Dear 100 Hour Board,
Hi, I was raised in the LDS church but have never been able to gain a testimony of Joseph Smith. I finally decided (about 10 years ago) that I needed to stop letting my doubts about Joseph Smith keep my from following Christ of whom I've always had a strong testimony. That was after 20 years of confusion about what to do and multiple attempts to return to the church and gain a testimony. I decided to have my name removed from LDS Church records as part of my declaration to follow Christ alone, and I was rebaptized at a Christian Church. Anyway, I am currently meeting with some missionaries and have agreed to give the Book of Mormon one last read. I find myself troubled by the fact that if I attend an LDS Church service, I know that according to LDS doctrine, I should pass the Sacrament trays without partaking. It is the reason that is bothering me. Though I am committed to the LORD Jesus Christ, I haven't made up my mind about Joseph Smith and haven't yet been rebaptized. Jesus instituted the Sacrament, and I am eligible to participate at the Christian churches I attend regardless of formal membership, but at the LDS church, I am expected to abstain from the LORD's Sacrament until I'm sure enough about Joseph Smith to be rebaptized. It rests on a man not Christ. It feels like a punch in the gut, like the church is saying, here you cannot have the Savior without Joseph Smith. Is it the LORD we take the Sacrament in remembrance of or Joseph Smith? Is it our covenants to the LORD we are renewing or our covenants with the LDS Church? I find nothing in the baptismal covenants listed on LDS.org that weren't included in my declaration to follow Jesus 10 years ago. I am just so discouraged by this.
First off, I love your honesty and I love your question! To me, the question goes back to priesthood authority. Did God restore the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood through Joseph Smith? If no, then it doesn't matter who baptizes you or where you take the sacrament. If yes, then baptism is performed under the right authority in the LDS Church and likewise the sacrament is administered under the right authority in the LDS Church.
According to my understanding, once you remove your name from the records of the LDS Church, it is essentially cancelling the covenants that you have made with God in the LDS Church. This would explain the need to be re-baptized.
The purpose of the sacrament (according to LDS theology) is to renew our baptismal covenants that we made under proper priesthood authority. I admire your willingness to continue to search for the truth. I hope you find it and that you feel comfortable doing what you think is right for you in your specific situation. As you attend LDS meetings, I would suggest taking the sacrament if you really want to, but according to LDS theology it wouldn't really take effect in your life because the covenants that you made under priesthood authority are no longer in force. Therefore you cannot renew those covenants through the sacrament until you re-covenant with God.
I hope this makes sense. If not, feel free to email me, but this might be something you want to bring up with the missionaries that you have been meeting with. They might be able to explain it better. You may also want to talk with the bishop of your local congregation to ask him (because he is the priesthood leader and directs the ordinances of baptism and sacrament in the ward).
-Sunday Night Banter
Unbaptized members are free to take the sacrament if they wish. In that case, we believe that the ordinance has no external power since it's not renewing any covenants, but it can still be a nice symbol of wanting to follow Christ.
However, excommunicated and disfellowshipped members should not take the sacrament, according to this talk and this article. Once you've made the covenant of baptism, the sacrament renews that covenant, and it's not good to try and renew a covenant you're not currently keeping. Once you get re-baptized and make that covenant active again, taking the sacrament will have power in your life once more.
Christ comes first, not Joseph Smith. You're right to feel that way. We also believe that Joseph Smith had an important mission to help Christ restore His church on the Earth. If that actually happened, then there's something special about being a member of this church. This is the only church actually led by Jesus Christ, and the only church where membership comes with a covenant powerful enough to let its members have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.
I'd highly encourage praying and asking God what He wants you to do. Best of luck!