Articles of Faith: Three

15 Mar

In my first post of this series I went over the origin and history of the Articles of Faith. I other posts I discussed the first and second Articles of Faith. Today I will discuss briefly the third of the Articles, as given below.

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

In this article of faith several points of doctrine are articulated, and many false concepts about the church are resolved.

Note first of all that we believe that salvation comes only through the Atonement of Christ. There is no other way for us to be saved. Without the atonement we would all be damned. I have heard many people try to claim that we do not believe that the Atonement is was saves us, but that it is our own works or what have you. However, this simple statement declares in no uncertain terms that it is through the atonement; and thus the atonement becomes the key to our salvation.

The second part of this article is also very telling, and I do not believe the wording was casual, but was very deliberate. We believe all may be saved, and I would emphasize all and may. We believe that no one is excluded from the possibility of salvation. All have the opportunity of salvation. This is in direct opposition to the common doctrine of Predestination, or the doctrine that everyone is predestined to either salvation or damnation. All may be saved, and so no one is destined for damnation. However, the word may puts a condition on this salvation. We believe all may be saved, not that all will be saved.

So let us look at the third part because here we are given the conditions of Salvation. As I stated before, the Atonement is the key to our salvation, but here we learn what is needed in order to turn that key and make it effective in our lives. After all, what good is a key if it is not used, or is used in the wrong way or on the wrong lock. Here we are given two conditions. We are saved only by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Again, take note of the wording, as I believe it is significant. We are saved through the atonement, but by obedience. The atonement is the medium through which we are saved, but obedience is the processes by which we are saved.

Think of school: the teacher tells you to write an essay and submit it through an online drop box. In order to pass the class you must go through the process of writing and essay and them submit it through the medium as directed. If you try to submit it through another medium you will not get any credit. However, if you do not write the essay you will also not get credit. The required work must be performed through the required medium in order for you to get any credit in the class.

In a like manner we must obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel, but must do so through the medium of the Atonement. If either part is missing we will not be saved. If we live our lives in righteousness, but never accept Christ’s atonement that is like doing the essay and trying to turn it in through some other medium. If we accept Christ and yet do not live righteously that is like not doing the essay, but still working through the correct medium. Either way we have no claim on salvation.

On a last note I find it interesting that the Laws of the Ordinances and listed separately. Since I believe that wording is significant in these articles one can hardly be surprised. The ordinances are not laws, and the laws are not ordinances. An ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood.  Some are essential for salvation, others are not. A law, on the other hand, is a command from God to either do or not to do something. The classic example are the Ten Commandments (8 do not’s and 2 do’s). Now, there are some laws that command us to participate in certain ordinances; such as the command to be baptized (2 Ne. 9:23; 3 Ne. 27:20). However, one can obey this command and not obey the ordinance, as is the case with baptism and sprinkling. Those who practice sprinkling are obeying the law to be baptized, but they are not obeying the ordinance, as the ordinance demands immersion. I believe this is the reason that Joseph Smith made that distinction that we needed to be obedient not only to the commands of the Lord (including those requiring ordinances), but that we need to perform the ordinances in their proper form.

So, we learn many things from this one statement. We declare that it is through the Atonement that salvation is made possible, and that all can attain to it. However, we also declare that we must do what is required of us or the Atonement will not work in our lives. Lastly we see that ordinances must be performed in their proper way or they do us no good.


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