Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mormon Baptism for the Dead Not As Weird As They Think

When we were newly wed and living in Southern California we had a couple of Catholic friends who lived next door.  Wonderful, close friends they were.  When our first baby arrived and they discovered that Mormons don't get baptized until the "age of accountability" which we consider to be eight years old; they were alarmed, to say the least.  Their church taught that unbaptised people go to Hell.  A reasonable assumption considering Jesus' statement:
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.    (John 3:5)
Infant baptism is a topic for another day.  Suffice it to say that we believe that children have no need of baptism as they are innocent and don't require Atonement from the effects of the Fall.

We explained this to Don and Sue, but naturally, they had serious doubts.  When the baby was about three weeks old.  Our good neighbors offered to baby sit so we could have a quiet night out together.  Loving and trusting these two sweet friends we eagerly accepted the offer.  We had a great time!

Upon our return we sensed a bit of tension in the room?  The baby was asleep and fine.  Finally Don couldn't stand the strain and they confessed that they had taken our daughter down to the Catholic Priest and had her baptized.  They explained that they loved her so much and couldn't bear the risk we were taking.

They made it very apparent how horrifying the doctrine of the necessity of Baptism actually was among most Christians.  A mandate that must not be ignored.  They told us horror stories of folks who had, for various reasons, delayed the Christening of their child, only to lose her to Hell for their folly.  We began to realize that such is true of millions of people, who never even had the opportunity to hear of Christ, let alone, make the choice to receive the blessing of baptism in their lives.  Are those huge numbers of people condemned, without hope, through no fault of their own?  We felt we knew better.  We knew that God had provided a way through which those whose lives were not touched by the message of Salvation might also be afforded that most precious choice.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul expressed such notions:
 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)
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)
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:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
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.   (1 Peter 3:18-20)
 We believe that people who die without baptism and the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ will be given the opportunity to accept or reject that message so they may be judged as fairly as those who did have such blessings in mortality.  How could we call God just or no respecter of persons if those who were given no chance to accept him were summarily condemned through no fault of their own.

As baptism is an earthly ordinance performed with physical water and physical bodies we believe it must be done vicariously for those who no longer remain in the physical realm.  Vicarious performance is clearly acceptable doctrine, for Christ himself suffered vicariously for the sins of each of us.  Is it such a stretch to think that He might call upon us to stand in vicariously for those, who like all of us, are unable to fully redeem ourselves from the Fall of our original parents in the Garden of Eden?  He suffered and died for our sins, but He expects us to acknowledge that gift through Faith, Repentance and Baptism.  His sacrifice can only be called Infinite if it applies to every one of us.

It may be unusual doctrine, but I have far less trouble accepting it than I do the doctrine that whole populations of people are condemned as a mere condition of the circumstances, time or place of their birth.

As for you, Eli Wiesel, who are vicariously offended on behalf of Simon Wiesenthal and his parents, let me tell you of our reaction to Don and Sue's effort to save our daughter.  We shed tears of joy that we had friends who held such abiding love for us and our little baby girl.  We embraced them and rejoiced at their concern and divine intent.  They had done no harm.  When our daughter was eight she was baptized again according to our own understanding of God's plan for his children.  Where was the offence?  I think God smiled on all of us.  Besides, if it turns out Don and Sue were right and we were wrong, our little girl is in pretty good shape, don't you think?  In every such situation, someone is right and someone is wrong, unless we tolerantly choose to be right together.  If the Jews are right, then what the Mormons have done is just so much foolishness.  If the Mormon's are right Simon might just be calling you a Nincompoop right about now.  How about a little tolerance for the un-malicious intent of those who see things a bit differently.  In doing so I think God might just smile on all of us.

Note:  As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a gesture of goodwill, agreed in 1995 to cease the practice of Baptism for the Dead in behalf of Holocaust victims, and as I sustain that expression of acknowledgement and sensitivity to the feelings of the Jewish people; I am pleased that the bonehead who violated that agreement has been censured by the Church and personally apologize for the breach in trust that it represents.

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