perhaps he could show or tell Sariah, or with which he could always know that he, as the variable, was still on the right path towards fulfillment.  Note verse eight,

“And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?”

“Whereby shall I know…”  There again is that need for confirmation…we all have that need as Joseph Smith shared, or we will “grow weary in our minds and faint.”  Is that where so many have gone as they left the church?  It is important in the scriptural context to then note in the next verse how the Lord responds.  From verse nine through seventeen the Lord gives him an ordinance.  One that is full of covenant symbols requiring the Spirit and revelatory experience to then use for continual confirmation through those dark clouds.[11]  This symbolic sign was then followed in chapter seventeen with a name change and a token of the covenant.

Later, even as disciplined children needing a schoolmaster of complex laws, holy days, and sabbaths the children of Israel continued ordinances.  Those in the new world who understood that the value wasn’t in the ordinance but in what the ordinance provided on the path to salvation in Christ, wrote,

“And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness…” Jacob 4:5

“the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus, they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy” Alma 25:16

Conclusion:

So, can resurrected beings perform mortal ordinances?  Perhaps a mix of metaphors might serve as a better answer than, “I don’t know.”  It seems to me that ordinances have greater value to a mortal than to a resurrected being, like training wheels are to a child as compared to one who already has developed the neurosensory capacity to balance and ride.  Ordinances, like training wheels are essential if we are ever to be transformed by the second birth through the Atonement of Christ. For they connect, remind, teach, and confirm, thereby transcending the pains of labor during this transformative process of our current preparatory gestation. 


[1] Moroni 8:11-12 little children need no repentance, neither baptism….little children are alive in Christ…

DC 137:10 And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.

Mosiah 15:25 “Little children also have eternal life.”

See also: Salvation of Little Children, Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign April 1977

[2] President Boyd K. Packer, Ensign 10/07; also “Endowed from on High” Temple Preparation Teacher’s Manual, chapter 4

[3] Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander “Ordinances and Covenants,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 22–24

[4] Malachi 3:10 Though this is contextually about tithing it would apply to all covenants we make since God always keeps His covenants, we can obey the conditions and discern the reality of God by the evidence of His promises being fulfilled.

[5] One powerful example is the Paul’s explanation in Hebrews 13 wherein he lists 48 people with whom God made covenant promises but never fulfilled them during their lifetime because He had a “more excellent way.”  This was later manifest in DC 128:18 wherein we learn the “more excellent way” of allowing those ancient covenant recipients to act as ministering angels in aiding later generations to fulfill those covenants.  The Prophet Joseph Smith added that “without the fathers, we cannot be made perfect.” TPJS p338

[6] Ibid footnote 3. So testing God is at His invitation not by our initiative.  When we desire to make a promise to God, we never make them conditional; “If thou wilt do this then I will do that.”  We can make unconditional promises to Him, knowing that He will always honor our promises love us, even in our weakness.  When we make such promises they are called “vows” in scriptural context.

Thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times; DC 59:11

These vows become a pattern for our prayers as we express our desires, report our efforts, and make promises relative to our continued efforts and progression.

[7] For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end….  Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.” DC 76:5-10

[8] Mosiah 3:19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Mosiah 27:25-26And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

Moses 6:58-60 Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying: That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;

[9] “These Six Destructive Ds—doubt, discouragement, distraction, lack of diligence, disobedience, and disbelief—all erode and destroy our faith,” Elder Kevin W. Pearson, Conference April 2009, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”

“You have the power to overcome the adversary. The adversary, however, is aware of who you are. He knows of your divine heritage and seeks to limit your earthly and heavenly potential by using the three Ds: Deception, Distraction, Discouragement” Elder Peter M. Johnson, “Power to Overcome the Adversary,” Conference October 2019

[10] President David O. McKay, Conference April 1964 quoting, “The home is the first and most effective place for children to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self-control; the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home” ( J. E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization [1924], 42

President Harold B. Lee, “No success will compensate for failure in the home.” Remember also that no home is a failure as long as that home doesn’t give up. “- Ensign, Feb. 1972

[11] See this by the author for some pondering on Abraham’s ordinance symbols: https://latterdaysaintmag.com/sabbath-a-sign-or-a-token/