Latter-day Saints believe that all men deserve the chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and to be invited to enter his kingdom through baptism. But what about the salvation of those who die before learning about Christ? Latter-day Saints have a unique answer to this question.
We believe that the souls, or spirits, of those who have died without an opportunity to be baptized by an authorized servant of God will have that opportunity afforded to them. Because a person who has died can no longer be baptized, Latter-day Saints perform “baptisms for the dead” in Mormon temples. This is a ritual which involves a living person being baptized in place of someone who is dead. We also call this being baptized by proxy.
Latter-day Saints do not believe that when a dead person is baptized by proxy in an LDS temple that the person automatically becomes a member of the LDS Church. We believe that the individual, though their body is dead, is alive and eternal. That individual, temporarily residing in a place we call the “spirit world,” will have the opportunity to either accept or reject the baptism performed on their behalf.
Temple baptismal fonts are patterned after the “molten sea” which was present in Solomon’s temple, a basin for ritual washing that rested on the backs of twelve oxen, representing the twelve tribes of Israel (see 1 Kings 7:23-26).
Baptismal fonts are generally located in the lowest level of the temple (often below ground). This has at least four symbolic implications:
- baptism is the first ordinance, it begins the believer’s upward movement toward God;
- baptism is symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ;
- through baptism, the believer becomes dead to sin and is raised to a new life in Christ (see Romans 6:3-6);
- because of the atonement of Christ, all the dead will eventually be resurrected.
Participants in proxy baptisms dress in white shirts and pants to symbolize the purity which baptism brings.
(A living person who joins the Church is not baptized in a temple. New converts are typically baptized in fonts in LDS chapels, which are much less ornate. In areas without a Church-owned font, a baptism may be performed in any convenient body of water, such as a lake, river, ocean, or swimming pool.)
The Mormon baptismal rite is conducted as follows:
- A holder of the priesthood goes into the water with the person to be baptized.
- The person performing the baptism calls the person being baptized by name. If the person is undergoing proxy baptism in behalf of a dead person, the person performing the baptism adds the words, “for and in behalf of [Name], who is dead.”
- The priesthood holder then pronounces the baptismal prayer: “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” (See Doctrine and Covenants 20:73).
- When the baptismal prayer is completed, the person being baptized is immersed completely in the water.