Taking Sacrament: The Mormon Communion Conundrum

Latter-day Saints take communion once a week in remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ as admonished in Luke 22:19 and Doctrine and Covenants 20:75. This is not, however, the only reason they take it. Mormons also take communion in order to renew their baptismal covenant.

This covenant, made at baptism, is a two-way promise that they will take upon them the name of Christ, bear each other’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn and keep the commandments. In return, God promises eternal life (Mosiah 18:8-9).

There are two schools of thought as to why Latter-day Saints need to renew their covenant. The first theory says the covenant is broken by sin. When I was LDS, I thought my sins canceled my protection and taking communion would renew the agreement, much like renewing my car insurance. Taking communion was absolutely essential, hence it’s common name among the LDS: the sacrament.

The second theory says the covenant is not broken by sin. Renewing Covenants is like renewing wedding vows, which means the original agreement wasn’t damaged in any way. Communion is merely a chance for Latter-day Saints to recommit to the Lord.

Both theories are deeply problematic for Latter-day Saints.

The Problem with “Wedding Vow” Communion

The most glaring issue with the covenant not being broken by sin is it makes the covenant unbreakable. Thus the promise of eternal life is assured, regardless of whether man keeps his part of the agreement. This falls directly in line with the Protestant view of eternal security, which Mormons oppose vehemently.

To enter the highest heaven, the Celestial Kingdom, a Mormon must have faith, repent of their sins, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and last but not least, endure to the end.

2 Nephi 31:16, in The Book of Mormon says: And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.

Doctrine and Covenants 14:7 says: And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

According to LDS scripture, we must endure to the end with our own might. There is no solace in the idea of an unbreakable covenant enduring on our behalf. The responsibility is placed on the shoulders of Latter-day Saints.

The Problem with “Car Insurance” Communion

I took communion weekly for 30 years as a Latter-day Saint. Whenever I partook of the broken bread I thought of Jesus. Though perfect, he was broken so that I, being broken, could be made whole. Every week I was damaged, and so was my covenant with God. With my covenant renewed by the sacrament, I was pure once again. Here’s how Mormon Apostle, Dallin H. Oaks explained this:

No one lives without sin after his or her baptism, however. Without some provision for further cleansing, each of us is lost. How grateful we are that the Lord has provided a process for each baptized member of His Church to be cleansed from the soil of sin. The sacrament is an essential part of that process. We are commanded to repent of our sins, to come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and to partake of the sacrament. When we renew our baptismal covenants this way, the Lord renews the cleansing effect of our baptism. We are made clean and can always have His Spirit to be with us.

(Dallin H. Oaks, “Renewing Our Covenants”, Friend magazine, August 1999) 

There is a paradox in “car insurance” communion. It is a way to repair our unworthiness, but at the same time, it is never to be taken unworthily. Many Latter-day Saints justify taking communion despite having sin in their lives. They feel that as long as they are not committing major sins, and are on the path to righteous living, they are worthy enough to take communion.

Alma 45:16 in The Book of Mormon, tells a different story. It specifies that “the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” In other words, God is not satisfied with improvement from the week before. If we show him our spiritual report card and it’s an A-, we are still unworthy in his sight.

2 Nephi 28:8 says: And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God – he will justify in committing a little sin… The following verse calls this “false and vain and foolish” doctrine.

I was in an institute class one semester, watching a video about a drunk driver who killed a man’s family when the truth hit me: I had been judging the man for his depravity, and my own sins were just as vile. My sins were bad enough that Jesus had to die on my behalf! I realized that my righteousness was an illusion, and I had no right to judge anyone.

Romans 3:10-12 (ESV) states: As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

LDS President, Joseph Fielding Smith once said,

“The sacrament meeting is the most sacred and the most important meeting required of all the members of the Church. If any of the members are not in good standing; if they have in their hearts any feeling of hatred, envy, or sin of any kind, they should not partake of these emblems. If there are any differences or feelings existing between brethren, these differences should be adjusted before the guilty parties partake; otherwise, they will eat and drink unworthily and bring upon them the condemnation spoken of by Paul…”

(Joseph Fielding Smith, “Doctrines of Salvation”, vol.2, p.343)

The problem this poses, is if the covenant has been broken, and the partaker has any sin in his life, he has no right to take communion. In fact, the covenant can never be renewed again, because as 1 John 1:8 (ESV) says: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

The Good News

In some ways, LDS communion is a resurrection of the law of Moses. Under the law, ancient Israelites had to make a sin offering once a year to renew their covenant. The new covenant, however, is quite different. Hebrews 10:11-18 (ESV) says:

And every high priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting for that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them in their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

I wept the first time I took communion in a Christian church. It was my first time taking it without feeling guilty. The symbolism overwhelmed me. It was not an offering that I was making to God, it was the offering God had given me. The Lord’s amazing grace was upon me, forgiving me of my trespasses. Jesus was not waiting for me to come to his level, he was meeting me at mine, and granting me full acceptance.

I was the prodigal son, who had returned from feeding pigs in the mire. I was a long way off, but God ran to me. I was filthy, but he embraced me. I was estranged, and he put a ring on my finger. I was naked, and he put his robe on me. I was dead, and he brought me to life.

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