The following is the last in our series of lessons dealing with the Reform Mormon Endowment. This lesson deals specifically with the third of the four covenants administered in the Endowment. Unlike other Mormon traditions, Reform Mormonism does not require a special Temple Recommend or some proof of “worthiness” in order to celebrate the Endowment. Anyone sixteen years of age or older who identifies him or herself a Reform Mormon, who understands the covenants and is willing to enter into them, may participate in the ordinance. As was the early Mormon practice before the building of the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois, the Reform Mormon Endowment is currently presented in spaces temporarily set apart and dedicated for the ordinance. This is done during special “Temple Events.” If you would like more information on having such an event in your area, write us at:
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
THE PRINCIPLE OF RESTORATION
The fourth covenant of the Reform Mormon Endowment is related to the four principle of Reform Mormonism: Restoration.
The concept of Restoration is important to Mormons of all denominations. However, the definition and understanding of this concept differs so radically from one Mormon denomination to another, that it’s necessary for us to explore—very briefly—the evolution of the concept through Mormon history, and how the Reform Mormon concept of Restoration differs from the concept embraced by such organizations as the LDS and FLDS Churches.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE CONEPT OF “ RESTORATION” IN MORMON HISTORY
When the largest denominations of Mormonism--the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, the RLDS Church (Community of Christ) in Missouri, and the FLDS Church in Texas—speak of “the restoration” they mean specifically a restoration of the divine authority needed to once again organize the ancient church government which they believe existed in the days of Jesus Christ and his Apostles.
Each of these churches (the LDS and the FLDS churches more so than the RLDS Church) claims that their respective organizations is “the one and only true and living church on the face of the earth.” In other words, to enter the presence of God after this life, every single human being must submit to their respective organization’s ordinances, rites and ceremonies. They believe that they alone have the divine authority from God—called “the Priesthood”—to administer those ordinances.
Thus, a Christian who has been baptized, must be baptized again by someone holding their Priesthood authority when joining their churches. Because they believe that they alone have the authority to administer the Sacrament (the Lord’s Supper), they do not recognize as legitimate in God’s eyes, the communion administered by other Christian churches. For the LDS and FLDS, unless a man and a woman have had their marriage performed for “time and all eternity” by an authorized member of their church’s Priesthood, that couple will be eternally separated from one another—and from any children they may have—when this life is over.
Particularly in the LDS and FLDS Churches, the concept of “restoration” means the restoration of the Priesthood and of the only true church organization authorized and recognized by God. For the LDS and FLDS, there is no salvation in the fullest sense (meaning eternal life in the presence of God, outside of their respective church organizations. The devout Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddist, atheist—while they each may be righteous, will be consigned to a lower degree of glory unless they accept the LDS and FLDS claims that they alone hold Divine authority (The Priesthood) and submit to their ordinances and rituals.
The LDS and FLDS believe that the restoration of this Divine authority were historic events that took place in 1829 in New York and in Pennsylvania. Supposedly one two different dates, Heavenly messengers (John the Baptist on one date in the Spring of 1829, and the Apostles Peter, James and John on later unknown date) appeared to Joseph Smith—the First Mormon—and his scribe, Oliver Cowdrey. Supposedly these heavenly messengers laid their hands on Joseph’s and Oliver’s heads, bestowing on them the Lower Priesthood (called the Aaronic Priesthood) and the High Priesthood (called the Melchezedek Priesthood). With these ordinations by Heavenly beings, Joseph and Oliver were given the authority to preach, baptize, organize the one and only true church, and administer its ordinances and rituals; the Priesthood and the One True Church were restored to the earth.
This scenario is so central is this to LDS and FLDS Mormonism, that it comes as a shock to the student of Mormon history to discover that the entire scenario of heavenly messengers and Priesthood restoration was a later development in Mormonism. The first Mormons in New York State and in Kirtland, Ohio originally had no concept of Priesthood authority or of a “Restoration” as now understood in the LDS and FLDS traditions. When the original Mormon church (then called “the Church of Christ”) was organized in April 1830, there were no Priesthood offices, no Priesthood ordinations, no claims of Heavenly ordinations, etc. The congregation itself elected by vote, and set apart by their collective authority as believers, Joseph Smith as the new church’s First Elder, and Oliver Cowdrey as its Second Elder.
If one reads the original published versions of Joseph Smith’s first 64 revelations in his “Book of Commandments,” and compares them to the rewritten versions printed in the modern “Doctrine & Covenants” as Sections 1 through 64, one will find no references at all to either Priesthood or to a restoration of “one true church.” (Indeed, several entire sections which focus on these later doctrines and which are dated from 1824 and the early 1830s, do not even appear in “The Book of Commandments,” because they were not even written until the late 1830’s and 1840’s.)
Until 1834, the first Mormons organized their church along the lines of the Methodists. (Joseph Smith had been a member of the Palmyra Methodist church’s debating team, had preached as a teen at Methodists gatherings, and had applied for membership in a Methodist congregation in 1825.) But it 1834, there was a mass dissention among Mormons in Kirtland, Ohio. To fight this, claims to divine Priesthood authority were put forth by Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon (at that time, Mormonism’s most popular leader) in an effort to hold the church together and strengthen its organization. Many of Mormonism’s founders (such as the majority of witnesses to “The Book of Mormon”) were so opposed to the very idea of a restoration of ancient Priesthood, that they left the church altogether. One of Mormonism’s earliest leaders and shinning lights, David Whitmer, maintained until his death some forty years later that the concept of a restoration of a Priesthood was not part of original Mormonism, but was introduced by Sydney Rigdon in 1834 in an attempt to consolidate control over the Mormon community in Ohio.
To this date, no contemporary evidence prior to 1834 has been found in the writings of Joseph Smith and other Mormons to substantiate the later claims of a restoration of Priesthood authority
And yet the concept of “Restoration” was central to early Mormonism. The doctrine of “the Restoration” is found through “The Book of Mormon.” However, it is not a doctrine related to either Priesthood authority or the idea of “one true church.”
It is this understanding—the original Mormon understanding of “Restoration” that is central to Reform Mormonism. It is this understanding of “Restoration” that is symbolized during the last portion of the Reform Mormon Endowment.
THE ORIGINAL MORMON DOCTRINE OF THE RESTORATION
In “The Book of Mormon,” the words “restore” and “restoration” are used in two contexts. One is in regard the restoration of the scattered Tribes of Israelites and their decedents to the lands and status God anciently granted them in the Hebrew Bible.
But the other context is much broader and has universal application; it has to do with survival of the individual after death. In this context, “Restoration” IS the resurrection of the dead. One of the first passages in “The Book of Mormon” that equates the “restoration” with the resurrection is the following:
“… the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel. O how great the plan of our God!... the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.”(“The Book of Mormon,” II Nephi 9: 12-13)
Later in the book, nearly three full chapters in Alma are devoted to equating the “restoration” with the resurrection of the dead, and with explaining the importance and centrality of this concept with the Divine plan for humanity. Here are some highlights from those chapters:
“The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.
"Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.” (“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 11:43-44)
“Now my son, here is somewhat more I would say unto thee; for I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead …there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know—that is concerning the resurrection. Behold, there is a time appointed that all shall come forth from the dead. Now when this time cometh no one knows; but God knoweth the time which is appointed. Now, whether there shall be one time, or a second time, or a third time, that men shall come forth from the dead, it mattereth not; for God knoweth all these things; and it sufficeth me to know that this is the case—that there is a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead. ... it [the resurrection] meaneth the reuniting of the soul with the body… the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. Yea, this [the resurrection] bringeth about the restoration of those things of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets.... I say unto thee, my son,that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself.” (“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 40:1, 3-5, 18, 21-22; 41:2)
“And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?…the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful. Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.re For that which ye do send out shall turn unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all. (“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 41: 12-15)
“..,the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice….Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds. If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.” (“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 42: 23,27-28)
While couched in traditional Christian terms, the original Mormon doctrine of the Restoration had to do with the individual eventually being restored from death to life; with being changed from a temporal condition to an eternal condition; with standing before God and reaping the eternal consequences of one’s actions (or, in the terminology of “The Book of Mormon” having “restored” to one’s self” according to his deeds.”)
At the foundation of the original Mormon doctrine of Restoration is the belief that the individual is an eternal being, and that one’s values, choices and actions can have eternal consequences. Though humans are subject to death, early Mormonism taught that it was the Divine plan to “bring to pass the immorality and eternal life of man.” (See Moses 1:39) In other words, it is God’s work and glory to restore mortals to an immortal state.
THE ETERNAL INDIVIDUAL
Most religions have a belief in immortality. But Mormonism broke from monotheism in one very profound way. All monotheistic religions worship one God who is the Creator of all things. Humans are the creations of that one God, and while most believe that God intends for humans to survive death and have an everlasting existence beyond the confines of this present existence, all of these religion nevertheless teach that humans had a definite beginning. Thus all humans are finite.
In the last years of his life, Joseph Smith explicitly rejected this doctrine—which is the foundational doctrine of all monotheistic faiths.
Joseph taught that the mind—the spirit or intelligence—of each individual is eternal, uncreated, without beginning or end; that it has a material component that has always existed, the same as all matter.
Below are Joseph’s final teachings (delivered just weeks before his death) regarding the eternal nature of the individual:
“…the soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it, all ye ends of the world; for God has told me so; and if you don't believe me, it will not make the truth without effect. I will make a man appear a fool before I get through; if he does not believe it. I am going to tell of things more noble.
“We say that God himself is a self-existent being. Who told you so? It is correct enough; but how did it get into you heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles. …
“The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself. I know that my testimony is true…
“I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had not beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.
“I want to reason more on the spirit of man; for I am dwelling on the body and spirit of man—on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So it is with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning,it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself.
“Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.” (Joseph Smith, “The King Follet Discourse,” April 7, 1844)
THE FOURTH COVENANT
These truths are taught at the very beginning of the Reform Mormon Endowment. The ceremony which follows is a symbolic journey through life. The ceremony ends at the veil, which is symbolic of that which separates the present from the future, the temporal from the eternal. Here at the veil, each individually symbolically encounters God for him or herself.
At the veil each participant makes the Fourth covenant which is that he or she will always try to see the eternal aspects of all things.
Having made that final covenant, the Endowment ends with the participant passing through the veil, which symbolizes being restored to the Divine presence and entering the Celestial Glory of the Gods.