The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called the “Mormon Church” by the media) has built more than 130 temples worldwide for an important reason. “We are the only people in the world who know what temples are for (“Temple Blessings for Ourselves and Our Ancestors,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 2011, 83). Family relationships continue after death and families can be united together eternally through the sacred ordinances and covenants made within temples (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” 1995). Ordinances such as baptisms for the dead can occur within a Mormon temple.
That which happens inside of Mormon temples is not a new phenomenon. Baptisms for the dead were performed in temples after Christ’s death. The apostle Paul asked “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). Although many people have been unaware of this truth, God has again called modern prophets to build temples on the earth so that this important ordinance, among others, can be performed.
A couple of years ago, I was talking to a Christian friend about the plan of happiness, and I’ll never forget what happened after I explained to her about baptisms for the dead performed inside of a Mormon temple. With tears streaming down her face, she paused and gasped, “You mean my mother can be saved?” She had realized that her deceased mother would also hear the gospel and have the opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. “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).” This means that God is fair to all of His children regardless of if they had the chance while living to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. He will allow everyone to have the same opportunity to learn of our Savior Jesus Christ. Those that died without this knowledge will learn that salvation is possible through Christ.
Baptism is a necessary step in order for anyone to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). We choose to accept Christ and promise to keep God’s commandments through promises made to Him during baptism. Baptism for the dead is an ordinance available to those that have already died without being baptized, and it enables those who accept Christ’s gospel in the Spirit World to “qualify for entrance into God’s kingdom” (Bible dictionary Baptism, Baptize). Within Mormon temples, a living individual (proxy) can be baptized in place of the dead person. This proxy baptism will then either be accepted or rejected by the dead individual. Each individual still has the choice of whether to take upon him- or herself that covenant.
Baptisms for the dead are performed in the same manner that baptisms for the living are performed. Christ said “Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them. . . . And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” (3 Nephi 11: 23–25). Members of the “Mormon Church” can perform baptisms for the dead once they are 12 years old and have received a recommend (which declares their worthiness to enter the Lord’s house) from their bishop.
Several years ago, I entered a Mormon temple and was baptized for my great-great grandmother. I honestly don’t remember her name, but I do remember the feeling I had after doing something for her that she couldn’t do for herself. Even though I’ve never met her, I feel connected to her and want her to have the same blessings I do. It brings me peace to know that my ancestors are learning of Christ and that I can contribute to their eternal welfare. Doing work for our dead is important because we know that life doesn’t end after death. I’m grateful that our merciful God has given us modern prophets to teach us today about Christ and that we have the authority to continue to do baptisms for the dead.
LDS Newsroom: Reiteration of Church policy regarding baptisms for the dead
Rebecca Bishop is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon” woman). She is in the process of being published in the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies.