Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Baptism for the Dead

Washington D.C. temple baptismal font.

In John 3:5 we read, "5 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." How is a person born of the water? Baptism is the way that we can be born of the water. It gives us a fresh clean start, like being bathed. It is symbolic of rebirth. The baptism of Spirit spoken of occurs when we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Jesus teaches us in this scripture that in order for a person to enter the kingdom of God, they must be baptized in these two ways. But what about those who died without a knowledge of Jesus Christ? That person too, requires baptism. Even the Savior was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness". Those who died without the gospel must have an opportunity to hear it, and to accept it, and to be baptized.

The scriptures teaches us that those who have died without the gospel can have a chance to hear and accept it.
"18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water." 1 Peter 3:18-20 So those who have died without the gospel, are given a chance in the hereafter to learn it and accept it. "6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." 1 Peter 4:6 In this scripture, particular mention is made of those who were disobedient during the time of Noah. Many people died in the flood. But through God's plan, these people have been given the chance to hear the gospel and accept it.

When teaching about, and making a case for reality of the resurrection, Paul said, "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 His point being, if there is no resurrection, then why are we doing baptisms for the dead? Clearly this was a practice in olden times. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said:
"Salvation for the dead was understood in the days of the primitive Christian Church, and to some extent baptisms for the dead continued to be performed until A.D. 379, when the Council of Carthage forbade any longer the administration of this ordinance and 'holy communion' for the dead" (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:163). Today, in the restored church of Jesus Christ, we once again perform baptisms for the dead in holy temples. Those spirits who are waiting in the spirit world are given the chance to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we perform baptisms in their behalf, they are given the freedom to choose to accept or reject that baptism. Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, " Some have misunderstood and suppose that deceased souls “are being baptised into the Mormon faith without their knowledge” 9 or that “people who once belonged to other faiths can have the Mormon faith retroactively imposed on them.” 10 They assume that we somehow have power to force a soul in matters of faith. Of course, we do not. God gave man his agency from the beginning. 11 “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,” 12 but only if they accept those ordinances. The Church does not list them on its rolls or count them in its membership." D. Todd Christofferson, “The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus,” Liahona, Jan 2001, 10–13

Many non-Latter-day Saint scholars believe that in 1 Corinthians Paul is denouncing or condemning the practice of baptism for the dead as heretical. This is a strange conclusion, however, since he uses the practice of baptism for the dead to support the doctrine of the Resurrection. In essence, he says, “Why are we performing baptisms in behalf of our dead, if, as some propose, there will be no resurrection of the dead? If there is to be no resurrection, would not such baptisms be a waste of time?”

"On the subject of baptism for the dead, one Latter-day Saint writer observes, “Paul was most sensitive to blasphemy and false ceremonialism—of all people he would not have argued for the foundation truth of the Resurrection with a questionable example. He obviously did not feel that the principle was disharmonious with the gospel.” 3 Robert L. Millet, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Aug. 1987, 19–21

Paul taught, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." 1 Corinthians 15:19. But the message of the restored gospel is that we have hope not only in this life, but in the life to come. Those who have died without the gospel can still have the opportunity to receive the necessary ordinance of baptism.

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