Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Temple Ordinances (Laws) and Covenants

In our previous lesson we talked about the ordinances and covenants outside the temple, so last Sunday we talked about the ordinances and covenants in the temple. Given their relative inexperience with the temple, this lesson was much more a traditional lesson (I talked most of the time.) than our normal lessons.

We started by writing the definitions from last week on the board again:

ordinance: "a physical action that represents / symbolizes a covenant"

covenant: "a spiritual promise between God and humanity in which God sets the terms and we accept those terms, with a reward or benefit associated with faithful adherence to the terms of the covenant"

I explained the difference between "high church" worship (elaborate and ceremonial, like Catholic mass and our own Sacrament ordinance) and "low church" worship (common and horizontal, like many Protestant services, but especially like our open involvement model). I explained how hard it can be for Catholic investigators and converts to accept the low-church aspects of our regular worship but how easy it is for many of them to accept the temple, since it is very much a high church model - and how the opposite is true for many Protestant investigators and converts.

We listed the regular ordinances that are performed in the temple: baptisms for only the dead, the initiatory (washing and anointing) for the living and dead, the endowment, marriage sealing. We talked briefly about each of them and what happens, skipping the endowment to discuss in more detail as the last part of the lesson.

Since we talked about the initiatory last week, we didn't spend much time on it this week. We only talked about the introduction of the garment - and I told them the covenants we make in the temple regarding the garment: "to wear it throughout our lives and not to defile it." I told them that lots of members want to told what to do in too many situations, so the handbook has examples of things that generally should or shouldn't be done, but then the handbook says the specific decisions are up to the members to make with the actual covenants in mind.

We talked about the differences between being married/sealed in the temple and a civil wedding. They knew about the "til death do you part" difference, but they didn't know about the actual nature of the ordinance - the promise-based wording that is very different than the traditional wording. We talked about the difference in the US and other places where the government recognizes a temple sealing as a legal wedding and where the government does not but requires a civil ceremony. One of the students asked about someone who is sealed in another country without being married civilly first and then moves to the US - if that sealing is recognized as a valid marriage in the US. I explained that governments only recognize marriages authorized by other governments, so it would not be valid in the US - which is why people who get sealed in those countries get married civilly first - and why they don't require a waiting period for the sealing that follows.

We then moved to the endowment. We defined "endowment" as "gift". I talked about how some people miss a lot of the beauty and meaning of the endowment because they take everything in it literally - and I mentioned the quote about walking past the angels who stand as guardians to the Celestial Kingdom (modified to remove any reference to the signs and tokens). I mentioned that understanding it as symbolic (going back to the definition of ordinance above) and/or literal allows me to see much more meaning and "learn something new" when I go, since seeing it as literal would limit my understanding and end up being nothing more than sitting through something I have memorized by this point in my life.

I drew a linear representation of the endowment: l---Pre-Mortal Life---l---Telestial---l---Terrestrial---l---Celestial---l

I explained that the endowment is an interactive play (in movie form in most temples now, but still with live actors in SLC and Manti, at least) which depicts out eternal journey from the Pre-Mortal life back into the presence of God in the Celestial Kingdom. I explained that it uses Adam and Eve to represent us - and we talked about the meanings of those names (Adam being "man" and Eve being "mother / initiator / introducer"). Interestingly, one of the students is named Adam, and the meaning associated with the name in baby books is "earthly" - which fits really well. I explained the physical set-up of the rooms and how we move from room to room as we move through the eternal stages. I also mentioned that most of the smaller, most recent temples don't have extensive murals in the rooms but how the earlier and bigger ones depict each stage visually - and how there are more rooms and moving around in the older and larger temples.

I listed the "Laws" that are associated with each stage and room, and I pointed out again that "ordinance" can be translated as "law" - and that making that connection is important in the temple. I told them that I see the endowment as being structured around a series of ordinances - termed "laws" in the actual endowment wording - and the covenants associated with those ordinances or laws. I told them that there is almost nothing that we are commanded not to discuss outside the temple, as long as we are respectful and reverent in the way we do so - but that there are a few things I would not be discussing, particularly the exact form of the ordinances themselves (the way we perform the ordinances associated with the specific covenants). I think seeing the endowment in this manner makes more sense when dealing with the ritualistic aspects that were adapted from Masonry - seeing those aspects as ways that promises are made in the performance of individual ordinances.

We discussed the telestial laws / ordinances: the Law of the Lord, the Law of Sacrifice and the Law of the Gospel.

I mentioned that the Law of the Lord doesn't provide specifics but is focused on hearkening to the voice and commandments of God - and that the woman's covenant includes the promise to hearken unto the "counsel" of her husband as he hearkens unto the Lord. I told them that there is nothing in the wording that requires a woman to "obey" her husband or even accept his counsel if he isn't righteous or simply because he is her husband - that the promise is to listen to him and consider / follow his "counsel" as (to the extent and in the same way that) he is listening to and following the Lord. Importantly, the wording places the right and responsibility to make that judgment with her, not with her husband.

They all understood the basic concept of the Law of Sacrifice, so we didn't spend much time on it - but I did point out that it is a type of preparatory law / ordinance prior to the terrestrial Law of Consecration. I asked them for examples of sacrifice that might apply to this law, and they mentioned tithing and serving in callings.

The Law of the Gospel isn't defined clearly in the temple, so we talked briefly about what "the Gospel" is - faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, love / charity, service, enduring to the end, etc. We talked about why those things are necessary to move from a telestial state to a terrestrial state.

We then discussed the terrestrial laws / ordinances: the Law of Chastity and the Law of Consecration.

I gave them the exact wording of the Law of Chastity in the temple: "no sexual relations except with a husband or wife to whom you are legally and lawfully wedded". We talked about how non-specific that wording is and how that is intentional. I mentioned the lists of standards in the For Strength of Youth pamphlet and how they represent a kind of Law of Moses approach to chastity - and how the temple wording moves away from that approach and represents our covenant to understand the law more fully and make informed decisions on our own without being commanded in all things.

I also pointed out that the Law of Chastity is accepted in the terrestrial state - and how I believe we devalue it too often when we assume it should be easy for people to live. It actually is the second highest law in the endowment, followed only by consecration, and is accepted as preparation to enter the presence of God. It's not required of people to be considered terrestrial beings, which means people can be committing fornication and still be considered good people who are terrestrial in nature. (I think that's important to understand, and I think it is not understood very well among the church membership, including leaders at all levels.)

We talked about the Law of Consecration and how it is a step up, if you will, from the Law of Sacrifice. I gave the the exact wording of being willing to give our time, talents and everything with which the Lord has blessed us and everything with which he may bless us to the building up of the kingdom of God on earth and to the establishment of Zion.

I ended by sharing with them something my oldest daughter said after her first time going through the temple and experiencing the endowment. She said:

"Dad, we focus so much on building the kingdom of God that we sometimes forget to establish Zion."

We talked about how those two things ought to be synonymous, but how we sometimes separate them. I asked them for ideas about how that might happen, and they mentioned focusing so much on baptism that we forget to fellowship, love and retain new members - that we focus so much on tithing that we forget about fast offerings - that we focus so much on church stuff that we forget about family stuff - etc. I asked them to think about that and talk with their parents about it, since I believe that might be our biggest failure as a people when it comes to truly understanding the temple ordinances and living according to the covenants we make in the temple.


Julia - Finding My Way Softly said...

I think this is the best "temple prep" class I have ever read. I hope you don't mind, but I will be sharing it extensively.

A lot of feminists would like to have the "harkening unto their husband" language taken out of the temple ceremony. I can see their point, but I have personally thought that what is missing is the covenant of men to "harken unto their wives," as she listens to the counsel of The Lord. I think that in any successful marriage, making it a 2 way street, both partners asking for revelation regarding the things that are most important at that time, and then sharing it with the other, would be a better insight into how a God and Goddess would work together.

Papa D said...

Thanks, Julia. I appreciate your comment greatly. Please share with whomever you'd like.

I also would like to see the change you describe - much more than eliminating the wording for wives.

swedemom said...

I struggle with that particular aspect of the endowment, not because I think it should be removed. I don't. However, I find it troublesome that there isn't equal consideration offered to the wife. And no, I don't think the covenant to Hearken to the Father really covers it in my book. If hearkening to ones spouse were covered in hearkening to the Father, then it wouldn't be necessary to state it for only one.

It makes me feel lesser not only to God, but to my spouse.

Shawna said...

Hearken is often defined in church circles as "listening and obeying", which doesn't quite match with the spin you put on the woman's covenant. However, I just reread the dictionary definition and it does say simply to listen to or to hear. That makes it a little easier to bear, although that part of the ceremony still rubs me the wrong way.