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MIKE - Why does the Savior require that we receive specific ordinances in order to be eligible for the full effects of his atoning sacrifice?
John 3:5 makes it quite clear that ordinances are required, but it fails to explain to my satisfaction why these additional requirements for our salvation (beyond faith and repentance) are consistent with the character of God. One possible answer is that God wants to teach us through symbols. This does not, however, explain why ordinances are required to enter his Kingdom. Symbolic teaching could easily be included in the scriptures.
Another possible answer is that God wishes to filter out the stubborn (as with the serpent that Moses raised up to heal those who would look upon it). This answer, however, raises many more questions. Wouldn't this interfere with a fair judgment based on the real intents of our hearts? Does this imply that God employs the formal mechanism of ordinances because he lacks the ability to discern the intents of our hearts? I see that proxy ordinances may help to make this less unfair, but this all seems like a lot of work just to satisfy an arbitrary requirement--why require ordinances in the first place, and then provide a mechanism to get them out of the way?
The most common answer I receive is that "God's house is a house of order". This, however, does not seem to address the question at all. I require my children to wipe their feet prior to entering my house, and I understand that God may wish us to cleanse ourselves as well, but this sounds more like repentance to me than baptism. What is the necessity of ordinances? Why would Christ withhold the saving atonement from someone who has faith and sincerely repents, but rises no higher within formally organized religion?
There must be an answer to this question that I have missed. Can you help me find it?
JOEL - I have often wondered about this myself. Besides it being an eternal law and commandment from God, the performance of ordinances is all part of the test we have here in this life to challenge our willingness to obey god's commandments. Of course like you say, God knows our hearts and already knows what we will or will not do; but we
don't perform ordinances for anything He needs; rather it is something we need to do for the building of our own character and perfecting of our souls in this life. We personally need to experience the effects of obediance and living by faith.
President Brigham Young confirmed that outward ordinances demonstrate to ourselves our obedience to God.
"How shall we know that we obey Him? There is but one method by which we can know it, and that is by the inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord witnessing unto our spirit that we are His, that we love Him, and that He loves us. It is by the spirit of revelation we know this. We have no witness to ourselves internally, without the spirit of revelation. We have no witness outwardly only by obedience to the ordinances."(JOD Vol. 2)
Performing the ordinances causes us to realize our future possibilities. They mark the path of our personal journey and remind us of who we are and where we should be going.
The water used in the baptism ordinance doesn't really wash away our sins; it is simply a representation of that happening for our own benefit; it let's us know that the atonement of christ has been applied to our souls. It tells us that we have succesfully completed this
first important step of our journey to eternal life. All subsequent ordinances likewise are benchmarks to us that represent our progress.
The obedience we show by performing the ordinances demonstrates an open submittal to authority, bringing humility to our souls.
Joseph Smith said: "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." (Afternoon discourse, October 9, 1843, Times and Seasons)
We can thus increase our personal faith "by experience," "through the ordinances of God."
The performance of ordinances causes us to enter into covenants with god or others in this life, where both parties make promises to do certain things. But again it's not for god's benefit, but for ours. The act of making formal promises to God through priesthood rites,
instills in our hearts and souls a desire to keep that promise and perform works that lead to our perfection. Our obedience brings promised blessings into our lives.
These are just a few reasons I can think of why we have ordinances, besides the ones you already mentioned. One might ask however, even though all these reasons sound good for us in mortality, how can they apply to those who have passed on? Why do we still perform the ordinances for them? Perhaps such proxy ordinances serve as benchmarks for them as well, as they progress in their knowledge and faith in the gospel while in the spirit world.
Sometimes we don't know all the reasons god asks us to do certain things. For example, we don't
understand the mechanism of how christ's suffering in the garden somehow paid the price for our own sins. How did his resurrection effect the resurection of our own bodies? I can only suggest that these are eternal laws and things that are eternal are exempt from the question of why they exist. They just do.