Mormon Baptism for the Dead
When I consider my experiences in attending temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which church is often misnamed the Mormon Church), a bevy of memories come to mind. Here’s just one: When I was 12 years old—that’s the age in which young men and women may receive a recommend from their congregation’s bishop to begin attending one of the Church’s 136 temples throughout the world—I traveled with my youth group in Centerville, Utah, to the Bountiful Temple 10 minutes south of my family’s home. I may have been surprised by our bishop’s taking some dozen-plus of us to eat ice cream afterwards (surely that counts as a fun memory to my first-time temple trip), but it didn’t match the feelings of peace that I experienced as I entered through the sacred doors of the structure, which rest on a mountainside overlooking a sliver of Utah’s Wasatch Front. I felt nothing less than serenity as I sat in the waiting room on the temple’s basement floor, waiting to receive instruction regarding how to proceed with Mormon baptisms for the dead. As I was immersed in a font of water by a local church leader who had proper authority, and as I later received a sacred ordinance called confirmation, I could feel the presence of God and knew He approved of my willingness to do such temple work.
I am conscious that some might describe “baptisms for the dead” as a confusing term. While Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) certainly believe, like much of Christianity, that an individual must hearken to Jesus Christ’s words in John 3:5, that a man must be baptized—born of water and of the Spirit—to enter the kingdom of God, we believe that this practice isn’t necessarily applied to those who are living alone. If that were the case, how many individuals would be cut short of eternal life, which entails dwelling where God dwells, just because they were not baptized during their lifetimes? Would the damnation of billions of people who never even had a chance to accept the gospel make God very fair and loving, or would it make Him a “respecter of persons,” contrary to how Peter described Him after receiving a revelation to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:34)?
We read in the New Testament that the same Peter taught in a letter to the members of Christ’s church of the day that Christ “preached unto the spirits in prison” since Christ suffered for those particular unbaptized souls, too (1 Peter 3:18–20). Peter wrote not long after that peculiar teaching that because Christ suffered for our behalf, the gospel was 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” (1 Peter 4:6).
For many Christians, these verses may be intriguing but lacking in information. Fortunately, Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) have the blessing of modern-day prophets today in order to clarify such teachings. Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, received divine clarification in Oct. 1918 (only about a month before World War I ended and in the midst of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 that killed 675,000 Americans) that Christ organized messengers of the gospel to preach to those in the Spirit World (which is the first step of the afterlife in Mormon doctrine) in order to preach the truths of God to those who had not heard it in its fulness during their lifetimes. This teaching and learning in the Spirit World, combined with vicarious baptisms in this world (in Mormon temples) by those who are still living, would enable souls to enter through the “gate” described by Christ throughout New Testament scripture (see Matthew 7:13).
I truly do believe that the act of Mormon baptisms for the dead, the first of many spiritually redeeming ordinances performed in Mormon temples, to be one of the truths of God revealed after His Son’s resurrection to bring the opportunity of salvation to everyone who has ever lived. Likewise, that same practice was revealed to modern-day prophet Joseph Smith, who was initially called as a young man to be the prophet to restore the Church of Jesus Christ in this period of time.
Truly, as the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, a special witness of Christ in the ancient Americas, said, the Lord ”doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to ccome unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
I have felt blessed to have been able to perform the ordinance of Mormon baptisms for the dead and other, higher Mormon temple ordinances many times since initially finding something a bit better than ice cream more than a decade ago. I have gone often to Mormon temples, because Latter-day Saints can truly never perform this sacred responsibility enough. After all, there are a lot of Father in Heaven’s children to reach.
LDS Newsroom: Reminder on Church Policy of Baptisms for the Dead
Rhett Wilkinson is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), a Utah State University athletics correspondent for the Ogden Standard-Examiner, and serves on the editorial staff at the Utah Statesman.