The topic of when should someone be restricted from the sacrament is a very sensitive one. The sacrament may be restricted during the repentance process; however, repentance is about change, sanctification and love, not about punishment and shame. Thus, when a bishop feels prompted to restrict someone from taking the sacrament, it is important that both the bishop and member understand the purpose behind the restriction.
Below is a short summary of three helpful articles that were published at Leading Saints in 2018. Each provide unique insights and perspectives into how to best approach repentance and restricting the sacrament.
Busting Four Common Repentance Myths
On April 12, 2018, Ryan Gottfredson wrote this thought provoking article after reviewing data from a Leading Saints survey done in the Fall of 2017. As Ryan considered the results, he discovered four common myths about repentance and the importance of understanding what repentance really means…a change of heart and mind.
Myth #1: Repentance is Overcoming, Turning Away From, or Rising Above Sin
It is important to realize that sin is not a necessary prerequisite for repentance.
LDS.org states that repentance
“is a change of mind and heart that gives us a fresh view about God, about ourselves, and about the world.”
I believe that we have a tendency to think that repentance is about going from bad to good. But, repentance is also going from good to great, and this may not involve sin at all.
I would like to hope that most of us are living our lives with limited need to repent because of sins we commit. But, that does not mean that we do not need repentance. I would like to hope that the repentance that most of us needs is refining our minds and hearts as we strive to move from good to great.
Myth #2: Repentance is a Process or a Series of Steps
Repentance is not about a process, steps, or boxes to check off. Repentance is about change.
Further, it seems possible to go through the steps of repentance (checking off all the boxes), yet still not fully changing our minds and hearts. Just because someone has acknowledged that they have done something wrong, felt sorry, confessed it, and stopped doing it does not necessarily mean that they have changed their mind or heart.
Myth #3: Repentance is Having Godly Sorrow/Godly Sorrow is Necessary for Repentance
Repentance is about having a change of mind and heart, not feeling sorry. Can feeling sorry help people to change their mind and heart? Certainly. Do they need to feel sorry in order to change their mind and heart? No. We do not need to feel any sort of sorrow in order to change our mind and our hearts.
I felt I had been trying to live the best I could with the knowledge that I had. But, with new knowledge, I came to understand that I could be living better. Did I feel bad? No. Did I change my mind and my heart? Yes.
In my opinion, most of the change that we make when we go from good to great does not involve “feeling sorry.” So, if we make it a necessary condition to feel sorry in order to change, we are going to miss out on a lot of growth and change.
Myth #4: Repentance is About Changing Behaviors
While this is well-intended, behavior is probably not the best thing to focus on if we are the one repenting, or if we are the one helping someone to repent.
A better place to focus is on the mind and heart because that is where repentance occurs. This is a better place to focus because it is treating the source of the issue. If we focus on behaviors, we will only be treating the surface or manifestation of the issue, and we are forgetting that it is the condition of our minds and hearts that drives our behaviors. If we truly want to change behaviors, it is going to be much more effective and long-lasting to focus on minds and heart.
For much of my life, I have believed each of these myths associated with repentance. Seeing repentance as something that was closely attached to sin and feeling sorrow, and seeing it as a process (something that would take significant time), repentance had somewhat of a negative connotation to me. This perspective also led me to take an approach towards life where I was primarily focused on avoiding issues, problems, and sin. But, now seeing repentance as change of mind and heart, not closely attached to feeling sorrow, and something that can occur rather quickly, repentance has a positive connotation to me. I now see repentance as my path to reach my intended destination of becoming more like Jesus Christ, becoming a better person, and becoming a greater influence for good in the lives of others.
Why Does the Bishop Restrict the Sacrament When Someone Sins?
On March 6, 2018, Kurt Francom wrote an article that was based upon his five-year experience as bishop and also considering results from a Leading Saints survey. He found that it is key for the person meeting with the bishop to understand that repentance is about change, not punishment.
Understanding the Purpose of Restrictions
All too often individuals leave the bishop’s office misunderstanding the purpose of why such a restriction of ordinances was placed on them. The moment the bishop instructs the transgressor to remain under spiritual probation is pivotal. If the bishop doesn’t take a moment to fully explain to them the purpose for the restriction they will begin to fill in the blanks with the help of the Adversary and hear a message of shame which will halt any progress towards repentance. If the leader doesn’t fully understand why it is happening then those under the restriction will definitely not know why.
I took this question, of restricting the sacrament, to the Leading Saints community and was surprised to see the varying opinions about the main purpose of restricting the sacrament. They suggested reasons for the sacramental restriction including:
- The bishop is protecting the person from condemnation and protecting the sanctity of the sacrament (3 Nephi 18:28-29)
- It’s a wake up call to the transgressor to change and return to the path of righteousness
- It doesn’t make sense to renew a covenant they aren’t keeping
All of these reasons are not surprising to anyone that understands the basic doctrine of repentance and they are all mostly accurate, but these reasons alone are not helpful to the individual wanting to repent. LDS.org defines repentance as:
“A change of mind and heart that gives us a fresh view about God, about ourselves, and about the world. It includes turning away from sin and turning to God for forgiveness. It is motivated by love for God and the sincere desire to obey His commandments.”
In short, repentance is about change and not punishment.
So these three reason are “accurate” but if a bishop leads with these reasons they will only leave the individual feeling shameful and deserving of punishment.
To truly articulate to the transgressor a message of love that will propel them towards change, two important principles must be understood:
- Repentance is not about punishing the transgressor and
- The Law of Justification and Sanctification.
Here we can see how important it is to make this clarification with the transgressor that any suffering or restriction is not for the purpose of paying for the sin; rather, it is for the purpose of changing their actions in order to continue down the path of sanctification; or helping them become more like God.
So when an individuals has been restricted from the sacrament they need to remember that they are only required to bring a broken heart to sacrament meeting rather than a clean report card.
Hastening Repentance – Things to Consider When Restricting the Sacrament
On October 16, 2018, Dave Keller also wrote an article regarding the three guidelines for a bishop to consider when restricting the sacrament. We need to be sure that love is at the core of our efforts.
If a Member Declines to Take the Sacrament
If a member feels unworthy to partake of the sacrament, he or she should decline. Having said that, careful observation during the ordinance allows a bishop the chance, through the spirit, to be prompted to minister to members not on restriction who choose to not participate in the ordinance. His call is to ensure they understand the purpose and significance of the ordinance, to assist them as needed through the repentance process and to also help those who are unnecessarily restricting themselves from participating in the ordinance.
Now, who should be restricted? In answering this question, three guidelines are helpful to bishops.
In my mind, the most productive way to consider restricting the sacrament center on these two ideas:
- If this person is allowed to participate in the ordinance, will it hasten his or her repentance (change, transformation) and/or deepen his or her personal connection to Jesus Christ?
- Is there any evidence of repentance and/or desire to persist in making and keeping covenants?
A second guideline comes from the idea introduced in Doctrine & Covenants 121:43: “Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost” (emphasis added).
The second guideline strongly connects to the third guideline: allow God to make the decision, not you.
In my experience as a bishop, I have infrequently restricted the sacrament. When I have done so, it has been obvious to me through the spirit that either the person did not want to repent or that the person needed the restriction to allow them to believe that they could truly be forgiven of their sins. Sometimes weeks or perhaps even months have passed between receiving a confession and instituting a restriction. Each time I imperfectly tried in my heart to find ways to allow them the privilege of deeply connecting with Jesus Christ through participating in the sacrament and ways to limit the duration of restriction to as short of a time as possible to accomplish its purpose.
Bishops: allow God an opportunity to reveal His will. When He wants someone restricted, He will move upon you through His spirit. When He doesn’t He will not. When unsure, ask, ponder, pray and wait upon Him to teach you His will, and in the meantime, persist in loving and serving His children.
Hopefully, a summary of these 3 articles has given you some additional food for thought in regards to what repentance really is and, where sin is involved, when it is appropriate to consider restricting the sacrament. We invite you to take a few more moments to read the articles in full and discover other pearls of wisdom that will help you in your efforts to be an inspired judge in Israel.