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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, Chapter 15: The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter 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 in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Howard W. Hunter

Our participation in the sacrament is an opportunity to review our lives and renew our covenants.

Not long ago I … [had] the privilege of attending the sacrament service in our own home ward. … While the priests were preparing the sacrament, we were led in singing:

God, our Father, hear us pray;

Send thy grace this holy day.

As we take of emblems blest,

On our Savior’s love we rest.

[Hymns, no. 170]

A priest kneeled over the broken bread and prayed: “That they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments.” (D&C 20:77.) The deacons dispersed throughout the chapel to serve the broken bread. One of them came to our row and held the silver tray while I partook. Then I held the tray so Sister Hunter could partake, and she held it for the person next to her. Thus the tray went down the row, each serving and being served.

I thought of the events that took place on the evening nearly two thousand years ago when Jesus was betrayed. … The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper [was] introduced to replace [animal] sacrifice and be a reminder to all those who partake that He truly made a sacrifice for them; and to be an additional reminder of the covenants they have made to follow Him, keep His commandments, and be faithful to the end.

While [I was] thinking about this, the admonition of Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth came to my mind. He said: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Cor. 11:27–29.)

I was troubled. I asked myself this question: “Do I place God above all other things and keep all of His commandments?” Then came reflection and resolution. To make a covenant with the Lord to always keep His commandments is a serious obligation, and to renew that covenant by partaking of the sacrament is equally serious. The solemn moments of thought while the sacrament is being served have great significance. They are moments of self-examination, introspection, self-discernment—a time to reflect and to resolve.

By this time the other priest was kneeling at the table, praying that all who should drink “may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; … that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them.” (D&C 20:79.)

It ought to be pointed out that the earliest Mormons used bread and wine for the sacrament while Mormons today use bread and water. 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. (Articles of Faith, pp. 175-176).

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’s 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 emptying 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.

As Hunter said,

To make a covenant with the Lord to always keep His commandments is a serious obligation, and to renew that covenant by partaking of the sacrament is equally serious.

Consider similiar citations from other LDS leaders. According to Seventy Joseph W. Sitati,

We honor Heavenly Father as we deepen our relationship with Him by making and keeping all the saving covenants and ordinances. He blesses those who keep their covenants with His Spirit to guide and strengthen them (“Honoring God by Honoring Our Covenants,” Ensign, June 2016, pp. 58, 60).

Seventy Marcus B. Nash wrote,

A covenant in the gospel sense is a pact, a contract, or an agreement between God and a person (or persons) who receives priesthood ordinances performed by one with priesthood authority and who agrees to abide by the terms and conditions of the associated covenant. These terms and conditions are established by God. The new and everlasting covenant ‘is the sum total of all gospel covenants and obligations’ given anciently and again restored to the earth in these latter days” (“The New and Everlasting Covenant,” Ensign, December 2015, p. 42).

It’s a very important promise made each week, according to tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith:

SAINTS GAIN SPIRIT THROUGH SACRAMENT. But the ordi­nance means more than this. When we eat the bread and drink the water, we covenant that we will eat and drink in remembrance of the sacrifice which he made for us in the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood; that we are willing to take upon us the name of the Son; that we will always remember him; that we will always keep his commandments which he has given us, In this act we witness to the Father, by solemn covenant in the name of the Son, that we will do all of these things. Through our faithful­ness to these covenants, we are promised that we will always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us to guide us in all truth and righ­teousness (Doctrines of Salvation 2:339).

Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson explained:

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” (Come unto Christ, p. 36.) (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 442).

Notice something that all these LDS leaders said about what had to be understood when making this covenant:

Sitati: “…by making and keeping all the saving covenants and ordinances.”

Mash: “…who agrees to abide by the terms and conditions of the associated covenant.”

Smith: “…we will always keep his commandments which he has given us…that we will do all of these things.” And Smith adds that it is only “through our faithfulness to these covenants (that) we are promised that we will always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us to guide us in all truth and righteousness.”

Benson: “Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy.”

Now I know some Mormons want to be selective in what they obey, an attitude sharply criticized by Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency:

Third, we promise as we take the sacrament to keep His commandments, all of them. 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 (“That We All May Be One,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1998, pp. 67-68).

It’s one thing to make a covenant, which is (again) a sacred promise with God. It’s another to keep what has been promised. Latter-day Saint, how are you doing in keeping the covenants you make each week? I encourage you to read these articles:

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