The Genius of Mormonism: Ordinances


This is the next installment in my series about what gives Mormonism staying power and makes it an effective religion at winning and retaining adherents.

Many churches have abandoned their exclusivity claims surrounding ordinances, if they ever had them in the first place (a little hard to claim for some sects, based on their foundation stories).  Many Christian sects will accept baptism from other sects, for example.  Catholicism considers Protestant sects to be part of Catholicism (even though the whole point of the sect’s schism was to declare Catholicism invalid), and now some of those sects’ ordinances are even considered valid in the world of Catholicism.

So, why are ordinances ingenious?  Here are a few reasons:

  • Ordinances are tangible.  An ordinance is an act or rite that solidifies personal religious commitment, and doing so through an organization means that that organization is the necessary facilitator of salvation.  You can sit at home and commit yourself to God, but an actual ritual that symbolizes your commitment can make that commitment more substantial.
  • Ordinances are products.  Cynics have suggested that ordinances such as temple access are “bought” through tithing.  It could just as easily be said that ordinances are bought by our commitment to the religious practices that precede the ordinance.
  • Ordinances reinforce authority claims.  If our religion is the only provider of a “legitimate” product that brings salvation, we corner the market on ordinances.  Sure, you can go down the street where they’ll baptize anyone, but that and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee, as the saying goes (well, that and $4.75 if you are going to Starbucks).
  • Ordinances are progressive.  At least in Mormonism they are.  You start with baptism (I’m not counting baby blessings because you are pretty much just laying there, and all it does is put you in the church’s record system).  Then, you move on to temple covenants, which require even more preparation and commitment.  Maybe this could be improved by adding more frequent ordinances, one every 10 years like renewing vows or something (proxy work for the dead is the best we’ve got).  But we’ve added other “soft” ordinances into the system already, and for PH, there are additional ones at different ages to reinforce commitment.

So, compared to other sects, Mormonism clearly uses ordinances more fully to create commitment and to reinforce the authority of the organization.  It is a far more effective approach than undermining authority or watering down ordinances by accepting them from competing sects.  What do you think?  Discuss.