Jesus began His ministry by asking His cousin John to baptize Him. He did so despite having no sins of which to repent, in order to set the example for us. If even Jesus needed baptism, there could be no question we needed it.
Mormons—a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—teach that baptism is a required ordinance for salvation.
5 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).
It is done for the remission of sins. At the time of baptism, Mormons also take on the name of Jesus Christ, which means they have an obligation to represent Him well in all they do. This involves keeping the commandments, learning the gospel, and treating others with love and kindness. They promise to be as Christ-like as possible. Soon after baptism, they become members of the Church and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
At baptism we make a covenant with our Heavenly Father that we are willing to come into His kingdom and keep His commandments from that time forward, even though we still live in the world. We are reminded from the Book of Mormon that our baptism is a covenant to “stand as witnesses of God [and His kingdom] at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:9). ((Robert D. Hales, “The Covenant of Baptism: To Be in the Kingdom and of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 6–9)
Mormons baptize by immersion because that is how Jesus was baptized. It symbolizes the death and rebirth required of all Christians and also represents Jesus’ death and resurrection. When Mormons emerge from the water, they are free of all sin. Of course, no one lives a sinless life and this means repentance will be a part of life. Mormons believe that a person must actively repent of his or her sins by recognizing they have sinned, accepting responsibility for the choices that led to the sin, making restitution as far as possible to anyone hurt or affected by the sin, asking forgiveness, and forsaking the sin. On Sundays, when Mormons take the Sacrament (communion) they renew the covenants they made at baptism and are forgiven, which frees them from the need to be rebaptized each time they sin.
Mormons are baptized at the age of eight. This is considered the age of accountability, the time when children are old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong if they have been taught. Mormons believe we are accountable only for what we know, so if a child sins because his parents neglected to teach him what is right, the sin is on the parents. Although eight might seem young, Mormon children are treated with respect and with the understanding that even the youngest child can learn the gospel at some level, feel the spirit, gain testimonies, and make good choices. Mormons respect the intelligence and the spiritual abilities of God’s children and believe this is why God told us we must become like a little child. Children have powerful abilities to have faith.
Mormon children begin preparing for their baptisms at a very young age. Mormon parents are taught to have family prayer and scripture study every day and even the smallest child is included. A child may not understand everything he is hearing, but small bits register with them and over time their understanding increases. Parents hold a weekly family home evening, which is usually held Monday nights. During this time parents teach the gospel at the child’s level, play games and build their family bond.
Mormon children attend church with their families each week. The basic worship service, known as Sacrament Meeting, is attended by everyone, even little children. While this can make the meetings a bit noisy and busy, the children see their parents worshipping and gradually learn to worship appropriately on their own. After this meeting, family members attend two classes based on age and sometimes gender.
Toddlers, beginning at age eighteen months, attend a nursery class. This is considered a real class and while the children do spend time playing (during which time they are taught to share and to treat others kindly) they also have a ten-minute lesson on a very basic gospel principle and a ten-minute singing time in which they learn church songs.
Children ages three to twelve attend the Primary. There are two parts to the Primary program, both designed to help children learn about Jesus Christ and to prepare for baptism or to learn how to keep the covenants they made at baptism. Sharing time is held for all the children at once or in two parts by age. During Sharing Time, the adult female presidency of the Primary teaches the children gospel songs and a short participatory lesson on an annual theme. During class time, children are grouped by age and receive lessons appropriate to their age. These lessons are scripture-based and surprisingly in-depth. The children younger than eight have lessons designed to help them prepare to be baptized and learn how to make the baptism decision, since it is a decision. The children older than eight learn to keep the covenants (promises) they made when they were baptized.
Before a child is baptized, he meets with the bishop (lay pastor) to be interviewed. The bishop makes certain the child has sufficient knowledge of the gospel and a testimony. Prior to turning eight, the children have been taught they have a responsibility to pray and ask God if the church is true, to gain a testimony of Jesus Christ and of God, and to begin keeping the commandments. The bishop’s gentle interview is designed to make sure they have done all this and to see that baptism is their choice.
Baptism is a tremendous responsibility and one Mormons do not take lightly. It is the turning point—but not the end—of their Christian journey. Mormons believe that salvation is a life-long and even eternal process, not one that happens in one instant and then is over with. To be a Christian requires a life of constant improvement in our ability to keep the commandments, which Jesus Christ taught us is required if we love Him. It means to be continually improving our ability to be more like Jesus Christ, to repent of our sins, and to prepare to return home to God.