Taking Sacrament: The Mormon Communion Conundrum

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Mormon Studies

by Michael Flournoy
Latter-day Saints take communion once a week in remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ as admonished in Luke 22:19 and Doctrine and Covenants 20:75. This is not, however, the only reason they take it. Mormons also take communion in order to renew their baptismal covenant.

This covenant, made at baptism, is a two-way promise that they will take upon them the name of Christ, bear each other’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn and keep the commandments. In return, God promises eternal life (Mosiah 18:8-9).

There are two schools of thought as to why Latter-day Saints need to renew their covenant. The first theory says the covenant is broken by sin. When I was LDS, I thought my sins canceled my protection and taking communion would renew the agreement, much like renewing my car insurance. Taking communion was absolutely essential, hence it’s common name among the LDS: the sacrament.

The second theory says the covenant is not broken by sin. Renewing Covenants is like renewing wedding vows, which means the original agreement wasn’t damaged in any way. Communion is merely a chance for Latter-day Saints to recommit to the Lord.

Both theories are deeply problematic for Latter-day Saints.

The Problem with “Wedding Vow” Communion
The most glaring issue with the covenant not being broken by sin is it makes the covenant unbreakable. Thus the promise of eternal life is assured, regardless of whether man keeps his part of the agreement. This falls directly in line with the Protestant view of eternal security, which Mormons oppose vehemently.

To enter the highest heaven, the Celestial Kingdom, a Mormon must have faith, repent of their sins, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and last but not least, endure to the end.

2 Nephi 31:16, in The Book of Mormon says: And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.

Doctrine and Covenants 14:7 says: And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

According to LDS scripture, we must endure to the end with our own might. There is no solace in the idea of an unbreakable covenant enduring on our behalf. The responsibility is placed on the shoulders of Latter-day Saints.

The Problem with “Car Insurance” Communion
I took communion weekly for 30 years as a Latter-day Saint. Whenever I partook of the broken bread I thought of Jesus. Though perfect, he was broken so that I, being broken, could be made whole. Every week I was damaged, and so was my covenant with God. With my covenant renewed by the sacrament, I was pure once again. Here’s how Mormon Apostle, Dallin H. Oaks explained this:

No one lives without sin after his or her baptism, however. Without some provision for further cleansing, each of us is lost. How grateful we are that the Lord has provided a process for each baptized member of His Church to be cleansed from the soil of sin. The sacrament is an essential part of that process. We are commanded to repent of our sins, to come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and to partake of the sacrament. When we renew our baptismal covenants this way, the Lord renews the cleansing effect of our baptism. We are made clean and can always have His Spirit to be with us.
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Renewing Our Covenants”, Friend magazine, August 1999) 

There is a paradox in “car insurance” communion. It is a way to repair our unworthiness, but at the same time, it is never to be taken unworthily. Many Latter-day Saints justify taking communion despite having sin in their lives. They feel that as long as they are not committing major sins, and are on the path to righteous living, they are worthy enough to take communion.

Alma 45:16 in The Book of Mormon, tells a different story. It specifies that “the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” In other words, God is not satisfied with improvement from the week before. If we show him our spiritual report card and it’s an A-, we are still unworthy in his sight.

2 Nephi 28:8 says: And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God – he will justify in committing a little sin… The following verse calls this “false and vain and foolish” doctrine.

I was in an institute class one semester, watching a video about a drunk driver who killed a man’s family when the truth hit me: I had been judging the man for his depravity, and my own sins were just as vile. My sins were bad enough that Jesus had to die on my behalf! I realized that my righteousness was an illusion, and I had no right to judge anyone.

Romans 3:10-12 (ESV) states: As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

LDS President, Joseph Fielding Smith once said,

“The sacrament meeting is the most sacred and the most important meeting required of all the members of the Church. If any of the members are not in good standing; if they have in their hearts any feeling of hatred, envy, or sin of any kind, they should not partake of these emblems. If there are any differences or feelings existing between brethren, these differences should be adjusted before the guilty parties partake; otherwise, they will eat and drink unworthily and bring upon them the condemnation spoken of by Paul…”
(Joseph Fielding Smith, “Doctrines of Salvation”, vol.2, p.343)

The problem this poses, is if the covenant has been broken, and the partaker has any sin in his life, he has no right to take communion. In fact, the covenant can never be renewed again, because as 1 John 1:8 (ESV) says: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

The Good News
In some ways, LDS communion is a resurrection of the law of Moses. Under the law, ancient Israelites had to make a sin offering once a year to renew their covenant. The new covenant, however, is quite different. Hebrews 10:11-18 (ESV) says:

And every high priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting for that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them in their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

I wept the first time I took communion in a Christian church. It was my first time taking it without feeling guilty. The symbolism overwhelmed me. It was not an offering that I was making to God, it was the offering God had given me. The Lord’s amazing grace was upon me, forgiving me of my trespasses. Jesus was not waiting for me to come to his level, he was meeting me at mine, and granting me full acceptance.

I was the prodigal son, who had returned from feeding pigs in the mire. I was a long way off, but God ran to me. I was filthy, but he embraced me. I was estranged, and he put a ring on my finger. I was naked, and he put his robe on me. I was dead, and he brought me to life.

Rembrandt, “The Return Of The Prodigal”

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.

Comments
  1. Leo Winegar says:

    Interesting article. I personally don’t find evidence in the Bible for all sin being “forgiven” on the cross. There’s a difference between “payment and indebtedness” and “forgiveness and unconditional salvation”.

    If the Bible were to teach that all sins (past, present and future) were forgiven on the cross, that would mean ongoing repentance isn’t necessary. Each time we sin, even after we’ve been initially saved/justified through faith, we begin to feel a spiritual heaviness or weight come upon us. Our souls hunger, and we cry out to God for forgiveness. This process of repeated repentance brings sanctification, and allows for us to better follow our Savior.

    I’m grateful for the Sacrament. A consistent reminder of our indebtedness and nothingness before a just and holy God. At baptism we promised to take His name upon ourselves, by following him, and each time we sin, we distance ourselves from Him. Spiritual death really happens, I know from personal experience, and although my covenants aren’t “broken” through sin each week, I definitely feel the need to recommit through sincere repentance.

    “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German pastor, theologian, and martyr, 1906-1945)

    “We have suffered from the preaching of cheap grace. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. People will take anything that is free, but they are not interested in discipleship. They will take Christ as Savior but not as Lord.”
    Vance Havner (American preacher, 1901-1986)

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    • What I’m seeing in your response Mr. Winegar is a conflation of justification and sanctification. The Bible is clear that justification is by faith alone.

      The model that the Bible repeatedly gives for this is Abraham:

      Genesis 15:6
      And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

      Romans 4:3
      For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

      Galatians 3:6
      … just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

      Gal. 3:8
      And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.”

      James 2:23
      And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.

      But the Bible is crystal clear on this point elsewhere as well:

      John 3:16
      “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM should not perish, but have eternal life.”

      Rom. 3:22
      “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ FOR ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE; for there is no distinction.”

      Rom. 3:26
      “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and THE JUSTIFIER OF THE ONE WHO HAS FAITH IN JESUS.”

      Rom. 5:1
      “therefore having been JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”

      Rom. 5:9
      “Much more then, having now been JUSTIFIED BY HIS BLOOD, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”

      Rom. 9:30
      “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith.”

      Gal. 3:14
      … in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

      Gal. 3:22
      “But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

      Gal. 3:24
      “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be JUSTIFIED BY FAITH.”

      Eph. 2:8
      “For BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED THROUGH FAITH; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

      Further, the Bible is clear that adding works – such as being baptized and/or taking the sacrament as a means being forgiven for sin – to justification by faith through grace, negates both:

      Rom. 11:6
      “But if it is by grace, IT IS NO LONGER ON THE BASIS OF WORKS, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”

      Gal. 2:16
      “nevertheless knowing that A MAN IS NOT JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW BUT THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

      Gal. 2:21
      “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

      Rom. 3:28-30
      “For we maintain that A MAN IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH APART FROM WORKS OF THE LAW. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”

      Rom. 4:5
      But to the one WHO DOES NOT WORK, BUT BELIEVES IN HIM WHO JUSTIFIES THE UNGODLY, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,”

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      • Leo Winegar wrote:
        “I personally don’t find evidence in the Bible for all sin being “forgiven” on the cross. There’s a difference between “payment and indebtedness” and “forgiveness and unconditional salvation”

        Response:
        The Bible repeatedly states that God’s forgiveness is a GIFT:

        Eph. 2:8
        “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD.”

        Romans 6:22-23
        But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

        For the wages of sin is death; but THE GIFT OF GOD is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

        Could you explain to us HOW a gift can be conditional or require repayment? By definition, if either condition applies how is it still a gift?

        I like how John B. Wallace explained it in his book, “Starting At The Finish Line”:

        Imagine that it’s your best friend’s birthday, and this year is a milestone in that he’s turning fifty . You’ve saved up some cash and gone the extra mile in buying him a nice watch and premium tickets to an upcoming ballgame— it’s the playoffs! He opens your generous gift and is just floored.

        “Wow! I cannot believe you got me tickets to this game! And the watch … it is just beautiful. Man, this must have set you back a pretty penny,” he says.

        “Well, hey,” you respond, “what are best friends for? Happy birthday, man.” “No, seriously, what are we talking about here? A grand? $ 1,500?” Now he’s digging into his pocket for his wallet. “Let me pay you something,” he insists.

        Now it’s getting a little uncomfortable.

        “Dude, what are you doing? It’s your birthday. This is my gift to you. You know, b-i-r-t-h-d-a-y g-i-f-t. Put your wallet away!” you counter. “Oh no, no, no. Let me give you half at least.” He is really digging his heels in at this point. He pulls $ 700 out of his wallet and shoves it into your coat pocket. “Here’s half,” he proudly announces.

        At this moment, you realize that he’s dead serious; he is not going to receive your gift but rather is insisting on paying for it. In fact, the gift is no longer a gift at all. Furthermore, he’s removed all the joy in both the giving and receiving of this “gift.”

        Obviously, this scenario is ridiculous. I tell this hypothetical story simply to underscore the absurdity of trying to pay for something that is intended as a gift. However, this little exchange also serves to help us understand why it is that our attempts at trying to earn our salvation, when it clearly is a gift from our loving Father, are displeasing to Him. Our attempts negate the gift . And when we negate God’s gift, we negate God’s grace, at least as it operates in our lives. Not a really good way to go. This is what Paul is driving at in Romans 11: 6, when he writes, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”

        Clearly this is an either/ or proposition. Salvation is either achieved on the basis of works (and obedience), as it most certainly was under the Mosaic Law, or it is received on the basis of God’s grace. But it cannot be both. These are mutually exclusive concepts . Otherwise , grace is “no longer grace.” What God is saying essentially is this: My gift is through His blood. Period. Now, can you please accept this gift by faith so that we can get on with the business of enjoying rich fellowship with each other in My kingdom?

        (B. Wallace, John (2014-02-25). “Starting at the Finish Line: The Gospel of Grace for Mormons” (Kindle Locations 2103-2126). Pomona House Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition; http://smile.amazon.com/Starting-Finish-Line-Gospel-Mormons-ebook/dp/B00JMSED4K )

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  2. Angie Smith says:

    The beauty of baptism is that it is a ONE time event and a one sided covenant, a gift of God to man.

    In Baptism, God brings the ungodly into His family and clothes us in a robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness. (Rom 4:5; Rom 4:7-8; Rom 5:6;Rom 3:22-24;; Gal 3:27 etc.) It is this alien righteousness, this imputed perfect righteousness, with which we stand before God in the judgment. (see Mt 25:31-46 in which the sins of the righteous are clothed in the silence of forgiveness by not being mentioned) What this means for us is that in the judgment, when God looks at us, all He will see is the perfect righteousness of Christ. (Rom 4:7-8; Luke 18:9-14 etc.) Whenever life is going wrong, whenever our sins get us down, we look to our baptism for the reminder of the certainty and assurance that heaven is our home because our baptism guarantees this. (1 Peter 3:21 etc. ) We stand before God completely without sin. (Rom 4:7-8; Heb 10:14 etc)This is what Baptism did and continues to remind us of. God gave us this certainty when He baptized us. (1 Cor 6:11)

    The Lord’s Supper is an ongoing sacrament for those who have already been made part of God’s family in their baptism.The Lord’s supper is only for sinners.

    Anyone who thinks he is without sin is “unworthy” to take this sacrament. (1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:9 etc.) Anyone who won’t admit their sins to God, is “unworthy” to take this sacrament. (1 John 1:9 etc.)

    Anyone who thinks they are doing a pretty good job at keeping the commandments is “unworthy” to take this sacrament. (Rom 3:19; James 2:10; Isa 64:6 etc)This sacrament is for sinners who have confessed their sins to God and who receive assurance and certainty that their sins have been forgiven in the sacrament because this sacrament is the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:27).

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  3. Leo Winegar wrote:
    “Each time we sin, even after we’ve been initially saved/justified through faith, we begin to feel a spiritual heaviness or weight come upon us. Our souls hunger, and we cry out to God for forgiveness. This process of repeated repentance brings sanctification, and allows for us to better follow our Savior.”

    Response:
    And no one is disagreeing with you.

    Yes, the process of repeated repentance DOES bring sanctification and allows us to follow our Savior. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran minister) agrees with you; Vance Havner (a Baptist preacher) agrees with you, and; I (a Charismatic Calvinist) agree with you. We ALL agree with you.

    HOWEVER, that process of sanctification occurs within a framework of the complete forgiveness of all sin – past, present, and future – by faith alone, through grace alone. “It is finished.”

    I am NOT ultimately saved by ANY work – be it baptism, communion, repentance, or anything else. The process is Justification first and Sanctification second, not vice versa.

    And I repent as a forgiven sinner to be cleansed because I AM the process of being sanctified. Because my heart has been changed my desire is to be like Jesus. Back when I was an atheist, the LAST thing that I cared about was being like Him. Now it means the world to me! No one articulated this better than fellow former atheist Keith Green in his classic song, “I Want To Be More Like Jesus”:

    As each day passes by,
    I feel my love run dry.
    I get so weary, worn,
    And tossed around in the storm.
    Well I’m blind to others needs,
    And I’m tired of planting seeds.
    I seem to have a wealth,
    Of so many thoughts about myself.

    I want to, I need to, be more like Jesus.
    I want to, I need to, be more like him.

    Our fathers will was done,
    By giving us his son,
    Who paid the highest cost,
    To point us to the cross.
    And when I think of him,
    Taking on the whole worlds sin,
    I take one look at me,
    Compared to what I’m called to be.

    I want to, I need to, be more like Jesus.
    I want to, I need to, be more like him.

    (click here to hear this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kBF81_DDa4)

    Regardless, I know that when I die, I will receive the best that my religion has to offer: Eternal life in the presence of God. NOT because of anything that I have done (for I surely do NOT deserve it based on my merit!) but because of EVERYTHING that Christ has done for me – by faith alone, through grace alone.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

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