A Covenant is a Covenant

Let us posit for the moment that Mormonism is not true, but that some other religion is. I am curious about how LDSs will be judged with respect to the covenants they have made. Mormons have made covenants before God to follow certain teachings. How will Mormons who have broken those covenants be judged? Will it be to their advantage because Mormonism is false? How about Mormons who have kept those covenants? Will they be rewarded because they kept the promise that they made to God?

I suppose that the same question is valid if Mormonism is true with respect to the vows and commitments made by others. How will the vows of a Buddhist monk be evaluated by God?

Part of the reason that I am asking this question is whether or not the fact that one has made a covenant to do so is a sufficient reason for someone to remain active in the church. Thoughts?

24 Replies to “A Covenant is a Covenant”

  1. The question this is really asking is “how well do we know God”. I could only answer this question in the context of the Mormon God since this is the Church that has defined my thoughts. I think Jacob J is right on, if we were to look outside the Mormon deity for an answer the possibilities are as limitless as the possibilities surrounding the nature and truth about God.

    This may be a bit legalistic, but I would argue that given the nature of Covenants, i.e. a mutual agreement, oath, contract, etc between at least two parties, then the answer would be no. If the Mormon Church turns out to be false, then it is not likely that God was a party to the covenants being made to him, no contract. Again this is a Mormon perspective, but if the Church is false then why would God hold us accountable for Covenants made in an LDS context, if he is a just being? Wouldn’t that also neccesitate him to also bind himself to the accepting of those “false” covenants. If that were to happen wouldn’t that also make Mormonism true in a sense, and defeat the whole question? If that were to be the case then wouldn’t that also make God, sort of a universalist? And if so, why would he be so strict about the observance of covenants in favor of one creed, when he is not overly partial of any religion over another.

  2. C.S. Lewis, in The Last Battle, posits that good covenants made and kept in honor and good faith are accepted by God. Recall, Aslan accepts the loyalty and honor the Calormene soldier offered to Tash?

  3. C.S. Lewis was also a conservative Christian. I don’t mention that as an attack on he, or covservative Christianity, but to point out he is speaking from that perspective. One question though, would C.S. Lewis and his deity see all of the Mormon covenants as “good” or relevant. I.E., the Word of Wisdom (alcohol in particular), tithing to the LDS Church, administrative callings (Ward Clerk), No R-rated movies under any circumstance, abstaining from caffeine, always supporting the Mormon hierarchy, Saturday session general conferences, Mormon proselytizing, etc.

  4. I, along with all other baptised, endowed, Mormons covenanted that I will keep all of his (God) commandments. According to Mormonism those commandments are dictated from God to his Prophets. Prophets have been specific on the position of R-rated movies. You may have a technical argument (not a strong one), on the “under any circumstances” emphasis because there is not a specific covenant for that one policy, but you missed my point. I was really commenting that what would be considered a “good” covenant under the premise of this topic is just as subjective as whether God expects us to honor covenants made to him in a false religion, manner, understanding, whatever. I guess what I am really trying to say is that CS Lewis is not the trump card on this topic.

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.
    Jacob, I suspect that you might be right, but this is just a hypothetical. What I am trying to understand is whether God values adherence to truth over adherence to honesty. Is my following what is true more important than me being true to what I have committed to? If I have made a covenant in good faith, and do not follow it, am I better off because the covenant was made under false pretenses, or worse off because I failed to meet a commitment even though I did not know at the time that the commitment was moot?

    Erick, I don’t think that this requires that we know much about God, or any specific god. It is about which values are more important. We make these sorts of judgments all the time.
    I think that you make a good point about an invalid contract because God did not actually sign. Consider the analogy of being picking up the wrong final exam. Does God still grade it according to the standards of that exam, or does he just toss it out? You seem to suggest that the Mormon God, or any God, is not a universalist, but I think that Mormonism at least is much more open to this that you suggest.
    Coffinberry and Erick, doesn’t the fact that Lewis is a “conservative Christian” (I actually wouldn’t say that at all, at least not if one has in mind the American Christian Right as a comparison) and that he supports a more open view to salvation seem to suggest that such a position is possible for Mormons as well? To answer Erick’s question, I think that Lewis would see Mormons who follow their covenants as “good,” even if Lewis doesn’t think that they are.

  6. If we were to use biblical Christianity as our context than knowing God is essential to the argument, for it is life eternal. The idea that God expects us to honor the covenants we have made, regardless of the religion, is very Mormon in its nature. We embrace all truth from wherever it may come, and God rewards our best intentions. So to the Mormon form of deity, I would agree that there is some flexibility here. But the question was if Mormonism isn’t true, how does God see our adherance to the Mormon way, ie covenants -are we still bound/rewarded by them. Your last post seems to clarify your question a bit. Your initial post seemed to have an air of, even if Mormonism turns out to be false, do you think God will still favor us for belonging to such a splendid religion anyhow. Does God value adeherance to truth or adherance to honesty? I he values adherance to truth in a strict sense, then I stand by my answer in comment #2. If he values adherance to honesty, then I think the liturgy of covenants is less relevant then the ahderance to ones own value system. Particularly since, honesty with regards to belief is a much more personalized thing than religious organizations.

  7. I remember feeling a little bit tricked when I visited the temple for the first time. At the very beginning of the ceremony I was told that I would be making covenants, but not told what those covenants were, so how was I supposed to know if I would commit to them? Throughout the ceremony, I was asked to make several covenants, but not explicitly given the same, “If you don’t want to, you can leave now.” I remember thinking as I left the temple that surely those covenants were not binding because I didn’t feel like they were presented to me in a fair manner.

    Now that I’m older, sometimes I hypothesize about the fate of someone who attended the temple once at age 18 and never returned. Regardless of whether Mormonism turns out to be “true,” I have a hard time believing that God would hold someone accountable for covenants they made as a naive 18-year-old young man or woman whose brain was so rattled by the strange nature of temple ceremonies that they didn’t really understand them in the first place. I could place baptismal covenants made by 8 year-olds in the same category, I suppose.

    I guess what I’m saying, is that I’m not really sure that whether mormonism is “true” or not has any relationship to whether I think God expects compliance with all covenants.

  8. Erick,
    I think you’ve introduced a 3rd option: “adherence to one’s value system.” With regard to conventants, this is irrelevant. If I decide that my mortgage company doesn’t deserve my money, that might be my personal value system, but is irrelevant to the agreement I have made. Is that what God will value?

  9. To keep the context, let’s also suggest that the mortgage company has been blatantly ripping you off for years because they set you up with a new type of mortgage “pay now, buy later”, and there is no likelihood that you will ever be able to cash in on the benefit from this illegitimate “company”.

    I don’t think we can put a clear answer on a question with too many variables. find a solution to the given equation X – Y =, so again, I think we would have to provide context.
    If we use Christianity many of the scriptures from all of the standard works suggest that God, the Savior, are the personal embodiements of truth (I realize that many of you are linguistics and ancient texts experts, I’m not so forgive any poor examples – but feel free to correct me). “I am the way the truth and the life”, “God is a spirit and must be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth” are just two that come to mind. It seems that truth is the emphasis. I would argue that true belief is just “the truth as far as I know”. So a reasonable case could be made that they are fundamentally the same thing. Truth as it really is vs. truth as I percieve it.

  10. Just one final thought. I think I was reading to far into this question, that I missed the relevance. What I think is being asked here (correct me if I am wrong) is, does God bless our best efforts even if those efforts turn out to be wrong. In other words, we are confronting again, in a way, the old notion that an individual who was not baptised, or saved, or whatever is doomed to hell on account of having been wrong, despite an admirable and noble life. As I read the scriptures and observe people of faith, the recurring theme of faith (despite the LDS claim to knowledge = see TK Smoothie comments) is that as the scriptures say, faith is hope. And perhaps in the conventional way, I hope that God will consider my intentions and see my weaknesses in light of my best efforts. Ultimately, we hope that God is just, merciful, and kind, and that our lives can be circumscribed within that truth. And perhaps that hope engages us in action, be it philanthropy, religion, or righteous living.

  11. I throw out a question or two: Do you think God would want someone to keep a covenant or oath with someone bound in crime or sin? Is the value of gospel covenants found in the making of the covenant / the covenant itself, or in the Being with whom the covenant is believed to be made?

    Here’s another something to throw in the mix. Suppose a person makes a promise to a coworker or friend and the only way he finds he/she can keep that promise is to violate a promise and trust with his/her spouse. (I have seen this happen.) Sometimes, two competing “promises” will battle against one another. A person does what he/she thinks is good and right or worthwhile, but then finds later on that the first promise should not have been entered into in the first place. The key to me is that that person should do what is right at a higher level, not just that he/she should be so consumed with a misplaced promise to feel bound to it. Integrity is not as simple as keeping a promise; it’s about doing what is right at a higher level, imo.

    Mot examples…. If I enter into a ‘promise’ with a company that ends up defrauding me, I don’t feel bound to follow through with that, and I think there are legal ways to get out of that kind of deal. A person in a dangerous or abusive marriage might need to end it. An employee bound to company secrecy may need to reveal something if crime is being committed or someone is in mortal peril. A person who makes a religious covenant and comes to feel that it was not fully valid or correct or binding with God, imo, should feel free to move forward in what he/she believes is good and right and true. If we make covenants an end in and of themselves, I think we might miss something.

    That said, for me, the covenants I have made do influence my behavior, but it’s because of the confidence I have in God and His promises, not just in the fact that I have made promises and am worried about not being ‘honest’ in keeping them.

    I believe God will honor those who are honest in heart and have done their best to follow the light of Christ in whatever way it may have come into their lives. And I also believe that there will be those who entered into true covenants who will end up not receiving the blessings available through those covenants. Again, I don’t think it’s the covenant alone that makes or breaks a person’s salvation, but his/her heart and motives and desires in doing so.

  12. “I, along with all other baptised, endowed, Mormons covenanted that I will keep all of his (God) commandments. ”

    Is there a comprehensive list of all the commandments? I know there are hundreds of them (perhaps as many as in the Talmud) and I would like direction on everything from how much wheat to keep in my basement to which TV programs I should watch. From how short my shorts should be to what sort of white shirt to wear (can it be white, eggshell, ivory, cream, seashell)?

    After all, I need to follow every single commandment issued, right?

  13. If I could perhaps sharpen this a bit I would ask, “How much will God judge the kind of person I am as opposed to the kind of commandments I’ve kept/covenants I’ve entered into?”

    One response to this could be as follows: Implicit in this question is the assumption that there is a difference between being a good/righteous person and keeping the commandments. This isn’t to say that the commandments are meaningless, but rather open the possibility that the commandments serve to create a certain kind of individual–someone who is honest, caring, upright, etc. It is this kind of person that will “inherit the kingdom of God”.

    Taking this view, I imagine, could easily lead to an openness as far as the “covenants” of other religions are concerned. In other words, the self control, obedience, humility, etc. of the Buddhist monk are necessary qualities of those that will “make it to Heaven”, despite “misguided” assumptions about the power of Bodhisattvas to save.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if many LDSs would take such a view; although the challenge of such a view is the intrumentalization of covenants/commandments–is there more to commandments than simply cultivating certain virtues? However to relate it back to your post, keeping a covenant simply because one has promised to do so, from the perspective of the position outlined above, would not be a sufficient reason if keeping the covenant negatively impacted the cultivation of a larger subset of virtues.

  14. I think this answer is fairly simple and we may be overthinking it. I believe the key is in what Alma said to his son, Corianton, and to us that “if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness . . . .”

    In other words, once you have had a confirmation of truth by the Holy Ghost, if you should then deny it and walk away from it, it is worse for you than if you had never had it. If you made covenants in the Spirit of God—the only way they can be made—then you are in this situation. If, on the other hand, you had no such conviction in your heart, you will only be held accountable for what you have felt. (Though I believe that mocking the sacred ordinances of others by pretending to participate for social or other reasons is also punishable.) There are only two entities who can judge the difference, the person in question and the Godhead. At times, one with stewardship over the person might receive revelation from the Spirit to this point, but it is still the Spirit which knows.

    Bearing this in mind, I think we are held accountable for the little feelings as well as the big ones. As God himself said “I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”

    I feel that if we deny the small truths when we feel them, we will still be held accountable for the greater truths we missed because we tossed out the delicate feelings of the Spirit in favor of our own natural pride. So long as we are humbly seeking truth and learning to follow the Spirit to the best of our ability, we will be led to the truth and held accountable for that truth which we find, no matter our religion or background. There are only two paths: the path of sacrifice which leads back to the Father through His Son and the path of pride which leads another direction. The choice of which path to take is independent of religion and situation in life, and it is presented to all the children of God. There was a post I wrote some time ago that goes into a little more detail on this subject.

    There are also a few other relevant scriptures that would be worth reading.

  15. SilverRain-
    To some degree I would agree with your comments here, but as I have said regarding other comments this is a wholly Mormon perspective. I think a clearer way to make the Mormon perspective would be to recall section 138 – Joseph F. Smiths vision of salvation for the dead. In particular the NT scripture 1 Peter 4:6

    “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”

    I think the LDS interpretation of this scripture is on the same track as your comments. But if the LDS way is incorrect despite ones “feelings” of the spirit, how will God judge our conduct in light of our beliefs and good intentions. The closing remarks to the post were:

    “Part of the reason that I am asking this question is whether or not the fact that one has made a covenant to do so is a sufficient reason for someone to remain active in the church. Thoughts?”

    If we use the LDS doctrines regarding the “light of Christ” as taught in The Book of Mormon then you are correct. But if we use the position of Born Agains, ie all revelation is contained in the bible and communicated through the written word, then the standard of “feeling the Spirit” is less credible I think. I am not suggesting that this position is more correct than the Mormonism, but am suggesting that the first comment is obviously the most correct – and second, I think we are all hoping that our conduct, right or wrong, will be seen as an “acceptable sacrifice” before the Lord.

  16. #14 –

    I don’t want to get into a discussion regarding the imperfection of man, and the need of an atonement “for all have fallen short of the glory of God”. I realize this, and I think most LDS do, especially those on this site, but if you are LDS – can you really deny that my suggestion that we have covenanted to keep all of the commandments through baptism, and the temple ordinances, is somehow a flawed interpretation of said covenants?

  17. My two cents: your interlocutor sounds as if s/he has an honor/shame relationship with God.

    The fundamental question in Christianity is how sinful humans develop a relationship with God. For Christians, this relationship is defined as faith in Christ. Salvation itself is an act of grace for those in this relationship.
    Beyond this lie the questions surrounding the mediation of this grace through the sacraments, covenants, etc., etc.

    So I think your conversation partner needs to go back to and ask himself how this relationship with God is to be established. If he or she thinks that this covenant to remain a member is part of the mediation of grace in that relationship, then there’s the answer. But if not, if s/he can or should, establish that relationship without the covenant, then there’s no reason to maintain it.

  18. I think the fact that one has made a covenant to remain active in the church is a sufficient reason for someone to do so – until that one is convinced that the covenant is non-binding and therefore invalid. Stay active until you are sure the Church is not true.

    If I foolishly sign a contract that requires 60% interest, I am bound by that contract – until I learn that that interest rate is higher than the law allows and therefore a non-binding contract.

    I think it is important to one’s personal integrity to do what they have agreed, in good faith, to do. If one does not want to remain active in the church because they don’t have a spiritual confirmation that the church is true, they are, nonetheless, under covenant to do so. The choice seems to be: find out if the Church is true (part of which entails being active in the Church -“if any man will know, let him do”) or remove one’s self from the covenant. If one cannot believe that the Church is true, then to maintain personal integrity they should remove their membership in the Church. If one does not want to live up to the terms of the covenant, irrespective of the truthfulness of the Church, then one should remove their membership in the Church.

  19. I am not sure I know how individuals achieve communion with God, though most religions claim to. I believe that whatever this process is, it is very individual. Religions, rites, covenants may assist or even be essential to this process, but it still remains a personal thing. That is a very consistent position with most religions including Mormonism.

  20. Does God value adherence to truth over adherence to honesty? I like TT’s re-wording of the question this way. I’m inclined to believe that God values honesty; it’s right there with humility and meekness.

  21. Erick – I think I answered that question. Essentially, God will accept the sincerity of one’s heart, according to one’s understanding, even if that understanding is wrong. Therefore, He will honor incorrectly made covenants if they were made in sincerity of purpose. He will, of course, lead sincere truth seekers to the truth. If this is what you’re asking, I feel this is the answer. Whether or not it is a Mormon perspective is somewhat moot, as I am a Mormon!

    If you are asking, on the other hand, what you said in #18, the answer is yes, I believe that is wrong. Part of the baptismal covenant is, unequivocally, to keep the commandments. Naturally, we can only do so according to our knowledge of them. That is why God is just. He is merciful because, even when we have knowledge, we make mistakes. That is why Christ’s atonement is needed (according to Christians, and thus Mormons). Asking a Mormon to make a judgment call on something like that from a non-Mormon perspective is kind of illogical, is it not?

  22. I think I agree, the difficulty of this post is that there are too many variables. What I think has been insightful is the way that many of us have attempted to address the questions here, myself included.

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