The Sacrament and Covenant Renewal
“The title “renewing our baptismal covenants” is not found in the scriptures. It’s not inappropriate. Many of you have used it in talks; we have used it in talks. But it is not something that is used in the scriptures, and it can’t be the keynote of what we say about the sacrament. … The sacrament is a beautiful time to not just renew our baptismal covenant, but to commit to Him to renew all our covenants, all our promises, and to approach Him in a spiritual power that we did not have previously as we move forward.” – Neil L. Andersen, “Witnessing to Live the Commandments,” General Conference Leadership Training on the Sabbath Day Observance at Church (April 2015)
I’ve seen this quote circulating online for a while now. I remember the first time I heard it was on video and it was very refreshing since the phrase “renewing baptismal covenants” in relation to the sacrament always bothered me. Why? Well, to me it feels like we are cheapening the ordinance like our covenant is a subscription like Netflix and we have to keep renewing it. Maybe there is an apt comparison there somewhere, but when we read about the sacrament in scripture, there is no talk of renewing covenants in this manner.
Jesus asks his followers to always remember him by partaking of his flesh and blood always, which is what we do every Sabbath day. When we partake of the flesh and blood of Christ, we are not renewing a covenant; we are keeping a commandment to always remember Him.
But what about the rest of Elder Andersen’s quote? He says that we don’t just consider the sacrament a renewal of baptismal covenants alone but a renewal of “all our covenants and promises.” Again, I’m not trying to argue with Elder Andersen but let’s look at the things that characterize the sacrament according to when the Savior first instituted it among the Nephites:
- They were “commanded that they should eat” (3 Nephi 18:3)
- It is given to all who believe and have been baptized (vs.5)
- “it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me” (vs.7)
After they had all partaken, Jesus says “Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you.” (vs.10) He continues “And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.” (vs.12)
The language in the prayers mirrors these words in Moroni 4:3:
- The prayer is directed to the Father
- The bread and wine (water) are blessed
- “that they may eat in remembrance“
- to show “that they are willing” to take upon them the name of the Son
- “and always remember him”
- “and keep his commandments“
I don’t see anything about covenant making or renewal here, rather it something that Jesus has commanded us to always do. There are covenental aspects there such as conditional terms and promised blessings. There is nothing in the prayers that instructs us to renew past covenants or even consider them in the act of partaking. In fact, Jesus himself explains what the “keynote” of what the sacrament is. He said that when partaking of the bread, we are to specifically remember his glorified resurrected body (which he showed to the Nephites) and the blood he shed for us. (vs.7,11) In doing so, we will have his Spirit to be with us and are built upon his rock. (11, 12)
The sacrament seems to be closely related to the fourth commandment which is to keep the Sabbath day holy. Both are commemorative events that God has commanded to be done among his covenant people. Is it possible that in remembering Christ we remember all of our covenants and promises? Jesus gave us specific instructions as to what we are doing when partaking of sacrament tokens. He even went so far as to warn “But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation;” (3 Nephi 18:13)
Is adding on to the sacrament additional purposes like renewing all past covenants and promises going out of scope and doing more than what Jesus commanded? Instead of doing as Jesus commanded should we be using that time to “commit to Him to renew all our covenants, all our promises…” like Elder Andersen suggests?
I’m not trying to debunk Elder Andersen here; I respect him. He was actually in the circle when I was blessed as a baby in Florida, and he acted as the sealer at one of my sister’s weddings. I want to understand the doctrine here and sustain Elder Andersen in what he is trying to communicate.
Maybe, when we keep this commandment to always remember Christ by partaking of his flesh and blood and build on his rock, that action in and of itself reflects our commitment to keep all of our covenants and promises. While we make many covenants and promises to God along the way, this sacrament commemoration is the ordained way we communicate to God that, yes, we are still willing.
I can accept that in the act of partaking I can remember the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that in so doing, confirm my willingness to keep his commandments which includes all the covenants and promises I have previously made.
Elder Anderson is correct in saying that binding the sacrament to baptismal covenants alone is “not inappropriate” and “it can’t be the keynote of what we say about the sacrament.” I think it is fair to consider how the sacrament relates to our relationship with God regarding the covenants we have made. Ultimately I think his words go a long way to move us away from erroneous ideas and toward a deeper understanding of the sacrament and our relationship with God.