After reviewing one of my previous essays, a thoughtful reader asked my opinion about the idea of perfection and if the requirements for salvation had changed. He said, “Open just about any page of the book of Leviticus and you’ll see laws that were of life and death importance to the early church, but not today. In contrast, there is no mention of baptism or confirmation in the Old Testament as a requirement for salvation, yet today, they are taught as essential.”
He also asked about the need for the Word of Wisdom, temple ordinances, plural marriage and the second anointing. He concluded, “If God is eternal, and heaven doesn’t change, shouldn’t the requirements to get into heaven be the same, no matter when you were born or what culture you lived in?” Although his email was private, great questions like these deserve a response that can be shared in my blog so others who might be interested can benefit from the dialog.
Perfection means completed
The savior taught in 3 Ne 12:48, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” Perfection to me has always meant complete or completed as in finished or fulfilled, certainly not something we will achieve in this life and not in the spirit world to come. Perfection is a state that is achieved only after we have learned all there is to know about becoming like God. And that can’t happen until we are resurrected beings because we will never understand what God is like until we have the same type of body that he has.
The Prophet Joseph said, “…go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”
Joseph F. Smith said, “Salvation does not come all at once; we are commanded to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will overcome all things … for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God. But here we lay the foundation.”
Flaws and errors removed
I have never equated perfection as meaning without flaw or error, rather as having flaws and errors removed. That of course can only come through the atonement of the Savior. It is not something that I can accomplish on my own. That is my understanding of perfection – having flaws and errors removed by the Savior. Therefore, it is my desire to meet the requirements for the atonement to be effective in my life as set forth by the savior and as revealed to his prophets. I’m not talking about temporal salvation. The resurrection is a free gift to all. We will all live again with immortal bodies. But the quality of our life in the hereafter depends entirely upon us and our efforts to be worthy and prepared for the greatest of all the gifts of God – eternal life.
Requirements of Salvation
So that brings us to the second point – meeting the requirements of salvation. I guess I’m not so concerned about what the people of the Old Testament had to do to please the Lord. I’m glad I don’t live in the harsh conditions of those days when a man could be stoned for what today would seem to be a minor infraction. They had a different law back then and the Lord taught us clearly that he fulfilled that law. The Mosaic Law was to bring them to Christ, even though most of the Israelites who lived back then did not understand that. The Lord described them as a hard-hearted and stiff-necked people. I would hope that we are not like some of those early Israelites. Someday, they must receive the ordinances of the higher priesthood just as it is required of us.
Baptism in ancient times
We are taught in Moses 6 that Adam was baptized. When Peter said on the day of Pentecost that they must repent and be baptized, the people obviously had a clear understanding of the concept. John the Baptist did not practice something that was new and unknown. I am confident that baptism was practiced in the old world. We know that Alma baptized in the Waters of Mormon. I think we can be certain that the Book of Mormon people brought the practice with them from the Old World. Baptism is a priesthood ordinance and is one of the requirements of salvation. The laying on of hands was a common practice as evidenced by priesthood blessings given by the early patriarchs to their children as well as by many references in the New Testament.
Temple ordinances required
I think there is ample evidence that temple ordinances were a part of the religious practice of the ancient people of Israel. The Lord has always commanded his people to build temples where they are gathered in numbers of sufficient strength. Where they were not, his saints were endowed with power from on high on the tops of mountains. No, the majority of the Israelites did not receive the endowment as they lived the Mosaic Law. But yes, all must be endowed and sealed someday. That is one of the purposes of the Millennium.
Word of Wisdom for our day
Even though it is based on eternal principles such as moderation and self-control, the Word of Wisdom is a modern revelation given for our benefit in our day. As the Lord said, it was given “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” Just as the Israelites were given a law of health with many specific things to not do, we have been given a few guidelines for our health in our day. Isn’t that part of the principle of ongoing revelation – specifics suited for our times? No, it’s true that Jesus didn’t teach the Word of Wisdom when he came in the Meridian of Time, but he did reveal it for us in our day. Thank God for living prophets and modern revelation that gives us that direction we need now.
Plural Marriage not required
Let’s consider why we no longer participate in the Second Anointing or Plural Marriage. Both of those subjects are fascinating to study and can produce a lot of fruitful discovery if we choose to get into them. I have always considered plural marriage to be optional, while entering into the law of celestial marriage to be a requirement. We must receive that sealing ordinance to make progress according to section 131. But plural marriage is not a requirement of exaltation. You can read that in section 132, verse 61. It says that if a man “desire to espouse another,” and the first wife consents and she is given or sealed unto him by the prophet then he does not commit adultery. It is never worded that a man must take another wife. Only certain brethren were commanded in the early days of the church to do so as part of the restoration of all things.
Timing of the Second Anointing
We don’t know much about the Second Anointing, do we? We certainly aren’t taught about it in our standard Sunday curriculum or even in any of the CES curriculum as far as I can determine. To be honest, I like the Wikipedia article. It’s a pretty good summary of everything I have read over the years. I know it bothers some people that this is not openly taught, but I guess they feel the same way that the temple ceremony is not openly taught. Of course you can read the whole thing today on the Internet. I like the fact that we work harder in the church today to ensure that people are more prepared for the first anointing. To me, it is a lifetime of faithful service in the Lord’s church that prepares us for the second anointing, either in this life or in the resurrection.
Dormant religious practices
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if these things have really changed or are just dormant. I am one who believes that those two practices in particular will once again be a part of our worship. Yes, I am convinced that the day will come when even the “regular” member of the church will be able to receive the second anointing just as soon as he is ready and can participate in plural marriage if he so chooses and his wives are given to him under the direction of the prophet. Of course, that’s not going to happen while we live under the laws of the government of the United States, but as we all know, the government of the United States will not stand forever. Yes, the constitution is an inspired document, but when the Savior comes, we will enter a theocracy.
Be Faithful to Joseph
I guess the reason I’m not bothered by a lot of things that I read out there on the Internet about the church, including some very convincing arguments that make you think, is that I like to think of myself more like Hyrum Smith than Joseph. I don’t see visions or hear the voice of the Lord like Joseph, but I have been blessed with the gift of believing. That’s what I meant when I said that I choose to believe. After many years of experience, I can tell you that feel happiest when I exercise faith and choose to believe what was revealed through Joseph Smith. I believe Joseph. I trust the brethren who lead this church today. I have listened to them and studied their words for all my life. I have never been disappointed nor had cause to doubt their spiritual leadership. Like Hyrum, I want to remain faithful and supportive of their direction to the end of my days.