Why ordinances are physical?

Well, I don’t know.  But after some thought, I have some ideas of why, at least, I’m grateful that they are.

First, let me differentiate between ordinances and covenants.  Covenants are the promises we make with Heavenly Father, they’re sacred compacts, or agreements wherein we promise to do certain things in return for certain promised blessings.

Ordinances are the sacred ceremonies that often accompany such covenants, and I’ve frequently marveled at why there would be a physical component to these crucial acts.  After all, if God knows our hearts and minds, why couldn’t we simply agree silently, or mentally?  Why, for instance, be physically baptized to demonstrate our acceptance of the Savior?  Why eat bread and water to remember him?

I have found that the physical component of an ordinance helps bring solidarity, and substance to what would otherwise be merely intellectual and conceptual.  They physical aspect of an ordinance somehow makes the covenant to which it is associated more tangible.

As it is, the ordinance becomes a physical embodiment of the principles and promises we make in our covenants.  It’s an act of substance demonstrating our desire, rather than simply some mental milestone.

It allows for much stronger symbolism, which helps the human mind more completely grasp and appreciate the meaning and reality of these commitments. 

Covenants are usually made at crucial times during the process of progression towards exaltation, and these accompanying physical components add a more memorable encapsulation of the teachings principles leading up to that point.

In short, we are physical beings.  We sacrificed and risked much to gain this mortality, and as such, may we more fully appreciate the opportunity to physically express our commitment to our Father who gave us these beautiful bodies.


0 replies
  1. S.Faux says:

    Part of the reason ordinances are physical is for our purposes rather than God’s.

    I love this quote from Jonathan Z. Smith (University of Chicago Press, 1992): To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual, p. 109.

    “[R]itual represents the creation of a controlled environment where the variables (the accidents) of ordinary life may be displaced precisely because they are felt to be so overwhelmingly present and powerful. Ritual is a means of performing the way things ought to be in conscious tension with the way things are. Ritual relies for its power on the fact that it is concerned with the quite ordinary activities placed within an extraordinary setting.”

  2. L. Fox says:

    Thanks, Rusty, for this reflection on a complex question. It does help one to understand why these rituals would be of benefit to people. I think your argument for physical rituals is largely based on their use to the believer & community in terms of its experiential benefits?

    From this explanation, though, I still don’t understand, why would God require, or Jesus say in John 3, that no-one can enter the Kingdom without doing these rituals; surely some people don’t benefit in this way and see almost any ritual as hollow (witness the various religions (eg Quakers) who have abandoned Christian ritual);

    -or also, why vicarious (for the dead) physical ordinances would be required; surely a dead person doesn’t experience a “physical” ordinance in their name in the same way as a living person would who’s doing it for themselves?

    From Rusty: Very good points. Clearly there is something about the physical aspects of ordinances that extends beyond our own appreciation and enjoyment. I’ll give it some more thought and research, and perhaps in the meantime, someone else will provide some poignant points to enlighten us all.

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  4. LDS Anarchist says:

    Ordinance rituals are part of the gesture language found in the heavens. If you recall the way Adam prayed to God in our temples, that is a good example. See Bringing Stan Tenen and The Meru Foundation to the Attention of all LDS [alternate title: Doing what4anarchy’s Job] for an introduction on this gesture language. Although God knows our thoughts and the intents of our heart, for validity covenants (and other things) still have to be made in the “language of God,” hence the gestures of the ordinances.


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