Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Baptisms for the Dead by Vicarious Proxy

1 Cor. 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?

Mal 4: 5-6 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

1 Peter 3: 18-19; 4: 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: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; . . . 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.

LDS practice an ordinance referred to as baptism for the dead. This sacred ordinance is one of the ordinances done in LDS temples. LDS believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on the Earth with authority to baptize in the name of Christ and the only church with the fullness of truth. For the LDS people, it is not enough to become baptized ourselves by God's priesthood authority which was restored to the Earth by angelic messengers after long years of apostasy and spiritual darkness. LDS understand the Bible to teach that true believers have responsibility to make this truth available to our kindred dead as well as every person who has ever lived on the face of the Earth.

Christ was very clear to Nicodemus that unless an accountable individual was baptized by water and the spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of heaven. However, during the dark ages and until the Restoration, the authority and sealing keys had been lost from the Earth. Consequently, there have lived and died millions of faithful Christians who God knows would have received the proper baptism by the proper priesthood authority had they had the opportunity.

Because God is faithful and just, Baptism for the dead performed by vicarious proxy is the way God has provided for those of us living to do for those who have died, something they could not do for themselves in life, and that they cannot do in death. According to the Bible, Christ promised to preach the gospel to the disembodied spirits in prison. Then the Bible says that Elijah would return and turn the hearts of the children towards our fathers. And then the Bible says that Christians would enter into baptism on behalf of the dead by vicarious proxy.

A friend of mine expressed the sentiment that, in his view, the idea of baptizing a faithful Catholic, or person of Jewish faith was disrespectful not only to them but to their other living relatives who may not be LDS. This friend claimed that baptizing in the name of a person who was of another faith would be like someone burning a Book of Mormon or an effigy of Joseph Smith. According to my friend, baptizing in the name of someone who was not already LDS was very rude and disrespectful to the memory of that person and what they stood for. In response to that sentiment, I had the following thoughts.

1. When an LDS member enters into baptism on behalf of someone who has died, it is done in a spirit of love, honor and respect. LDS believe that we enjoy the fullness of truth and consider baptism for the dead to be an expression of honor and respect to those who have gone before. Baptism for the Dead is also an expression of God's love and perfect justice and mercy. LDS understand that we stand on the shoulders of giants and without the faith and courage of those who have gone before, we would not be where we are today. So, it is important for others to understand that baptism for the dead is wholly meant to honor our forbearers and not disrespect them or their culture, faith, and beliefs.

2. When a member of the LDS faith is baptized on behalf of someone else who has died, that baptism does not make the person who has died LDS. This baptism only provides the ordinance to be accepted by that person if they so choose. Therefore, the act of the baptism really does nothing to the deceased other than invokes their name and memorializes them. If they wish to accept the ordinance, they are free to accept, decline, or ignore it altogether of their own freewill and choice.

3. On the other hand, if God has not yet revealed to you that the LDS church is His true Church on the Earth, and you do not believe that God restored His sealing power and priesthood keys necessary for baptism to Joseph Smith and modern prophets and Apostles, then our using that authority that you do not recognize shouldn't bother you. If there is no authority, our actions do nothing. Instead, you may do better expressing sorrow at what you consider an unfortunate waste of time in researching geological and family history records and in doing the ordinances.

4. There really isn't much of a difference between LDS Baptism for the Dead and the Christian belief that Jews will one day become Christian after Armageddon. Many Christians interpret the Bible to teach that in the Last Days, the nations of the Earth will gather to a great battle around the city of Jerusalem. According to mainstream Christian belief, right before the city of Jerusalem is completely destroyed, Jesus Christ will appear, divide the Mount of Olives, save the surviving Jews who will run to their Savior and then declare in wonderment, "what are these prints in your hands and in your side." In response, we are told Christ will say, "these are the wounds I received in the house of my friends." At that point, those Jews will be converted to Christ and become powerful witnesses who will convert Jews across the Earth to Christianity. This belief in the eventual conversion of the Jews to Christianity is taught by every major Christian denomination and non-denomination. And as you can guess, this kind of belief is very offensive to many Jews just as LDS Baptism for the Dead is also offensive to some for similar reasons.

5. Remember that all LDS beliefs involve both a spiritual and temporal aspect. This goes back to our belief in God who is both a physical and spiritual reality. Accordingly, Baptism for the dead is a physical or temporal representation of the LDS belief that the Bible prophecy will be fulfilled that one day "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ."

6. Above, I stated how my friend likened Baptism to the Dead to Anti-Mormons demonstrating outside the Conference Center or at the Manti Pagent and burning Books of Mormon or effigies of Joesph Smith for LDS members to view. While an Anti-Mormon can claim he is showing disrespect for LDS beliefs our of a spirit of love and concern, the difference between this behavior and Baptism for the Dead is that LDS Baptism are done in private and Anti-Mormon demonstrations are done in public for LDS to see.

The publicness on the one hand, and the private nature of Baptism for the Dead really makes all the difference. We all believe in the God-given, self-evident freedom of speech and religious expression. But we also believe in the golden rule that we should not do unto others what we would not want them to do to us. Accordingly, I respect another persons freedom and right to burn all the Books of Mormon they want to and to throw as many darts at a picture of President Monson that they desire, so as they do it privately and not with the intent to do it in my sight so as to shock me or offend me. In the same way, I hope others would recognize our God-given right of religious expression. LDS Baptism for the Dead is done privately and unfortunately only made public by a few anti-Mormon adversaries who are really the ones guilty of creating the offense by making this ordinance not only public but casting it in-the-face of living non-LDS relatives.

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