An “ordinance” is a physical act done with a religious purpose. (Some other Christians call ordinances “sacraments”—for example, one might have the sacrament of baptism or the sacrament of marriage.)
In the Church of Jesus Christ, ordinances:
- are a physical act,
- include a promise or covenant made by the worshiper and God,
- require priesthood authority from God to be valid.
For example, the first ordinance which believers must participate in is baptism.
With baptism, there is a physical act: the person being baptized is placed under the water and then raised out of the water by the person performing the baptism.
But, ordinances are not just physical acts. Baptism is meaningless, for example, if the person being baptized is not also sincerely making a covenant (promise) with God. When we are baptized, we promise God that we will:
- have faith in Jesus,
- repent and forsake our sins,
- enter into the family of Jesus Christ,
- support and help each other,
- follow Jesus for the rest of our lives.
If we keep our covenant, God promises to forgive our sins and to allow us to return to live with him (Mosiah 18:7-10).
Baptism is essential; even Jesus Christ was baptized, “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus taught that “except a man be born of water [baptized] and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
However, this immediately poses a problem. Most people who have lived on earth have never had an opportunity to be baptized. Most of humanity has probably never even heard of Jesus Christ or his teachings. Would it be just for God to condemn them? Of course not.
The plan of happiness has prepared a way for all to be baptized and be saved, if they choose to do so.