By Eric Johnson
Mormonism teaches that water baptism performed through the authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is vital for a person to not only becoming a church member but also to receive salvation. Getting immersed into water–typically at a local LDS building–is what we call baptismal regeneration. Verses from the Bible are often cited to support this teaching, but these verses are taken out of context. (See the list of verses below.) The Book of Mormon also teaches this doctrine. Third Nephi 11:34 says, “And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.” Moroni 8:25 states, “And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins.” Doctrines and Covenants 20:37 says the same thing.
LDS leaders throughout the years have taught that baptism is a salvation requirement for a person hoping to qualify for the celestial kingdom. Seventy Royden G. Derrick explained, “Baptism is the gateway to the celestial kingdom” (Temples in the Last Days, p. x). Seventy Spencer J. Condie agreed, saying,“We are, therefore, required to be baptized if we desire admittance into God’s kingdom” (“The Savior’s Visit to the Spirit World,” Ensign, July 2003, p. 32). Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball put it this way: “Baptism into Christ’s true church by proper authority opens the doors for exaltation in the eternal kingdoms of glory, exaltation to be earned by repentance, by living righteously, keeping the commandments of the Lord, and service to one’s fellowmen” (“The Stone Cut without Hands,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1976, p. 7).
Latter-day Saints get baptized beginning at the age of eight. Before eight, a person is considered innocent and does not need water baptism. Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith described the “age of accountability” doctrine:
The Lord has placed—and that in his own judgment—the age of accountability at eight years. After we get to be eight years of age, we are supposed to have understanding sufficient that we should be baptized (Doctrines of Salvation 2:53).
According to Joseph Smith in a “revelation” he received in January 1836 in the Kirtland temple, those who die before the age of eight get an automatic pass to the very best destination available in Mormonism:
Children who die before the age of eight years are received into the celestial kingdom (see D&C 137:10). The innocence of a child is, at least in part, what provoked Jesus to say, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 18:3) (Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual Religion 430-431, 2003, p. 63).
Only baptism in the LDS Church is sufficient, as explained by Apostle David A. Bednar: “The saving ordinance of baptism must be administered by one who has proper authority from God” (“That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2006, p. 29).
This ordinance must be done precisely or it must be repeated. A church manual lays out the rules:
Two priests or Melchizedek Priesthood holders witness each baptism to make sure it is performed properly. The baptism must be repeated if the words are not spoken exactly as given in Doctrine and Covenants 20:73 or if part of a person’s body or clothing was not immersed completely (Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 2010, p. 171).
Sprinkling or partial immersion is not sufficient. Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated,
Few practices constitute so gross a perversion of true Christian doctrine as does infant baptism, because the philosophical basis upon which it rests is one that denies the efficacy of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Infant baptism assumes that all men are born in sin and that to be cleansed from this original sin they must be baptized; that is, its practice denies one of the most basic of all gospel truths, “That the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 379).
A person’s spouse must agree for a baptism to occur. A church handbook states, “A married person must have the consent of his or her spouse before being baptized” (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops, 2010, p. 145).
Those who die before getting baptized have a chance to have baptism done for them in proxy. For more on this, click here.
What Does Christianity Teach?
Mormons as well as Roman Catholics and those who belong to Apostolic or Church of Christ denominations believe in baptismal regeneration. However, while the Bible teaches that water baptism is an important ordinance, this is not something that a person does to qualify for eternal life. Titus 3:5-7 states,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Since baptism is a “work of righteousness,” it certainly wouldn’t be a commandment that must be kept since we know that “justification comes by faith and not by works of the law” (Rom. 3:28).
While biblical Christians accept baptism as an important work in the role of sanctification, some disagree on the mode. For some, including Baptists, immersion in water symbolizes the “new birth” that takes place when a person becomes “born again.” This is called believers’ baptism. Others, including those who are Reformed as well as Lutherans and Methodists, feel sprinkling of water is sufficient. These groups are also willing to baptize infants, which those who practice immersion are not willing to do. The mode of baptism is generally left to “in-house” debates and is not considered an essential issue of faith.
As done with other doctrines, Latter-day Saints use biblical verses to support their viewpoint. Here are some of the most common ones: