Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Ancient Covenant Concepts and the LDS Scriptures

Have you ever noticed how consistent the LDS scriptures are in teaching the ancient Biblical concept of entering into a covenant relationship with the Lord? The importance of becoming the Lord's people through covenant making (and covenant keeping!) seems to have faded in much of modern Christianity and Judaism, but it has been restored in its original splendor in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. I have previously discussed some aspects of ancient covenant formulas in terms of King Benjamin's speech and the LDS Temple ceremony, where recent non-LDS scholarship has provided principles from ancient covenant patterns that adds insight into the authentic ancient nature of the LDS Temple and the Book of Mormon. Today I'd like to share a smaller but related insight.

I recently taught a lesson from the Gospel Principles manual, Chapter 15: The Lord's Covenant People (available at LDS.org at Gospel Library >> Church Publications >> Curriculum >> Home and Family). It began with discussion of Deuteronomy 26:18. Here it is in context (Deut. 26:16-19):
16 This day the LORD thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.

17 Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice:

18 And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that [thou] shouldest keep all his commandments;

19 And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.
What is expressed here is a key ancient covenant concept. The Lord seeks to make people his "peculiar" (personal, proprietary) people by having them enter into a two-way covenant. They promise to keep His commandment, and the Lord in return offers great promises. It's a simple concept but with great depth. The concept of becoming the Lord's people in a covenant relationship also invokes the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 17, in which the blessings of the Lord's covenant are provided through the seed of Abraham.

Having unwisely put little time into preparing for this lesson, I quickly thought of a couple related passages from the LDS scriptures about covenants. The first two that came to my mind were the ones I used: Mosiah 18, regarding the covenant of baptism, and Doctrine and Covenants 84, where the oath and covenant of the priesthood is discussed. As we read them in class, I was suddenly struck with how well they resonated with the ancient Jewish covenant paradigm in Deut. 26. Here's the passage from Mosiah 18:
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;

9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life --

10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
They covenant to serve one another and keep the Lord's commandments and witness this through baptism in order to "be called his people" and have the blessings of His spirit poured out upon them.

Now consider Doctrine and Covenants 84:
33 For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

34 They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

35 And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
Here we see covenant making and keeping that helps people become "the sons of Moses" and "the seed of Abraham." This refers to becoming the covenant people of the Lord, his "peculiar" people, through keeping His commandments and thereby qualifying for the incredible gifts He offers to us in that covenant relationship.

The ancient themes of covenant making and becoming the Lord's people are present in force in modern LDS scriptures, while such themes have become diluted in the modern era. The restoration of covenant paradigms and covenant-based ordinances is a key part of the Restoration, for which I'm most grateful.

For related information, see my page, Latter-day Saints and the Covenant Framework of the Gospel: An Ancient Perspective Restored. It ompares the solid covenant-based theology of the restored Church of Jesus Christ with that of early Christianity and Judaism.

22 comments:

Patti said...

Thanks for this post.

I've been contemplating temple covenants recently, and had the realization that the Lord wants to give us more truth and light - but that in order to receive we must be willing to covenant with him.

Before receiving the tokens of the priesthood, we make sacred covenants which gradually become more fervent - from obeying the Lord to consecrating all we have or possess to the Lord.

Unto whom much is given, much is required.

Bishop Rick said...

Something that has bugged me for a long time is why the true sabbath wasn't restored.

The sabbath really starts at sundown on Friday and runs thru sundown on Saturday.

Why do we still shop, work, play, on the Sabbath, and worship on just another day?

Anonymous said...

The Sabbath day observance changed to Sunday with the resurrection of Jesus.

John W. Redelfs said...

How important it is to keep the temple covenants, convenants that actually just reiterate and get more specific about the covenants we made at baptism. We cannot please God without keeping those covenants. Yet I have met temple going Church members online who do not realize that they are violating their temple covenants when they run the Church down and speak evil of our Church leaders. Maybe there are some people who do not understand the temple covenants, and yet imagine that they do. Such saints seem terribly confused to me. Everyone who has been through the temple has promised the Lord that he will help to build up the Church and not tear it down. Disloyalty to the Church and its prophet-leaders is covenant breaking.

Walker said...

Here, here, John. Well said. I seldom hear "The church is perfect, its people are not" debate put in so clear terms.

Whatever we may think of our church leaders, that does not exempt us from our fundamental duties as members of Zion to build up the kingdom. We have grander things to worry about than that. Of course, gregarious violations need to be reported to the proper individuals. However, personality quirks are a low priority indeed for the disciple, even the disciple-scholar.

Bishop Rick said...

Anon,

Forgive me for my ignorance on this topic, but is this change of the Sabbath day to Sunday mentioned in the NT?

John,

Would you consider making statements or having discussions about obvious flaws with the church or leaders (that should be addressed) as breaking temple covenants?

Walker,

Having these discussions could be considered "building up the kingdom" when the end result is improvement.

ltbugaf said...

Re: Changing the sabbath--see if you can find a copy of the old missionary tract titled "The Lord's Day." I think it was written by John Morgan. It gives a good treatise on the history of the change. In addition, reading the entries "Sabbath" and "Lord's Day" in the Bible dictionary may help. It seems that calling Sunday the "Sabbath" is not necessarily the best use of terms. Rather, worship on the Lord's Day replaced worship on the Sabbath.

Walker said...

I don't suggest that we avoid improvement. HOwever as stated elsewhere by someone far wiser than I, "absolute truth requires absolute love and patience"--that goes for our fellow members as well. Keeping our covenants does not simply consist of doing exactly as our leader instruct us all the while mumbling under our breath about what fools they are. We must love not only the publican and the saint, but also the saint who acts like the publican.

Anonymous said...

It is real difficult sustain Church leaders (local) who are abusive to the flock.

It is difficult to sustain those who choose ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Rick----re: the Sabbath. Could you have hit on the reason Catholics can attend mass on Saturday evening?

Now I understand why we celebrate Christmas Eve etc......

Walker said...

"It is real difficult sustain Church leaders (local) who are abusive to the flock.

It is difficult to sustain those who choose ignorance"

Difficult indeed. Yet if we sustain them in righteousness (barring some exceptional circumstances of sin--which of course requires exceptional measures;), the Lord will sustain us. Indeed, it is important to recognize that exceptional circumstances ought not govern the rule. Two thoughts by Elder Maxwell:

"Prophets need tutoring, as do we all. However, this is something the Lord seems quite able to manage without requiring a host of helpers. The Lord provides discreet but needed feedback, as He did to Peter by the shattering sound of a rooster crowing (see Luke 22:54-62), or to an undelegating Moses through a caring, observing, and wise father-in-law-without Jethro's placing an ad in the Sinai Sentinel (see Ex. 18:13-16). (Ensign, May 1982, p. 39.)

Also, as Elder Maxwell implies, whatever the imperfections, even sins of our leaders, the ignorance I fear most is my own. Like the government of man, attacking a government officer in the kingdom of God is no small matter--no matter how incompetent that officer may be.

Moses said it best: "The Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmer against him, and what are we? Your murmurings against us, but against the Lord." (Ex. 16:2)
Finally, by Elder Maxwell:

"Our defiance of God is an expression of our ignorance, not of our individuality."

Bishop Rick said...

Anon,

It is true. Jews go to Temple on Friday night, and Catholics have the choice to attend Mass on Saturday or Sunday. Then there are the Seventh Day Adventists who worship on Saturday.

But I have not had a chance to read the suggestions from ltbugaf yet.

Bishop Rick said...

I have not been able to locate the tracts mentioned by ltbugaf, but I have found several talks given by GAs on the topic. In all, they quote Exodus 31. This is interesting because Exodus clearly states that the sabbath is a covenant and sign between the children of Isreal and God forever. Also, citations regarding Sabbath day observance by Jesus was that it was to be for doing good, but it was still Saturday.

David O McKay mentions in a talk that the Christian Sabbath is on Sunday to commemorate the resurection, but gives no explanation beyond that.

It seems to me that this was a man-made change done well after the time of Jesus as there is no scriptural documentation stating why the change was made or even that a change was made. No where in the scriptures does it talk about worship on Sunday. It is always on Saturday.

Like it not, if you are not a practicing Jew, or Seventh Day Adventist, you are breaking the Sabbath.

Ryan said...

Rick:

Other important events that occurred on Sunday:
- The day of Pentecost (50 days after Passover).
- John's Revelation
- Christ's visit to the Kirtland temple (D&C 110), followed by the prophesied return of Elijah

And, the one clear NT passage I remember from my missionary days:

"And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight." -- Acts 20:7

Gourmandista said...

Also look at 1 Corinthians 16:2 and D&C 59:9-13.

Samuel

Bishop Rick said...

Ryan, Gourmandista,

Only NT references are valid here as we are trying to establish if the Sabbath was replaced with Sunday either in the time of Jesus, or his apostles after the resurection. D&C references are 2000 years after the fact and could be considered influenced by modern traditions.

Ryan,

The things that you mention having taken place on Sunday are all great events, but don't trump the resurrection. Not sure if you are trying to build up reasoning for Sunday worship or prove that it took place. I don't think any of those events led to weekly Sunday worship in lieu of the Sabbath.

1 Corinthians 16:2 doesn't really say anything about Sunday worship.

Now Acts 20:7 does mention breaking bread on Sunday. I guess you could associate that with Sunday worship, but that was a one time event.

There are numerous NT (pre and post ressurection) references that speak of Sabbath day worship by Jesus and the apostles:

Matt 12:10
Mark 3:2
Luke 6:7
Matt 28:1
Luke 4:31
Luke 14:5
Acts 13:42
Acts 18:4
Acts 20:7
Col 2;16
Heb 4:4
Luke 23:56 - this one is particularly interesting because it tends to support that Jesus never taught that the Sabbath should be replaced with Sunday.

And many many more.

Gourmandista said...

>D&C references are 2000 years after >the fact and could be considered >influenced by modern traditions.

Sorry I do not have the time to make a more detailed response as work has me going crazy, but the basic thing is the worship of the Sabbath was historically on Sunday for Christians, as shown in the writings of the early Church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian. Or at least from the mid 2nd century. So I am not sure what "modern tradition" could have affected the revelation. Sunday worship was an already established practice (of long duration.)

Of course, I (and I daresay the vast majority of Bishops in the Church ;)) believe that the contents of the D&C came from God and not from the world. That, however, is a whole other can of worms. Suffice it to say, I am satisfied the day of worship is Sunday.

Walker said...

Rick:

So what do you propose we do about it?

A better question: what do YOU propose to do about it? Will you keep the "real" Sabbath day holy? If not, I'm not sure you're in much of place to accuse us of it (of course, I assume here that there is substance to this argument).

Bishop Rick said...

gourmandista,

Your point is mine (kind of). The tradition of Sunday worship started between the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Since the falling away had already taken place, one has to assume this was part of that falling away. My real point is that the change was not made by Jesus, or any of his apostles (including Paul).

Walker,

In this case, I am the skillet calling the kettle black. I do not observe the real Sabbath, no more than any other person on this blog (with previously noted exceptions). It is hard to do when the church you attend doesn't really cater to that line of thinking. You have to have one day a week to do chores.

As far as what to do about it, I haven't a clue. Maybe a letter to the president.

Walker said...

Rick:

If Sunday worship is part of the apostasy, then why not keep the real Sabbath holy, live your life on Sunday? You'll be called eccentric but whether you keep the Sabbath holy is not one of the temple recommend questions.

I'm still a sucker for following my conscience. If you feel the Mormons, even in this small way, are leading you astray, why do you continue to follow them?

(Incidentally, they do attend church on Saturdays in the Jersualem Center--keep the politicians happy, y'know)

Granny said...

So when was Saturday decided on as the Sabbath, and by whom? I searched the Scriptures in LDSdotOrg and found no reference to Saturday or Sunday. Of course there were many references to the Seventh Day. So it seems to me that choosing Saturday was purely arbitrary back whenever, because that's how the calendar makers happened to arrange the days. And what authority did they have anyhow?

Look at it this way: Suppose you found yourself alone somewhere--maybe you'd been unconcious or deeply asleep or something--and had no idea how long you'd been that way. You sincerely wanted to keep the Sabbath but, having no clue what day you awoke, what would you do? You'd start counting days from where you were at that moment, and the seventh day would be your Sabbath. I don't see anywhere that "in the beginning..." God said anything like "Okay, all, it's Saturday, time to rest." So far as I can tell, days were not given names until long after the Creation. The Scriptures say He rested on the seventh day. So I see no problem with Sunday being the Sabbath, since I understand it was so designated to commemorate the Resurrection. It's still a "seventh day," wouldn't you say? I just don't understand what all the fuss is about.

Gourmandista said...

>Your point is mine (kind of). The >tradition of Sunday worship started >between the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Oh, I hope not! ;) All I was saying was that it was apparent that the relevant part of the D&C could not have been influenced by 'modern' trends since the Christian Sabbath has been on Sunday for a very long time.

I do not know when the tradition of Sunday worship started; just because the first written word of it is found in the 2nd or 3rd centuries certainly does not mean that is when it started. It could just have easily started right after Peter's vision and gone from there. We just don't have any [written] record of it.

However, I at least believe that the D&C section on it is all I need to tell me God's word on the subjeect. Sunday is good enough for me.

Besides, God promised the Sabbath as a covenant forever, not the Sabbath on a particular day forever.