Do Mormons Believe in Baptism?
Mormons take the commandment of baptism so seriously that we believe no one can inherit the kingdom of heaven without it. So what about all those people who died without being baptized?
Baptism is Essential
When Jesus came to John the Baptist, John shrank from baptizing Jesus saying that he was not worthy to do so but Jesus replied “Suffer it to be so now … to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). The Savior led by example and taught that baptism was an essential component of salvation. Here are just a couple verses indicating the weight put upon the ordinance of baptism by the Savior.
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16)
“Except a man be born of water … he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5)
Baptism by Immersion
“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
In the LDS faith, we baptize by immersion, meaning, one is lowered completely under the water, symbolic of Christ’s death and burial, and then washed clean and brought forth out of the water symbolic of Christ’s resurrection. We are then clean and have a fresh start as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Baptism for the Dead
The LDS church differs from all other churches on this point. We literally believe baptism is a requirement for heaven just as Jesus taught. What then of the many billions of God’s children who died without baptism? Are they condemned to hell for all eternity? NO! A loving God has made provision for them.
Preaching the gospel to those who have died
Among those billions who never heard the gospel, we believe that when they die they go to a place we term “spirit prison.” Peter taught that Jesus initiated the work in this place after his death.
1 Peter 3:18-20
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
Who got taught? Specifically mentioned here are the disobedient from the days of Noah who perished in the flood. In modern revelation we know that Jesus organized a missionary effort in the heavens such that the righteous could go and teach the gospel to all these souls throughout history who never heard the gospel message and accepted it. What is the purpose of this teaching? To bring these souls to the point of repentance to accept baptism when it is performed for them on earth.
Baptizing by proxy
The apostle Paul taught the Corinthians that there was in fact a resurrection with varying degrees of glory of resurrected bodies (for more on this concept see this article entitled Do Mormons Believe Everyone else is going to Hell?). They were confused in some way as to the reality of the resurrection and so Paul used this logic to show them that resurrection was in fact a true principle. He said:
“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:29)
In other words, “look, we have this practice of baptizing each other for those that cannot be baptized for themselves BECAUSE we anticipate that they will be resurrected and want to inherit the kingdom of God.” Jesus taught it as a commandment and never said it was fine for some to inherit the kingdom of heaven without it regardless of the fact that billions hadn’t been baptized.
The principle is the same principle by which Christ performs the atonement. As mortals, we are not perfect and we need the Savior to do something for us that we cannot do for ourselves. He is our “proxy,” or someone that stands in for us. Similarly, we are proxies for those who have died without having baptism. This is why the LDS church is so involved in genealogy. It’s not just a fun hobby, it’s to help our dead ancestors have the opportunity to accept the ordinance and move on to being judged by God on the basis of their life as if they had received baptism in this life.
Where are baptisms performed?
Baptisms for the living can take place anywhere there is water. Typically, this is in a baptismal font in a chapel, but there have been baptisms performed in the ocean, pools, and anywhere convenient for it. However, baptisms for the dead only take place in baptismal fonts inside a temple dedicated for such a special purpose.
Who can baptize?
Anyone performing an ordinance of salvation such as baptism must hold the holy priesthood. This priesthood is the authority to act in God’s name on the earth. Young men receive this authority when they are 16 years old and ordained a priest in the Aaronic priesthood.
When is someone baptized?
In the LDS faith we do not believe in infant baptism but wait until a child is 8 years old at which point we believe they generally become accountable to God for their actions. People who are converting to the church after this age can be baptized when they have a testimony that this church is the church of Jesus Christ on the earth today.