The Fourth Article of Faith

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We have a series of statements about our core beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called the Articles of Faith. The fourth of these states: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

One evening as a missionary, my companion and I received a call from the hermanas, who asked if we could go give a blessing to a baby who hadn’t slept more than minutes at a time for a couple days and hadn’t stopped crying for hours. The baby was exhausted, her mother was exhausted and didn’t know what to do other than ask God for help. I think we’ve all been or will be there – in a situation where we are overwhelmed, exhausted, beaten down, looking for relief. Maybe we are like this mother or like the infant – in either case we need the Lord.

My companion and I prepared for the blessing and went over to the apartment, meeting the hermanas there. As soon as my companion took the infant in his arms, she stopped crying. We blessed her that she would be comforted and be able to sleep. During the short blessing the baby fell asleep. Her mother was greatly relieved and grateful to God. I was touched at the faith of the mother and baby. Infants have innate goodness and faith in Christ. I knew that it was because of their great faith that the prayers of the mother were answered.

Such can be the power of faith in our lives every day! Some of us might have the pure, but small, faith of a child. Though your beginning fire of faith might be small, righteous choices bring greater confidence in God, and your faith grows. Others might have more mature, tested faith. This is the more abundant faith we receive over time as we are tested and strive to remain true to the faith. At any stage of development, faith is a shield unto us. The Apostle Paul counseled: “Above all, [take] the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire to attack his enemy with his sword or spear. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and could use it to attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand strong attacks from the enemy. Soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually.

Paul said the shield of faith was the most important armor for us. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other principles and ordinances build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church regularly and be an active part of a branch or ward. Who is has not been at church (recently) but could be or should be? Who is missing out on the faith-strengthening experience of attending church and partaking of the Sacrament? Who can you invite to join the army of the Lord? Inviting others to Christ will strengthen your faith in Him and help others develop faith in Christ.

Just as faith is a shield to us we should shield our faith. Elder Neil L. Andersen said “There is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” (Andersen, Oct 2015 General Conference). Faith in Jesus Christ should lead to repentance.

Most years when I was growing up my family would drive out to the desert near our home in Arizona and pick ripe prickly pear fruit to turn into jelly. It’s not an easy process. Each cactus plant is covered with large and small spines, threatening anyone who approaches too close. Each fruit also has spines on it so we picked them using tongs and dropped them in buckets. Usually within an hour we would have enough fruit for a large batch of jelly. One year when I was about 14 we were picking fruit when my sister called saying, “There’s a rattlesnake over there under the cactus!” I looked, asking “Where?” She stood by me, pointing right to it and said, “Right there under that cactus [about 10 feet away].” I looked but did not see the snake. I looked again in the same location and finally it became clear. The snake blended in perfectly with the ground, only becoming visible with close inspection. What appeared to be dirt, rock, and shadow was a serpent that would be dangerous if approached. We decided to not pick fruit from that cactus.

What is a spiritual application of this story? Sin can be like the snake. It is hard to recognize sometimes, especially for those who are inexperienced or who are not looking carefully. Sin, like venomous snakes, is increasingly dangerous when approached. Once we recognize it, it’s best to leave it alone and go elsewhere. Do not try to see how close you can get to it because eventually you will be bitten. The biting sting of sin burns. All of us sin, we all fall short. When we sin it is important to exercise faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance. Sin brings suffering. Repentance might bring suffering but it’s necessary to be cleansed from sin to live with our Father again.

Even though we do not seek suffering, in some instances suffering may be essential. Elder Ballard stated, “Pain and suffering [serve] a necessary purpose in the process of healing” (M. Russell Ballard, A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, Ensign, Sep. 1990). When we sin, we experience the loss of the spirit of the Lord. The small or large measure of suffering we experience can help us desire to repent and again feel the Holy Ghost. The Savior’s suffering was essential so that we all had a way to be resurrected and be forgiven of our sins. Without His suffering, we cannot be saved. In turn, when we sin, if we do not suffer at all, it is difficult to fully learn the impact of our sins and in turn the sweet mercy of forgiveness. Adam and Eve were taught that they would understand the bitter so that they could appreciate the sweet. This is why we should not be scared of suffering – it is a natural part of life and helps us learn to appreciate the good in our lives. We do not seek it, but we can find meaning in it. We can turn to the Lord and partake of the assuaging mercy of the Atonement. We can find that Balm in Gilead that soothes souls.

A story of the Savior teaches the healing process of repentance.

“And again [Jesus] entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Mark 2:1-5; emphasis added).

Jesus visited Capernaum, a small (by today’s standards) town on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee. It is thought to be near or might have been the hometown of the apostles Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It is in this setting that the miracle recorded in Mark occurred. Jesus was in a house preaching to a packed audience – standing room only – with overflow outside the house. Hearing of Jesus’s visit, four men carried a man with palsy (in other words – paralysis – the man might have had seizures as well) on a stretcher to visit the Lord for healing. They could not enter through the door so they got on top of the house and broke apart the roof over where Jesus was standing/sitting while preaching. I like that they broke apart the roof; they destroyed it to get to the Savior.

These men, bearers of the ill, were persistent and a little destructive. Sometimes we must destroy something to bring healing. Cancer treatments often involve chemotherapy, a drastic process that attacks rapidly dividing cancer cells (and as a side effect, bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive system, which all have rapidly dividing cells and are why chemotherapy usually suppresses the immune system, causes hair loss, and digestive difficulties). To kill the bad cells requires broad destruction. Epilepsy, when severe and not well-controlled by medication, sometimes requires cutting out portions of the brain causing the seizures. To heal, drastic actions and destruction can be required. Seeing the diligence and faith of those seeking healing for the man with palsy, Jesus was impressed and offered healing – not just the physical that was sought but also spiritual.

C.S. Lewis wrote on this process of healing through destruction: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Healing might hurt us abominably but such pains are necessary. To heal us, the Savior hurt abominably. He suffered so that He might succor us. What He asks in return is faith, diligence (occasionally destructive), and repentance. Repentance leads to and grows from baptism.

Not long after returning home from my mission I had an opportunity to hike to the top of the tallest mountain in Arizona – Humphrey’s Peak. Much of the northern part of Arizona is a region called the Colorado plateau. This area is mostly high altitude desert but there are areas with luscious vegetation – towering pine trees, quaking aspens, and brilliant wildflowers. Rising above this plateau is Humphrey’s Peak, peaking over 12,600 feet above sea level. The parking lot of the main trail up to the peak sits at almost 9000 feet, leaving three quarters of a mile elevation to ascend along a 4.5 mile trail. The path winds up the mountain with loose jagged rocks underfoot. At the start of the trail there is thick vegetation but as you approach the tree line – the point above which trees no longer grow – the towering trees turn into bristlecone pines, sturdy trees hardened and twisted by strong winds and frost. Above the tree line the only plants left are hardy shrubs that can withstand the tundra climate. During the summer the air is often warm but snows can come during any month and weather changes rapidly. At the peak on clear days it is possible to see for over a hundred miles. In the distance you might see the mile deep gash of the Grand Canyon.

My parents, a neighbor, and I hiked Humphrey’s Peak. My mother did not want to hike the whole way so shortly after starting she told us to go on ahead. Soon, I wanted to ascend faster so I left my father and neighbor to follow up after me. When I hit 12,000 feet with about a mile to go I started feeling the altitude but I improved approaching the summit. Up at the peak, there was time for resting and enjoying the view. Parts of the landscape were blocked by clouds lower than the summit. I marveled at the winds that whipped clouds by me. It was serene being high on a mountain top. Mountains always remind me of the majesty of God. After a rest, it was time to descend the mountain. One thing I love more than hiking up mountains is running down them. This trail was challenging – a misplaced foot, a loose rock could result in serious injury – but running down a mountain is exhilarating. My muscles, bones, and joints ached for hours after the descent and my legs were sore for days but I enjoyed the run at the time.

What happened to my father and our neighbor? They eventually made it up and down but had to go slowly because my neighbor had altitude sickness due to the thin air.

What is a principle from this story? Climbing the mountain is like getting baptized. Baptism is the gate opening the path that we travel to try and return to our exalted home. But baptism is not the end. Those of us who are baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all covenanted with God – a covenant is a two way promise – that we would keep His commandments and always remember Him. If we want to reach the summit we cannot stop by the gate, we need to press forward with our eyes fixed upon the Savior. We work but none of us works our way to heaven. We are required to participate in priesthood ordinances like baptism but Jesus strengthens our lungs and legs. He lifts us up when we fall and strengthens us in spiritual and physical sickness. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that ultimately lifts us home but baptism puts us on the upward path, a spiritual one that we never need descend from.

Just as hiking does, baptism requires preparation. In Moroni we read of the requirements for and duties of those who are baptized: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end. And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” (Moroni 6:3-4).

Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. When I was young I went on two multi-day backpacking trips with my father and his varsity scouts – a 21 mile hike in the Grand Canyon when I was 11 and a 40 mile one through the Paria Canyon when I was 12. We could only carry enough water to last a day so on both excursions we relied heavily on spring water to survive. Water from the springs is pure; we could drink right from living streams. When there were no springs to replenish our water we had to purify our water by filtering, boiling, or using iodine tablets. The water from streams and rivers needed purification or it could have made us sick. If we did not have water, we would not have survived our desert hikes.

Many of the events in the Bible occur in deserts. The early part of the Book of Mormon also takes place almost exclusively in deserts. The Savior lived in Israel around Jerusalem, which receives little rainfall each year. Water is a precious resource. Drinkable water is even more precious. Because of the desert surroundings of many of the prophets in the scriptures, water plays a prominent role in many parables or scripture stories. “Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh” (Ezekiel 47:8-9). In the desert, where water is, there is life. Because water provides and symbolizes life, it is easy to understand why so many prophets, including the Savior, referred to water in their teachings.

The Lord’s control and power over water was demonstrated many times throughout the scriptures. Moses parted the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. Elijah divided the waters of the River Jordan, as did Elisha (see 2 Kings 2). Elisha also healed the waters of Jericho: “And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake” (2 Kings 2:19-22). Our own spiritual waters can also be healed and cleansed as we partake of the blood of the Atonement and as we follow our priesthood leaders, especially the Lord’s prophet.

The Jaredites and the people of Lehi both crossed over the oceans in order to travel to the Promised Land. They survived their trials by water with faith in the Lord. Sometimes the waters beat down and seem to attack our very foundation but if we are built upon stony ground instead of sand, we can weather the storms. Jesus walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. We use water today for the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior’s atoning blood.

Water is cleansing. The prophet Alma baptized in the waters of Mormon. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water when He was baptized in the River Jordan; baptism is essential for exaltation, which is why the Savior was baptized even though He was and is without sin. Through it we make a covenant – a two-way promise – with our Father. Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins.

But just as the Mosaic Law was incomplete without Christ, so is baptism without confirmation and the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half – that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, p.314).

By baptism we keep the commandment but through the Holy Ghost we are absolved of blame and purified. The blood of Christ sanctifies us (see Moses 6:60).

I’ll always remember what it was like to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was eight years old. I wrote in my journal that I felt warm and not just because it was in Arizona in the summer. The Holy Ghost blesses us with warmth and peace. At that early age I learned of the power of the Holy Ghost and of the consequences of sin. Before I was baptized I remember doing something I was not supposed to do but really did not have a strong feeling that it was wrong – I think I only realized it was wrong in hindsight. When I did the same thing after I was baptized I knew immediately it was wrong, I felt compelled to fall to my knees and ask Heavenly Father for forgiveness. That is the power of the Holy Ghost – He teaches us right from wrong and helps us know how we can be better. He warns us; He comforts us.

The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

These are a foundation for us. If you have not been baptized, I encourage you to take that step. It is one you will not regret. If you have been baptized, continue on the path of faith, repentance, covenant, and spirit. I know Jesus Christ is our Savior. He loves you and me.

3 Nephi 11

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The focal point (or, global maximum, if you will) of the Book of Mormon starts in 3 Nephi 11 when Christ appears to some of the survivors of the destruction that occurred after His death. I was struck by what Christ told those who were there. Here He was coming to some of His chosen people after His resurrection; He could tell them anything so what He first taught the people must be supremely important. So what did Christ teach? What did Christ do?

  1. He testified of Himself and His mission and that many prophets testified of Him (see verses 10-11). With this He not only stated the importance of His mission but also the missions of all the prophets before (and after) Him.
  2. He testified of the Father and that all Christ did was His Father’s will (see verse 11). This is His humility in reiterating the supremacy of the Father.
  3. Christ commanded those present to feel the wounds in His hands, feet, and side so that they would have a solid witness of His reality (see verses 14-17).
  4. The Savior then gave unto Nephi power to baptize (see verse 21). Nephi possibly already had this priesthood authority but at this time he was called as an apostle of the Lord (and made chief apostle). Jesus then called others as apostles, giving them authority to baptize (see verse 22).
  5. Jesus condemned disputations among the people, particularly about doctrine or ordinances (see verse 22). He also taught other important doctrines – repentance (and implied faith; see verse 23).
  6. Implicit in Christ’s call to the apostles was their role as missionaries (see verse 23).
  7. Christ then gives the words of the baptismal prayer, one of the few set ordinance prayers we have in the LDS Church (although the modern baptismal prayer is slightly altered). He also makes it clear that baptism is by immersion. Once again, with this the Savior reinforces the importance of baptism for salvation but also the importance of strict adherence to the ordinance of baptism (see verses 23-26).
  8. In the context of baptism and the baptismal prayer (performing the ordinance in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), the Savior teaches of the oneness of the Godhead (see verse 27).
  9. After this, the Lord Jesus Christ once again condemns disputations and contentions, particularly over doctrines and ordinances of the gospel (see verses 28-30). The Savior spends what amounts to three verses about the evils of contentions. He will shortly teach the people that peacemakers are blessed. Now, I do not believe the Savior was calling for pacifism at all costs but He wanted to make sure that people did not argue and fight one with another. How can a Zion society exist if people fight one with another? The Savior’s stressing of the evils of contention is one of the reasons there was many years of peace following Christ’s visit and brief ministry among the Nephites.
  10. Christ then moves into summarizing His doctrine (verses 31-40).
    1. The spirit of prophecy and testimony (verse 32), particularly how the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost testate of and for one another.
    2. Have faith in Christ (verse 32).
    3. Be baptized in the name of Christ (verse 32).
    4. Faith and baptism and repentance are necessary for salvation and for returning to dwell with the Father (verses 33, 37, & 38).
    5. There are consequences for willfully not believing in Christ and following Him (verse 34).
    6. Those who have faith in Christ will be blessed with the Holy Ghost (verse 35).
    7. It is important to have your foundation upon the doctrine of Christ. Any who seek to go beyond His doctrine to add or take away from it are cursed (verses 39-40).
  11. Missionary work is essential (verse 41).

I want to interject that anything after verse 18 was directed to Nephi and the apostles, Christ spent little time directly teaching the people at this point. He spent individual time with them but then left the bulk of the teaching to His anointed servants. This is an important point. Of the recorded words and actions we have of the Savior’s first hours in visiting with the Nephites, He taught the people little before calling His apostles and making sure they knew that they had primary responsibilities for teaching His doctrine and performing His ordinances. This mirrors what Christ did during His mortal ministry – He first called His apostles and then started teaching. The foundation of prophets and apostles is key.

While there are more lessons to be gleaned from this chapter, I thought it an interesting exercise to focus on what Christ and did in the first few hours of His visit. I want to re-stress the fact that Christ took time at the start of His visit to visit with each individual. The Savior is focused on people, on individuals. He knows all our names and knows each of us individually. Our task is to know and follow Him.

Mormons and Baptisms for the Dead

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Much has been made recently in the news about how some names of Holocaust victims were submitted to the temple work system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church released a press release about the matter. In the release the Church stated,

“The Church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism.

It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place.

While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions, we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter’s access privileges. We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken.

It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention.”

In the 1990s the Church made it a rule that the names of Holocaust victims could not be submitted to the temple for proxy ordinances to be performed for them. This was in response to Jewish leaders who found the practice offensive. The only condition under which the names could be submitted is if a direct descendent submits them her or himself. So since the mid 1990s, it has been against church policy for church members to submit Holocaust victim names. The Church has safeguards in place and it takes”willful violation” and “a good deal of deception and manipulation” to get around those safeguards. The Church does not look kindly upon those breaking the rules in this matter.

I’m going to offer my perspective on the matter of proxy baptisms (and other ordinances) for those who have died. Some outside the Church find the work offensive, others do not care either way (without any statistical evidence I’d guess that most people do not care about baptisms for the dead). There are varying reasons for taking offense at the actions but I will only cover the doctrine of baptisms for the dead.

First, proxy ordinances for the deceased is not a new creation of the LDS Church. It is Biblical (“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 Cor. 15:29) but the LDS Church does not rely completely on written scripture, we believe in modern day revelation with living prophets who speak God’s words, just as prophets did anciently. Living prophets have also taught of the importance of proxy work for the deceased (e.g., this talk by an apostle of Jesus Christ).

Why is this work important? We believe that in order for people to return to live with God again, they must receive certain necessary ordinances, including baptism and confirmation. Baptisms in the LDS Church occur when individuals are at least 8 years old, when they are old enough to choose for themselves (particularly choosing right from wrong) and start to understand the baptism. We believe that all people must receive this ordinance. So what happens to all those who died without the opportunity? Are they forever damned? No! God provides a way for them to have that work done on their behalf. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can attend LDS temples and do this work on behalf of those who have died. Proxy work is not a new concept – ancient Jews believed and practiced it (the law of Moses includes many proxy ordinances) and ancient Christians did as well. Jesus Christ offered the greatest of all proxy work – that of the Atonement for all humankind. He did what we could not do for ourselves – overcome sin and death. In a like manner but on a much lesser scale, we have the opportunity to help those who cannot  perform this work themselves – those who are dead.

To truly understand LDS baptisms for the dead, it is necessary to understand LDS theology regarding the purpose of life, what happens after we die, and our relationship to God. That’s more than I can cover in this post but suffice it to say that a portion of what people might find offensive about these baptisms for the dead is based upon misinformation about the purpose of the work. I’m not saying that people are only offended because they misunderstand, I’m saying that there is a lot of contextual doctrine that needs to be understood before the reason and goals of these proxy ordinances for the dead can be understood.

We believe that when people die, they enter a period of rest and learning and yes, even suffering. Some people will suffer for the wrongs they did, others will just have to learn more, and still others will be involved in teaching those who need more knowledge to continue to progress. What is important though is that agency – the ability to choose right from wrong – is never taken away. After we die, we are still the same people, just without physical bodies at the time and with a little more knowledge than we had while mortal on earth. Once a baptism is performed for someone who is dead, it does not make them Mormon or even Christian. If that person accepts the work then they can become part of God’s Kingdom but again, the choice is never made for him or her – it is an individual’s responsibility to accept or reject Christ.

So let’s say that Ms. Jane Brown died in 1854 at the age of 16. Her physical body was buried and her spirit went to the Spirit World (which is here on earth) to be with family members and friends. Jane was never baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ by one holding God’s Priesthood; she had been baptized as a child but it was not done with God’s authority (that does not mean it was meaningless, just not valid – that’s a big distinction). We believe that God’s priesthood – the authority and power to act in His name and perform the necessary ordinances and rituals – is found only within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Down the road, one of her relatives (let’s say a great-great-great niece) is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wants to offer her the same opportunities that she has; so, she performs work in an LDS Temple for and on behalf of Jane.

The work is done – baptism, confirmation, sealing to parents (assuming their work was done as well) – but it is up to Jane to accept it or not. Those who are deceased are never forced to accept the work performed on behalf of them. If they do accept the work, they will have done what is necessary – exercised faith in Jesus Christ and repented. This is not much different than how it works in this life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusive, not exclusive. Christ beckons all to come unto Him. He does not want to save just those who lived in times or places where His gospel was taught, He wants to save all who accept that salvation. Baptism (in life or by proxy in death) by those with God’s authority is an essential step in returning to God again. This is why baptisms for the dead are performed – to offer all the opportunity to return to live with God again.

There are more reasons for baptism for the dead. There is a lot more I could write. I’m not trying to justify the practice to those who are offended, I’m simply offering theological background to the practice. We Mormons view it as a great act of love to perform this ordinance for others; it goes beyond that as well, we view it as something that has to be done. It is ideally done for our own ancestors but we are asked to help perform the work for others. When people submit names to the temple to have work performed for them, those submitted names should be those of their ancestors, generally not random people to whom they are unrelated. At some point in the future, baptisms will have to be performed for everyone who ever lived on earth but much of this work probably will not be done until the Millennium, a time when Christ has returned to earth to rule and reign.

A lot of the problems come from misinformation and misunderstandings by people on both sides of the issue (i.e., within the church and without the church). Both sides would do well to have increased communication and information about each other’s concerns and practices.

A Wilderness of Sin

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I’ve written this before but I love Truman G. Madsen’s talks and books and videos. You probably don’t want to get me started talking about them or else I might not stop for a long time. I, like so many other people, first discovered him while I was a missionary. I heard his talks about Joseph Smith. I purchased his Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights talks. I purchased his audio biographies of the Presidents of the Church. By now I’ve listened to just about every recorded talk of his out there. I even once had the privilege of attending one of his talks at BYU; I wasn’t going to miss it for the world and I didn’t.

I’ve been listening to some of his BYU addresses again. I’m always struck at his insights into the gospel. There are very few people who have his mix of speaking abilities, knowledge, intellect, and faith. One thing he said in his talk The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength was striking.

Whatever diminishes our relish for spiritual things, whatever we cannot consistently invite the Spirit to attend, is not for us. Sin and selfishness are furtive, they are half-hearted, and they are self-dividing. But Christ’s way is whole-hearted, and the wholeness becomes holiness. Sin cannot sing. The music of sin is a dirge. It is a wilderness crying in a voice. But Christ’s way is song–a new song, a lifting song. Sin loves darkness and covers up. It is darkening. But Christ’s way is light. And light cleaves to light. Sin and the defiant defense of sin is ugly. Christ’s way is beautiful. And everlastingly so. There is no joy in iniquity and, contrary to the world, there is no joy in inequity. We are promised that one day, should we be faithful, we will be equal in heavenly things and even ultimately in earthly things.

That’s some amazing imagery and word play. It’s even more impressive if you know that he speaks extemporaneously. I really love the line about sin being “a wilderness crying in a voice.” Truman Madsen’s phrase is a reference to Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” That verse is quoted or alluded to a number of other times in the scriptures. It is a reference to John the Baptist, who cried as a voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. What did John teach? Repentance and baptism.

So Truman Madsen’s calling sin a “wilderness crying in a voice” is a very fitting reversal of a reference to John the Baptist and thus to repentance and baptism. The solution for sin is repentance and baptism. That’s an entire sermon in a sentence.

There’s more but I’ll let you read the rest of his talk(s). Or, better yet, listen to them.

Preparing for the Melchizedek Priesthood

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This past Sunday our lesson for the Young Men was on preparing for the Melchizedek Priesthood. The LDS Church’s Aaronic Priesthood Manual 2 had a nice summary of the ordinances that bearers of the Aaronic Priesthood and those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood can perform. The lists go beyond ordinances but they make up the bulk of them.

Power of the Aaronic Priesthood

  • 1. Prepare, administer, and pass the sacrament.
  • 2. Baptize (priests only).
  • 3. Receive the ministering of angels.
  • 4. Go home teaching.
  • 5. Look after the physical needs of the Saints.
  • 6. Collect fast offerings.
  • 7. Ordain other priests, teachers, and deacons (priests only).
  • 8. Take charge of meetings in the absence of elders.

Power of the Melchizedek Priesthood

  • 1. Confer the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  • 2. Name and bless infants.
  • 3. Administer to the sick.
  • 4. Consecrate oil for anointing.
  • 5. Dedicate graves.
  • 6. Confer the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods and ordain to offices in those priesthoods.
  • 7. Look after the spiritual needs of the Saints.
  • 8. Preside at meetings.
  • 9. Enter the temple and receive all temple ordinances.
  • 10. With the proper keys, officiate in all temple ordinances.
  • 11. Have power and authority over all the offices in the Church (see D&C 107:8).
  • 12. Do all things an Aaronic Priesthood bearer can do.

One thing that I’ve been thinking about recently is the something contained in this list, namely that those who are ordained Priests in the Aaronic Priesthood have the authority to baptize others (of course, under the direction of their Bishops – all things are done in the proper order with the proper oversight in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) but they cannot confirm those same people as members of the Church nor can they bestow upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost.

This is like the law that Jehovah gave to Moses and the law that He, as the Savior, gave during His mortal ministry. The Mosaic Law was preparatory for a higher law. It was a schoolmaster that led the House of Israel to Christ, although it had largely been corrupted by the time Jesus was born. The Mosaic Law was focused on outward ordinances (those ordinances were supposed to reflect inner change and covenant). These ordinances were done through the authority of the Aaronic (technically Levitical but those terms are basically interchangeable) Priesthood. But those ordinances were incomplete without the Melchizedek Priesthood. Christ was the great High Priest of the Melchizedek Priesthood: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 5:8-10).

Just as the Mosaic Law was incomplete without Christ, so is baptism without confirmation and the reception of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half – that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, p.314). The Law of Moses was incomplete without the confirmation given by Christ.

Priests in the Aaronic Priesthood can baptize but they cannot confirm. They cannot complete the baptism of fire, which is really what purifies and sanctifies the baptized through the Atonement of Christ. The Aaronic Priesthood is preparatory. It is only half the Priesthood. What is amazing is that God allows young men starting at the age of 12 to bear that great responsibility. Aaronic Priesthood holders have primary responsibility for the physical aspects of the Church (of course all Melchizedek Priesthood holders still have the Aaronic Priesthood so they too are responsible for the physical needs of Church members and sometimes more so than the young men). Those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood are directly responsible for the Sacrament, which is one of the most sacred of all ordinances performed in the Church. The Sacrament was instituted by the Savior shortly before His death. Jesus blessed and broke and passed the bread and wine. He delegates this great responsibility to the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood today.

There is no greater responsibility for men in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than the responsibility they hold as bearers of the Priesthood for even family responsibilities are Priesthood responsibilities. There are typically only six to seven years between when a young man receives the Aaronic Priesthood and when he receives the Melchizedek Priesthood (all of this is contingent upon worthiness and personal and family desires). The teenage years are crucial for spiritual development. They are the time for young men to prepare for the Melchizedek Priesthood.

A House of Prayer Podcast Episode 8 – Baptism

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In this episode I present a talk about baptism I gave as a missionary at a baptism. The text is not online. Baptism is the gate to eternal life. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ opens the gate but baptism is necessary for eternal life.

If you’ve subscribed to my feed, you should receive the audio file automatically. If you have not subscribed to my feed, it’s never too late! You can also click on the following link to download the podcast directly (right-click {or option-click on a Mac} to save the file): A House of Prayer 8 – Baptism.

You can also subscribe directly from the iTunes Store by clicking on this link: A House of Prayer podcast (notice: requires and opens iTunes).

Let me know what you think!

Credit: The short music clip I use as an entrance and exit to the show is an arrangement of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing from the album Reflections of Christ. Visit that link to find out how you can purchase the music (I’m not associated with the artists; I just enjoy the music).

The podcast album art is an image by Irwin-Scott. Check out his photo stream on Flickr. I thought his photo of the Salt Lake Temple would be a fitting image as a house of prayer. His night-time photo of the illuminated temple surrounded by darkness has a lovely symbolic meaning of the temple as a light on a hill, an ensign to the nations, a lighthouse shining forth in the darkness.

A Wellspring of Eternal Life, Part 2

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Water is a powerful force – in large amounts it can destroy nearly all life. It can also be used and controlled to bring and sustain life. The Lord’s control and power over water was demonstrated many times throughout the scriptures. Moses parted the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. Elijah divided the waters of the River Jordan, as did Elisha (see 2 Kings 2). Elisha also healed the waters of Jericho: “And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake” (2 Kings 2:19-22). Our own spiritual waters can also be healed and cleansed as we partake of the blood of the Atonement and as we follow our priesthood leaders, especially the Lord’s prophet. [Image by Andrew.gd].

The Jaredites and the people of Lehi both crossed over the oceans in order to travel to the Promised Land. They survived their trials by water with faith in the Lord. The prophet Alma baptized in the waters of Mormon. Sometimes the waters beat down and seem to attack our very foundation but if we are built upon stony ground instead of sand, we can weather the storms.

I am always thankful to have clean water to drink and use. I am ever grateful to the Savior who demonstrated His power over water numerous times. The Lord gave Moses power to turn water to blood, in the hope that Pharaoh would let the Israelites go free: “And Moses and Aaron did so, as the Lord commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood” (Exodus 7:20). This blood was symbolic of the Savior’s atoning blood that provides the power to free Israel spiritually. The Lord also gave unto Moses power to purify water and to cause it to flow from a rock, quenching the thirst of the weary children of Israel. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water when He was baptized in the River Jordan; baptism in part symbolizes the cleansing of our sins but baptism is also a covenant we enter into with our Father and an ordinance He has commanded us to receive. Baptism is essential for exaltation, which is why the Savior was baptized even though He was and is without sin. Jesus turned water to wine and calmed raging storms. He walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. We use water today for the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior’s atoning blood.

I am grateful unto Him, who is the source of all pure water; He is the fountain of living water. He promises that we too, can be like a spring of water whose waters fail not. “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing.” We, as we follow the Savior, will become like watered gardens. These promises are both physical and spiritual but mainly spiritual. We will be well watered, even though much of the rest of the world is in drought. We will have access to a wellspring that never fails, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

Link to Part 1 of this essay.

Parallels in Purifications

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As I took a shower this morning in preparation to go to the temple with the youth of my ward, I thought of the symbolism of the shower. As I cleaned myself physically to get myself ready to enter the temple, I pondered whether I was spiritually clean and ready to enter the temple. I thought over my recent actions or inactions as I prepared. As I washed myself from head to toe, I thought how that paralleled baptism and repentance. While I was not fully immersed in a pool of water, which occurs at baptism, the water of the shower washed away dirt and other uncleanness. The heat of the water reminded me of the purifying burning of the Holy Ghost. The scrubbing with soap is like the spiritual scrubbing that comes in the process of repentance – it requires effort; without the cleansing of soap, the purification process is incomplete. Without repentance and effort on our part, even the cleansing of baptism is insufficient, for repentance is a condition of baptism.