for the Dead
any Mormon can go to the temple and, among other things,
be baptized for the dead, he first must be judged worthy
to go there. He can't just show up at the temple doors
and expect to get in. No one is given entrance without
producing a current "temple recommend," rather
like a spiritual identification card, that certifies
his status as a righteous Mormon.
first step toward being able to go to the temple is
an interview with the ward bishop (roughly equivalent
to a parish priest). During this interview a Mormon
is quizzed by the bishop to see if he's been faithful
in his commitment to the teachings and ordinances of
the Mormon Church.
questioned on a variety of subjects including his tithing
track record; use of alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine;
sexual immorality; and any failures to adhere to church
doctrines and disciplines.
the applicant has had difficulties in any of those areas,
he won't receive a temple recommend. For the one who
doesn't pass the interview, there's no trip to the temple.
interesting thing is that the majority of Mormons don't
have temple recommends. That's not to say they fail
their interviews with their bishops. Actually, most
Mormons, for a variety of reasons, never make the effort
to obtain a temple recommend.
for the minority who do and who obtain one, the most
important ordinance they'll perform in the temple is
baptism for the dead. On any given day, in each of
the more than forty temples around the world, thousands
of faithful Mormons are baptized vicariously for the
non-Mormons are dimly aware that the Mormons are interested
in genealogy, but they're not sure why. Of course there's
nothing wrong with being interested in genealogy as
a hobby, but it's far from a hobby for Mormons.
them, the whole point behind genealogical work is the
idea that those who died as non-Mormons can be baptized
vicariously and thus become Mormons posthumously.
doctrine was first given to the church by Joseph Smith
in 1836 and is found in his Doctrine and Covenants,
but not, as we'll see, in the Book of Mormon.
defense of it, Mormons cite a single Bible verse, 1
Corinthians 15:29: "Now, what about those people
who are baptized for the dead? What do they hope to
accomplish? If it is true, as some claim, that the
dead are not raised to life, why are those people being
baptized for the dead?"
is the passage Mormons point to when discussing baptism
for the dead. "See, even Paul, who of all people
must have known the truth, is talking about the church
baptizing its dead." For the Mormon, this is conclusive
evidence. But is it really?
Bible Doesn't Teach It
Paul's first epistle to the Church in Corinth, he treats
a number of subjects. This letter was written to counteract
problems he saw developing in Corinth after he had established
the Church there. Corinth had its share of pagan religions,
but there were also quasi-Christian groups which practised
variations of orthodox Christian doctrines. Enter baptism
for the dead.
we have no way of knowing for sure who was engaging
in this practice, it's certain that Paul wasn't referring
to orthodox Christians baptizing the dead. Catholic
and Protestant scholars agree on that.
no other scriptural reference to it, and none of the
Church Fathers discuss it in any of their writings.
There is simply no evidence indicating that the early
Christian Church practised baptism for the dead. When
you discuss baptism for the dead with Mormons, remember
that it's a very important doctrine to all of them,
and it takes on a greater significance to the Mormons
who go to the temple. They believe people who've died
can be baptized by proxy, thus allowing them the opportunity
to become Mormons after their death.
might be surprised to learn that the Mormon Church has
teams of men and women microfilming records of Catholic
and Protestant parishes, cemetery records, birth and
death certificates — virtually any sort of record pertaining
to past generations. Temple Mormons hope, in time,
to have all of the dead of previous generations baptized
posthumously into the Mormon Church.
idea behind baptisms for the dead is this: God wants
each of us to be with him in glory. To effect this,
he allows us to accept the Mormon Gospel here on earth.
If we don't, he sends us to a "spirit prison"
(in essence, purgatory) until the Gospel has been preached
to us there and we convert.
we weren't Mormons here on earth, we'll become Mormons
there by way of some Mormon temple patron who's been
kind enough to baptize us — at least that's the theory,
and it's a theory that's developed over the years and
is quite unlike what Joseph Smith first taught.
in other cases, the Book of Mormon becomes an important
tool for the Christian apologist. It contradicts much
Mormon theology, and baptism for the dead is no exception.
Alma 34:35,36 we read: "For behold, if ye have
procrastinated the day of your repentance even until
death, behold ye have become subjected to the spirit
of the devil, and he does seal you his. Therefore,
the spirit of the Lord has withdrawn from you and hath
no place in you; the power of the devil is over you,
and this is the final state of the wicked."
other words, those who die as non-Mormons go to hell,
period. There's no suggestion of a later, vicarious
admission into the Mormon Church.
see present-day Mormon doctrine also contradicted in
2 Nephi 9:15: "And it shall come to pass that when
all men shall have passed from this first death unto
life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must
appear before the judgement seat of the Holy One of
Israel, and then cometh the judgement and then must
they be judged according to the holy judgement of God.
For the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal
word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous
shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall
be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy ...
shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them;
and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone,
whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no
dealing with Mormons it's good to demonstrate that Joseph
Smith contradicted himself, but you can't leave it at
that. As in other areas of Mormon theology, it's not
difficult to identify the flaws, but that alone won't
help you in your task of bringing a soul to Christ.
Must Explain What Baptism Is
have to help Mormons recognize the problems with Mormon
theology, and then — this is the most important part
— you've got to be able to offer a solution to the problems.
You might begin with what Christian baptism really is.
Catholic Church defines it as "the act or sacrament
of the Church by which, through regeneration by water
and the Spirit, the properly disposed person is incorporated
into the Church, consecrated by the baptismal character
to exercise the cult of the Christian religion, and
enabled to bear witness to Christ (a) by receiving the
other sacraments, (b) by prayer and thanksgiving, (c)
by the witness of a holy life, and (d) by self-denial
and active charity" (Lumen Gentium, 2:10,11).
the way, don't be thrown by the word "cult"
here; it's referring to the newly baptized person taking
his place in the Church, exercising his Christianity
within and through the Church.)
discussing this topic or any topic with Mormons, be
prepared for their escape hatches, especially their
chief one. When faced with contradictions between the
Bible and their theology, they'll tell you the Bible
isn't translated correctly in that instance.
believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it
is correctly translated" (Eighth Article of Faith).
As you might expect, they find fault with the translating
precisely in those places where the King James Version
(which is the one they use) undermines Mormon beliefs.
theology, like that of fundamentalism, is deficient
in its understanding of the nature and effects of baptism.
Both Mormons and fundamentalists say baptism is merely
an ordinance, not a sacrament in the Catholic sense,
but Mormons mean by the term ordinance more than fundamentalists
do. They believe baptism effects a change in the soul
of the convert. Fundamentalists don't believe that.
They think baptism produces no change in the soul.
Rather, it's an outward symbol of conversion. Both
positions contain some truth, but they miss the essential
point — regeneration.
separates Mormons from Catholics on this issue is the
understanding of original sin and it's relationship
with baptism. Catholics believe in original sin. Mormons
Second Article of Faith in the Mormon Church says, "We
believe that men will be punished for their own sins,
and not for Adam's transgression." For Mormons,
there is no sacramental cleansing of original sin because
there is no original sin that needs to be cleansed.
That's why Mormons don't baptize infants.
Sin Affects (and Infects) All
help Mormons understand the importance of baptism, you
must demonstrate the fact that all men are, until baptism,
out of God's friendship due to Adam's sin. Initially
they won't agree with you because they've been taught
that in a way it was actually a good thing that Adam
sinned. They don't actually call it a sin; instead
they call it a transgression.
the book Mormon Doctrine, the late Bruce McConkie, a
leading Mormon theologian and apologist, wrote: "Modern
Christendom has the false doctrine of original sin.
Although Scriptures abundantly show that men will be
punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression,
the common view is that all men are tainted with sin
and denied blessings because of Adam's fall."
never provides any of the "abundant" evidence
he refers to. He gives a few quotations from the Catholic
Encyclopedia which explain the Catholic teaching on
original sin and, as a corollary, infant baptism. He
ridicules Catholic teaching, but doesn't offer the reader
any evidence that would support the Mormon position.
theology teaches that God wanted Adam to sin so the
"pre-ordained plan of salvation" might come
to fruition. The conflict lies in Mormonism's teaching
on free will. On one hand, it emphasizes the fact that
Adam was endowed by God with free will, but it also
maintains that God, in a sense, prevented him from exercising
it when it came to the Fall — Adam couldn't not fall.
McConkie says, "In conformity with the will of
the Lord, Adam fell both spiritually and temporally."
Baptism Really Does
explain Catholic teaching on baptism you need to demonstrate
the reality of original sin, its effects on the souls
of all people, and the necessity of baptism for its
removal. Some excellent verses to use are Genesis 3:16-24,
Romans 5:12-19, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, and Galatians
things happen at baptism. First, the spiritual (though
not physical) effects of original sin are removed from
the soul. This removal is accompanied by an infusion
of sanctifying grace, which makes the soul spiritually
alive. The soul receives an indelible character that
irrevocably identifies it as a member of the heavenly
all punishment due to pre-baptismal actual sins is completely
remitted. This kind of baptism — the only kind mentioned
in the Bible — is for the living, not for the dead.
Our chance to become heirs with Christ comes here on
earth. Once we've died, there is no chance to be baptized.
Mormons don't understand this traditional Christian
position. They're also mistaken in their understanding
of the Catholic Church's position on the state of unbaptized
think the Church condemns to hell all who haven't been
baptized with water. Not so. We know God judges each
person according to the graces he received while on
earth. For example, a person living in a remote area
may die never having heard the name Jesus, never having
come near a Christian.
Catholic Church teaches that if such a person lived
according to his conscience, and if he made a positive
effort to know, love, and serve God, even if he was
wrong in his approach, he will be eligible to receive
salvation through Christ's work on the Cross.
Mormon Church claims to have the only "fair"
answer to the question of the destiny of the unbaptised.
Mormons think baptism for the dead is the only logical
and merciful way to get around the problem.
dead wrong. The merits of Christ's sacrifice can be
applied without baptism by water through baptism of
desire or blood.
three points to remember when discussing baptism with
Mormons are (1) the reality of original sin, (2) the
sacramental nature and spiritual effects of baptism,
(3) and the Church's teachings on the destiny of unbaptized