Mormonism emphasizes the importance of baptism. The fourth Article of Faith, authored by Joseph Smith, states that Mormons “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.”
The Mormon Church practices baptism by complete immersion in water. This is symbolic of a death and burial of the carnal person, and a rebirth of the person as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a member of His Church. Like many Christians, Mormons believe that a person who repents and is baptized has all prior sins remitted. He or she is utterly cleansed and looks on the rite as a beginning of life afresh.
Baptism is also the act of making a promise to the Lord. At baptism, Mormons make a covenant, or two-way promise, with the Lord that they will take upon them the name of Christ, remember Him, and keep His commandments. In return, the Lord promises to bless faithful baptized members with the companionship of the Lord’s Spirit, or the Holy Ghost.
After being baptized, Mormons receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Unlike the occasional power of the Holy Ghost, felt, for example, by people when they are earnestly investigating the Church, the gift of the Holy Ghost is more permanent. As Joseph Smith wrote in the fourth Article of Faith, it is bestowed by the laying on of hands upon the head of the recipient. This means that men who hold priesthood power will lay their hands upon the head of the person receiving the blessing, and one man will pronounce a special blessing, giving the gift of the Holy Ghost. The person thereafter has the continual companionship of God’s Spirit to direct, warn, and comfort him or her. If the person sins, the Holy Ghost departs. But when the person repents and strives to be righteous, worthy, and receptive, the Holy Ghost can provide great blessings of understanding, protection, and peace.
In the Mormon Church, baptism is never performed before a person’s eighth birthday. The age of eight was assigned in modern-day revelation (see Doctrine and Covenants 68:27) as the age when children become accountable for their sins, meaning that they are able to independently discern between right and wrong and have personal responsibility for their conduct. For those of sufficient age who are not able to discern between right and wrong (because of a condition such as severe mental impairment) there is no accountability for sins and, therefore, no requirement for baptism. Such are viewed as being saved through the Atonement of Christ, as are all babies and children who die before eight. In this light, the Book of Mormon specifically forbids the practice of infant baptism, maintaining that it is “solemn mockery before God.” (See Moroni 8:4-23.)
Although Jesus Himself was perfect, the Book of Mormon teaches that He was baptized to show that “he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:7). Small children are not capable of making such a commitment, so again, they have no need of baptism.
Baptism is only recognized as valid when it is performed by someone holding the proper priesthood authority, in the office of Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood or a higher office. Mormonism’s claim to being the true gospel of Jesus Christ is maintained primarily on the basis of divinely given authority (the priesthood) and continuing revelation.
Similar to the beliefs of many Christian denominations, Mormons believe that baptism is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom of God in the hereafter. This belief presents a problem, however, for the millions of people who have lived and died without the opportunity to ever hear of Jesus Christ, let alone have the chance to be baptized. For this reason, Mormons believe in the ordinance of performing baptisms on behalf of those who have died. This work is done only in Mormon temples and is performed by someone acting as proxy for a deceased person. Mormons believe that this ordinance, known as baptism for the dead, is only of value to the deceased when the deceased person accepts the work done in his or her behalf. If the ordinance is indeed accepted, the person will be able to enter the kingdom of God just as if he or she had had the opportunity to be taught and baptized while living on earth.
Mormons believe that even after baptism, members will still make mistakes. In the partaking of the sacrament weekly, Mormons have the opportunity to renew the promises to the Lord they made at baptism. This includes the chance to come away feeling totally forgiven and perfectly cleansed of all the misdeeds of the previous week. Mormons believe the feeling of being purified on a weekly basis can motivate one to avoid sin.
Priests in the Mormon Church hold not only the authority to baptize individuals for the remission of sins, but also the authority to bless the sacrament, which blessing is, in essence, a weekly maintenance of the remission of sins.
The blessings of baptism offer individuals hope through the Atonement and infinite love of the Savior Jesus Christ.