Monday, September 15, 2008

Baptism for the Dead

      Baptism for the dead is a unique doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The practice of baptizing someone as a stand-in for someone who died without being baptized was common among early Christians and is mentioned once in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15:29), but the Mormons are the only ones who practice it today. Not surprisingly, baptism for the dead has been a target of frequent criticism.

      Baptism for the dead is necessary because 1) baptism is necessary for salvation, 2) baptism can only be performed during our mortal lives, and 3) every person must have the opportunity to accept or reject baptism.
      Jesus Christ taught, "Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Recognizing that it would be hard to maintain that a just God will deny salvation to people who never had the chance to be baptized, some Christians have tried to reinterpret Jesus' words. I've heard some explain that any spiritual experience constitutes a baptism of the Spirit, and surmise that the requirement may thus be fulfilled. But Jesus said that we must be "born of water and of the spirit," not "born of water or of the spirit." Jesus Christ was clear enough: the ordinance of baptism is not optional for salvation.
      Baptism can only be performed during this mortal life, when we have physical bodies that can be baptized. But the eternal laws of mercy and justice require that every person have the opportunity to be baptized. The law of agency also dictates that every person be able to choose for himself or herself whether to be baptized. In a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord gave the solution: living members of the church can be baptized for those who died without being baptized. The spirits of the deceased, who are in the spirit world awaiting resurrection and final judgment, may then choose to accept or reject the baptism that has been performed for them. That is why Jesus Christ bothered to preach to the disobedient spirits in the spirit world (1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6). There is no need to reinterpret Jesus' words in order to soften the necessity of baptism, yet everyone still receives an equal opportunity to comply with the commandment.
      Some have been offended that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "baptizes people against their will" after they have died. But when Mormons perform a baptism on behalf of someone who has died, they do not consider that person a member of the Mormon church. They do not assume that the person has accepted the ordinance. Church records only show that a baptism has been performed for the person; they do not list the person as a member of the Mormon church.
      I, for one, have difficulty understanding why this would offend people who do not believe that we have power from God to perform baptisms. If The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints never received the priesthood authority from Jesus Christ as it claims, then wouldn't Mormon baptisms be null and void anyway, rendering this a non-issue? Nevertheless, some people apparently are offended at the mere concept. Hopefully it will help to explain that the concept is to extend the opportunity for baptism so that each person may choose, not to force anyone to be baptized against their will. The purpose of baptism for the dead is to honor individual choice, not to deny it.

In summary
Argument: Mormons use "baptism for the dead" to baptize people who have died against their will.
Response: When a Mormon is baptized on behalf of someone who died without baptism, he or she does not automatically become a member of the Mormon church. The deceased spirit of the person must choose to accept or reject the baptism before final judgment.

7 comments:

Samuel said...

Baptism for the dead is necessary because 1) baptism is necessary for salvation, 2) baptism can only be performed during our mortal lives, and 3) every person must have the opportunity to accept or reject baptism.

If they die, without being Baptized, then they have sufficiently rejected Baptism. Is it the practice of your church to force Baptism on the dead? DO you not accept the fact that when someone perishes from this Earth their power to make any decision ceases. If they have not been Baptized then they will not be Baptized.
I am sure that you have heard this also, many times, but your bible passage in support has no doctrinal value.
Also
Where does all of this "doctrine"? come from? Or Philosophy?
"But the eternal laws of mercy and justice require that every person have the opportunity to be baptized. The law of agency also dictates that every person be able to choose for himself or herself whether to be baptized"
I do not know about Law of Mercy, and Justice, and Agency. Where are you getting this stuff from?
Doctrines and Covenants? The Pearl? BY?

Sam

Samuel said...

I think this has more to do with holding up the fact that No person can be damned to hell according to your church and in the Protection of that Doctrinal statement than anything else. Baptism has to be necessary for all people for what reason then? SO they can be saved from Hell? Your church does not believe in Hades therefore salvation must mean that they are merely being prescribed a different strata of Paradise, Right? I do not get the Tri-Realm heaven and what logic or Scripture that comes from either. Perhaps you could write sometime about that sometime.

Sam

Travis Brinton said...

You've given me quite a bit to answer.
1) Someone who lived and died in, say, 2nd-century Mongolia, had no chance at all to hear of Christ or be baptized. Most people living today in mainland China, North Korea, the Middle East, and many other parts of the world likewise will have no chance to hear of Christ. Even someone who has heard of Christianity and had the opportunity may not have been given a fair chance by their life's circumstances and the conditions under which they were raised. We do not try to judge that. God will judge; we will make the ordinance available to all.
2)No, I do not accept the idea that the power to make decisions ceases at death. Once again, I call your attention to 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6, and ask why Christ would preach to the dead, if there was no way they could act on his preaching. Was it just to make fun of them? See also John 5:25.
3) Paul was not talking about baptism for the dead directly in 1 Cor. 15:29; his topic was the resurrection. He used the practice of baptism for the dead as support for the doctrine of the resurrection. Some have argued that this does not necessarily mean that Paul believed in baptism for the dead, but of course it would not make any sense for Paul to appeal to a false doctrine for support!
Even the NIV Study Bible gives something close to the LDS interpretation as one possible meaning of the passage: "Living believers were being baptized for believers who died before they were baptized, so that they too, in this way, would not miss out on baptism." There is also strong evidence that early Christians widely practiced baptism for the dead.
4) The best explanation of the laws of mercy and justice, and how Christ's Atonement is necessary to satisfy both, is found in Alma 42, and the best explanation of agency is probably 2 Nephi 2. See also Moses 4:3, Moses 7:32, and D&C 98:8. Of course those are all LDS scriptures, but I'm a little surprised that you don't believe in mercy, justice, and agency as eternal laws of God. You can easily find plenty of biblical passages that also talk about these themes, although not as clearly as in the Book of Mormon. Agency might be the most difficult, since the word itself doesn't appear in the Bible. Try Joshua 24:15, John 7:17, and Galatians 5:1.

Travis Brinton said...

In response to your second comment: You're right; our view of the afterlife and a scriptural explanation of it is a good topic for another time. For now, let me just answer the question about hell.
We do believe in a heaven and hell, although those terms can be used to describe different places. Between death and resurrection, the spirit world will be divided between a "paradise" and a "spirit prison," sometimes referred to in other faiths as purgatory. These two are sometimes referred to as heaven and hell, although they only last until the resurrection and final judgment.
In addition to the three degrees of glory, we also believe in a place called "outer darkness," which is the dwelling place of Satan and his angels, and of those who commit the unpardonable sin, knowingly refusing Jesus Christ in favor of Satan (D&C 76:40-48; 133:64-74). Outer darkness fits the traditional description of hell. Of course, whether scriptural descriptions of fire, brimstone, etc. are literal or figurative is up for debate.
Finally, the lower degrees of glory are sometimes referred to as hell, because although they are not unpleasant places per se, their inhabitants suffer the anguish of knowing what they might have had, had they only come unto Christ.
So, yes, we do believe in the Biblical hell, although we understand the term to refer to several different situations. But Hades? I can't say we believe in that, nor in Cerberus or the River Styx!

pilgergufy said...

hey I just wanted to thank you both, Samuel and Travis. Sorry for my english. I totally enjoy your discission and follow it regulary. I learn a lot and ask myself what i believe. I often understand both side , because I lived in both camps (LDS and Born again). .
Would you both read D&C 132, 15ff. There is says that when people who die and are not married into the covenant there will be servant angle. For me it is clear that this scripture says that after you leave this earth and you are not married in the tempel you will be an angle. So why than doing all the temple work?

Travis Brinton said...

Thanks for joining in. There are three "degrees of glory" or "kingdoms," as we term them, and the highest is the Celestial Kingdom. Within the Celestial Kingdom there are three degrees, with the highest being what we call "exaltation." In order to enter the Celestial Kingdom, one must be baptized, and so baptism for the dead is necessary. Eternal marriage is an additional requirement for exaltation, and so we also perform temple marriages, or sealings, on behalf of deceased couples. See D&C 131. Like baptism for the dead and all ordinances for the dead, sealings for the dead are only efficacious if the recipients, in the spirit world, choose to accept the ordinance.

Travis Brinton said...

Let me try to say that another way. The passage in D&C 132:13-18 emphasizes that eternal marriage is necessary for exaltation, and that without it the greatest you can achieve is to become an angel in the lower degrees of the Celestial Kingdom. However, baptism is still necessary to get into the Celestial Kingdom, even as a ministering angel. Without baptism, one cannot inherit anything higher than the Terrestrial Kingdom.