Question: Is Mormon insistence on baptism as an essential ordinance of salvation "unChristian" or "unbiblical"?

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Question: Is Mormon insistence on baptism as an essential ordinance of salvation "unChristian" or "unbiblical"?

Biblical data and early Christians are unanimous that baptism was regarded as an essential commandment

Evangelical Christians argue that the LDS insistence on baptism as an essential ordinance of salvation is "unChristian" or "unbiblical." However, the Biblical data and early Christians are unanimous that baptism was regarded as an essential commandment. Baptism manifests an inner state of faith in and repentance through Christ. The physical act does not save, but one cannot be saved without it.

Astonishing as it may seem given the prominence of baptism in the New Testament, some Christian groups deny the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. This usually arises out of a conviction that baptism is "a work," and thus cannot play any necessary role in salvation. [1]

Biblical evidence

Those who hold such views usually provide a variety of proof-texts, and ignore other Biblical commands for baptism. We will look at examples of both below.

Luke 3:3

And he [John the Baptist] came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;

McKeever and Johnson write of this verse

"And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." The word for (Greek: eis) in "for the remission of sins" can mean with a view to or because of. Those who responded to John's invitation of baptism had already heard his message of coming judgment and of the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). They responded to baptism based on the convicting message they had already heard. The word eis is also translated at in Matthew 12:41, where it says the men of Nineveh "repented at the preaching of Jonas." Did the men of Nineveh repent in order to get the preaching of Jonas? Or did they repent because of the preaching of Jonas? The latter, of course, is the proper answer. [2]

None of the translations which we have consulted translate Luke 3:3 as the authors suggest it should be. Most all translations use "for" while a few use "unto" or "to the remission of sins." Latter-day Saints agree that a remission of sins only comes by repentance through the atonement of Jesus Christ and baptism itself is just a symbolic ordinance, but a necessary one nonetheless. It should be noted also that the authors make no comment on the fact that much of Christianity—including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches—disagree with their view regarding the necessity of baptism.

John 3:5-6

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

The same authors comment on John 3:5-6:

"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." We must ask what being "born of water" would have meant to Nicodemus. In his commentary on John, Leon Morris writes:
"Nicodemus could not possibly have perceived an allusion to an as yet non-existent sacrament. It is difficult to think that Jesus would have spoken in such a way that His meaning could not possibly be grasped. His purpose was not to mystify but to enlighten. In any case the whole thrust of the passage is to put the emphasis on the activity of the Spirit, not on any rite of the church."
The emphasis throughout the passage is on the Spirit, with no other reference to water. Verse 6 shows that, as each of us has had a physical birth, so we must have a spiritual birth to enter the kingdom of God. [3]

The authors imply that Latter-day Saints de-emphasize the baptism of the Spirit but Joseph Smith taught that "The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use; they are necessarily and inseparably connected." [4] The authors themselves seem to be ignoring the fact that Jesus said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The "and" infers that both are necessary and connected. It is obvious that Nicodemus did not understand what the Lord was teaching him, but just 16 verses later John tells us, "After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing." [5] To infer that baptism was a non-existent sacrament at this point seems unjustified. Notice that John 3:22 mentions Jesus and his disciples baptizing first while the other gospels mention John the Baptist baptizing first. It seems as though the Gospel of John is not as concerned with chronological accuracy at this point. Thus, whether the Lord's encounter with Nicodemus preceded or followed the start of John's preaching is unknown. These verses speak of baptism as if it is not something new—a concept critics who deny the necessity of baptism seem loathe to accept. The fact that none of the Gospels explains the ordinance of baptism and that the name "John the Baptist" is used by Matthew even before baptism is mentioned, seems to infer that baptism was not new. As to the necessity of baptism, it will be shown shortly that there are plenty of other scriptures which emphasize this requirement.

Acts 2:38

The authors comment on Acts 2:38:

"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." Just as in Luke 3:3, so Peter was encouraging his hearers to be baptized in view of the remission of sins they had received when they were cut to the heart by his message regarding the Christ. It is interesting to note that Peter made no reference to baptism in his next recorded sermon (see Acts 3:19). [6]

The authors again impose their own beliefs on this scripture. As with Luke 3:3, no Bible translations were found to justify their conclusion that a remission of sins preceded baptism here. We are told that following this first sermon: "they that gladly received his word were baptized and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." [7] Why would so many be baptized if this was only an optional ordinance? Our authors infer that if baptism were essential, Peter should preach baptism in every recorded sermon he gave, but what if these sermons are only brief summaries? What if he did preach baptism and this concept was just not included in these 15 verses because a new concept was being emphasized in this chapter? We can go too far using assumptions to justify our beliefs and the authors seem to be doing just that. Their conclusions are built on flimsy assumptions and very little if any scholarship. It is apparent that the authors have made up their minds on this issue and are desperately searching for reasons why the obvious meaning of these passages must be wrong.

Other biblical data

The authors continue to nitpick Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13, and Romans 3:18-20 in the same manner. We will here only note that there are many more scriptures that could be cited on this subject (Matthew 28:19; Mark 1:4; Luke 7:30; Acts 8:12, Acts 10:48, Acts 16:33, and Acts 19:2-6; Hebrews 6:2; and 1 Peter 3:21, to cite just a few) and which the authors ignore.

One LDS author noted:

Scripture strictly associates the ordinance of baptism with the washing away of impurities or sins. John the Baptist affirmed this link by preaching "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Some Christians have tried to indicate that John's baptism was somehow different from later Christian baptisms, but this is contradicted by the scriptures and later authoritative statements. Peter instructed new converts on the day of Pentecost to "Repent, and be baptized, every one... in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Paul was likewise commanded of Ananias to "be baptized and wash away [his] sins" (Acts 22:16)....

The scriptures clearly state that baptism is a commandment. Luke reports that "the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of [John]" (Luke 7:30). Peter also "commanded" the Gentiles "to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). And finally, the importance of this ordinance was emphasized by Christ in his last admonition to the eleven apostles to "Go… and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). If baptism was not essential, why then the command to baptize all nations?

If baptism is for the remission of our sins and is a commandment, it must also be essential to salvation. The scriptures clearly affirms this: "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us" (1 Peter 3:21). Paul affirms that Christ "saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5) while adding that baptism is the appointed way to "put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).

The Savior also clearly taught the link between baptism and salvation. Mark concludes his gospel with the Savior's teaching that "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). [8]

The reader should note here that McKeever and Johnson make a very weak argument that,

If belief plus baptism truly equals salvation, then why wasn't this formula used when it says that a person who 'believeth not' would be condemned? To support the LDS position, this passage should read: 'he that believeth not and is baptized not shall be damned.' Taken at face value, this says that a lack of belief, not a lack of water baptism, is what damns a person. [9]

They never address why someone "that believeth not" would ever want to be baptized. Of course anyone who does not believe would never consider baptism. It's obvious that the authors believe this argument totally destroys the necessity of baptism in regard to salvation, but their own logic is just as obviously flawed.

Paul likewise emphasized both the importance of water baptism and the authority to baptize in Acts 19:2-6. Upon finding some disciples who were apparently baptized by an unauthorized individual, Paul rebaptizes them and lays his hands upon them to give them the gift of the Holy Ghost. If baptism were either optional or acceptable under any authority, rebaptism would not have been necessary in this circumstance. The disciples could have proceeded directly to confirmation (i.e. the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost) if this were the case, but instead they were first rebaptized. [10]

Evidence from early Christian authors

Ignatius

Ignatius of Antioch (AD ca. 35 or 50 to 98–117) wrote:

"It is not right either to baptize or to celebrate the agape [i.e., love feast or sacrament] apart from the bishop; but whatever he approves is also pleasing to God, so that everything you do may be secure and valid. [11]

Tertullian

Tertullian, in the first century after the death of Christ, stated that "There is no difference whether one is washed in a sea or a pool, in a river or in a fountain, in a lake or in a channel: nor is there any difference between those whom John dipped in the Jordan, and those whom Peter dipped in the Tiber…We are immersed in the water." [12]

On the necessity of the ordinance of baptism, Tertullian also taught the 'sole necessary way' of obtaining Christ's protection against evil was through baptism. [13] In fact it was universally believed in the Early Church that 'we obtain the benefits of Christ's sacrifice by baptism.' [14] Tertullian held that baptism was necessary for salvation. He also suggested that children not be "baptized until they reached years of discretion." [15]

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr (ca. AD 150) said the following regarding baptism:

"Those who are persuaded and believe, and promise that they can live accordingly, are instructed to pray and beseech God with fasting for the remission of their sins, while we pray and fast along with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are reborn by the same manner of rebirth by which we ourselves were reborn; for then they are washed in the water in the name of God the Father and Master of all, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. For Christ said, 'unless you are born again you will not enter the kingdom of heaven' (John 3:3-4)." [16]

Those who contend that baptism in water is not necessary have asserted that "born of water" implies only the necessity of physical birth from the water within the womb. Justin Martyr made it clear that this was not the true meaning of this verse in the Second Century AD. In describing his practice of the baptismal ceremony, he explains, "After [repentance] they are led by us to where there is water, and are born again in that kind of new birth by which we ourselves were born again. For upon the name of God, the Father and Lord of all, and of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, and of the Holy Spirit, the immersion in water is performed, because the Christ hath also said, 'Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven'." [17] Thus, the early Christian Fathers understood that the "new birth" referred to baptism of water and not to one's physical birth. [18]

Justin also confirmed that "no one was allowed to partake [of the sacrament] except one who believes…and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth." [19]

Origen

Origen at about AD 220, taught baptismal candidates, "Go and repent, catechumens [those preparing for baptism by being instructed], if you want to receive baptism for the remission of your sins…. No one who is in a state of sin when he comes for baptism can obtain the remission of his sins." [20]

Cyprian

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the middle part of the third century, stated that no one outside of the church could administer a valid baptism. [21]

The Didache

An early Christian document known as the Didache (The Teaching) states that baptism was the accepted rite of admission to the Church and "only those who have been baptized in the Lord's name" may partake of the sacrament. [22]

Others

J.N.D. Kelly also notes that Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Hippolytus believed that baptism was very important. "Clement of Alexandria speaks of baptism as imparting regeneration, enlightenment, divine sonship, immortality, [and] remission of sins [where] sonship…is the result of regeneration worked by the Spirit." Origen insisted on penitence, sincere faith, and humility "as prerequisites to baptism as well as gradual transformation of the soul. Hippolytus associated the remission of sins and reception of the Spirit with baptism. [23]

No actions allowed?

McKeever and Johnson conclude their arguments with the following bewildering assertion: "It needs to be remembered that baptism, like partaking of the Lord's Supper, is a work. It is something that an individual must personally perform. As such, it is not a requirement for receiving salvation under the guidelines of Ephesians 2:8-9." [24] By this same logic, we must exclude "calling on the name of the Lord" and repentance as requirements for salvation as well, since these are both "works" "that an individual must personally perform." Are the authors serious about this?

Modern revelation

Modern scriptures also confirm the role of baptism in the remission of sins (Alma 6:2; DC 13:; DC 55:1-2; DC 68:27; DC 84:64, DC 74:; DC 138:33; JS-H 1:69), though the actual cleansing is accomplished through Christ's atonement (Mosiah 3:11, Mosiah 18:; Alma 7:14; DC 20:37; DC 76:41,69; Moses 6:59and reception of the Holy Ghost. [25]


Notes

  1. See, for example, McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 200.
  2. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 197.
  3. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 197–198.
  4. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 360. off-site
  5. John 3:22-23
  6. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 198.
  7. Acts 2:41
  8. Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),125–126. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786.
  9. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 10, 197.
  10. Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  11. The Apostolic Fathers, 113; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  12. See Millennial Star, vol. XXI: 769-770 or James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy, 125; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  13. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The early Christian Tradition (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, Press, 1981), 100-101; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  14. Russell, Satan: The early Christian Tradition, 103; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  15. De bapt. 1:12-15, 18; see also J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 209; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  16. First Apology of Justin, 61; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  17. Dialogue with Trypho, xiv, l; see also The Great Apostasy, 125; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  18. Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  19. First Apology of Justin, 66; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  20. Jean Danielou, Origin, p. 54, Comm. John, 2, 37; De Princ. 4, 3, 12; Hom. Ez. 1, 1; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  21. Russell, Satan, 106; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  22. Didache, 9:5; see also J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 193-211; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  23. Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),126–128. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786.
  24. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 200.
  25. Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),125–126. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786.