Baptism for the Dead
Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church), received revelations from the Lord saying that we must be baptized to return to God. Also, this baptism has to be performed properly, with authority of the priesthood (or the power to act in God’s name).The commandment that we must be baptized to return to God doesn’t extend only to the living. Countless people have died without knowing Christ or what Mormons see as the restored, complete gospel, the only true gospel on earth. For the sake of these countless people, the Lord also revealed to Joseph Smith the doctrine of baptism for the dead. Or, to put it another way, the Lord commanded members of the Mormon Church to be baptized on behalf of, or by proxy for, the dead. This way, people who have died without knowing the gospel can choose to accept it in the spirit world and fulfill the ordinance. Again, these spirits would have every choice to accept or reject it. Mormon doctrine does not and never states that people baptized by proxy have to accept the Mormon baptism – all baptism for the dead does is give them the opportunity to make the choice. Mormon temples are the only places where baptisms for the dead may be performed. The baptism is performed in a special font, created especially and only for this purpose. The font is always constructed symbolically on the back of twelve oxen, sculptures done in stone or bronze. These represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Mormons believe that they aren’t the first to perform baptisms for the dead, but that Jesus Christ’s original Church also performed the ordinance. In 1 Corinthians 15:29 it says, “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?” This statement is difficult to explain for those who don’t believe in the ordinance of baptism for the dead. It almost seems nonsensical. But Mormons also profess the resurrection and that God cares for all people, not just those who had the opportunity to hear of Him. After all, isn’t He the God of both living and dead?
In 1 Peter 3: 18-20, Peter tells us that the Lord “also . . . went and preached unto the spirits in prison,” which would indicate a very concrete Godly concern for those already passed beyond the world, a concern for their salvation. This would seem to indicate that those who don’t receive salvation in their lives can at least be given the Word after death. Peter further states, in 1 Peter 4:6, “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.” God is not a cruel God, not according to Mormon belief. In the first set of scriptures, 1 Peter 3: 18-20, we see that at least some of the spirits in prison actually died in the flood. Jesus, therefore, didn’t restrict his Word only to those righteous spirits who’d lived wonderful and admirable lives in their faith (whatever it may have been). He spoke to the openly wicked as well, those who, in the physical world, had been destroyed because of their sin. His care extended to them as well.
We see, then, that God’s love isn’t conditional, and that He wants to give us as many opportunities to find true happiness as He can. This is why we practice baptism for the dead.