Why Do Latter-day Saints (Mormons) Baptize for the Dead?
Guest Post by Melissa
To understand why Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) perform baptisms for the dead requires both an understanding of baptism and the Plan of Salvation. In general, baptism is an outward expression of an inner promise- to follow in the footsteps of Christ and strive to be like him. Many Christians believe that baptism is a requirement for the cleansing of sins and becoming a part of the body of Christ, to be accepted into His Church and into Heaven after we die. LDS members believe this and also believe that when we are baptised we are making a promise, or covenant with our Heavenly Father to do certain things, and in return he will bless us.
“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
This is a very important covenant that we believe to be a requirement for entry into the highest kingdom of heaven- what we call the Celestial Kingdom. This is where an understanding of the Plan of Salvation comes in. Latter-day Saints believe that our time here on earth is part of a detailed plan set forth by our Father and presented to us in Heaven before we even came here. We had the opportunity to accept or reject the plan, and those of us who accepted it are now living it. The plan was designed for our growth and progression, with the creation of an earth where we could go receive bodies and experience opposition – to be tried and tested, made stronger as we choose the right and repent of our wrong choices. We were given a Savior to redeem us of our sins, also conditional upon our acceptance of Him. Then, when we die, the work continues until the time of the final judgement, where we will be granted a place in heaven fit for ourselves.
We believe that heaven is divided into three kingdoms, and that the highest kingdom, the celestial kingdom, is the one that requires baptism (and other covenants) for entry. For everyone to have an equal opportunity and potential for reaching this highest glory, they need to have had an opportunity to make those covenants. God’s plan would not be fair if some were rejected just because they never had a chance to hear the message of Christ and be baptised by someone with Priesthood authority, and there are many, many people who have lived on the earth, and still live on the earth, who have never been baptised through no fault of their own. We believe that the spirits of those who have passed on continue to be taught the gospel and that many are ready and waiting for their baptismal work to be done, so that they will be able to enter the Celestial Kingdom come Judgement Day.
Performing baptism for the dead works the same way as a regular baptism, except that a living individual- a proxy- is standing in for the one being named. Once the baptism is performed, the individual waiting in the spirit world can choose to accept or reject the act, but if the baptism was never performed, no choice would be present at all. We perform baptisms for the dead in order to offer everyone the opportunity to choose exhaltation. We have been touched by the spirit of Elijiah, to search out the names of those waiting through geneaology work and to then complete their ordinances.
Malachi 4:6 “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Many members feel driven by a feeling of duty, as the promises we have made puts a level of responsibility on our shoulders. Because we have done our own ordinances, we are obligated to also do the ordinances of those who missed the opportunity to do it for themselves, and we believe that we cannot be saved without our dead. It is part of the four-fold mission of the church to “proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints, care for the poor and needy, and redeem the dead“. Heaven would certainly not be heaven if we could not be joined by our friends and family, our ancestors and kindred dead.
Baptism for the dead is something very close to the hearts of many members, including myself. I remember meeting my great-grandmother on my mother’s side as a youth. She was 98 years old and suffering from Alzheimers. My mother would tell me stories about spending time with her growing up- that she was her favorite grandma, she taught her to cook, and how she would always be looking out her window to watch for the robins- a sign of the return of spring. When we visited her, my mother had brought her a small robin figure as a gift, but my great-grandmother did not even recognize my mother or understand why we were visiting her. I remember seeing my mother tearing up as we left.
A couple years after this visit my great-grandmother passed away and my mother went to her funeral. My great-grandmother had never joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and so had never been baptised through the Priesthood authority or completed any of her other ordinances. I was priviledged to take her name to the temple and perform her baptism, among other names, but I specifically remember feeling a sense of peace overcome me as hers was completed. I know that she is grateful and look forward to seeing her again in heaven, to really get to know her as my great-grandmother and a fellow daughter of God.