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Wanna Be Mormon? Here’s How!

So let’s say you’ve read the Book of Mormon.  You’ve prayed to God for guidance as to whether this book really is what it claims to be: a sacred volume of scripture, along with the Bible, that contains the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  You receive inspiration from God that the things you’ve read are true.  Or, maybe you’ve been searching for the true Church.  You recognize that in the New Testament, Jesus Christ established His Church.  It had apostles and prophets guiding the faithful.  You see that continuous revelation, the potential to add new scriptures, temple worship, etc were all important to the New Testament Church.  You find out about the LDS belief in the Restoration of Christ’s Church, it makes sense to you (“yeah, where did the apostolic office go?”), you pray about it to your Father in Heaven, and you receive an answer that confirms the truth of the Restoration.  Or, maybe you take many of the various other paths people take on their journey to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  But what do you do next?  Many seem to be somewhat confused about how one becomes a Latter-day Saint (or “Mormon”), so hopefully this will help you.  I’ll also share some of my own conversion experiences.

Contact the Missionaries, or, Visit Your Local LDS Congregation

The first thing you must do is get in contact with the local missionaries of the LDS Church.  There are a number of ways you can do this.  One way is to simply go to this website on Mormon.org, put in your contact information, and the missionaries will give you a call in a few days and see when and where is convenient to meet.

If you simply can’t wait for that call, and are eager to receive the blessings available in Christ’s Church as soon as possible, you can just show up at your local LDS congregation for Sunday worship.  The missionaries will be there, and you can just go up to them and tell them you’re ready to be a Mormon!  I’m sure they’d be thrilled to talk to you.  You can find your local congregations by putting in your address at this LDS Maps website.

Either way, you must meet with the missionaries before you become a member of the Church (don’t worry, if you can’t meet them in your home, they can meet anywhere else you feel comfortable, such as a local cafe, park, or even the local church building).  This is important because the missionaries will go over a series of lessons on various topics to ensure that you have a basic foundation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ before you are baptized.  They will teach you topics such as The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Plan of Salvation, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Commandments, and Laws and Ordinances.  In addition, they will ask you to read various passages from the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

In addition to this study of the Gospel, the missionaries will ask you to make various commitments as you progress in your journey.  For example, they may ask you to read a specific passage from the Book of Mormon by your next meeting.  They may ask you to pray to God about something, such as whether Joseph Smith really was a prophet of God.  They will ask you to commit to coming to church on Sunday.  As well, as I’m sure you know, there are various lifestyle changes that you may have to make in your own life as you become a Latter-day Saint, such as giving up coffee, tea, alcohol, etc as part of the Word of Wisdom, or beginning to live the Law of Chastity.  The missionaries will ask you if you will now begin to follow those commandments from the Lord.  They will ask you to repent of your sins.  They will also share with you many blessings that come from making these commitments.

My experience: As you may know from reading this blog, I researched the LDS Church for many years (off and on) on my own prior to contacting the missionaries.  After awhile, I knew that it was right and that I had to follow the inspiration from God I had received and join the Church.  I went on Mormon.org and filled out the form there for the missionaries.  After a day or two, I became impatient, and filled it out again!  Finally, the missionaries called me while I was in class.  I called them back, and set up a time to meet them at the local church building.

At our first meeting, they asked me how I found out about the Church, and I shared how much I had been reading and pondering.  They were pretty surprised at how much I knew, and that I had been reading the Book of Mormon on my own.  Because of this, at our first meeting, they asked me if I wanted to be baptized.  The missionaries will ask an “investigator” to be baptized when they feel that you know what it means to be baptized, and when you’re prepared.  I was taken aback by the invitation, and although I knew that’s what I wanted, I told them that I’d get back to them after some thought and prayer.  They also invited me to come to church on the upcoming Sunday, and also to keep reading the Book of Mormon (normally, as mentioned, they may assign a specific passage to read).

Our meetings were a few times a week (about an hour each time), and lasted for two weeks.  There is no set time limit for how long you’ll meet with the missionaries prior to being baptized.  Some may meet with them for a week or two, others may meet for months to years.  Your meeting with the missionaries will begin and close with a prayer.  You can talk to them about anything you desire, and they will also go over various lessons.  Sometimes a “member” (a Mormon from the local congregation) may sit in on the meeting to offer their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Go to Church!

If you haven’t already, the missionaries will ask you to attend church with them on Sunday.  There, you’ll get to see and meet Mormons from your local community, and join them in worshipping God.  Mormons go to church on Sundays for three hours.  Yes, three hours.  Don’t worry, if you can’t stay for all of it, that’s okay.  Hopefully you’ll be able to attend at least Sacrament Meeting.  Sacrament Meeting is the basic worship service for Mormons.  It is led by a “Bishop”, who is the leader of the local LDS congregation.  During Sacrament Meeting, LDS pray, sing hymns, partake of “the Sacrament” (blessed bread and water), and listen to sermons, called “talks”, by members of the congregation.  This lasts a little over an hour.  You won’t have to do anything (there is no standing, sitting, and kneeling like in various liturgical churches, though you may stand for one of the hymns).  During the Sacrament, the bread and water will be passed within the congregation (you don’t go up to the front for it).  When it comes to you, simply take the tray, hold it so the person next to you can take, and give them the tray.  The Sacrament is meant for baptized members of the Church, though it’s not a problem if you partake.

After Sacrament Meeting, there is Sunday School.  In Sunday School, there are different classes.  The main class for adults in the Gospel Doctrine class.  In this class, Mormons study one of their volumes of scripture.  The class is taught by someone from the congregation called to be a teacher.  This year (2014), Mormons are studying the Old Testament.  Another class available is the Gospel Principles class, which is the one the missionaries will most likely invite you to attend.  This class covers basic topics central to Mormonism, such as the Atonement, Our Heavenly Family, Jesus Christ, Repentance, Gifts of the Spirit, Service,the Sabbath, Temples, Prophets, etc.

After Sunday School, men and women will separate into different classes.  Men go to various Priesthood classes, while adult women attend Relief Society.  There, we receive more education in the Gospel, as well as guidance for our lives as sons and daughters of God.

After that, 3 hours from when you first stepped into the building, it’s over!  Sometimes, there will be a “linger longer”, where the congregation will have food, BBQ, desserts, or any other treats.  Feel free to stay for that if you desire.

Don’t worry, your missionaries will stay with you and help you find where you need to go, so you won’t be there alone.  Also, chances are the other members and leaders will recognize that you’re new, and will come up to you to help you with anything you need.

My Experience: I was a little nervous going to church for the first time.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Although I knew two Mormons from college, I still wasn’t sure if they would be “weird”.  So, when I got to the church, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mormons were “normal”!  This was a Young Single Adult (YSA) congregation, so everyone was around my age (18-30).  It was really nice to be around so many young people at church, since I was used to being one of the few in a sea of graying/whiting older people.

I enjoyed Sacrament Meeting, though it was definitely different from the Catholic Mass I was used to.  No candles, no incense, no bells, no robes, etc.  However, within the simplicity, I felt at peace, and it simply just felt right.  I also greatly appreciated Sunday School.  Catholic parishes generally don’t have religious education for adults outside of RCIA for those converting to Catholicism (though there are some parishes that do).  It was great to have a formal, Church-organized effort to continue education of members from childhood to our elderly years.

Invitation to Be Baptized!

SO, you’ve been meeting with the missionaries, you’ve gone to church, you’ve committed to live the Law of Chastity and the Word of Wisdom (or at least begun the road to following these commandments), you’ve been reading the Book of Mormon and the Bible, and most importantly, you’ve been praying about everything to God.  Guess what, the missionaries have also been praying for you, and about you!  When the time is right, the missionaries will invite you to be baptized, and to set a date for your baptism.  This date can change if necessary, however it’s always great to have a goal to look forward to.

As you may know, the issue of “authority” is important.  In the Bible, we see that Jesus Christ specifically went to John the Baptist, because he had the authority from God to baptize.  We see Jesus Christ giving the New Testament apostles authority.  Likewise, Mormons believe that, as the restoration of Christ’s original Church, only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the authority to perform ordinances such as baptism.  So, although you may have been baptized in another church, you will have to be baptized by the authority of God.

So, the missionaries ask you to be baptized, you agree, and you set a date (could be tomorrow, could be next week, next month, etc).  Congratulations!  Once you do this, various things will happen.  The Bishop of the congregation will want to meet with you.  Another missionary (not one of the two you’ve been meeting with) will meet briefly with you to ask you a few questions to ensure that you are prepared for baptism (such as your belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the Restoration, the Laws of Chastity and Tithing, the Word of Wisdom, repenting of your sins, and whether you are ready to enter the covenant of baptism).

Your missionaries will show you the baptismal font in the church building, and go over how the baptism is done (i.e. where to put your hands, bend your knees, etc).  Remember, Mormons baptize by full immersion, just like in the New Testament.

You’ll also want to start thinking about the program for your baptism.  Your missionaries will help you with this.  You should select hymns that you like to be part of the program, as well as two speakers to give short talks on the topics of “baptism” and “confirmation-receiving the Holy Ghost”.  If you’re not sure, the missionaries will be fine with guiding you on that.  Also, you should think of who you want to baptize you (as well as confirm you)!  The missionaries will gladly perform both ordinances.  However, if you have a friend in the ward congregation that is at least a “priest” in the Aaronic Priesthood, and they are okay with it, they can gladly baptize you.  For your Confirmation, the person must be at least an Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Finally, think of who you would like to attend your baptism.  You can invite friends, family, and members of the ward congregation.  Or no one!

Once this is all done, your missionaries will put together the program and organize everything, along with the Ward Mission Leader and Bishop.  All you have to do is show up to your baptism (bring a towel just in case there aren’t any!)!

My experience: As I mentioned, my missionaries invited me to be baptized at our very first meeting.  I took a day to think and pray about it, and called them back the next day to say that yes, I would like to be baptized.  After that, we finished the remaining missionary lessons, and I attended church.  I met a few people from the ward that sat in on our meetings.  I met with another missionary who went over the pre-baptism interview questions, which lasted about 5 minutes.  I thought of hymns that I had heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing before that I enjoyed, chose two, and also asked two of the guys that I had met to speak at my baptism.  I also asked my two missionaries to perform the baptism and the confirmation.

Your Baptism!

So the day is finally here!  If you’re like me, you’re probably very nervous.  The missionaries probably asked you to wear what you wear to church on Sundays, bring a towel, and the time to be there.

You arrive at the church, and the service begins.  Everyone will sing the hymns you chose, and talks will be given by the people you selected.  Then, it’s baptism time.  You will go into the changing room, and change into a white jumpsuit (yes, very attractive).  The person baptizing you will also change into white clothing.  You will step into the waters, and the baptizer will call you by your full name, and say “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.”  He will then fully immerse you under the water, then bring you back up.  Two witnesses will watch to make sure that you have been fully immersed.  And with that, you’ve been baptized!

After you dry off and change, congregation leaders will welcome you to the ward, the closing hymn will be sung, the closing prayer will be offered, and that ends your baptismal service.  People will congratulate you on becoming a member of Christ’s Church, and usually there will be some refreshments after.

My experience: My baptism experience was very interesting, to say the least.  As a procrastinator, I have a habit of being late to events.  That said, I was running late to my own baptism.  The missionaries and the Ward Mission Leader called me to make sure I was still coming.  Finally, I made it, and I was surprised at how many people were there to see me baptized.

After I was baptized, I realized that I forgot to bring a towel!  I looked around the changing room, and couldn’t find anything.  Finally, I just sucked it up, put on my clothes, and walked out with a huge water spot on my pants.  At least it was that much more memorable.

Your Confirmation!

After you’re baptized, you will also be confirmed.  With Confirmation, you are not only confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but you also receive the gift of the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, as well as a priesthood blessing.

Confirmation is usually done on Sunday, as part of Sacrament Meeting.  Your missionaries will let you know when this will be.  It’s usually the Sunday following your baptism.  Near the beginning of Sacrament Meeting, the bishop will announce that you were recently baptized, and that you will now be confirmed.  You will go up to the front of the chapel, and sit in a chair.  The person you asked to confirm you, as well as various other men holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, will stand in a circle around you , and lay their hands on your head.  You will then be called by your full name, and hear the words, “In the name of Jesus Christ, and by the authority of the holy Melchizedek Priesthood, I confirm you a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and say unto you, ‘receive the Holy Ghost.'”.  He will then give you a blessing as the Spirit guides him to.  After it’s finished, you will shake the hands of everyone in the circle, and go back to your seat!  Chances are you’ll feel very at peace as you receive the Holy Ghost as a constant companion in your life.

And with that, you’re officially a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You’re officially a Mormon!

My experience:  Because my congregation wasn’t meeting the Sunday after my baptism (there was a Young Single Adult Regional Conference), I was confirmed in the traditional, or “family” ward congregation that meets in the same building.  It was great to meet so many new people, many of whom came up to me to congratulate me and encourage me in my new life as a disciple of Christ.  I felt very calm and at peace, and happy to hear that I was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Although this is a long post, I hope this gives you some insight into how to become a Mormon.  Although I used a lot of words, the process is simple:

1) Meet with the missionaries

2) Start reading the Book of Mormon

3) Pray about what you’re reading and studying, as well as for guidance on whether the things you are learning are true.

4) Start living the commandments

5) Once you know these things are true, set a baptism date

6) Be baptized

7) Be confirmed

8) Be Mormon

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Resources For Catholics Considering Mormonism

Every so often, I receive questions as to why a Catholic should become a Latter-day Saint, or what resources would be helpful for a Catholic considering conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As someone who considered his own conversion and testimony for quite some time recently, I hope this post will be helpful.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that the claims of the LDS Church and the Catholic Church are at odds with each other.  Both claim to be the “one true church” with the proper authority from God.  They both can’t be right in that regard.  The LDS Church claims that it is a restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ as we read in the New Testament.  In this belief, Latter-day Saints find that certain doctrinal truths were lost over time, and have since been restored in the LDS Church, along with newly revealed and expanded on beliefs and practices.

Further, Mormons believe that the priesthood authority of God has been restored, and is only found in the LDS Church.  This brings me to an important issue: that of authority and sacraments/ordinances.  Latter-day Saints believe that only the LDS Church has the authority from God to perform sacred ordinances, such as baptism, confirmation, ordination, eternal marriage, etc.  In contrast, while the Catholic Church regards itself as being the one true Church, it still believes that valid baptisms can be performed outside of its formal confines, and certain churches, such as the Orthodox Church, can validly perform all of the sacraments, even though they are not in formal communion with the Catholic Church (regarded as being in schism).  This concept never made sense to me.  In Mormonism, the authority of God is only found and validly exercised within Christ’s Church, and only members of the priesthood of Christ’s Church, in communion with its prophets and apostles, can validly perform sacred ordinances.

There are a number of doctrinal issues that separate Latter-day Saints from traditional Christians, and from Catholics specifically.  While each topic could be a separate post, I’ll list some of the issues that I find relevant to Catholics considering Mormonism, as well as some books and resources that would be helpful as you investigate the Church of Jesus Christ.

Apostles and Prophets

-Mormons believe that the true Church is led by apostles and prophets, just like the New Testament Church.  The authority and calling of Apostles is present today.  As we read in the Bible, the Church had twelve Apostles, and there were also Apostles outside of the Twelve.  Similarly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a Council or Quorum of Twelve Apostles, as well as a “First Presidency” composed of three Apostles.  All are also regarded as prophets who receive revelation from God in directing the Church of Jesus  Christ, just like the ancient Church.

Continuing Revelation

-Mormons believe that revelation continues to this day.  In addition to the personal type of revelation that seems to be found in practically all Christian faiths, we also believe that the words of living prophets become like scripture to us, and we have an open canon of scripture.  Our canonized scriptures can be added to when necessary, and the words of our inspired leaders in settings such as General Conference (a twice a year meeting of the worldwide Church) are studied in addition to the scriptures.

Prayer

-Catholics are used to not only praying directly to each member of the Trinity, but also praying to/through canonized saints and the Virgin Mary.  In contrast, Latter-day Saints only pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ.  We readily accept the reality of Heavenly persons and angels interacting with people on earth, however we do not pray to/through them.

Baptism

-As mentioned, Latter-day Saints believe that only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the authority from God to perform necessary ordinances (what Catholics would term “sacraments”).  Therefore, all converts to the LDS Church are baptized, whether or not they were baptized in another church.  Baptism is performed by full immersion, as was done anciently.  I’ve found it interesting that proselyte baptism has been performed in Judaism, and was always done by immersion.  Further, Jews sometimes immerse themselves in a “mikveh” for purification.

-Latter-day Saints also do not practice infant baptism.  LDS follow the example of Jesus Christ and lay their hands on infants to bless them.  LDS believe that infants and children prior to the age of 8 do not need baptism, and if they die, they go to Heaven.  In contrast, Catholics do not know with certainty what happens to unbaptized infants, though they find sufficient reason to hope in the mercy of God (though some retain a belief in Limbo of Infants).  I find the LDS belief very comforting, and based on revelation from God.

Temples

-Like the early Christians and Jews, Latter-day Saints have two types of worship services.  First, on Sundays, we go to our meetinghouses/chapels, where we pray, sing hymns, participate in the Lord’s Supper (we call this “the Sacrament”, and it is blessed bread and water), and listen to sermons or “talks” by members of the congregation.  We also have Sunday School classes where we study the scriptures and doctrines of the Gospel, and other types of classes (women attend Relief Society, men attend various Priesthood meetings depending on their priesthood office).

In addition, we also have temples, which are separate sacred structures, regarded as the literal House of the Lord.  God’s presence is there in a special way, and we participate in various sacred ordinances there.  Like the Biblical temple, access is limited.  One must be living the commandments of Christ, and receive a “recommend card” from their Church leaders to present upon entry.  Because Latter-day Saints believe that certain ordinances are necessary for eternal life (for example, the Bible repeatedly says that baptism is necessary, and gives no exceptions, such as “baptism of desire” or “baptism of blood”, as Catholics believe).  Therefore, God has provided a way for these ordinances to be performed for our ancestors that did not have the opportunity to receive them in life (it is believed that once performed, such “proxy ordinances” present them with the opportunity to accept or reject them in the spirit world).  LDS therefore perform ordinances such as “baptism for the dead”, which was also performed anciently (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?”).

In the temple, eternal marriages, called sealings, are also performed.  In this sacred ordinance, the couple kneels at an altar, holds hands, and is married for time and all eternity.  Behind them are mirrors that reflect each other into eternity, symbolizing the union.  Another ritual is known as the “Endowment”.  This temple rite involves many ancient temple practices, such as washing, anointing with oil, receiving a new name, clothing in a sacred garment, ceremonial robes, a presentation on the Creation, the making of covenants with God, prayer, and passing through a veil into the presence of God.  It is very beautiful, highly symbolic, and unique to the Latter-day Saint faith (though again, there are many ancient confirmations for the ritual).  Going to the temple for one’s own Endowment is a great, spiritual day.  In the temple, all “patrons” wear white clothing.

Temple worship is very important to Mormons, and is something many converts look forward to participating in.  The temple is literally my favorite part about being LDS, and what drew me back after a short period of inactivity.  The feeling of the Spirit present in the temple is unlike anything else.  Being in the House of the Lord is something that confirms to many of us the reality of God and His Gospel.

Resources

Although I could go on and on, I think it would be helpful to provide some resources for Catholics looking into Mormonism.  For me, these resources have been extremely helpful, not only when I considered leaving Catholicism, but also helpful in further confirming to me the reality of the Restoration, that Joseph Smith and/or his associates didn’t make it all up, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is the Lord’s Church, with truly restored ancient beliefs and practices.  As much as I love Catholicism, even miss aspects of it, I know that this Church has the authority from God to perform sacred ordinances, and has the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that I have never felt as happy and as at peace as I have with the restored Gospel in my life.

Please click the links to get to the resource:

Books

Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest

The Biblical Roots of Mormonism

Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (outstanding resource!)

Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy

The Inevitable Apostasy and the Promised Restoration

All Things Restored-Evidences and Witnesses of the Restoration

Why Would Anyone Join the Mormon Church?

Mormonism and Early Christianity

The World and the Prophets

Naturally these are a lot of books.  If I had to choose one or two for you to read, I would suggest “Catholic Roots, Mormon Harvest”, and “Why Would Anyone Join the Mormon Church?” to begin with, as they are easier to read and are targeted to the typical reader.  If you’re interested more in patristics, Early Church Fathers, ancient evidences for LDS beliefs, etc, I’d highly recommend “Restoring the Ancient Church”, “Mormonism and Early Christianity”, and “The World and the Prophets”.  If anything, you must read Restoring the Ancient Church.

Official LDS Resources

First and foremost, please check out Mormon.org to get a basic understanding of what Latter-day Saints believe and do.  You can also find a link to chat with missionaries online, and frequently asked questions.  This is probably what you should do before reading any books, articles, etc.

You can request a free copy of the Book of Mormon here.  Note that the missionaries will contact you to see if you’re okay with them hand delivering it to you, and sharing a message.  I believe they can also just have it mailed to you if you don’t want that.  I remember way back in 10th grade, when I was curious about the Church, requesting a Book of Mormon, and the missionaries called!  Naturally my mother who answered the phone said we don’t need the missionaries over, and they just mailed it.

If you feel like you’d like to meet with the missionaries, use the request form here.  This is how I ended up meeting with the missionaries.  You can contact them if you’d just like to chat about Mormonism, or if you know that you’re ready to become a member of Christ’s Church.  It may take a few days for them to get back to you, so don’t worry like I did.  Also, if you aren’t comfortable meeting with them in your home, they can meet you anywhere, such as a local cafe, park, or the local LDS church building.  I met with the missionaries at the church building.

If you’d like to read more about the basic beliefs of the LDS faith, you can read the Gospel Principles manual online here.

In a later post, I’ll share what it’s like actually converting!

Also, check out this recent devotional talk by an LDS leader, Elder Tad Callister, called the Blueprint of Christ’s Church.  In it, you’ll see that the LDS Church is Biblical, and matches the blueprint of the Church Christ Himself designed.  It is things like this which caused me to get out of my comfort zone in Catholicism, and come to the fulness of the Gospel found in the LDS Church.

View The Blueprint of Christ’s Church here.

The Church has also published a video that documents the beginnings of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus  Christ entitled Joseph Smith-Prophet of the Restoration.  It is long, but well worth it.  View it here:

Finally, the LDS Church has published a new series of videos to introduce people not members of the Church to the basic beliefs, practices, and ideals of Mormons.  I encourage you to view these if you are pressed for time and can’t view the other two videos.  You’ll get an idea of what Mormons believe and what it’s like to be Mormon.  You can find all of them here: Introduction to the Church.  Here are a few that I enjoy:

Baptism For the Dead Again!

 

Well folks, it seems as if the practice of baptism for the dead is in the news again.  While I won’t get into the actual recent events that have occurred (since they have been all over the news, and the Church itself has responded to this controversy adequately) I would like to, once again, discuss what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the “Mormon Church”) believe about baptism for the dead, since the vast majority of comments I’ve read on these news articles demonstrate an erroneous understanding of our practice.

Latter-day Saints, like many other Christians, believe that baptism is an essential ordinance, or sacrament, for our salvation.  Mormons believe that the Bible teaches that to be saved, we must follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized.  Baptism is seen as our entry into the kingdom of God, marking our entrance into His Church, and where we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.  Mormons believe that when Christ was on the earth, He established His Church.  Mormons believe that our Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a restoration of that original Church.  With that belief in the restoration of the original Church and the fulness of the Gospel, or Good News, of Jesus Christ, we believe that the priesthood of Christ is on the earth again, and is only to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ.  Authority in priesthood rites is seen throughout the Bible, including where Jesus Christ specifically sought out John the Baptist to be baptized.

When someone desires to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after demonstrating faith in Christ and repenting of their sins, that individual is baptized by immersion in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Many individuals, such as myself, may have already been baptized in another faith tradition.  Since Mormons believe that priesthood authority is needed to perform sacred ordinances such as baptism, and that this authority is only found in the true, restored Church of Jesus Christ, all people are baptized to enter the Church.

A dilemma that all Christian communities have to deal with is, what happens to the billions of people throughout human history that never had the chance to hear about and have faith in our Savior Jesus Christ, nor the opportunity to be baptized?  If baptism is necessary for salvation, as the Bible teaches, then are these people lost?  Some Christians hope in the mercy of God for those souls, though they cannot say definitively what happens to them.  Others say that these souls are lost.  Mormons on the other hand reject these positions, and instead believe that God has established a way whereby the deceased can have an opportunity to accept Christ, and accept baptism and other sacred, saving ordinances.

Mormons practice these “proxy ordinances” in sacred buildings known as temples.  Temples are regarded as literal houses of the Lord, where God’s presence can be felt in a special way, and where we can perform various sacred rites.  Baptism for the dead is one such rite.  Mormons find scriptural support for the practice in 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?”. Mormons believe that through baptism for the dead, the deceased have the opportunity to accept OR reject the effects of baptism, thereby having the same opportunity in the next life that some had in this life to accept Jesus Christ and be baptized by His priesthood authority.  I cannot emphasize “accept OR reject” enough, since it is this portion of the practice that is lost on 90% of the critical comments I have recently read.

  • Mormons do not believe that baptism for the dead forces someone to become a Mormon.  It does not add that person to the “rolls” of the Church.  Instead, Latter-day Saints firmly believe that free-will, whether in this life or the next, is important, and is a necessary requirement for sacred ordinances.  We do not practice infant baptism, since we believe that someone must choose for themselves to accept Christ and accept His baptism.  Likewise, baptism for the dead is believed to present the deceased soul with the opportunity to accept or reject that ordinance.
  • Mormons do not believe that baptism for the dead obscures the historical record, or that people looking at history will mistakenly believe that the individual was a Latter-day Saint in this life.  Records of proxy ordinances clearly indicate that the ordinance was performed after the death of the individual, and was a proxy ordinance.  Also, any interested enough in our rituals would then know the point made above, that the ordinance doesn’t “make someone a Mormon” either.
  • Mormons are sincere in their practice of baptism for the dead.  We believe that we are helping our brothers and sisters by offering them blessings that we believe lead to eternal life with our Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and our families.  While we never force someone to believe what we do, and as already emphasized, we do not believe that proxy ordinances force someone into something that they would not want, we do believe that we are offering them the opportunity to accept something that we believe is true and good.

So what actually happens during a baptism for the dead ritual?  As already mentioned, these ordinances only occur in our temples.  They do not occur in our meetinghouses, where we meet for Sunday worship and other activities (individuals that join the Church of Jesus Christ in this life are usually baptized in the meetinghouse or in some suitable body of water, and not in the temple).  In temples there is a baptismal font like the ones in the pictures of this post.  All patrons of the temple change out of “street clothing” and into all white clothing.  The individual then steps into the baptismal font, and is baptized on behalf of a deceased person, sometimes a direct ancestor.  The ritual is pretty much the same as a “living” baptism, except the formula, or words spoken, includes the name of the deceased individual.  Mormons believe that through the power of the priesthood of Christ, what is done on earth can be sealed in Heaven, and therefore temple rites can have an effect in the afterlife.  It is through this rite that Latter-day Saints believe the deceased have the opportunity to accept or reject the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ if they did not have the opportunity to do so in this life.

As for my own personal thoughts and experiences, I have participated in baptisms for the dead a number of times  since my baptism into the Lord’s Church one year ago.  It has been a very spiritual experience for me, as I believe I have participated in the work of our Savior Jesus Christ in bringing others unto Him, and that this can be done in this life and the next.  The belief in proxy ordinances for me allows for all the have the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, and to be able to choose for themselves whether they will accept Him and His Gospel.  No longer do we have to hope in the unknown, or believe that most will be damned.  Instead, all will have the opportunity to use their free will to come to Christ, if they so desire.  This doctrine is one of the many beliefs that remains an attractive, Biblical (1 Corinthians 15:29) aspect of the restored Gospel that is only to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  If Jesus is indeed the Christ, is indeed our Savior, that it is necessary to have faith in Him to be saved, and that baptism really is necessary for salvation, baptism for the dead becomes the great equalizer in the grand scheme of human existence.  I am truly grateful for the restoration of this practice.

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.

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.

LDS Church Christmas Website

I encourage readers to visit the website “Christ: The Real Gift of Christmas“, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ most assuredly believe in the incarnation of the divine Son of God into this world by the virgin Mary.  When Christmas falls on a Sunday, Latter-day Saints will celebrate the Savior’s birth in their congregations.  When it falls on other days, members celebrate Christmas with their families, reading scriptures, exchanging gifts, etc.  While Latter-day Saints do not believe that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th, they join with much of the rest of the Christian world in setting aside a day to celebrate His birth.