WHAT IS REQUIRED:
PRIOR UNDERSTANDING OF THE COVENANTS
The Endowment has traditionally been the ordinance in which Mormons make their most sacred covenants. The number of covenants made, as well as their nature, have changed over the past century and half; there have also been majors differences in the covenants as administered within the various denominations and sects of Mormonism.
One thing has been the same in nearly all Mormon denominations: the exact nature of the covenants is not disclosed prior to participating in the Endowment. Though Mormon organizations such as the LDS Church, in its Temple Preparation classes, may touch upon basic principles related to the covenants that will be made, the exact covenants themselves are not disclosed. Because of this, LDS Mormons usually enter their temples with no idea of what exactly they will be asked to commit to. Often a great number of LDS Mormons will admit to having reservations about making the covenants once they are fully explained during the course of the Endowment, but being in the middle of the ceremony for the first time, they make the covenants any way.
The Reform Mormon tradition varies greatly from LDS and FLDS Mormonism with regard to covenants. In the Reform Mormon Endowment there are only four covenants that are made, and each of these is related to one of the Four Principles of Reform Mormonism: faith, knowledge, revelation and restoration.
As explained in previous lessons here, these covenants are presented within the context of a symbolic interactive drama depicting the Adam and Eve myth. The covenants are administered in connection with symbolic signs (hand gestures) that are in effect visual symbols related to the Four Principles. These symbolic signs are ceremonial elements that are used only during the course of the Endowment.
However, in accordance with Reform Mormon philosophy, it is believed that each individual should know the exact nature and content of the four covenants made prior to celebrating the Endowment.
At the outset of the Endowment, Reform Mormons undergo a symbolic washing and anointing, indicating that they are leaving the outside world and the cares of every day life behind them and entering into a sacred space. However, prior to this portion of the ordinance, those gathered for the Endowment are given the following bit of instruction regarding the four covenants/obligations that will be made during the course of the ceremony:
“The obligations are serious commitments; covenants between you and God. They should be made thoughtfully, and with serious intent. They are designed to aide you in life, and to bring you joy. However, if you are not familiar with the covenants you will make, or are not prepared to make the covenants, as you understand them, do not proceed to receive your washing.”
In other words, unlike other traditions within Mormonism, prior knowledge and understanding of the covenants is essential. In fact, understanding the covenants and being willing to make them is the only qualification for celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment. The “worthiness” interview administered by the LDS Church (in which one must prove that one supports the LDS leadership, that one gives ten percent of one’s income to the LDS Church, and that one abstains from drinking, smoking and sex outside of a legal marriage) has no place within Reform Mormonism.
Understanding the four covenants and having a willingness to make them is what qualifies one to celebrate the Reform Mormon Endowment.
If you experienced the Endowment in other Mormon traditions, did you feel fully prepared for the ordinance? Did you feel secure in your understanding of the covenants you would be asked to make? How did this understanding--or the lack of it--effect your experience?
LOVE OF GOD
The first covenant made in the Reform Mormon Endowment is to love God
with all of one’s heart, might, mind, and soul.
The wording of the covenant hearkens back to the ancient Israelite commandment found in the Hebrew Bible:
“ Hear O Israel: The LORD our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart. and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
This concept also became central to Christianity as is evidenced in this story of Jesus, found in the Christian testament:
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him [Jesus] a question, tempting him, and saying, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’“ (Matthew 22: 35-40)
The concept was central to early Mormonism, as is evidenced in the following revelation that Joseph Smith authored on August 7, 1831:
“Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength.” (Doctrine & Covenants 59: 5)
Carefully re-read the above passages of scripture. While most people would tend to see love as a virtue, is it something that can be commanded? Why or why not?
DO HUMAN EMOTIONS RESPOND TO COMMANDS?
When one considers the entire quote from Deuteronomy, one might be conclude that even the authors of that book did not believe that love could be commanded. If loving God was as simple as merely obeying a command to love Him, then why the additional commandments to talk about that love throughout the course of one’s daily activities, to write down the commandment and post it on one’s front door--even to wear the words themselves as a “frontlet” between one’s eyes? It seems as if the ancient writers of Deuteronomy believed that one could force one’s self to love God if one constantly bombarded one’s consciousness with words of the commandment itself. To the modern mind this all looks like a primitive attempt at brainwashing--and an ineffectual one at that.
Since Christianity arose from Judaism, and early Mormon arose from Christianity, the idea that love could be commanded became part of both of these new religions.
The idea was founded on the central tenant of monotheism: one, all-powerful God created the human race. God has all power over humanity, and if they wish to escape His wrath, they will do as He commands. If God commands us to love him, then we better do so--or else! The principle involved here brings to a popular bit of satire often printed on T-shirts: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
Of course, beatings cannot improve morale. And regardless of how powerful one believes God to be, love of God is not something that can be commanded or forced--no more than one can command a person to love someone else.
In fact, the entire Biblical narrative could be reduced to the following: An all-powerful God creates human beings in His image only to discover that because they are in His image, He is unable to control them. God wants humanity to love Him, but despite displays of anger and violence (the great flood, the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues on Egypt), despite miraculous acts of salvation (parting of the Red Sea, the tumbling of Jericho’s walls), despite pleas and threats, God Himself is unable to control the human heart.
Individuals can only love God when they see for themselves the value of God; when they can comprehend and appreciate God’s traits as being virtuous according to their own understanding of what virtue is.
In the end, power has nothing to do with love. To love is to value, and humans by nature cannot be forced to value something or someone against the dictates of their own perception. As intelligent beings, we can only love that which we can understand and which we judge to be positive and good according to our personally held values.
WHAT KIND OF BEING IS GOD
...AND HOW DOES THAT EFFECT ‘LOVE OF GOD?’
Mormonism as a movement began in the late 1820’s as a defense of God’s power against the growing power of human beings. As a youth Joseph Smith seemed to sense that Enlightenment philosophy of natural rights, individual freedom, and reason over faith threatened the traditional Christian concept of one, all-powerful God. In writing “The Book of Mormon,” Joseph tried to reconcile much of Enlightenment philosophy with Christianity--and when he could not, he came down on the side of Christian orthodoxy.
But following the publication of “The Book of Mormon” and the founding of a church, Joseph’s natural curiosity regarding human nature and the Divine inspired him to continue searching, learning and rethinking his personal theology. Within a decade he began to completely reverse his youthful ideas regarding the nature of God. These reversals brought criticism upon him--not only from orthodox Christians (which criticism continues to this day), but also from many of his own followers.
By the end of his life, Joseph had completely rejected the idea that there was one all-powerful God who created all things. In his ground-breaking “King Follett Discourse,” in his “Book of Abraham,’ and in numerous writings that were published in later editions of his “Doctrine & Covenants,” Joseph Smith presented a new religion.
The central tenants of this new religion were that God was finite--bound by the laws governing time and space--and that the Divine and the human (Gods and humans) share a common nature. Joseph declared that the mind of man--”the eternal part”---was never created at all, but was “co-equal” with God. He taught that “God never had the power to create man” and that the very belief that God could create man, “lessens man in my estimation.” He went even further, teaching that the being humanity worships as God had once been human Himself, and that each of us must “learn to be Gods” ourselves. One aspect of human nature that Joseph championed above all others was the individual’s Free Agency (Free Will).
These distinctly Mormon principles became central to what religious historians have called “Classical Mormonism.” These distinctly Mormon principles are dramatized in the Reform Mormon Endowment, and it is in the context of these principles that the idea of loving God is presented.
LOVE OF GOD:
AN INDIVIDUAL’S RESPONSE TO DIVINE BENEVOLENCE
Drawing on the teachings of Joseph Smith, the Reform Mormon Endowment teaches that God’s work and glory is human progress and the exaltation of the individual. God is not presented as an powerful creator or as the “First Cause” of all things. Instead, God is presented as a loving, eternal parent, who wants His children (us) to grow up and enjoy all that He enjoys, but who also know that He cannot live His children’s lives for them.
Joseph Smith taught that “knowledge is what saves a man,” “the glory of God is intelligence,” and “a man cannot be saved in ignorance.”
In the dramatic portions of the Reform Mormon Endowment, God is depicted as directing human beings (symbolized in the characters of Adam and Eve) toward the knowledge that they need to progress and be happy. When Adam and Eve realize that God loves them, that He respects their agency, and is only concerned with their progress and happiness, they respond by expressing their love for God and pledging to love God always.
Love of God is not commanded. It is an individual’s honest emotional response to what he or she perceives as divine benevolence.
WHAT IS ONE LOVING WHEN ONE “LOVES GOD?”
Mormon scholar Terryl L. Givens has written that the outstanding characteristic of Mormon theology is that it “collapses the distance” between God and man, between the Divine and Human. In other words, the Human and the Divine became, more or less, one and the same in the Mormon scheme of things.
With that in mind, the individual could interpret the covenant to love God in several different ways--and all of them would be correct.
One could think of the covenant in a very traditional way: God is a personal being who has been gracious to you, and so in return, you feel love for God as tender, nurturing parent.
One could consider the covenant in light of the following: “As we now are, God once was; as God now is, we may become.” With this in mind, God could be seen as symbol human potential; love of God then becomes love for our humanity’s highest aspirations.
Orson Pratt (one of 19th century Mormonism’s most influential theologians and philosophers) said that he did not worship a personal God, but that he worshipped, revered and meditated upon “the attributes of God”--meaning the ideas concerning God’s intelligence, knowledge, virtue, justice, love, etc. Pratt taught that it these “attributes” were shared by all Gods, making them all one in purpose. Orson Pratt reasoned that by focusing on these “attributes,” the individual could learn to incorporate them into his or own character. With this approach in mind, the covenant to love God could be interpreted as a covenant to love those virtues and “attributes” that one associates with the Divine.
EVOLVING IDEAS REGARDING GOD & LOVE
Eternal Progression is at the heart of Reform Mormon. Change is one of the few constants in the universe. Throughout our lives, as each of us progresses in knowledge and understanding of our nature and of the universe in which we live and have our being, our ideas regarding God and love will change and evolve. When one first makes the covenant to love God, one may have very set ideas regarding the nature of both God and love. With time, these ideas will change. Indeed, if we grow and progress in knowledge, our ideas regarding those things should change.
Such change is a good thing.
It is the key to human happiness and fulfillment.
1. In the past how have you interpreted the idea of “loving God?”
2. How have your ideas regarding “love of God” changed?
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
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