The Requirement of Baptism
Just a quick note before I begin: I have fallen out of the habit of making time to post due to a recent new addition to our family, so determined that the best thing I can do is to post something to kick start the good habit again. There are other posts I have been working on and which I want to write more than this one, but as I gave an Elder’s Quorum lesson on this recently, I’m hoping it will flow quickly.
“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) That is the requirement. It is a requirement is so deeply understood in Christianity to the point that many sects baptize infants and/or teach that anyone, no matter how good, who is not baptized, is damned. In fact, it is so important to the gospel that even though it is intended for the “remission of sins” (Mark 1:4) Jesus, the only sinless person to live on the Earth, confirmed and clarified the requirement by getting baptized himself.
But there is a second part to that requirement, that of being “born…of the Spirit.” This is a little less clear in the New Testament, but it is there. This refers to the sanctification that comes as a result of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. (Note the capitalized “Gift”.) It is not always mentioned in conjunction with baptism in the scriptures, but there are two places in the New Testament where it is explicit. One is in Acts 2:38 when Peter says “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The other is in Acts 8, when the Samaritans have accepted baptism but had not yet received the Holy Ghost, and only received it when John and Peter came to them and laid their hands on them in verses 15 to 17.
The LDS Church has some additional clarifying scriptures and doctrine surrounding the ordinances of baptism and confirmation (when the Gift of the Holy Ghost is conferred). First off, we affirm the importance thereof in the fourth Article of Faith and also in referring to them as the “saving ordinances.” We also believe in several technicalities surrounding the performance of the ordinances:
- Baptism must be done by full immersion.
- Both must be performed by someone with the proper authority.
- The individual must be prepared and willing to accept them.
- There is a proscribed prayer.
- It is only done for those who are at least 8 years old.
Needless to say, with all of these technical requirements, and our belief that the proper authority has been in short supply throughout history, it would be unjust of God to place such restrictions on entry into His kingdom. It is for that reason that we believe in and perform baptisms for the dead. Such baptisms are mentioned in the New Testament (1 Cor 15:29), but are largely doctrinally ignored by other Christian sects. For us they fill a very important role in supporting the logic of the Gospel. They allow God to be both merciful to those who would have willingly accepted baptism had it been available to them while also requiring it strictly for those to whom it is available. (I don’t want to get sidetracked into this further in this article, but I have written about it previously in Genealogy According to Mormons.)
As we believe that all will ultimately have the opportunity to accept baptism, I would argue that the central purpose of baptism is not salvation, but rather the covenant we make with God, that, if upheld by us, will result in salvation. The covenant is described several different ways in many different places, but it comes down to this, we are enrolling in the service of God. We become part of His fold and will attempt to do His will. We are signing up for a life of work, of service to our fellowmen, of constant personal refinement, and, in essence, to try to do the work He would do if He were on the Earth. If we make an earnest effort to do this, Christ’s Atonement will be applied and we will be saved.
Yes, the end result is (hopefully) salvation, but that is not the purpose. The purpose is to commit us to making ourselves into people worthy of salvation. This is a principle central to the Gospel as taught by the LDS Church. The purpose of religion is not to set up rules, but is rather for guiding the development of individuals to greater righteousness. That is why the Gift of the Holy Ghost is also a critical piece of the process.
The Gift of the Holy Ghost, as taught by the LDS Church, is only available to baptized and confirmed members of the Church, in contrast to the influence of the Holy Ghost, which is available to all. The main difference between these is that we have the right, inasmuch as we keep ourselves worthy, to the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit. Most people will feel the Holy Ghost when they are doing God’s will, whether they recognize it or not. With the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the gifts of the Spirit, as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12, are made more powerful. We also believe the Holy Spirit can assist us in all parts of our life, whether or not it is directly related to God’s work; the Holy Ghost can be a source of inspiration in both secular and spiritual endeavors.
The Gift of the Holy Ghost also imparts a greater portion of the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22-23) Through the power of God and the direct influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can find greater love, joy, peace, faith and happiness. Our efforts to find these in our lives are magnified by the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
This is really the core of what drives Mormons to proselytize. We have covenanted, through baptism, to do God’s work, and we are rewarded disproportionately by the Gift of the Holy Ghost when we do so. We have tasted divine joy and want to share. We have experienced the power of God through the Holy Ghost, and have had our lives changed. We’ve seen others’ lives changed through the same power. Our love has grown through the infusion of the Spirit. We rejoice in your happiness. We want to work with you so that we may all gain greater peace and happiness through Christ.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
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