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Friday, September 7, 2012

Baptism Explained

Baptism is the first saving ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ordinances, as defined by LDS.org, are "sacred rites and ceremonies.  Ordinances consist of acts that have spiritual meanings.  Ordinances can also mean God's laws and statutes."  A saving ordinance is an ordinance of the gospel required to return to the Celestial Kingdom, or the Kingdom or God.  Christ taught this truth to Nicodemus, of the Pharisees.  Record of this can be found in John chapter 3.
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
"Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
"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."
- John 3:3-5 -
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit.  What exactly does this mean?  Joseph Smith clarifies by saying, "Baptism is a holy ordinance preparatory to the reception of the Holy Ghost; it is the channel and key by which the Holy Ghost will be administered. (History of the Church 3:379)

Baptism is a symbolism of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The water represents the grave.  We, when baptized, are submerged under the water representing death, and are brought back out just as Christ was resurrected and brought back to life.  In this way we are born of water.  We are born of the Spirit when we have the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  This is different than the gift of the Holy Ghost, which we receive after baptism.  Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost means we are now able to have the companionship of the Spirit, so long as we live according to the commandments of God.  Joseph Smith taught, "Baptism is a covenant with God that we will do his will" (Discourses, 273).  We are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and when we live righteously we obtain the companionship of the Holy Ghost, meaning we have the Spirit with us.  In this way we are born of the Spirit.

Just how important is the ordinance of baptism?  For this we can look to the life of Christ.  Jesus, as mentioned earlier, taught that no one can be admitted to the Kingdom of God without this ordinance, and not even he, a perfect person, was excluded from this.  The Gospels record that the Savior was baptized by John the baptist in the Jordan River.  Through his example we know that no one is exempt from this ordinance.

This is further understood by the many references and sermons given about baptism in holy scripture.  The book of Acts reads:
"Now when they heard this, thy were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
"Then Peter said unto them, 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."
- Acts 2:37-38 -
In the book of Moses, of the Pearl of Great Price, we learn that even Adam, the first man, was baptized.
"And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water.
"And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit."
- Moses 6:64-68 -
This has been practiced since the days of our first parents.  And now, having learned of the importance of the ordinance, must understand how it is performed.  Is the person supposed to be completely buried in the water, or is it more of a sprinkling on the head?  Or is it something between these two?  Again we can look to the scriptures for the answer.  Written in the Book of Mormon is the following:
"And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.
"And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water."
- Mosiah 18:14-15 -
So why is it that we must be buried by submersion?  I have touched upon this earlier when talking about the symbolism of baptism to the death and resurrection of Christ.  Now let's read the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

"The word baptize is derived from the Greek verb 'baptiso,' and means to immerse or overwhelm, and that sprinkle is from the Greek verb 'rantiso,' and means to scatter on by particles" (Discourses, 92-93).

Baptism, the word itself, means to immerse and anything other than to fully immerse in water does not follow under the word "baptism."  One is fully immersed in the water, representing a burial in the grave, and is then brought out of the water, as a spiritual re-birth, representing the resurrection.

Now understanding the importance and process of baptism we must ask - When is someone supposed to be baptized?  This doctrine is taught in many ways in our world today, but what is the correct answer?  Like before, the scriptures hold the answers to even this question.  But first let's return to the words of Joseph smith, "Baptism is a covenant with God that we will do his will."  To covenant with God to follow his commandments we must first know his commandments and be in a state of understanding them.  There are people that are in a state of innocence, not fully knowing good from evil yet.  And who are these people?  Children.

Let's read the words of Christ to Mormon:
"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;"
- Moroni 8:8 -
Young children are still learning and are not at an age of accountability.  What is the age of accountability?  "And I will establish a covenant with thee," God told Moses, "that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old" (JST Genesis 17:11).  Thus we learn that a person need not be baptized until at least eight years old.  That is the age of accountability.  This does not mean that a person needs to be baptized right when they turn eight, but that is the time when this ordinance is now available to them.  At any age from this point on, so long as the person understands the commandments of God and seeks to follow them they can be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

And what of those children who die before they turn eight and have the opportunity to be baptized?  Again the Prophet answers, "All children are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and the moment they leave this world they are taken to the bosom of Abraham" (Discourses, 273).  Through the Atonement of Christ they are saved.

We now approach the final topic of baptism:  Baptism for the dead.  From the apostle Peter we hear that "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34).  If this be the case then there must be a way for every person to receive the saving ordinances.  As was just said, some children die before the age of accountability and therefore do not receive the ordinance of baptism.  There are also those who died without the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ or the knowledge of baptism.  If God is no respecter of persons then there must be a way provided for all of these people to receive this ordinance as well.  The way provided is what is known as baptism for the dead.

This baptism for deceased members of mankind is not a new doctrine.  We can find teachings of it in the Holy Bible.  Consider the words found in 1 Corinthians:
"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 Corinthians 15:29 -
This practice is done today by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  A member of the Church, by one with the Priesthood, is baptized, as a proxy, for a deceased person.  "By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died," we read on LDS.org, "Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors.  Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf."

The last part of that quote is important, so let's go over it again.  "Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done on their behalf."  We understand from this that simply because a proxy has been baptized for them on the earth, the people, now in the Spirit World, are not automatically made a member of the Church.  It is still their choice, as it is in life on earth, to follow the commandments of God and accept the ordinance done for them.  Through this practice of baptizing for dead ancestors, all people of the human race are offered the chance to be born again by water and the Spirit and receive the saving ordinance of baptism.

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