The Mormon Concept of Commandments

This is the second in a series of posts that examines the topic of Mormon spirituality, or how we respond to the Divine in personal living. The purpose of the series is to explain why Mormons are the way they are and how it has to do with religion and doctrine. It was inspired by critics who seem to misunderstand or question the inner spirituality of Mormons as materialists or shallow.

Reading the many blog posts I do each week, I came across answers to some strange questions. Often it seems that those who don’t know Mormons, and some who do, have this idea that the faith has too many rules and regulations. Most importantly is that somehow the religion is different from all the others in the approach to ethics and commandments. Some critics have said there are over 100 commandments that Mormons must follow. There is some truth to these opinions because culture has changed over the years. What is expected of people modern society today is far less than what was taught before the social revolutions back a generation. Yet, understanding the required behaviors and reasons for a believing Mormon isn’t that hard.

The first recognition is that Mormons are not Eastern Quakers or Catholic Nuns and Monks. It is taught that a person should live in the world, but not of the world. That means participating in life; going to work, getting married, going to school, raising children, etc. Life is not about a cloistered existence. That leaves a lot of room for what a Mormon can do in this world. As one blog said about living the standards, “There may be lots of rules and guidelines but these aren’t rocket science. Its simple things like get enough sleep, wear appropriate clothing. If you ask me…. Being Mormon is easy. The world is hard!”

What are the Mormon standards they are asked to live with as a believer? It starts with a basic list that can be found in the Bible of all places. In the book of Exodus Chapter 20 the list includes:

1 And God spake all these words, saying,
2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

At the very least this list is the most basic of guidelines to be followed. In case any of the above was missed in the first reading, these 10 Commandments are also in the Book of Mormon where it is asked why those who teach it don’t follow them. They are essential to any Jew or Christian as a base set of moral guidelines.

Another set of ethical standards can be found in the New Testament that are said to be harder to follow, but no less familiar to those who know the Bible. Its called the sermon on the mount or the sermon on the plain, depending on what version is used. It is standards of behavior outlined by the mortal Jesus to a gathered multitude.

Over the years there have been some guidance given by the leadership of the LDS Church to its members. Some of this can best be explored in For the Strength of Youth pamphlets. A few unusual suggestions might be “Do not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable.” Still other unusual suggestions could include, “When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you,” and “Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings. If girls or women desire to have their ears pierced, they are encouraged to wear only one pair of modest earrings.” It must be emphasized that the above doesn’t automatically assume a sin has been committed (pornography might be the exception), much as trying to avoid them.

Biblical Prophets and Apostles have been just as concerned with strict avoidance of sin. Paul’s letters are filled with advice, suggestions, and commandments that sound like a laundry list of do and don’t. From 1 Corinthians comes the admonition:

7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus does break down the commandments into two basic components of “love the Lord thy God,” and “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Those who are fulfilling the spirit of the Commandments or Law must have these as the basis for behavior. Any obedience that ignores these two spiritual perogitives doesn’t fulfill the Gospel message.

Probably what singles out Mormons more than anything, besides dressing standards sometimes, is the health standards known as Word of Wisdom. At the minimum we are commanded not to drink alcohol and coffee, smoke, or do drugs. Technically, none of these are considered sins although they will keep a person out of sacred Mormon Temples. That is not a light restriction to be sure and can stop spiritual growth. However, a person who does these things won’t be considered worthy of damnation just for doing them. It is a lot more complicated than an if/then eternal perspective. Too many times Mormons forget this fact and make improper judgments. Even so, our bodies are to be treated as temples of God. These restrictions of the body help us remain both healthy and open to spiritual blessings.

The goal of following the Commandments for Mormons is to draw closer to the Lord. A mature faith includes the promise as given in John 14:15-17 where it says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” We follow the commandments because Jesus did the same as an example to us (see John 15:10) out of Love.

David A. Bednar of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:

Faithfully obeying God’s commandments is essential to receiving the Holy Ghost. We are reminded of this truth each week as we listen to the sacrament prayers and worthily partake of the bread and water. As we pledge our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments, we are promised that we may always have His Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77). Thus, everything the Savior’s gospel teaches us to do and become is intended to bless us with the companionship of the Holy Ghost . . .

Praying, studying, gathering, worshipping, serving, and obeying are not isolated and independent items on a lengthy gospel checklist of things to do. Rather, each of these righteous practices is an important element in an overarching spiritual quest to fulfill the mandate to receive the Holy Ghost. The commandments from God we obey and the inspired counsel from Church leaders we follow principally focus upon obtaining the companionship of the Spirit. Fundamentally, all gospel teachings and activities are centered on coming unto Christ by receiving the Holy Ghost in our lives.

Ultimately it isn’t about “I can’t, I’m Mormon”, but following the 10 Commandments, Jesus’ Sermons, and avoiding the sins as described in Scriptures. It is about not following after every trend of the world. It is about making a choice based on faith. It is about spiritual progress toward the Love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who think Mormonism is strict must honestly come to the conclusion that what is taught in the Bible is no longer respected. There really is nothing new, only the old spelled out in new ways. Mormons are different only in so far as the popular social moral compass has been forgotten or changed.

8 thoughts on “The Mormon Concept of Commandments

  1. I would add something from a convert: I got a testimony of the truth of the Church and the Book of Mormon before I got a testimony of keeping the commandments. Once I had the testimony that the Church was true, it was relatively easy to follow the word of wisdom and other commandments. I don’t think everybody has this experience, but I certainly did.

  2. Thanks for the input Geoff B. I don’t think its that rare, and perhaps a logical progression. What I don’t believe in is “fake it till you make it” with the Commandments because it devalues their spiritual purpose. You follow them out of Love for the Lord. Once you have that then there is no reason to fake it as they become part of who you are as a believer. It has something to do with Grace that will be covered in another of the series.

  3. Jettboy, excellent post:

    Probably what singles out Mormons more than anything, besides dressing standards sometimes, is the health standards known as Word of Wisdom. At the minimum we are commanded not to drink alcohol and coffee, smoke, or do drugs.

    Just a short comment here. We use the ‘Word of Wisdom’ as a phrase that points to two things that are related but not identical. One is section 89. Other is a sort of short hand for the ‘do nots’ that are not part of the temple recommend interview (since 1920s, I believe) based on section 89. A lot of silliness exists from people not realizing that there are two ‘uses’ of the phrase and not one. (Then again, a lot of silliness exists from people thinking words and phrases have one and only one meaning on almost everything.)

    Technically, none of these are considered sins although they will keep a person out of sacred Mormon Temples.

    A point here too. I think Mormons do think of them as sin, but only in the sense that for belivers today it’s a commandments. I accept that Jesus, who drank alcohol (but didn’t get drunk), would not do so if mortal today because of the Word of Wisdom. Likewise, the fact that the prophets and apostles (pre-the 1920s temple recommend change) sometimes drank is not inconsistent with their version of the Word of Wisdom of their day.

    That is not a light restriction to be sure and can stop spiritual growth. However, a person who does these things won’t be considered worthy of damnation just for doing them. It is a lot more complicated than an if/then eternal perspective

    I want to plug my own view again of Mormonism think of ‘salvation’ as ‘having a certain type of character (i.e. God’s)’ Therefore, anything that isn’t consistent with God’s character — if one were to refuse to change for eternity — would tautologically be damnation.

  4. By the way, Jettboy, you do some incredibly thought provoking and well written (and well documented) posts.

  5. After reading Geoff B.’s comment, I felt like I should add my 2 cents. I’m also a convert, but unlike him, I was drawn to the church first as a teen because of the commandments, and then the doctrinal stuff fell into place as I learned it. (I suspect that this progression is somewhat more rare than his.)

    Anyway, I lost a grandfather to lung cancer and had had family members who struggled with alcoholism and wondered why churches didn’t seem to say anything beyond just conventional wisdom. When I learned about the Word of Wisdom, it was like, “WOW, God agrees with me on this one!” and I was excited to find out more.

  6. Duerma, that was an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing it. It made my day.

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