Question: Did other ceremonies or practices ever change in the ancient Church?

Table of Contents

Question: Did other ceremonies or practices ever change in the ancient Church?

major changes in practices took place during Jesus Christ’s ministry

We know that major changes in practices took place during Jesus Christ’s ministry. Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses and practices associated with that law were no longer necessary. Changes also took place after Christ's earthly ministry. For example, Christ originally taught the gospel only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt. 15:24) and forbade His apostles from going to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5–6). After Jesus' death Peter was commanded by an angel to take the gospel to all people (Acts 10, Acts 11; Matt 28:19). Following Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry the practice of circumcision also became unnecessary (Acts 15, Galatians 6:15). Changes in the Church are sometimes necessary. Such changes, however, must be done by inspiration or revelation from the head of the Church, who is Jesus Christ.

Relative truths can change, while absolute truths do not

There are absolute truths and relative truths. Absolute truths (such as: God lives and Jesus is the Christ) do not change. Relative truths or practices (such as: circumcision, plural marriage, and age of priesthood ordination) do change. Many relative truths deal with procedural issues, and how absolute truths are presented, rather than the absolute truths themselves. As additional truths are revealed, our understanding of previous revelation is modified to accommodate additional light.

That the temple ceremonies have undergone occasional changes, improvements, and refinements, should cause no concern since -- as Joseph Fielding Smith noted -- the “work of salvation for the dead came to the Prophet [Joseph Smith] like every other doctrine — piecemeal. It was not revealed all at once.”[1]

President Brigham Young gave a brief definition of the endowment and thereby identified some of its essential elements. He said,

"Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell."[2]

On 4 May 1842, after President Joseph Smith gave the first Nauvoo-era endowment to a small group of Latter-day Saints he told apostle Brigham Young that because of their limited spacial circumstances the overall experience was “not arranged perfectly” and he wanted Brigham to “organize and systematize” the ceremonies. This indicates there were some presentational modifications allowable in the rites while still preserving the core elements of the experience.

Notes

  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 168.
  2. Brigham Young, "Necessity of Building Temples—The Endowment," (April 6, 1853) Journal of Discourses 2:31.