Why Are Latter-day Saints So Obsessed with Genealogical Research? The Answer Starts with the Mormon Concept of Baptism and Priesthood.
Have you noticed over the past decade or so the increased interest in genealogical or family history research. This fascination is fueled to some extent by the growth of companies, organizations, and websites that trace people’s ancestries, usually for a fee. Many people are naturally curious about who their ancestors were, where they came from, and their ethnicities. It’s a bit funny because many people who were taught and always believed they were of a certain heritage have discovered their family history was not what they imagined.
It is no coincidence that some of the largest such genealogy companies have their origins and headquarters in Utah. The reason is that about 70% of that state’s population are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormons). The non-profit genealogical societies and for profit companies do a service for all their clients, but especially provide a resource for the LDS. What is that service? Finding the names of dead people who they can baptize by proxy.
Most Christians are surprised to learn that a religious movement as seemingly Christian as the LDS practices baptism for the dead, but they indeed do so. Of course, the belief that Mormonism is an authentic Christian system is false, as we have often shown in this newsletter and on our website (see: Mormonism Versus Christianity – Can They Both Be Christian? Part 1 – [http://www.marketfaith.org/mormonism-versus-christianity-can-they-both-be-christian-part-1] and Mormonism Versus Christianity – Can They Both Be Christian? Part 2 – [http://www.marketfaith.org/mormonism-versus-christianity-can-they-both-be-christian-part-2]). We will begin, in this first of a two installment article, to examine the Mormon doctrines and practices of baptism, baptism for the dead, and its supposed priesthood authority. The analysis of these key LDS beliefs will help us understand why baptism for the dead is so important to Mormons, the issue which we will address more fully in part 2.
The LDS Doctrine of Baptism
In my last article in this newsletter I addressed the question of whether or not water baptism is an essential element in the Christian Gospel and necessary for salvation (see it at: Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? – [http://www.marketfaith.org/2017/07/is-baptism-necessary-for-salvation]). We pointed out that some Christian groups, as well as many pseudo-Christian cults, teach that baptism (usually as performed only in and by their movement) is indispensable for salvation. Our conclusion was that the Bible does not require water baptism in order to have the assurance of salvation and eternal life, regardless of the mode by which it is performed. We analyzed several of the key biblical passages often used by baptismal advocates and determined none of them can be used to prove the need for water baptism. Salvation, or justification, is entirely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8,9). It is completely a result of people repenting of their sins and receiving Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. That being said, we also affirmed that baptism is an important part of the discipling process (sanctification) of young Christians, and should always be encouraged for new converts.
One major religious movement we mentioned that teaches the need for water baptism is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/ Mormons). The LDS’ current authoritative text book for instructing new converts in their faith is entitled Gospel Principles (GP 2011 edition – found entirely online at https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles?lang=eng ). That handbook states the following reasons, at length, for LDS baptism:
We must Be Baptized for the Remission of Our Sins
When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, repent, and are baptized, our sins are forgiven through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. From the scriptures we learn that John the Baptist “did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). The Apostle Peter taught, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Following Paul’s conversion, Ananias said to him, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16).
We must Be Baptized to Become Members of the Church of Jesus Christ (i.e.: LDS)
“All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized … that … have truly repented of all their sins … shall be received by baptism into his church” (D&C 20:37).
We must Be Baptized Before We Can Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost
The Lord said, “If thou wilt turn unto me, and … repent of all thy transgressions [sins], and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, … ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Pearl of Great Price – Moses 6:52).
We must Be Baptized to Show Obedience
Jesus Christ was without sin, yet He was baptized. He said His baptism was necessary “to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). The prophet Nephi explained that the Lord told him, “Follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do … with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism” (Book of Mormon – 2 Nephi 31:12-13).
We must Be Baptized to Enter the Celestial Kingdom
Jesus said, “Whoso believeth in me, and is baptized … shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned” (3 Nephi 11:33-34). Baptism is the gateway through which we enter the path to the celestial kingdom (see Book of Mormon – 2 Nephi 31:17-18).
Baptism Gives Us a New Beginning
With baptism we begin a new way of life. That is why we call it a rebirth. Jesus said that unless we are born of the water and of the Spirit, we cannot enter the kingdom of God (see John 3:3-5). This principle was explained clearly to Adam: “Inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten” (Pearl of Great Price – Moses 6:59).
(Gospel Principles [online] © 1978, 2009, 2011 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. Chapter 20, pp. 114-119)
Notice the LDS writers refer to a couple of New Testament verses we studied in the previous article on baptism: Acts 2:38 and John 3:3-5 (both are quoted from the King James Version – the only official LDS translation). In that article we demonstrated conclusively that neither of those passages teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation. John 3:3-5 does not even mention it.
However, most of the scriptural support the LDS writers cite is not from the Bible at all. The other verses quoted are referenced as: D&C 20:37; Moses 6:52; 2 Nephi 31:12-13; 31:17-18; and Moses 6:59. Those, of course, are not from the Bible, but are references from the three LDS extra-biblical canonical scriptures: The Book of Mormon; The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C); and the Pearl of Great Price. The validity of those LDS scriptures has been demonstrated by evangelical scholars to be nil. We will not explore that issue here, but for an evaluation of LDS scriptures see: The Book of Mormon: Is It “Another Testament of Jesus Christ?” (http://www.marketfaith.org/the-book-of-mormon-is-it-another-testament-of-jesus-christ).
Additional LDS Scriptures referenced in that Gospel Principles – chapter 20 – that further explain the LDS doctrinal position include:
Purpose and Necessity of Baptism
4 Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world. 5 And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized , yea, even by water! 6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water? 7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments. (Book of Mormon – 2 Nephi 31:4-7)
How to Perform a Baptism
21 And the Lord said unto him: I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven. 22 And again the Lord called others, and said unto them likewise; and he gave unto them power to baptize. And he said unto them: On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you. 23 Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words, and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall ye baptize them – Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them. 24 And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying:
25 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. 26 And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water. 27 And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one. (Book of Mormon – 3 Nephi 11:21-27)
72 Baptism is to be administered in the following manner unto all those who repent – 73 The person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize, shall go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and shall say, calling him or her by name: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the… 74 Then shall he immerse him or her in the water, and come forth again out of the water. (D&C 20:72-74)
Baptism Is Not Required of Little Children; Baptism Is Required of All Who Repent
8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin;… 9 And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children. 10 Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach – repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. 11 And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins. 12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism! (Book of Mormon – Moroni 8:8-12)
71 No one can be received into the church of Christ unless he has arrived unto the years of accountability before God, and is capable of repentance. 72 Baptism is to be administered in the following manner unto all those who repent – (D&C 20:71-72)
Baptism Is Cleansing, Entering into a Covenant of Eternal Life
14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the… 15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness… 16 And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me. (Book of Mormon – Alma 7:14-16)
Baptism and the Mormon Priesthood
From the above authoritative quotes, it is clear that the LDS teaches water baptism by immersion as do many other denominations. They also believe it is essential for full salvation as some others do. However, the LDS maintains that for baptism to be effectual for remitting (forgiving) sins, it must be performed by a Mormon man ordained to what they term the Aaronic Priesthood. That Priesthood is normally bestowed on young faithful Mormon boys when they reach the age of twelve. The other, and higher, level of LDS priesthood is called the Melchizedek Priesthood and is bestowed on young men at age nineteen. Girls and women are not ordained to either priesthood.
So then, if someone has been baptized by immersion in any church, such as Baptist, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Christian Church, or any other than the LDS, it is regarded as invalid. The convert must be rebaptized under the proper Aaronic Priesthood authority, usually in a special baptismal font located in a local LDS congregation (Ward) building.
Our main conclusion at this point is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of baptism is totally unbiblical and is based on flimsy or false scriptural evidence. To start with, the LDS teaching that baptism is essential cannot be sustained from the Bible. In my last article I showed that those churches and denominations that require baptism for salvation cannot justify that position biblically (see: Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? – [http://www.marketfaith.org/2017/07/is-baptism-necessary-for-salvation]). Therefore, Joseph Smith Jr. simply invented new scriptures to reinforce his theology on this and other controversial points.
Also, as we have shown in previous articles, the Mormon priesthood (Aaronic and Melchizedek) has no basis in the Bible – Old Testament or New. We have examined this subject in earlier articles (see: The Mormon “Twelve Step Program” to Exaltation: Part 1 – [http://www.marketfaith.org/2012/09/the-mormon-%E2%80%9Ctwelve-step-program%E2%80%9D-to-exaltation-part-1]). Nonetheless, let’s review that issue here.
To start with, Melchizedek (“Zedek is my king” or “My king is righteous”) was a man mentioned in Genesis 14:18-20 as the King of Salem (later Jerusalem), and was called a priest of “God Most High” (El Elyon). Melchizedek blessed Abraham, who apparently regarded God Most High as equivalent to the LORD God he worshipped. Melchizedek is only mentioned one other time in the Old Testament, in Psalm 110:4, where it is promised that a messianic king would have a priesthood like his that would stand forever.
“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’” (Psalm 110:4 NASB)
In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author asserts that the promise of Psalm 110:4 was fulfilled only in the person of Jesus Christ.
5 “So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’; 6 just as He says also in another passage, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’ 7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, 10 being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:5-10 NASB)
19 “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:19-20 NASB) (See also Hebrews 7:1-21)
Those passages clearly indicate that Melchizedek was a type (i.e. a foreshadowing form or kind) of Christ and that only Christ can or ever will have that eternal priesthood. That fact makes untenable the LDS’ assertion that the lost Melchizedek priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in June of 1829 by the spirits of Peter, James, and John, and that it can be held by Mormons today. That priesthood was never lost, and only Jesus holds it in perpetuity.
The other priesthood authorized in the Old Testament was the Levitical Priesthood, first bestowed on Moses’ brother Aaron. (Note: Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, was called a “priest of Midian,” but nothing is said about what that entailed – Exodus 2:18.) The Levitical Priesthood was strictly reserved for those Hebrews of the tribe of Levi (see: Numbers 3:5-10 [below]; 8:5-22; and 38:21).
5 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may serve him. 7 They shall perform the duties for him and for the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, to do the service of the tabernacle. 8 They shall also keep all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, along with the duties of the sons of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle. 9 You shall thus give the Levites to Aaron and to his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the sons of Israel. 10 So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons that they may keep their priesthood, but the layman who comes near shall be put to death.” (Numbers 3:5-10 NASB)
The purpose for this priesthood was originally to serve as the Lord’s ministers in the tabernacle, and later in the Jerusalem temple. The minimum age to serve was 25 years old, and the mandatory age for retirement was 50 (Num. 8:23-25). That priesthood, however, was rendered obsolete by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and historically ceased to function in AD 70 with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans.
This biblical description of the Aaronic Priesthood is totally contrary to what is taught by the LDS, which claims it was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829 by the spirit of John the Baptist. Mormons do have temples, but they function nothing like the ancient Hebrew tabernacle and the Jerusalem Temple. Likewise, LDS Aaronic priests perform no duties that are anything similar to what was done by the ancient Levitical priests.
Our conclusions in this part one are as follows.
First, the doctrine of water baptism, as taught and practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is not biblically valid. They are based primarily on faulty interpretations of biblical passages and the spurious extra-biblical LDS scriptures written by Joseph Smith, Jr. and other Mormon church presidents.
Second, we conclude that both the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods have no corresponding offices in the historic Christian church. That is true whether they are the priesthoods described and prescribed in the Old Testament Bible, or those fallaciously endowed upon and practiced by men in the LDS. The New Testament says that all true believers in Christ are, in a practical sense, “Priests” in service to the one High Priest, Jesus Christ.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 NASB)
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:17 NASB)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews. 4:14-15 NASB) (See also Hebrews 5:1-10; 7:26-28; 8:1-3; 9:11)
By now you may be asking, “What does all this information about Mormon baptism and priesthoods have to do with genealogy?” In the next installment we will explain how they relate to baptism for the dead in the Mormon system, and analyze if biblically any of it has validity.
© 2017 Tal Davis