Laws and Ordinances

Hey guys! This is going to be a super important episode. We’re going to talk about missionary work in the Spirit World and baptisms for the dead. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s do it.

OK so here’s the conundrum: Latter-day Saints believe that you cannot enter the Kingdom of God without accepting Christ as your Savior and obeying His command to participate in essential ordinances, like baptism. But these requirements raise some issues because the simple fact is that most of humanity has lived and died without ever having had the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ or be baptized.

Some people believe these unlucky souls are simply condemned. Latter-day Saints believe that it would not be just for God to bar people from His presence because of circumstances they had no control over. So what do we do about all of these people who died never even having heard the name “Jesus” before? Well, the scriptures and modern revelation reveal a beautiful solution:

Latter-day Saints believe that after we die, we do not immediately go to heaven or hell, but rather we wait for the Second Coming and final judgment in a place we just call the Spirit World. The place where righteous spirits who accepted Christ live, we call Paradise. The place where all other spirits reside, we call spirit prison. But it’s important to note that this spirit world is not heaven or the Kingdom of God or whatever you want to call it. And it’s fascinating how the Bible talks about this place. For example,

On the cross, Christ turns to the man next to him and says, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” And yet three days later after Christ’s resurrection, he says to Mary Magdalene, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” So apparently for those 3 days, Christ has been somewhere called Paradise with other spirits, but that is not where God the Father is. So what was he doing in this spirit world during those 3 days? 1 Peter chapter 3 gives us a clue:

“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…”

And in the next chapter: “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.”

The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that Christ “organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.” We believe that Spirit-World missionary work continues today.

Christ knows that many people won’t have the opportunity to learn the gospel in this life, so He gives them that opportunity after they’ve died. Likewise, many people haven’t had the opportunity to be baptized in this life, so they are given the opportunity to accept a baptism after they have died. 

Now, since you can’t baptize a spirit, we mortals perform these baptisms for the dead in temple baptismal fonts like this.

Atlanta Mormon temple baptistry

No, we do not baptize corpses. These baptisms are actually very similar to normal baptisms, but instead of being baptized for yourself, you’re baptized for and in behalf of the person who has passed on. They can then choose whether or not to accept that ordinance in the Spirit World.

This doctrine was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith in 1840. Now, a lot of people want to know if there is any biblical evidence for baptisms for the dead, and we readily point to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:29, “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?” 

The Jerome Biblical Commentary explains: “Paul alludes to a practice of the Corinthian community as evidence for Christian faith in the resurrection of the dead. It seems that in Corinth some Christians would undergo baptism in the name of their deceased non-Christian relatives and friends, hoping that this vicarious baptism might assure them a share in the redemption of God.”

It’s widely accepted by modern scholars that baptisms for the dead were happening, but to be fair, some faiths assume that instead of shedding light on an accepted practice, Paul was actually condemning the practice. You are free to interpret it as you see fit. That said, our doctrine is not just based on this single scripture. It’s based on modern revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, accepted and corroborated by later prophets up until now. 

SO, a few rapid-fire questions before we end: Do we consider people we vicariously baptize to be members of our Church? Absolutely not. Whether or not they accept that baptism is totally up to them. How are we going to possibly perform baptisms for everyone who has ever died? We believe we’ll have 1000 years to catch up during Christ’s Millennial reign, with some help from the other side.

Isn’t it offensive to do baptisms for people who died belonging to a different faith? To some people, yes, and the Church has taken steps to be sensitive to that. For example, we don’t do baptisms for celebrities or Jewish Holocaust victims, and if the person was born within the last 110 years, we’re asked to get permission for the baptism from that person’s closest living relative. Thanks for watching! Check out the stuff in the description for more info, and have a great day!

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