Mormons believe that everyone must be baptized in order to be saved, but of course, not everyone has that opportunity. Because God is fair and loving, Jesus Christ performed proxy ordinances for mankind when He took on our sins and died for us. He has given us the opportunity to do proxy ordinances for God’s children as well. Following are the thoughts of two everyday Mormons on this topic:
Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) believe that baptism is a necessary ordinance for exaltation. It is the gate, if you will, by which one enters into God’s kingdom. In John 3:5, Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
However, there have been many people who, without fault of their own, have lived on the earth without being baptized. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are, therefore, baptized on behalf of deceased persons who never had that ordinance performed while they lived on earth – believing that everyone needs the opportunity to choose to enter God’s kingdom. Those deceased persons are then able to either accept or reject that baptism.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when I have a Christian question, I often refer to the scriptures for guidance. For example, I have referred to the King James version of the Bible for scriptural reference to work for the dead performed in ancient days. Then, I have referred to a simple explanation given by a leader in the Mormon (LDS) church, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, on the matter of work for the dead. You may also refer to the recent blog submitted by Gargantuan with LDS.net at through this link Blogs » Doing for Our Kindred Dead What they Cannot do » LDS Social Network., Blessings, Michael
Christian (Biblical) references to Work for the dead and Baptism for the dead, and Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s explanation for Baptism for the dead.
1Peter 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?
Doctrinal notes were taken from the book Mormon Doctrine, Elder Bruce R. McConkie;Bookcraft, first and second editions, 1958 and 1966.
“Based on the eternal principal of vicarious service, the Lord has ordained baptism for the dead as the means whereby all his worthy children of all ages can become heirs of salvation in his kingdom. Baptism is the gate to the celestial kingdom, and except a man be [is] born again of water and of the Spirit he cannot gain an inheritance in that heavenly world. (John 3:3-5) Obviously, during the frequent periods of apostate darkness when the gospel light does not shine, and also in those geographical areas where legal [priesthood] administrators are not found, hosts of people live and die without ever entering in at the gate of baptism so as to be on the path leading to eternal life. For them a just God has ordained baptism for the dead, a vicarious-proxy labor. (Doctrine & Covenants 124: 28-36; 127; 128; and 1st Corinthians 15:29.)
Baptisms for the dead were not performed in pre-meridian dispensations. But since our Lord preached to the spirits in prison, organizing his kingdom among them, these and other vicarious temple ordinances have been performed. The dispensation of the fullness of times [or present time] is the great era of vicarious ordinance work, a work will continue during the millennial era until it has been performed for every living soul entitled to receive it.” (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2 pp.100-196.)
When Jesus was baptized, He set the example for everyone else. Even though He had no sins from which to repent, He still understood one must be baptized to be saved, and so He insisted His cousin baptize Him. In John 3:5, Jesus Christ said, “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 (John 3:5). Clearly, baptism is not optional for those who want to be saved, just as accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior is not optional for salvation. However, there are many people who lived and died never having heard of Jesus Christ, who died prior to Jesus’ ministry (including many of the Biblical prophets) or whose lives were such that they never had a real chance to gain a testimony of Jesus Christ.
Mormons believe strongly that God is loving and fair. We see Him as our Father in Heaven, and a loving father would never intentionally set up a child to fail or punish him for something beyond his control. After all, it is God who chose when and where we would be born and what experiences we would have in our lifetime. What kind of father would place a child in a situation where he couldn’t possibly be saved? God loves us too much for that. But if you must be baptized and baptism can only happen on earth, what hope does a person have who didn’t get the opportunity in this life?
The Bible gives us the answer in a verse many scripture experts have admitted to not understanding and that many other skip over.
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:29) Paul asked this question in the process of trying to convince his listeners of the truthfulness of the resurrection. He didn’t bother to explain the term, which demonstrates that everyone already knew what it was. He logically asked them why they were doing baptisms for the dead if they didn’t believe there was a resurrection. The fact that they carried out the required ordinance proved they did believe in the resurrection, but were, for whatever reason, denying they did.
Is it too late after death? Jesus apparently didn’t think so. “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19).” Jesus personally taught the gospel to those who had died without accepting it. He must have seen a reason for doing so. What was that reason? “For for this cause was the gospel 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). The reason, Peter explains is so they can be judged in the way those still alive are, even though they are only spirits at the moment.
When Jesus took our sins on Himself and died for us, He carried out a vicarious, proxy ordinance. He demonstrated proxy ordinances are acceptable to God. Baptism for the dead is a vicarious or proxy ordinance. A living person who has previously been baptized can be baptized for a dead ancestor.
It is critical to note this does not make the person a Mormon. Mormons are very strong believers in agency, the right to choose. In fact, agency was an essential part of God’s plan and taking it away from us was an essential part of Satan’s proposal. For that reason, accepting the gospel must be a personal choice. It is not a second chance–if the person had a legitimate chance on earth, God will not accept the vicarious baptism. However, we are not permitted to judge who did or did not receive that chance–we can’t know if the spirit ever really testified to the person. So we do this work for all our ancestors, as a gift to them. When the work is done, the dead person, who has been learning the gospel in Heaven (think of it as an orientation course) is permitted to choose whether or not to accept. Sadly, even knowing it is true, as they will then, many will still choose to reject it for various reasons, just as people have always chosen to reject things they knew to be true. If the person rejects the gift, it is as if it never happened. Mormons do not list the people for whom ordinances are done as members, because we do not know who accepted and who rejected.
I asked my non-Mormon father if I could do his work after his death. He said that if it was all false, it wouldn’t make any difference at all that it was done because God would ignore it, as He ignores anything false. However, if it was true, he’d be desperate for the opportunity, so he felt he had nothing to lose. Without the ordinance, his agency would be taken from him.
Baptism for the dead is a gift of love from one family member to another and it is one of the reasons I knew the church had to be true. It assured me God really does love all His children, not just the ones fortunate enough to be placed in the right place at the right time.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.