As JR pointed out in a comment to the last blog, the question keeps coming back to the definition of the second baptism – the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Here are his words:
“Each time, there is a debate about the “slow, steady increase in testimony” versus the one-time-oh-my-gosh-spiritual-electrocution-of-the-BAPTISM OF FIRE AND THE HOLY GHOST version.
If God is no respector of persons, and I believe HE is not, then why would HE favor some of HIS children with a spectacular display of Spiritual fireworks while others HE would only dribble a testimony on like drizzling chocolate syrup on a hot fudge sundae?”
I have asked myself this same question many times in the past. In a response to this question, I decided to retrace the path I took to the answer I found. Certainly your mileage will vary.
On one side, you have the statements from recent general authorities such as these. This is Packer’s explanation regarding his becoming a general authority.
That puzzled me greatly, for I had supposed that someone called to such an office would have an unusual, different, and greatly enlarged testimony and spiritual power.
It puzzled me for a long time until finally I could see that I already had what was required: an abiding testimony in my heart of the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that we have a Heavenly Father, and that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. I may not have known all about it, but I did have a testimony, and I was willing to learn.
I was perhaps no different from those spoken of in the Book of Mormon: “And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9:20; emphasis added).
Over the years, I have come to see how powerfully important that simple testimony is. I have come to understand that our Heavenly Father is the Father of our spirits (see Numbers 16:22; Hebrews 12:9; D&C 93:29). He is a father with all the tender love of a father. Jesus said, “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God” (John 16:27). (2007 October General Conference, The Weak and the Simple of the Church, Sat. Morning Session – Boyd K. Packer)
Bednar also clarified an earlier reference to the idea of being baptized by fire in April of the same year.
The spiritual rebirth described in this verse typically does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process—not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.
A cucumber only becomes a pickle through steady, sustained, and complete immersion in salt brine. Significantly, salt is the key ingredient in the recipe. Salt frequently is used in the scriptures as a symbol both of a covenant and of a covenant people. And just as salt is essential in transforming a cucumber into a pickle, so covenants are central to our spiritual rebirth.
We begin the process of being born again through exercising faith in Christ, repenting of our sins, and being baptized by immersion for the remission of sins by one having priesthood authority.
“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).
And after we come out of the waters of baptism, our souls need to be continuously immersed in and saturated with the truth and the light of the Savior’s gospel. Sporadic and shallow dipping in the doctrine of Christ and partial participation in His restored Church cannot produce the spiritual transformation that enables us to walk in a newness of life. Rather, fidelity to covenants, constancy of commitment, and offering our whole soul unto God are required if we are to receive the blessings of eternity.
“I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved” (Omni 1:26).
Total immersion in and saturation with the Savior’s gospel are essential steps in the process of being born again. (2007 April General Conference, Ye Must Be Born Again, Sat. Morning Session – David A. Bednar)
And finally, Cristofferson added to the following to the discussion.
You may ask, Why doesn’t this mighty change happen more quickly with me? You should remember that the remarkable examples of King Benjamin’s people, Alma, and some others in scripture are just that—remarkable and not typical. For most of us, the changes are more gradual and occur over time. Being born again, unlike our physical birth, is more a process than an event. And engaging in that process is the central purpose of mortality. (2008 April General Conference, Born Again, Sun. Morning Session – D. Todd Christofferson)
Packer takes the approach that the referenced quote from the Book of Mormon supports his idea that this ‘conversion’ or baptism of fire can be found in the strength of a simple testimony and the long life of service that proceeds. That we can be ‘baptized with fire and ‘know it not.’
Here is what I have found relative to that Idea. In the editions of the triple play before the 1981 edition, there is a footnote linked to the phrase “their conversion” in 3 Nephi 9:20 that points back to Helaman 5:45. This is a reference to the time when Nephi and Lehi are in the Lamanite prison and are miraculously saved. There were 300 Lamanites who were present at that time and experienced the following.
44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
By reading the entire chapter, you will find that Aminadab, a man who had dissented from the Nephites, was there to instruct the Lamanites as to how what was happening.
37 And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi.
38 And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?
39 Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.
40 And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?
41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.
42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.
In my mind, this is a narrative that is not describing the baptism of fire as a long process, rather it is describing an event where the people involved did not understand what was happening. They were then coached by a former Nephite church member as to how to apply what they were seeing. They were then caught up in a marvelous dispensation of the spirit which turned the three hundred into missionaries.
I might add that while the reference to 3 Nephi 9:20 was removed from the current 1981 version of the scriptures, there is a companion footnote reference from Helaman 5:45 that points back to, you guessed it, 3 Nephi 9:20. I would suspect that this footnote will not survive that next editorial effort on the LDS scriptures
I would suggest that the use of the scripture in 3 Nephi, chapter 9 where the Lamanites “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” means that they did not understand what was happening to them, not that it wasn’t noticeable.
Why, though, is this story in the scriptures? Here we have a group of Lamanites that had likely come to the prison to kill Nephi and Lehi yet left profoundly changed by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Why is it that people like this can receive such a momentous spiritual experience while the rest of us struggle?
I would suggest that they came to a moment that significantly changed their entire being. They were in fear of their lives, they had no way out other than to turn their attention to God and plead with him. For some, the process to come unto God “with a broken heart and a contrite spirit” takes a long time of divesting ourselves of our pride and selfishness. For others, there is a turning event that comes in a desperate moment, where there is no other way out except to remove all of our reliance on the arm of flesh and seek God.
For Alma, the younger, it was the same situation. Alma, was the wayward son of the high priest, who was confronted by an angel, as described in Mosah 27.
14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
15 And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
16 Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
Alma was struck dumb and could not move for several days. During this time, his ‘soul was racked with eternal torment.’ He was in the ‘darkest abyss.’
He describes the event to his son Shiblon in Alma, chapter 38
7 But behold, the Lord in his great mercy sent his angel to declare unto me that I must stop the work of destruction among his people; yea, and I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth.
8 And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul.
It was not until he sought out Christ that he was relieved of his pain and anguish. Is this not some clarification the requirement, again, that we must approach him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit? I know that it is very difficult to do so. Each individual is different but we each have that point where we can no longer rely on our own strength and have no recourse but to turn to God. Alma did it.
The people of King Benjamin had to reach a similar place where they had nowhere else to go but to look to God
2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
I believe that the baptism of fire is not the long process, rather, it may be our long process to reach the point where we have cast away all of our pride, all of our reliance on the flesh, to be able to call upon God with that broken heart and with that contrite spirit. It is that point where we have to, as the father of King Lamoni expressed, be willing to ‘give away all our sins’ to be given that profound experience.
In Alma’s time, there were many who had received the same experience as he had, as he recites in Alma, chapter 36.
26 For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God.
Why are there not more people who have been ‘born of God’ in today’s church? Why do some get a spritz while others get the whole enchilada? This is the question that JR asked. I do believe that God is not a respector of persons. We are all able to receive the prize if we follow the rules.
I would suggest it is because we, generally, are not willing to pay the price. We are not willing to view ourselves as ‘the dust of the earth.’ That we are not inclined to leave ourselves vulnerable with a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit.’ The experience does not come because we are not prepared and we do not ask. We are not willing to give away our sins and our safety to achieve a remission of our sins. For some it may take a lifetime, for others it come in an instant. For many today, it never comes at all and they are placated with the idea that a simple testimony is sufficient.
There are plenty of scriptures that tell us we must be born again just as the Lord told Alma
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
We can only, as described in Mosiah, become his sons and his daughters by retaining a remission of our sins received through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost and by making the covenant with God that we shall be obedient to His commandments in all things (Mosiah 5:5-7).
I must reiterate, the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is the beginning of our sojourn on the strait and narrow path the eternal life.
17 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.
18 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.
It is not until we have crossed through the gate, the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, that we are able to tread upon the path to eternal life. Is a gate symbolic of an event or a long process?
It is also the beginning of our journey where we learn line upon line, and precept upon precept. Do you think that Alma was done once he had been born again? Here is what he stated several years after his conversion.
45 And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
Even after his incredible experience, Alma was still learning item by item. Here he tells us that he fasted and prayed many day to understand the words of eternal life.
So, what must one do to be born again? as Nicodemus asked. I can only speak of my experience. I had to reach such a low point that the only way out was to reach out to God. I didn’t have it easy as Enos did. I didn’t spend days in fasting and prayer. It came to me because it became my entire focus, just as the Lamanites found themselves in impenetrable darkness, to seek God in fervent prayer to release us from the abyss.
As the scriptures indicate, though, there is no single path to being born again. Some will strive, as did the people of King Benjamin, to receive the blessing after some period of attempted righteous living. Some will, as Enos did, pray until it is given. Others will find themselves in a very dark and miserable condition and finally reach out to Him who has the power to sanctify them.
If being born again is a process more often than an event, why aren’t the scriptures replete with descriptions of this gradual change. It is one thing to talk about learning and receiving a witness of the truth of all things. It is quite another to lump the conversion experience into it. The two are separate and distinct items.
I can only say that it is worth striving every moment of every day of our lives to receive it. I fear that many will simply adopt the idea that ‘the changes are more gradual and occur over time. Being born again, unlike our physical birth, is more a process than an event’ as Christofferson proposes and miss out on what, in my experience, was the most profound and elevating experience of my entire mortal existence.
What think ye?