Logistics of Baptism for the Dead

Periodically, I browse Catholic Answers Forum, though I do not post there anymore (and stopped even while I was still a Catholic critic of Mormonism, since the conversations many times became quite heated and weren’t conducive to having an actual civilized discussion).  Recently, there has been a discussion about the Latter-day Saint practice of baptism for the dead.  I would like to briefly cover some issues brought up in the discussion, issues that I have seen many times.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are unique among Christian churches in that we practice something called “baptism for the dead”.  In accordance with the Bible, Mormons believe that baptism is required for salvation and has been commanded of us (Mark 16:16, John 3:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, etc).  This belief is held in common with other churches, such as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.  Latter-day Saints also believe that baptism is a priesthood ordinance, and therefore must be performed by those ordained to the priesthood of God.  We see this in the Bible, when Jesus goes specifically to John the Baptist, because John had the priesthood power to baptize.  Baptism is a sacred, saving ordinance of the Lord’s Church, and those outside of the Church cannot administer it.  Catholics differ in this practice, and instead believe that while the “ordinary ministers” of baptism are bishops and priests, in emergency cases (i.e. if someone is about to die), anyone, even an atheist, can validly baptize.  The Catholic Church also accepts as valid Trinitarian baptisms performed by Trinitarian churches that are in schism (i.e. churches such as the various Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc. denominations that are outside of communion with Rome).  Having a “valid” priesthood is therefore not required for a valid baptism for the Catholic Church.

However, the question then becomes, what happens to the billions of people throughout history that have never had the opportunity to be baptized, let alone hear about the Gospel of Jesus Christ?   Various churches have varying opinions on that subject.  The restored Church of Jesus Christ believes that God has provided a means by which the living faithful can provide the blessings of baptism to our deceased ancestors.  These “proxy baptisms” are performed in sacred buildings called “temples“.  In the baptism for the dead ordinance, a living person is immersed in water, just like they were baptized, and they are baptized “for and in behalf of” a deceased person.  Latter-day Saints find Biblical support for this practice in the oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 15:29-“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?

Question: Will baptism for the dead make my grandmother a Mormon?

Answer: No it won’t.  Mormons believe in something called “agency”, which essentially means “free will”.  We cannot make anyone do something that they do not want to do.  Mormons believe that performing baptisms for the dead only offers them the opportunity to accept or reject that baptism.  It does not automatically make them a Latter-day Saint.

Question: Will my descendants look back at history and think that I became a Mormon?

Answer: No.  The records kept of proxy ordinances such as baptism for the dead make it clear that the baptism occurred after you passed on.

Question: Will baptism for the dead add people to the Mormon Church rolls?

Answer: No.  Since we don’t believe that baptism for the dead makes a person automatically Mormon, it wouldn’t make sense to “add them to the rolls”.

Question: Then why do you perform confirmations for the dead and other ordinances after the baptism?

Answer: Latter-day Saints do perform other sacred ordinances for our ancestors after the baptism, such as confirmation, priesthood ordination, and eternal marriage.  We do this out of hope that the person accepted the baptism.  We also believe that each ordinance still comes with the free will aspect, and the deceased person has the opportunity to accept or reject it.  We hope that they do accept the Gospel, and therefore perform other ordinances for them.

Question: Why would you baptize someone like Pope John Paul II or someone that obviously wouldn’t want to be baptized into Mormonism?  Why can’t you just let them rest in peace?

Answer: Latter-day Saints believe that the Mormon Church is the restored Church of Jesus Christ, the only Church with the priesthood of God.  We believe that we are only offering them an opportunity to accept or reject, and that we are not making them do something that they would not want to do.  While we do accept the great faith of people like Pope John Paul II and people of other faiths, we also believe that, in the ordered house of God, baptism must be performed by those with the authority to do so, as we see in the Bible.  Since we believe that only the Church of Jesus Christ has that authority, and that God has further provided the means by which we can offer baptism to the deceased, then we should offer this gift to those that did not have the fullness of the Truth in this life.

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Great LDS Review of Critical Books by Catholic Author

Going through my library, I found my copy of the book “Inside Mormonism: What Mormons Really Believe” by Isaiah Bennett, a Catholic priest that converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then converted back to the Catholic faith.  I was browsing through it when I found many clear errors and misrepresentations of LDS beliefs.  The Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, an LDS scholarly apologetic organization at Brigham Young University, has a review of this book (and his other book, “When Mormons Call: Answering Mormon Missionaries at Your Door”) by Barry Bickmore, author of the book “Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity“, an excellent book tying unique LDS beliefs to ancient Judaism and Christianity.

I found his review to be quite helpful in articulating why this book really doesn’t present any arguments that Latter-day Saint apologists are not familiar with, and indeed presents arguments that have been decisively addressed.  I especially enjoyed how Bickmore demonstrates the presence of a number of unique LDS beliefs in the writings of various Early Church Fathers, early Christians that Catholic apologists are of course familiar with (and I can already hear the automatic response from them-“they are taken out of context!!!”).  His review can be read here.  I was particularly amused by this section near the beginning of the review-

“Karl Keating,
director and founder of Catholic Answers, writes the following regarding
Loraine Boettner’s book, Roman Catholicism, which relies
heavily on the testimony of former priests to establish “what Catholics
really believe”:
These are the books—written by disaffected ex-Catholics or
by people who never have been Catholic but who have made
their mark in the world by pushing unadorned bigotry—
from which Boettner gets his juiciest information. Relying
on them for the straight story on the Catholic Church is like
relying on a political candidate to tell you all the good points
about his opponent. . . .Now it may well be that a man leaving one religion for
another can write fairly, without bitterness, about the one he
left behind. . . . But it stands to reason that most people who
suddenly think they have an urge to write about their change
of beliefs just want to vent their frustrations or justify their
actions. Their books should be read and used with discretion,
and they should not be used at all as explanations of the
beliefs of their old religion if the books betray the least hint
of rancor.2
It is my hope that the reader will apply the same standard when assessing
Bennett’s writings.”

Mormons and Easter Part 2

I noticed that a number of visitors to this blog came here after searching “Mormons and Easter”, and found my article “Mormons and Easter” from last year.  Since Easter is almost upon us, I would like to briefly expand on some of my thoughts from that article.

As Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints firmly accept as Truth the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, atoned for our sins through His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and crucifixion at Calvary, and after the third day, He was resurrected.  “Easter” is the common name in the Christian West for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (in the East, it is commonly called “Pascha”), and is part of the liturgical year of liturgical churches, such as the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, etc.

The Church of Jesus Christ does not really follow a liturgical calendar as Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do, however Mormons join with the rest of the Christian world (including other churches that also do not follow a liturgical calendar yet celebrate days such as Easter and Christmas) in acknowledging and celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ at Christmas, and the resurrection of the Lord at Easter.  On Easter, our church buildings may be specially decorated, resurrection-themed hymns may be sung, and we all reflect on the importance on joy surrounding the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As mentioned in my previous post on this subject, if our General Conference falls on the same day as Easter, while we will not have church services, the General Conference program will feature talks (sermons) from our apostles and prophets on the Resurrection, and resurrection-themed hymns will also be sung.  Also, families typically join together in their own celebrations of the Resurrection in their homes.

Having said all of this, we must remember that celebrating the birth and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ should not be limited to one day out of the year.  As we covenant through baptism and through the Sacrament (the Lord’s Supper) to always remember Jesus Christ and to follow Him, we should always remember and celebrate the importance of His birth and His resurrection.  It is only through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we can receive eternal life.  While we may join with other Christians in celebrating His resurrection on Easter Sunday, we should also celebrate His resurrection daily, and not forget what Jesus Christ did for us all.

Are Mormons Christians?

One of the most fundamental questions that can be asked of Mormons is whether or not we are Christians.  Unfortunately, many Protestants and Catholics deny that Latter-day Saints are Christians for a number of reasons (and even then, many Protestants deny that Catholics are Christians as well).  However, when we look at the plain and simple beliefs of Mormons, it is clear that we are a Christian Church.

Mormons, or Latter-day Saints, are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We do not believe that this is the Church of Joseph Smith, or the Church of Brigham Young.  Our Church is not named after a mere man (no matter how prophetic he may be).  Instead, we believe that the Church belongs to Jesus Christ, and that He is at the head of this Church.

And this brings us to the central Person of our faith, and why we are rightly classified as Christians.  Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ as our only Savior, the divine Son of God, the Only Begotten.  We strive to follow the example of Jesus Christ, taking upon ourselves His sacred Name through baptism.  The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which began in the Garden of Gethsemane and culminated on the cross of Calvary, is central to our faith.  It is only through the atonement that we can be forgiven of our sins and receive eternal life.

So why then do other Christians deny us even this basic claim?  Generally, it is because we differ from “traditional Christians” (i.e. Trinitarian Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox) on our view of the nature of God.  Latter-day Saints believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate Persons, that they are considered “one” in that they are one in purpose, and that both the Father and the Son are both spirit and embodied.  In contrast, Trinitarian Christians believe that only the Son has a body, and believe that while the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three distinct Persons, they are one Being/Substance/Essence.  So, it is correct to state that Mormons are not “traditional/Trinitarian Christians”, in that we reject the doctrine of the Trinity (instead believing that our doctrine reflects what is found in the Bible as well as what the earliest Christians believed, pre-Council of Nicaea, 325 AD), however we are indeed Christians in that we do accept Jesus Christ as our divine Savior, the divine Son of God, through whose atoning sacrifice eternal life can be received.  We do not worship Joseph Smith, nor do we pray to him.  We pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, who is our divine Mediator.

To find out more about what Mormons believe about Jesus Christ, please visit these websites:

Jesus Christ, our Savior

Jesus Christ, the Son of God

First Time in the Temple

So yesterday evening I attended the Manhattan New York Temple for our Ward Temple Night.  It really was a great, spiritual experience.

The Manhattan Temple is somewhat different from most other temples in The Church of  Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in that, firstly, it is right in the middle of the city, instead of off in a more suburban setting.  You can just step out of the subway and the temple is right there.  Also, the temple is actually only part of the building, with the rest of it including a meetinghouse, small Distribution Center, Public Relations Office, and I believe a Family History center.  When you walk into the building, there is a separate ornate door to enter the temple.

As soon as we stepped through that door, I was pretty surprised.  Everything was bright, with white and gold colors everywhere, and paintings of Jesus and scriptural events on the walls.  Everyone was dressed in white, and the sisters were in these flowing white gowns.  It really felt like if we were in a special sacred space (which we were).  Everyone kept telling me “welcome to the temple”, which was nice.

We were doing baptisms and confirmations for the dead that night, which offers the opportunity for the deceased to hear the gospel and choose to accept or reject it, if they did not have that opportunity in this life.  This concept is one that makes a lot of sense to me, not only because of its scriptural and historical basis, but because many other churches simply do not know what happens to the unbaptized (leaving it at hoping in the mercy of God who may save them anyway if they would have received baptism if they knew about, which seems to deny that baptism is really necessary for eternal life for those that need it), or say that they will go to Hell.  Instead, the restored Church of Jesus Christ teaches that, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we are able to receive these ordinances for and in behalf of deceased persons, who will then have the opportunity to accept or reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Spirit World.  God has provided a clear way for people to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ if they were unable to do so in this life.  Proxy work has always been a part of Judaism and Christianity, whether it was animal sacrifice in the ancient temples, or the ultimate atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

So after we walked in, we received a white baptismal suit to change into.  After that, we sat in front of the baptismal font.  It is HUGE.  It is set on the backs of 12 oxen, similar to the brazen sea of Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament.  A few other people from another ward were also there, and were already doing confirmations for the dead.  We joined them in doing that first.  After that, we started to do the baptisms for the dead.  It was a great experience, and you could really feel the Spirit in the Lord’s House.

I can’t wait for the next time I’m able to go to the temple.  It’s great to be able to step off the busy streets of Manhattan and be in such a peaceful, sacred space, where you can’t hear the hustle and bustle of the city.  Going to the temple was definitely a testimony building experience, and I am grateful for having a temple so close to home.

So What’s Been Happening? And General Conference Tomorrow!

So it’s been over a month since my baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ, and it has definitely been a wonderful experience thus far.

The people in my ward (what Latter-day Saints call a regular “congregation”) are all great, and I must say, it’s awesome to be around so many young people that are not only just like “regular” people (who have jobs, go to school, like to have fun, go to parties, etc), but also have a fervent faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ.  It really is refreshing to be around people like this, especially here in New York City.

I received the Priesthood of Aaron a few weeks ago.  That experience was of course different for me, coming from the Catholic Church, where people that are ordained to the three priesthood offices must go through extensive collegiate study before ordination.  I find that the LDS practice mirrors the Biblical precedent, and while there certainly are benefits to the Catholic method, I personally find the LDS/Biblical view simple and wonderful.  I have been exercising the priesthood by blessing the bread and water we use in our Sacrament (also known as the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist in other Christian churches).

I have also received a limited-use Temple Recommend from my bishop (the presider in a local LDS church).  Mormons have chapels or meetinghouses, where we have our Sunday Sacrament service, Sunday school, and various other meetings and activities throughout the week.  We also have temples.  Temples are sacred houses of the Lord, where special ceremonies take place where we can learn more about God’s Plan of Salvation and enter into sacred covenants with Him, as well as sealing spouses and families together for eternity.  Finally, temples are a place where we can offer the blessings of baptism and other ordinances to our deceased ancestors who did not have an opportunity to hear the Gospel in this life.  One of these ordinances, as I have mentioned in a previous post , is “baptism for the dead“.  In baptism for the dead, a living person, such as myself, is baptized for and in behalf of someone who is deceased.  We believe that this gives that person (who is in the spirit world) the opportunity to accept or reject the baptism.  I must emphasize that such a ritual does not “make” someone Mormon, nor does it add them to the “member rolls”, as some critics like to claim.  Instead, Latter-day Saints believe that it gives them the opportunity to accept or reject the restored Gospel if they did not have an opportunity to do so in this life.

Anyway, by receiving a limited-use temple recommend, I am able to enter the temple (since only LDS with a recommend from their bishop are able to enter the temple after its dedication.  Before dedication, non-Mormons and Mormons alike are given tours of the building during an open house season), and perform baptisms for the dead.  I am excited to do so, since I will be able to feel the Spirit of the Lord in a special way in His House, and I am also excited about being able to offer the blessings of the Gospel to our ancestors, made possible by the atonement of Jesus Christ.  I am also excited about participating in a sacred ordinance that no other Christian church practices today, though it was anciently according to many historical sources, as well as brief mention in the Bible (1 Corinthians 15:29).

Finally, the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is tomorrow and Sunday.  Every April and October, we are able to hear the inspired words of the Lord’s modern-day apostles and prophets, as well as other Church leaders.  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as well as other choirs, sing beautiful hymns.  While I have watched parts of Conference before, this will be my first one since baptism, and it will carry a renewed meaning to me.  It is always wonderful to read the words of ancient prophets and apostles in the scriptures, and now, I can hear and read the words of modern prophets and apostles, found in the Lord’s Church.

Going forward, this blog will not only discuss certain aspects of my faith journey in the Church of Jesus Christ, but I would also like to continue discussing various unique beliefs of the LDS Church, showing not only the Biblical basis for those beliefs, but also ancient Judeo-Christian precedents for those beliefs, countering the claim made by many critics that LDS beliefs are not found anciently, and were invented in the mind of Joseph Smith.  Quite the contrary, there are many evidences for unique LDS beliefs in ancient Judaism and Christianity, confirming to me that these really are restored beliefs, and that Jesus Christ really is at the head of this Church, with prophets and apostles just like in His ancient Church.

The Baptism and Confirmation

Well folks, I was baptized around 11:30 am on 2/19/11!  This really was a memorable day for so many reasons.

Being the procrastinator that I am, I was about 10 minutes late to the service.  Traffic was somewhat bad getting into NYC, which was a little weird for early Saturday morning.  Elder Hermosa called me around 10:50am to see where I was, and I told him that I just wanted to scare them into thinking I wasn’t coming.

When I finally got there, I was pretty surprised at the number of people from the ward that were there.  I expected maybe 10 people or so, but perhaps around 35 people showed up.  I changed into the dreaded jumpsuit, and the service began with a prayer, hymn, and a talk by the Elder’s Quorum President.  The bishop conducted the service.  After the EQ President spoke, I went into the baptismal font with Elder Hermosa.  I then heard the words that I’ve been waiting to hear for some time-“Jason Johnson, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen”.  After I was immersed, I felt SO happy and peaceful.  But then I had a dilemma…

The jumpsuit was of course soaked, and so were my underclothes.  I didn’t bring any extra, nor was there a towel to dry off.  I did what I could, but unfortunately, when I put my regular clothes back on, my pants became visibly wet.  I could hear the pianist playing music, perhaps waiting for me to come back out, but I didn’t know what to do.  Finally, I just thought “whatever”, and walked out from the changing room laughing.  Everyone was pretty good about it.

The service concluded with another talk by a ward missionary, the bishop speaking, and the EQ President welcoming me to the ward and the EQ (since this is a YSA ward, there aren’t any other priesthood quorums, so I will be a member of the EQ).  I then gave my testimony, and said the closing prayer.

Although I had to work for the rest of the day, I felt completely different after the baptism.  I kept smiling at random moments, picturing the baptism, thinking about it, etc.  I know that I made a special covenant with God today, and took the name of Jesus Christ upon myself, covenanting to follow Him and His example.  I know that this is the Lord’s Church, with Jesus Christ at its head, and that I made this decision only after receiving a confirming witness from the Holy Ghost.  Although I was pretty knowledgeable of the restored Gospel before meeting with Elders Hermosa and Lima, I thank them for helping me along the way, encouraging me to read scripture and pray to God to know whether the things we discussed and I read are true.

The next day, Sunday 2/20/11, I received the Holy Ghost and was confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I was originally supposed to be confirmed on 2/27/11, since the YSA ward I attend was not meeting on the 20th because there was a YSA conference that weekend and there would be a combined Sacrament Meeting at another ward, however the missionaries let me know that it was actually decided that I would be confirmed at the family ward on the 20th.

The bishop announced that I was baptized the day before and called me forward to receive the ordinance.  The missionaries, my bishop, his second counselor, and the family ward bishop surrounded me and laid hands on me.  Elder Lima then said the words of the ordinance.  It was so simple and beautiful, just like how the Biblical ordinance of receiving the Holy Ghost was (by the laying on of hands).  I almost felt like crying because I have waited so long to hear the words that I am confirmed a member of the Lord’s Church.

Being an LDS critic in the past, I know I am prepared for the various “issues” that LDS critics may bring up, since I used to do the same.  I know that throughout all of my criticisms, God was guiding me towards His Church.  As I mentioned in my testimony after my baptism, this was not an easy decision for me to make, coming from a very active Catholic background.  However it is because of that confirming witness of the Holy Ghost that I made that decision, in addition to all of the research and Biblical study that I did, much of it coming from a critic perspective.  I know that there are apostles and prophets on this earth today, just like there were in the ancient Church (Ephesians 2:20, Ephesians 4:11-12).  I know that Jesus Christ is at the head of this Church.  I know that the gospel has indeed been restored, as predicted in the Bible (Revelation 14:6).  The Book of Mormon is scripture, and there are multiple evidences for its authenticity, despite what critics may claim.   The priesthood of God has indeed been restored on the earth, and truly has the power, through Jesus Christ, to bless, heal, comfort, provide saving ordinances, and bring together people in Christ.

I know that this is only the beginning of my eternal journey to live with God and become like Him, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.