Mormons describe four important steps to becoming a member of God’s kingdom, and they refer to these as the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. They form the foundation of a Mormon’s relationship with God and Jesus Christ, and set the basis for his membership in the church.
These principles are outlined in a document called, ” The Articles of Faith.” The Articles of Faith are thirteen core beliefs of the church. The first one states, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” This is important for understanding the four principles, and is followed by statements on personal responsibility for actions and on the Atonement of Christ.
The first principles are listed as the fourth Article of Faith. It states: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” These principles are organized in the order in which they must be obtained. Each one builds on the others.
The first principle is faith. Faith is believing in something you can’t see and don’t have physical proof of. Alma, an ancient prophet in the Book of Mormon, gave the classic sermon on faith. In it, he explained, “Now, as I said concerning faith-that it was not a perfect knowledge-even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Alma 32:26-27)
From Alma, we learn that even the smallest glimmer of faith-even a longing to believe– is enough to begin with, and that we can use that hope or glimmer to begin the process of developing a personal relationship with God and with the Savior.
The second principle of the gospel is repentance. Once we have faith and a strong love for God, we begin to feel a sorrow for all the things we did wrong before we gained our faith. This sorrow provides a starting place for repentance. The process of repentance involves a true sorrow for the sin, not just for the consequences of sin. Next, the person must make restitution for his sins, apologizing to all those who were hurt and trying to make things right as far as possible. The next step is to go to God, asking forgiveness of Him. Finally, the person must forsake the sin, never returning to it. If the sin is repeated, the process begins again until he has finally gained mastery over that aspect of his life.
After he has gained faith and gone through the repentance process, he can begin to evaluate his life against the principles of the gospel. Once he has achieved a certain level of testimony and obedience, and has repented fully, he can be baptized. This is the third step of the four critical principles and ordinances. Mormon baptism follows the example of the Savior’s own baptism, in that it is done by complete immersion. This immersion represents the death and resurrection of the Savior, as well as symbolizing a cleansing of the soul. The baptism must be done by a person who has the authority to do so, just as Jesus went to John the Baptist, who was authorized to baptize.
During the baptism, the person makes covenants with God. A covenant is a two-way promise between man and God, with God setting the terms. He covenants to take on the name of the Savior and to keep the commandments of God. Mormons do not baptize anyone until the age of eight, since they must be old enough to be accountable for their sins and to understand what they’ve committed to do.
The fourth step in this process is to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. All people have the Spirit of Christ to guide them and can receive ministrations from the Holy Ghost. However, once the person has formally received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, he can have it with him at all times, as long as he’s living worthy of it. This gift helps him to discern truth from falsehood, right from wrong, and safety from danger. This gift is administered by a worthy priesthood holder with the authority to give it. At the same time, membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often nicknamed the Mormons) is conferred.
Other ordinances will occur in the members life, and of course, there are many other principles by which the Mormons live, but these form the foundation for all the others.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.