One of the news stories this past week was about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints randomly performing proxy baptisms for the dead for Holocaust victims. (As the linked Newsroom article notes, this practice is “strictly prohibited.”)
Stories like this likely raise questions about why Mormons perform baptisms for the dead.
It may help first to understand that Mormons believe that baptism by immersion and the proper priesthood authority is essential for salvation. Just as Jesus Christ was baptized, by immersion, by one who had authority, we believe in following His example in receiving this ordinance. We also believe God is a just God and allows all to have the opportunity to receive this ordinance, even if they didn’t have that chance in their mortal lifetime.
From lds.org on baptisms for the dead:
“Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf.”
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The following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson really sums up why baptisms for the dead are significant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
“By identifying our ancestors and performing for them the saving ordinances they could not themselves perform, we are testifying of the infinite reach of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” –“The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus”
“‘Because all on the earth do not have the opportunity to accept the gospel during mortality, the Lord has authorized baptisms performed by proxy for the dead. Therefore, those who accept the gospel in the spirit world may qualify for entrance into God’s kingdom’ (See Guide to the Scriptures). One thing that should be made perfectly clear about Mormon baptisms for the dead is that each deceased soul has the personal choice to accept or reject it. There is nothing in Mormonism that states that the person who is being baptized by proxy must accept this ordinance; he or she is simply given the opportunity to choose.” – from LDSChurchTemples article on baptisms for the dead (unofficial site)
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“Through genealogical research Mormons indentify the names of deceased family members, who never had the chance to be baptize in this life, and then serve as proxy on their behalf to have them baptized. Baptisms for the dead are performed in LDS temples. This process does not then make the deceased Mormon. We believe that once a proxy ordinance is done for a person who has died they are given the opportunity to either accept or reject the baptism. Although some members have had spiritual experiences confirming to them that a proxy baptism was accepted, most of the time the end result is not known.” -from Well-behaved Mormon Woman, Kathryn
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“How are baptisms for the dead performed?
“The ordinances take place in small, ornately decorated pools called “baptismal fonts,” located in Mormon temples. The person acting as the proxy—an observant Mormon as young as 12—enters the font, where a man in the priesthood raises his right hand and utters a short prayer including the name of the dead ancestor, which appears on a screen the baptizer reads from. Then, the proxy is briefly submerged in water, and the ordinance is repeated, this time using a new ancestor’s name.
“Despite claims by the morbid and uninformed, there are no corpses involved in the practice, and the whole thing closely resembles convert baptisms performed every week in LDS chapels [church buildings].” from this BuzzFeed article explaining baptisms for the dead
Here is a list of several articles at lds.org that explain more about proxy baptisms for the dead and Mormon temple work. (Taken from the index entry at lds.org)
- “The Redemption of the Dead”Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, Nov. 1975, 97–99
We must not shirk our responsibility to provide gospel ordinances to both the living and the dead.
- “The Spirit of Elijah”Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, Nov. 1994, 84–87
Service in the temple together is a sublime activity for a family. It provides its own sustaining motivation and verification of the truth of this unique work.
- “Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity”Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Ensign, Mar. 1988, 7–11
Is it true that because Latter-day Saints practice baptism for the dead, they are not Christian?
- “I Have a Question”Robert L. Millet, Ensign, Aug. 1987, 19–21
Was baptism for the dead a non-Christian practice in New Testament times, or was it a practice of the Church of Jesus Christ, as it is today?
- “Proxy Baptism”John A. Tvedtnes, Ensign, Feb. 1977, 86
In his epistle to the Corinthians, Paul cited the early Christian practice of proxy baptism for the dead as evidence of a future resurrection and judgment.
Mormon Newsroom article about baptisms for the dead
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Proxy baptisms for the dead take place in Mormon temples. (Baptisms for the living take place in baptismal fonts in church buildings.) A simple way to think about it is that a temple is a place where we believe earth and heaven can be symbolically connected. Christ bridged the gap between earth and heaven through His Atoning sacrifice. “What Jesus did during the hours between His death and Resurrection provides the doctrinal foundation for building temples.” – Spencer J. Condie, “The Savior’s Visit to the Spirit World”
Learn more about why Mormons build temples in the video below.