Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
On Christmas Day, 1977, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I don’t remember much from it being so long ago and only being 8 years old at the time, but I’ve always appreciated that my parents arranged for me to be baptized on Christmas in honor of the Savior’s birth.
As members of the church, we have several key beliefs that help us understand the importance of baptism.
Jesus was baptized as an example to us
When Jesus began his ministry, the first thing he did was sought out John the Baptist and asked him to baptize him (Matt. 3:13-17). At that event, while Jesus was in the water, the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the sign of a dove, while the Father spoke from heaven his witness of the importance of this event saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In the Book of Mormon, an American prophet named Nephi explained the reason for Jesus’ baptism in these words (2 Nephi 31:4-7):
4 Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world.
5 And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
In other words, Christ was baptized, not because of a need to for Himself, but to fulfill a righteous commandment and to set an example for us.
Nicodemus was one of the ruling Jews, a Pharisee, and he came to Jesus by night asking some questions about the Savior’s teachings. Jesus told him he needed to be born again and this confused Nicodemus who asked how a person could enter the womb a second time. Jesus replied “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). These 2 events, being born of water, and of the Spirit, are baptism (by water) and the receipt of the Holy Ghost (of the Spirit).
At the end of Christ’s ministry, he also instructed his disciples to go into all the world preaching the gospel and “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). This doctrine can seem harsh until one understands the nature of what he means by damned (explained in another article “Do Mormons believe everyone else is going to hell?“)
The word baptism comes from a Greek word meaning to “make whelmed” or fully wet. Jesus was baptized by immersion to symbolize his death, burial (under the water), and resurrection (coming forth from the water) (Romans 6:4). When we are baptized we also signify that we are beginning the process of taking Jesus’ name upon us by doing the things he did.
Not everyone can baptize someone. They must receive their authority from God, not through a certificate of having attended divinity school. The Priesthood of God has been restored to the earth again, and authorized servants again have power to baptize and confer the gift of the Holy Ghost on people who desire to make covenants with God. (John 15:16)
There are some churches that teach that baptism isn’t necessary, and others who believe it so necessary that any who die, including babies that never received baptism, must be going to hell.
This article has addressed the necessity of baptism. In another article I have addressed the topic of people who die without baptism having the ordinance performed for them so they are not held back from their eternal progress. Now I want to briefly relate why infants do not need baptism.
Baptism is a covenant we make with God. It is an action where we promise God to live His commandments in exchange for His blessings such as the opportunity to return and live with Him again someday.
In the Book of Mormon, there was a period of time when some people were of the belief that little children who died without baptism were going to be cast off forever. The prophet Mormon corrected their thinking in this way.
5 For, if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children.
6 And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.
7 For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying:
8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.
9 And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.
10 Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach-repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.
11 And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.
12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!
13 Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.
14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.
15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.
So is baptism necessary for salvation? Yes it is, but little children, defined in the church as under the age of 8, are innocent before God and do not need that ordinance for God to save them. Those who die without baptism over the age of 8 also have provisions made by God to receive that required ordinance.
What does the Book of Mormon teach about Jesus Christ?