These two lessons, “Why are ordinances important in my life?” AND “Why are temple ordinances important?” go along nicely with the lessons about covenants and baptismal covenants. You could easily couple this lesson plan with last year’s post on covenants for two to three weeks of rich discussion.
I think this lesson on ordinances (especially coupled with the one on covenants) has a lot of potential – first, I think it’s important to distinguish the difference between a covenant and an ordinance, as I think we often use the two interchangeably in our discourse. It’s also an opportunity to revisit baptism and what it means to actually perform baptisms for the dead, especially as the youth are encouraged to both perform these ordinances and research the names of their ancestors to stand in proxy for them. I also think there’s a great opportunity to teach the young women, particularly the Laurels, about the ordinances in the temple in preparation for them going there. While we want to maintain reverence for the temple and the sacred ordinances performed there, and to not reveal anything that we have covenanted not to, we do our girls a great disservice by not explicitly teaching them about the covenants they should prepare to make. Especially with the mission age being lowered to 19, our girls need to be studying the temple and the sacred work that is performed there. Talking about these ordinances and covenants in a reverent and appropriate atmosphere does not violate the sanctity of the temple; instead it shows that we respect the covenants that we hope they will make, and that we desire their spiritual success. One helpful guide I found for teaching about the endowment can be found HERE.
On that note! Let’s get this lesson going.
What is an ordinance? How does it differ from a covenant?
The manual says that an ordinance is a “formal, sacred act that has spiritual meaning.” A covenant, on the other hand, is a promise that we make with God. In our church, we almost always couple a covenant with an ordinance so that there is an action coupled with our desire to keep our promise.
There are different kinds of ordinances – some are “saving ordinances,” which are necessary for exaltation. It might be useful to ask the class to name all of the saving ordinances they can think of (baptism, confirmation, initiatory, endowment, sealing to parents, and sealing to a spouse). There are also other ordinances we perform, like partaking of the sacrament, naming and blessing children, and blessings for the sick.
How does coupling an action with a covenant benefit us?
By associating a specific act that we perform with our covenants, we’re creating a ritual that reminds us of the covenants we have made. For example, when we partake of the sacrament, we are reminded of the covenants we have made, both at baptism and in the temple. The actual act of eating a tiny piece of bread and drinking a small cup of water doesn’t benefit us much unless we’re using this ritual to draw our minds back to God. However, by having this act every Sunday, we have the opportunity to associate the act with the promises we’ve made and to align ourselves once again with the will of God and the promises we’ve made.
It might be useful to make a list on the board and have the class name the actions associated with each saving ordinance (baptism – immersion into water, confirmation – laying on of hands, initiatory – washing/anointing, endowment – wearing the garment and other acts performed in the temple, sealing – holding hands). Many young women might not realize that while baptism, confirmation, and sealings are performed by male priesthood holders, the initiatory and endowment ordinances are performed by women for women. Especially with last month’s focus on Priesthood, many girls have probably heard that women exercise the priesthood in the temple, and this might be a good opportunity to explain that a bit further.
Additionally, while we have the sacrament to remind us of any and all covenants we have made, we also have the opportunity to go to the temple and perform ordinances for deceased ancestors and others who have died. In performing these ordinances for others, we are again reminded of the covenants we have made, which once again, realigns our minds and will with God.
Why are temple ordinances important?
In our church, we believe that ordinances must be performed by proper priesthood authority in order to have God’s binding seal (see Matthew 18:18). Just because you dunk your brother or sister in the pool doesn’t mean that he/she is baptized, despite having been fully immersed in water – there are specific words that we say and actions we perform to make it binding with God. Because of this, when we hold hands over the altar in the temple, it means something significantly different than it does when you’re holding hands at the park.
However, I think it could be helpful to show how different things we do in our daily lives (like bathing, or holding hands) could remind us of God and our covenants if we think about the symbolism. It is my personal opinion that we use simple and common actions as ordinances because there are so many opportunities to be reminded of our covenants and ordinances in our everyday lives. If we could use our regular bathing time as a time to refocus on minds on the covenant we’ve made to stand as a witness of God at all times, how much more effective would we be at fulfilling our promise? What other ways can we use our normal actions to remind ourselves of the covenants we’ve made with God?
Why are temple ordinances for the dead important?
Again, because ordinances must be performed by priesthood authority, there are many who have died without baptism (baptism for the dead is referenced in 1 Cor 15:29). By being baptized for our deceased ancestors, we afford them the opportunity to accept Christ and the atonement, and thus eternal life. There has been a big push for the youth to research their own family history and to perform temple ordinances for them (showing this video of Elder Andersen at the RootsTech conference could be helpful to engage the class). It’s also important to note that because the temple is a place that is set apart for this work, and that is apart from our everyday lives, it gives us an opportunity to really unplug and sit in sacred silence without outside distractions. There is power in both being inside the temple and communing with God through prayer and meditation, as well as participating in the ordinances that remind us of our covenants and obligations.
There are several ways we could encourage the young women to become involved in family history work. One option is to plan a mutual activity in the family history library (or if your class has access to computers or laptops, they could do it in the classroom) and have each class member access FamilyTree to see what kind of information is already in the system about their ancestors, and where there are holes. They could also create a Pedigree Fan Chart that shows if there are any holes in their charts. If you want to do this activity with the young women, it would be helpful to make sure that they all have an lds.org or FamilySearch login – if they are members, they will need their membership number and confirmation date, which can be obtained from the ward clerk. If they are not members, they can create an account at FamilySearch.org. There are lots of resources available at the church’s website on Youth and Family History, as well, including instructional videos on Indexing and getting names ready to take to the temple.
Encourage the young women to think about the actions they associate with the promises they’ve made, particularly at baptism, and how to incorporate sacred reminders of their covenants into their lives. Challenge them to pay particular attention to the sacrament and to use it as a reminder to re-commit themselves to standing as a witness of Christ.