Baptism is the first ordinance each of us participates in when we enter Christ’s Church. The Christian world has many ways of baptizing, and some Christian churches view it as being more a symbolic gesture of acceptance of the Christian way of life, while others are more strict in their views of the necessity of baptism for salvation. This article covers only how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views baptism, it’s importance and its symbolism.
Christ started his ministry by being baptized. He taught that a man could not enter the kingdom of God without baptism. In his day all members of his church were baptized to gain entry into his church. The same is true in his Church today.
Baptism as a Gate
For a convert, baptism is a one-way turnstile, a gate, through which we go, never to return. It truly is the beginning of a new way of life, a changed life that offers blessings never before available to us. Each member who was baptized at the age of eight must also find that gate, spiritually speaking, and become committed to that new way of life, determined to claim the rewards of living a spiritual life. Baptism is not just any gate, it is the gateway to the celestial kingdom where God lives. If we want to return to that place, and not some lower place after the resurrection, baptism is absolutely necessary.
Baptism as a Symbol
There are a number of ordinances in the gospel. Baptism is the first one we experience for ourselves. An ordinance is a ritual, a practice that is done in a specific way. Ordinances require a physical response. The response can be a hand gesture, a nod of the head, but always something physical in response to the spiritual commitment being made. In the case of baptism it means getting completely submerged or immersed in water by an authorized holder of the Lord’s priesthood.
The Lord speaks in language rich in symbolism. He uses symbolism to help us visualize and remember the parts of our covenants and the meanings of our promises. When Christ refers to baptism in the scriptures as being born again, he is trying to get us to see the actual physical process by which birth takes place, then assign spiritual acts and events to the same process. This helps us better understand his meaning.
Baptism as Rebirth
Just as the birthing process is visceral, graphic, and dramatic, involving the water from the birth sac, the blood from the mother, and the spirit entering into the body of the baby, so baptism, being a birth into a spiritual life uses the same ingredients. We are immersed into the waters of baptism, coming out in a newness of life, being filled with the Spirit (Holy Ghost) which changes our nature and disposition toward committing sin, and by the Spirit we are cleansed from the old life, old sins, and old habits through the shed blood of our redeemer, Jesus Christ. Both examples are very dramatic, visual, and very, very real.
Baptism as Resurrection
We all look forward to the day when we receive our new bodies of flesh and bones that will live forever and never die. They will be perfect and we will never have to experience the pains of mortal life again. Christ uses this process to help us understand what baptism should mean to us.
Think of the burial in the water as your burial in the ground. You are put six feet under the soil or dirt – you are dead. Now think forward to the day when you are resurrected, and you are called forth by the power of the priesthood, and your rotting flesh is re-robed with eternal, living flesh and bone, never to die again, glorified and perfected for all eternity, clothed with power in the priesthood. This is the rebirth of baptism, a foreshadow of that resurrection to come, a death from a life of sin into a new life of great potential glory.
When we have lived a life of sin, then give up that life for a new one without sin, it can be said that we have “died” and been reborn into a new life. As we go down into the waters of baptism we are experiencing the death of the old way of life. As we come back up out of the waters, we are being born into a new way of life, with new promises and new commitments, and new hope.
We have to be completely submerged under the water to show the completeness of our commitment to the burial of the old ways and attitudes. We want to leave nothing still intact. All must be given up for the commitment of the new way of life. Our death in our old way of life must be complete. That is what repentance is, a complete forsaking of the sin, with a commitment to walking in a new path ever after.
Our coming up out of the water is like waking from a sleep, a bad dream where we thought we lived in reality, but did not. Now we wake to a new day of real possibility, real redemption, real blessings. This is like coming forth from the literal grave in the day of resurrection we look forward to.
Baptism and Forgiveness
Forgiveness is an essential element of baptism. We repent of our sins, and as a sign of acceptance, when we have repented and come seeking to covenant with God to live his commandments and follow in his ways, he promises to forgive us of our past sins. To the repentant, baptism offers a clean slate, a new beginning, a fresh start.
We are taught in the scriptures that Adam and Even answered for their own transgressions and sins. They repented and were forgiven. Now it is up to us to repent of our own transgressions and sins. We will be forgiven for our own doings, not for anyone else’s behavior. In other words, we are not held accountable for what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. The Lord holds us accountable only for our own sins, not for anyone else’s sins or transgressions. Adam and Eve introduced mortality into the world, but that was part of God’s plan for us, a necessary part. You can read more about how important the Fall of Adam and Eve was here.
Baptism is the gateway or entrance to a spiritual life. Once through that gate, we remain there through repentance. We no longer have need to be rebaptized as long as we are still willing to repent. Once you were born you never have to go through the process of birth again, you just have to maintain life. So with baptism, to maintain life we repent and serve God, and he keeps us alive in him.
The baptismal covenant, like all covenants is binding. God will never break the covenant, once made. For that covenant to be broken it has to be broken by us. He never backs out from a promise to his children. This is a powerful covenant. When we are willing to commit to Christ’s gospel with all our hearts, we open the door to be blessed with all He has to offer us, which blessings lead us to eternal life with him and God, our Father.
We don’t need baptism to go to any lower order kingdom (Terrestrial or Telestial). Baptism is the entrance for the celestial kingdom only. Only those who want to live with God the Father need to make covenants with him. Those who are not willing to make covenants with him will be given lesser glories to live in at the resurrection. Baptism is the beginning of the covenanting process whereby we become worthy to live in God’s presence and become like him. It all starts with baptism.
For a collection of talks and more information on baptism, complete with scriptural references from www.churchofjesuschrist.org, click here.