What do Mormons Believe About Baptism?

It occurred to me while writing that title that I have a significant gap in my knowledge:  I really don’t know much about what other Christian churches believe and practice regarding baptism.   That ignorance was on display recently when I attended a Catholic wedding and noticed that the church had a pretty big baptismal font (not big enough for a waterslide, but bigger than a posh bathtub) and wondered out loud what it was for, since I am pretty confident that Catholics baptize by sprinkling.  I asked my wife, a former Catholic, whether she thought that maybe the Catholics picked up the building on a foreclosure from an evangelical church.  She gave me a dirty look that I interpreted as an invitation to pipe down.

So I think I am entirely unqualified to do a compare-and-contrast with what other Christians do, and I’ll have to just settle for telling you what the Mormons do.

First off, we do not have a waterslide.  But that would be cool.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that baptism is the first essential ordinance of the gospel.  An ordinance is an outward act that symbolizes a covenant, which is a sacred agreement between a person and God.  In the case of baptism, the ordinance consists of baptism by immersion, followed by confirmation as a member of the Church by the laying on of hands and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost.  The covenant is that a person agrees to accept the name of Christ and follow His commandments, and the Lord promises to cleanse that person of his or her sins.

To_Fulfill_All_RighteousnessMormons believe that baptism must be performed by the proper priesthood authority and in the manner authorized by the Lord.  As a result, if someone who has been baptized in another church elects to join the LDS Church, they must be rebaptized.  (I’m at least familiar enough to know that some Protestant churches accept the baptisms of other churches, but I have no idea which baptisms are compatible with one another).  We are baptized by immersion because we believe that this was the manner in which John the  Baptist baptized the Savior, and that it is a symbol of death (being buried in the water) and resurrection or rebirth (coming back up out of the water).

Although Mormons are a missionary people, with over 50,000 proselyting missionaries serving throughout the world, baptism into the Church is not a quick or casual matter.  There basically two avenues by which a person can be baptized as a Mormon.  The first is what we refer to “child of record” baptisms.  These are children of church members who have reached the “age of accountability.”  In the LDS Church, that is the age of eight, which is when we believe children become old enough to understand basic concepts of the gospel and made a commitment to follow Christ.  Before a child is baptized, they usually have attended church services, including children’s classes, for most of their lives.  Those whose parents may have joined or returned to church recently might take the missionary discussions before baptism.  They are then interviewed by the bishop of the ward (the leader of a local congregation) to ensure that they understand what they are doing and really want to do it.   Where such children have fathers who are members of the Church, the father usually performs the baptism.  (As an aside, this may be the thing I love most about being a Mormon:  The opportunity to perform sacred ordinances for my children.  I think it brings fathers and their children together in a commitment to Christ in a very unique and special way).

The second route to baptism is convert baptisms.  Where a person has an interest in the Church, they sit with our proselyting missionaries for a series of “discussions” that cover the basic and most important principals and ordinances of the gospel.  Obviously, a person does not become a gospel scholar over a few weeks, but the discussions are sufficient to ensure that people understand key principles of the gospel and understand and accept the obligations and commitments that come with church membership.  Thus, they learn of the nature of God, the ministry and atonement of Christ, the resurrection, and importance of prayer, repentance, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.  They learn of doctrines unique to the Mormons, such as the apostasy and restoration, the Book of Mormon, the word of wisdom, and tithing.

After a person has heard the discussions and expressed a desire to join the Church, they need to demonstrate the genuineness of their intention by attending Church for a few weeks.  We have no desire to have people join the Church with a half-hearted commitment and then drifting away after a short time.  There is too much of that as it is, and for that reason we strive to make sure that folks build spiritual and social roots in the gospel and continue to develop those following baptism.

Finally, a potential member of the Church is interviewed by a senior missionary to determine whether baptism is appropriate.  The purpose of ArtBook__103_103__YoungManBeingBaptized____the interview is to ensure that (1) the person understands the nature of the baptismal covenant; (2) they have a commitment to live the principles of the Church; and (3) that there are no reasons why baptism might be inappropriate.  For example, the interview should include inquiries about whether the person has engaged in serious past sins (like felonies or abortions) that the Church wants to be sure have been repented of.  Also, in contrast to the common characterization of Mormons as a cult, if there are serious family objections to baptism, especially with minors, the baptism usually will not be approved.  In some countries, baptism might expose the potential member to an unreasonable risk of harm or persecution, or might violate legal agreements between the Church and the government.  Again, Mormons do not just baptize people willy-nilly or merely upon a profession of a person’s acceptance of Christ.  We consider this an extremely important covenant and try to ensure that it is not taken lightly.

A quick example of how all of this worked in my family:  In 1973, missionaries knocked on our door, and my parents invited them in to hear the discussions.  My mother and my brother and sister were interested in joining after a few weeks, but my dad was hesitant.  Because of that, the baptism was delayed until my dad decided to join, because the missionaries were concerned that baptizing only part of the family could create a rift.  My family was baptized, but I wasn’t, because I was only 7.  When I turned eight, I was a “child of record,” and I was baptized by my dad.

My baptism is a wonderful memory, even 40 years after the fact.  Going into the water to baptize my future wife and later with each of my children has been an incomparable blessing for me (even when, as a result of a serious car accident, I had to have a friend help me to get my youngest daughter into and out of the water).  These have been sacred family moments in which we have demonstrated our devotion to the Savior and our determination to follow Him.  It is a covenant that I hope each of us endeavors to live up to every day.


1 Response to “What do Mormons Believe About Baptism?”

  1. 1 Danny R Berkabile September 5, 2019 at 9:58 am

    Well, I’ll leave a reply. It’s about what I feel is a very important part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is directed to those Christian churches who believe baptism is essential to being saved. If you ask, say, a Baptist who will be saved, the answer will include the necessity of being baptized. There are other requirements, but baptism is an essential one. In other words, if you’re not baptized you cannot be saved.

    There’s another question to this that naturally follows. Let’s say you’re talking to a Baptist, a denomination that requires baptism for salvation, and ask the question how about all the other people in the world who have never been baptized in your church. The answer I usually get is it’s too bad for them. The scriptures clearly teach a person must be baptized in order to enter into the Kingdom of God and the usual scripture quoted is Jesus talking to Nicodemus in John 3:5.

    John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

    So when you affirm that all the other people in the world except those of your church will not be saved, the answer is from a straight forward “yes” to a “well, the Lord will somehow work it all out” so as not to look too foolish. Basically, what I have discovered from other churches requiring baptism is this point of view expressed in one of these two ways.

    But the Mormon church also requires baptism. How is it different? The answer is, it is not different in the doctrine of baptism being necessary to be saved, but it is different in the status of the rest of the world not baptized and not saved. How is this? The Mormon church adds to the rest of the world not baptized and not saved the phrase, “until they are baptized.” Well, how can the Mormon church baptize the rest of the world?

    This is what separates the Mormon church from all other Christian churches requiring baptism. It’s in the great by proxy method of ministering to another person which Christ began in the atonement. By proxy, Christ paid for all our sins. We do it in the Mormon temples which are a testament of the church’s commitment for doing what we call work for the dead. Baptism is one of the ordinances done for those who have passed on and never were baptized while alive. It is done by proxy or by someone else, often a family member, being baptized for them. So Family History work or Genealogy Work has two parts. First to identify someone who lived on the earth and second to perform the necessary ordinances for them by proxy including baptism.

    It is so ridiculous to me for anyone to get upset over doing something for their kindred dead they don’t even believe in. If it’s not believed in, then what does it matter. Certainly it can’t hurt them. But if it does matter, then only them will benefit from it on the other side of the veil. I mean I could take maybe a leaf from a tree and drop it at a certain time to represent some ordinance or thing I’m doing for the dead and these people would be infuriated by it. Because of this, the Mormon church will not do anything for the dead opposed by their relatives.

    I’ll conclude with a story from a personal journal about temple work being done in Frederick W Hurst’s family. The work in the temple referred to includes baptism. There are thousands of stories like this one which are all true. People don’t lie in their journal writing. It is one of the best sources of information for past history.

    Along about the 1st of March, 1893, I found myself alone in the dining room; all had gone to bed. I was sitting at the table when to my great surprise my elder brother Alfred walked in and sat opposite me at the table and smiled. I said to him (he look so natural), “when did you arrive in Utah,” I asked. He said, “I have just come from the spirit world, this is not my body that you see; it is lying in the tomb. I want to tell you that when you were on your mission you told me many things about the Gospel, and the hereafter, and about the spirit world being as real and tangible as the earth. I could not believe you, but when I died and went there and saw for myself, I realized that you had told the truth. I attended the Mormon meetings in the spirit world.” He raised his hand and said with much warmth, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart. I believe in faith, and repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, but that is as far as I can go. I look to you to do the work for me in the temple.

    ” He continued, “You can go to any kind of sectarian meeting in the spirit world. All our kindred there knew when you were trying to make up your mind to come and work on the Temple. You are watched closely, every move you make is known there, and we were glad you came. We are all looking to you as our head in this great work. I want to tell you that there are a great many spirits who weep and mourn because they have relatives in the Church here who are careless and are doing nothing for them.”
    Three different times during our conversation I leaned over the table towards him and said, “Alfred, you look, talk, and act perfectly natural; it doesn’t seem possible that you are dead.” And every time he replied, “It is just my spirit you see; my body is in the grave.” There was a great deal more that he told me, but these are the important items as I remember them. He arose and went out through the door that he had entered.

    As I sat pondering upon what I had seen and heard, with my heart
    filled with thanks and gratitude to God, the door opened again, and my brother Alexander walked in and sat down in the chair that Alfred had occupied. He had died in 1852 in New Zealand. He had come from a different sphere; he looked more like an angel, as his countenance was beautiful to look upon. With a very pleasant smile he said, “Fred, I have come to thank you for doing my work for me, but you did not go quite far enough,” and he paused. Suddenly it was shown to me in my mind in large characters, “NO MAN IS WITHOUT THE WOMAN AND NO WOMAN IS WITHOUT THE MAN IN THE LORD.” I looked at him and said, “I think I understand what you mean. You want your wife sealed to you.” He said, “you are right. I don’t need to interpret the scriptures to you, but until that work is done, I cannot advance another step.” I replied that the temple would be completed and dedicated in about four weeks and then I would attend to it as quickly as possible. “I know you will,” he said, and then got up and left the room leaving me full of joy, peace and happiness beyond description.

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