If you don’t know this already, I am driven to question many aspects of my religious life that I had heretofore regarded as a basic assumptions. Much of my search over the last few years has been driven by a need to re-affirm and re-validate my spiritual worldview in strict accordance with the scriptures. It has not always been easy. Many times I have had to stop my reading and study to make sure I was not making a incorrect assumption or simply accepting the definition of a word or phrase based on how it presented in the lessons of the church. Such is the case with baptism by immersion.
Baptism is an essential aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is used to mark the entry into modern day membership of the LDS Church. During my life, I have attended many baptisms, converts and children, men and women. I had the privilege several years ago of conducting the baptism of the man who now stands as bishop of the local ward in which we reside.
As with many of the meetings of the church, the baptismal ceremony has been become a standard issue with a talk about baptism followed by the administration of the ordinance. Many of the baptismal talks I have heard clearly make the point that the person accepting baptism is now free from sin; that the water had washed away the sins of the candidate as they came forth from the water. In the priesthood manual, we are taught that:
When we come out of the water we are washed clean of sin. With our past sins washed away, we receive greater spiritual power to change our lives and become more like Heavenly Father. (Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B)
It presents a striking visage, we enter the ceremony laden with the sins that accompany our mortal frame, we exit clean and pure. Water baptism is promoted as the means to receive a remission of our sins.
The fourth Article of Faith states:
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The passage clearly states that baptism by immersion, as conducted by a legitimate priesthood holder, is sufficient to receive a remission of sins, to be cleansed of sin, to be sanctified. Or does it? Is baptism by water necessary and sufficient to receive a remission of sins? Do we truly emerge from the baptism font sinless?
I would suggest otherwise.
First, let’s look at what I consider the scriptural definition of baptism. The first reference comes from Mormon, chapter 7, verse 10:
And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment.
To be truly baptized, one must receive both the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. I would also suggest that both these baptisms are by immersion. We are immersed in water and, in a similar manner, are immersed in spirit.
Joseph Smith concurred with this concept when he stated:
You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost (History of the Church, 5:499).
After Christ selected the twelve disciples from among the Nephites, He gave this admonition to the people:
… Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am… Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:1-2)
While the twelve disciples were given the power and authority to baptize by water, the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost was conducted by the Lord. It was this second baptism, in conjunction with the baptism by water, that is the source of a remission of our sins. Without the second baptism, the first is without consequence relative to our sanctification. The same is true in our lives today. The scriptures give us clarity on the twofold nature of baptism. Here is how Nephi expresses this dual nature:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 31:17-18)
It is not until we have received this second baptism of fire that we are on the strait and narrow path to eternal life. As I have expanded on this topic in an earlier post – The Strait and Narrow Path, indeed, as we read in this scripture, baptism by water and by fire and the Holy Ghost is the gate. It is the entry point for our journey back to our Father in Heaven. It is the beginning our trek, not the culmination of a long life of obedience and service.
This idea is reinforced in the description of the process of gaining membership in the church as found in Moroni, chapter 6:
AND now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.
Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
It is not until after one is baptized by water AND sanctified by the Holy Ghost that the person is ‘numbered among the people of the church of Christ.’ This sanctification is achieved by the through the granting of the remission of sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. We are cleansed by the spirit in preparation for membership in His church.
Is this sanctification a prerequisite for membership in the LDS church? Contrary to scripture, we have assigned a remission of sins solely to the baptism of water. We have also redefined the second aspect of baptism. It is now a confirmation and an admonition to ‘receive the Holy Ghost.’ While the current procedure may be sufficient for membership in the corporate church, it may not be sufficient for membership in the body of Christ.
Section 20, verse 37, of the Doctrine and Covenants also describes the process for baptism:
And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.
It is interesting to note that the criteria defined here is closely aligned with the passage from Moroni, chapter 6. In each case, one must be imbued with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, witness that they have repented of their sins. They must take upon them the name of Christ and determine to serve Him to the end. In a slight deviation, this latest scripture required that the candidate ‘manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins.’ In the earlier quote from Moroni, we find that the candidate must be sanctified by the Holy Ghost prior to entry into the church. How many members would be on the rolls of the church if this criterion of sanctification were strictly enforced? What is required to truly manifest by our works that we have received a remission of our sins? Perhaps our entry into the corporate church is different than the entry into the spiritual church.
I would suggest that one seriously consider what we have morphed the baptismal event into relative to entry into the church. Succinctly stated, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins has two parts, water and spirit. One must receive of both of these baptisms to truly receive a remission of sins. One must demonstrate by their works that they have received a remission of their sins.
In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Bruce D. Porter presented this story:
Several years ago, while I was serving as a bishop, a sister came to me for a temple recommend interview. She was an adult convert to the Church who had been a faithful member since her baptism more than a decade earlier. She qualified for the temple recommend, but I sensed she was somewhat dispirited. When I asked what was troubling her, she said, “Bishop, is there any way a person can be baptized again?” Surprised, I asked her why she thought a second baptism would ever be needed. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “I just wish I could somehow feel as clean and pure as the day I was baptized.”
I am sure many Latter-day Saints have had similar feelings. Even when we are temple worthy, the accumulated daily weight of our weaknesses and shortcomings can become a burden to our souls, weighing us down with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. It is difficult sometimes to feel spiritually refreshed, pure, and acceptable before God. As I spoke with this sister, I felt great sympathy for her dilemma. There was no doubt in my mind that she was a good-hearted, worthy Latter-day Saint whose place in the Lord’s kingdom would be assured if she continued on the course that had begun with her baptism. But I wondered if she appreciated the power of Christ’s Atonement, the magnitude of His mercy, and His readiness to forgive her of daily transgressions as she made her way through life.
“You do not need to be baptized a second time to be as pure as when you were first baptized,” I said. “You can renew your covenant of baptism each week when you partake of the sacrament. As you live that covenant, exercise faith in Christ, and repent of your daily transgressions, the Holy Ghost will bless you with the assurance that your sins are forgiven. It will cleanse your soul of guilt and bring peace to your heart. In this way, you can feel as pure and clean as the day you were baptized.”
What must one do to retain a remission of their sins? This is the heart of the question that was posed to then Bishop Porter by one who seriously sought to remain clean. Is the partaking of the sacrament sufficient for this? As I read the sacrament prayer in Moroni, chapter 4, the only item that is sanctified through the administration of this ordinance is the bread. As such the sacrament contains no explicit re-application of the sanctification by the spirit received upon entry into the church. But what must one do to retain a remission of their sins?
When the people of King Benjamin received a remission of their sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, he gave them this guidance in Mosiah 4:11-12:
And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
King Benjamin’s instruction relative to retaining a remission of our sins emphases the need to remain humble. He tells us the we need to pray and remain faithful. I would incourage all to continue reading in this fourth chapter of Mosiah. It contains what I would consider guidance relative to how one should act while retaining a remission of sins.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is simple and profound. We are invited to ’come unto Him’ and receive a remission of our sins. We are told that this is the entry point of the path to the kingdom of God.
So the sacrament prayer is to remind us of the activities in our lives that are necessary to retain a remission of sins. It does not give us any explicit renewal of our entry onto the strait and narrow path.
In summary, baptism is made up of two components. water and spirit. Both are needed to legitimately gain entry to the strait and narrow path to eternal life. The sacrament prayer is a reminder of the state of mind and activity that must be present to retain a remission of our sins.
What think ye?