Chapter 6: The Significance of the Sacrament

Chapter 6: The Significance of the Sacrament

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 94–103

During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following. 


Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith

The Lord has commanded us to meet often to partake of the sacrament.

The partaking of these emblems [the bread and water] constitutes one of the most holy and sacred ordinances in the Church, an ordinance which has replaced the slaying and eating of the paschal lamb which [symbolized] the sacrifice upon the cross of our Redeemer. … From the time of the exodus from Egypt to the crucifixion of our Redeemer, the Israelites were commanded to observe the passover at a certain time each year. On the solemn night before the crucifixion the Lord changed this ordinance and gave in its stead the sacrament. We have been commanded to meet often, not merely once each year, and go to the house of prayer and there remember our Redeemer and make covenant with Him in partaking oft of this holy ordinance.

The person who absents himself from a sacrament meeting week after week and month after month, and nothing prevents him from coming, is not loyal to the truth. He does not love it. If he did, he would be present to partake of these emblems—just a little piece of bread, a little cup of water. He would want to do that to show his love for the truth and his loyal service to the Son of God.

We have been called upon to commemorate this great event [the Atonement of Jesus Christ] and to keep it in mind constantly. For this purpose we are called together once each week to partake of these emblems, witnessing that we do remember our Lord, that we are willing to take upon us his name and that we will keep his commandments. This covenant we are called upon to renew each week, and we cannot retain the Spirit of the Lord if we do not consistently comply with this commandment. If we love the Lord we will be present at these meetings in the spirit of worship and prayer, remembering the Lord and the covenant we are to renew each week through this sacrament as he has required it of us.

Similar to the Christians’ observance known as the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist (meaning “give thanks”), Mormonism celebrates the “Sacrament” each Sunday. Mormons partake of bread and water in this ceremony. However, the earliest Mormons used bread and wine for the Sacrament. D&C 20:75 says, “It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus.” A few months later Smith had a “revelation,” recorded in D&C 27, setting forth a new requirement. Verse 3 says that God’s people should not “purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies.” Water became the substance used in the LDS sacrament service. Apostle James Talmage explained why:

In instituting the sacrament among both the Jews and the Nephites, Christ used bread and wine as the emblems of His body and blood; and in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, He has revealed His will that the saints meet together often to partake of bread and wine in this commemorative ordinance. But He has also shown that other forms of food and drink may be used in place of bread and wine. Soon after the Church had been organized in the present dispensation, the Prophet Joseph Smith was about to purchase wine for sacramental purposes, when a messenger from God met him and delivered the following instructions: “For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins. Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies; Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.” Upon this authority, the Latter-day Saints administer water in their sacramental service, in preference to wine. (Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 175–76).

Almost three years later, Joseph Smith received another revelation recorded in D&C 89:5 where God reversed His mind and once again specifically said wine should be used “in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.” Verse 6 adds that it should be “pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.”

In the Christian tradition, the Lord’s Supper was administered to the disciples on the night before Jesus’ death (Luke 22:7–23). Jesus took bread and wine, gave it to His disciples, and instructed them to eat it with Him. It was meant to encourage these men. Whenever they sat down to participate in this ordinance, they were to do so in remembrance of Him. This event was an obvious reference to the Old Testament sacrificial system, whereby the death of the animal sacrifice and the draining of its blood foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins; it was the Lamb of God who made all of this possible. First Corinthians 11:26 says Christians should continue to observe the Supper to remember the price paid on behalf of all Christian believers. It is not to be taken lightly.

Matthew 26:29 refers to the “fruit of the vine,” so Christians have typically used wine or grape juice to remember the supreme price paid on Calvary. Since water is not a historical element within the universal Christian church, it is curious why this element has been chosen in the LDS tradition to symbolize the blood of Jesus.

We partake of the sacrament in remembrance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

It’s the duty of the members of the Church to walk humbly and faithfully in the knowledge and understanding of the atonement of Jesus Christ. … I have the feeling, I’d like to be wrong but I don’t think I am, that a very, very large percentage of the members of the Church do not realize what it means to eat a little morsel of bread, drink a little cup of water in remembrance of the shedding of the blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice upon the cross.

May I add, I think no member of the LDS Church realizes the true meaning of the atonement if they are doing nothing more than listening to their leaders and reading select portions out of the scriptures and manuals.

To eat in remembrance of him. Does that mean that I would just remember that nearly 2,000 years ago wicked men took him, hung him on the cross, drove nails in his hands and feet and left him there to die? To me it has a far deeper meaning than that. To remember him—why was he on the cross? What benefit comes to [me] because he was on the cross? What suffering did he go through on the cross that I might be redeemed or relieved of my sins?

Well, naturally a person would think: He had nails driven in his hands and his feet and he hung there until he died. … What else did he suffer? This is a thing I think that most of us overlook. I am convinced that his greatest suffering was not the driving of nails in his hands and in his feet and hanging on the cross, as excruciating and as terrible as that was. He was carrying another load that was far more significant and penetrating. How? We do not understand clearly, but I get a glimpse of it.

Jesus did suffer on the cross for the sins of His people. Speaking to Christians, Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” According to Mormonism, though, the atonement is efficacious merely for a general resurrection. Belief in Christ and His atonement does not provide eternal life (also called exaltation) for the Latter-day Saint. For a quick look at the difference between the two aspects of salvation, see here.

The section quoted in the manual was taken out of Smith’s 1961 address titled “Fall-Atonement-Resurrection-Sacrament,” which was “delivered at the Salt Lake City Utah University Institute of Religion on January 14, 1961 (pages 7-8). Using this same speech as its resource, the LDS manual titled New Testament Seminary Study Guide asks, “Picture in your mind those events and Jesus alone in His suffering. Explain what Jesus’ suffering means to you.” A painting (shown here) is place here to show the interpretation of where this took place: the Garden, which should not be a surprise. Not one mention of the cross is made in this seminary manual studied by LDS high schoolers. This attitude, unfortunately, is very typical. Without getting into an entire tangent, consider how the LDS Church emphasizes the Garden of Gethsemane rather than the cross by going here. Also, for a three-part radio series (Viewpoint on Mormonism) on Gethsemane, visit these:

Part 1   Part 2    Part 3

I wish we could get the members of the Church to understand more clearly the covenants they make when they partake of the sacrament at our sacrament meetings. “I wish we could get the members of the Church to understand more clearly the covenants they make when they partake of the sacrament.”

This is key. Understanding the covenants that are made must be understood by the Latter-day Saint, as the sacrament is meant to be a reminder of all the promises they have made to keep the commandments. As Elaine S. Dalton told a general conference audience,

“When you re-new your covenants each week by partaking of the sacrament, you covenant that you will always remember the Savior and keep His commandments.” (Ensign (May 2008): 117.)

When Latter-day Saints partake in this ordinance, they promise to keep their covenants, as Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency, explained in a 1998 general conference talk:

President J. Reuben Clark Jr., as he pled—as he did many times—for unity in a general conference talk, warned us against being selective in what we will obey. He put it this way: “The Lord has given us nothing that is useless or unnecessary. He has filled the Scriptures with the things which we should do in order that we may gain salvation.” President Clark went on: “When we partake of the Sacrament we covenant to obey and keep his commandments. There are no exceptions. There are no distinctions, no differences” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1955, 10–11). President Clark taught that just as we repent of all sin, not just a single sin, we pledge to keep all the commandments. Hard as that sounds, it is uncomplicated. We simply submit to the authority of the Savior and promise to be obedient to whatever He commands (see Mosiah 3:19). It is our surrender to the authority of Jesus Christ which will allow us to be bound as families, as a Church, and as the children of our Heavenly Father.” (Ensign (May 1998): 67-68.)

Joseph Fielding Smith said those sent to the telestial kingdom after the final judgment would include the unclean, liars, sorcerers, adulterers, and those who have broken their covenants. (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:209.) Notice how covenant breakers are listed here. All Mormons, upon baptism into the LDS Church, make a covenant to keep all of God’s commandments.

Apostle Robert D. Hales explained,

“Each week as we participate in the ordinance of the sacrament, we renew the promise of the Savior’s birth in our own lives. We take Hs name upon us, and we renew our covenant of obedience and our promise that we will always remember Him.” (Ensign (December 2013): 19.)

In a talk titled “Obedience to Law is Liberty” at the April 2013 general conference, Apostle L. Tom Perry stated,

“We must not pick and choose which commandments we think are important to keep but acknowledge all of God’s commandments.” (Ensign (May 2013): 88.)

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated in that same general conference,

“From modern revelation, unique to the restored gospel, we know that the commandment to seek perfection is part of God the Father’s plan for the salvation of His children.” (Ibid., 98.)

Seventy Bruce C. Hafen taught,

“If we must give all that we have, then our giving only almost everything is not enough. If we almost keep the commandments, we almost receive the blessings.” (Ensign (May 2004): 98. Italics in original.)

Bill McKeever asked:

How many commandments must a Mormon keep in order to fulfill this vow? The context doesn’t give any indication that the obligation is anything less than all. Mormon leaders have certainly made it clear that the sacrament covenant is a pledge to keep all of them.

In an April 1998 conference message titled “That we may be one,” Henry B. Eyring, now a member of the First Presidency, reminded listener “we promise as we take the sacrament to keep His commandments, all of them.” Quoting J. Reuben Clark [a former member of the LDS First Presidency], Eyring said, “When we partake of the Sacrament we covenant to obey and keep his commandments. There are no exceptions. There are no distinctions, no differences.” Eyring went on to note that Clark also taught, “just as we repent of all sin, not just a single sin, we pledge to keep all the commandments” (Ensign, May 1998, 67-68).

Church Patriarch Eldred G. Smith warned members that

“to be exalted in the kingdom of God, one must keep all the laws of the gospel and keep all the commandments of God. It is great to keep the Word of Wisdom and to pay your tithes and offerings and attend Sacrament meetings and fulfil all the other activities in the Church. But if you omit your family research and temple work, you fall short and at the peril of your own salvation” (Conference Reports, April 1962, 66).

Thirteenth Mormon President Ezra Taft Benson wrote,

“We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 442).

A Mormon who believes that words have meaning must find this dilemma horribly conflicting. Each week he is compelled to make a promise (to God no less) that he knows from experience he has no intention of keeping. Compounding this predicament is the knowledge of knowing that only by keeping all of the commandments can he be assured that God’s Spirit will be with him (D&C 20:77).

For the entire article titled “Sacrament Promises that will Always Be Broken,” see here.

Struggling with sin is part of being human. Still, during the sacrament service, all Mormons must once more make a covenant to keep all of the commandments. Since no Mormon can consistently keep every promise made, it appears that all of them are covenant breakers to some extent.

I have seen two members of the Church sitting together [in sacrament meeting], enter into a conversation, stop long enough for the blessing to be asked on the water or on the bread, then start again on their conversation. … That is shocking to me, and I am sure it is to the Lord.

Do all Latter-day Saints realize the seriousness of what they are supposed to be doing at a sacrament meeting? According to Smith, the answer is no. I wonder if this situation has gotten better or worse in the more than half century since he originally wrote those words. Something tells me if’s even worse!

It is our duty to carefully and thoughtfully consider the nature of [the sacrament] prayers when we hear them offered in our meetings. There are four very important things we covenant to do each time we partake of these emblems, and in partaking, there is the token that we subscribe fully to the obligations, and thus they become binding upon us. These are as follows:

1. We eat in remembrance of the body of Jesus Christ, promising that we will always remember His wounded body slain upon the cross.

2. We drink in remembrance of the blood which was shed for the sins of the world, which atoned for the transgression of Adam, and which frees us from our own sins on condition of our true repentance.

What is true repentance? Take the “Repentance Quiz” and see how you do.

3. We covenant that we will be willing to take upon us the name of the Son and always remember Him. In keeping this covenant we promise that we will be called by His name and never do anything that would bring shame or reproach upon that name.

4. We covenant that we will keep His commandments which He has given us; not one commandment, but that we will be willing to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” [D&C 84:44.]

Notice, the Latter-day Saint promises to “keep His commandments,” which D&C 25:15 says must be done. D&C 58:42 says, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” That sounds good, but verse 43 adds, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”

If we will do these things then we are promised the continual guidance of the Holy Ghost, and if we will not do these things we will not have that guidance.

It all comes down to whether or not the Latter-day Saint forsakes the repented sins or returns to them. According to this passage, it’s not good enough to just “repent” and then commit the same sins all over again. As D&C 82:7 puts it,

“And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.”

At what level of confidence would it be possible for a Latter-day Saint to have that he/she really has the Holy Ghost guiding him/her? Smith said that if you do “not do these things,” “you will not have that guidance.” What a scary predicament to be in!

“It is our duty to carefully and thoughtfully consider the nature of [the sacrament] prayers when we hear them offered.”

I want to ask you a few questions, and I speak, of course, to all the members of the Church. Do you think a man who comes into the sacrament service in the spirit of prayer, humility, and worship, and who partakes of these emblems representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, will knowingly break the commandments of the Lord? If a man fully realizes what it means when he partakes of the sacrament, that he covenants to take upon him the name of Jesus Christ and to always remember him and keep his commandments, and this vow is renewed week by week—do you think such a man will fail to pay his tithing? Do you think such a man will break the Sabbath day or disregard the Word of Wisdom? Do you think he will fail to be prayerful, and that he will not attend his quorum duties and other duties in the Church? It seems to me that such a thing as a violation of these sacred principles and duties is impossible when a man knows what it means to make such vows week by week unto the Lord and before the saints.

I have to say, these first six chapters in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church manual have to be the most challenging of all 13 manuals. Each chapter so far has been hard-hitting; Smith didn’t mince words, and the church has made sure the messages from half a century ago are being heard today by the LDS faithful. (If you haven’t read the first five reviews on our site, may I recommend you look at them, though most of them are double in length from this week’s!)

It comes down to this: Latter-day Saint, are you violating the “sacred principles and duties” that you’ve been instructed to keep? Are you making vows that end up getting broken week after week after week? If you realize that doing everything commanded by the LDS Church is impossible, would you want to consider escaping the routine?

There are answers found in the Bible, so I recommend doing more study and determining if the gospel of Mormonism is possible to follow. I think most people will realize how Mormonism does not offer any real hope. If you are struggling with your Mormonism, please check out this article.  And write us if you have questions or comments: contact at mrm.org. We really do care!


For more reviews on this manual featuring Joseph Fielding Smith quotes, go here.

For more information on the sacrament, see here and here.