Many people are unfamiliar with what actually takes place during a worship service in a chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Research also shows that there are many people who feel that they are not welcomed inside an LDS chapel to worship with Latter-day Saints to be able to observe for themselves that Mormon worship is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is often the basis for misunderstandings among communities where Latter-day Saints live and leads many to believe that the close-knit ties of the Latter-day Saint community is both clannish and secretive. Part of this misconception may be caused by the differences between worship services in LDS chapels and temple worship. All are invited to attend services in LDS chapels, but only those members of The Church of Jesus Christ who are deemed worthy and hold a valid temple recommend are permitted to enter the sacred temple – the House of the Lord.
The infographic below is an excellent comparison of worship in an LDS chapel and temple worship.
I find it interesting that all around us, we find attempts to assert and define authority. Drivers in cars dashing down 3rd street will suddenly acknowledge the flashing red and blue lights behind them and pull to the side of the road, admitting their breach of the speed limit while taking the ticket the police officer gives to them. State legislators will vote on bills, knowing that their state’s constitution has given them the authority, as elected officials, to express an opinion on whether or not the bill ought to be mandated in the state. A child may sulk to his room after being requested by his mother to do so, after being verbally aggressive with his sibling. He may do it grudgingly, but he will know that he ought to hearken to the demands of his mother, a parental authority in the home.
In the spiritual realm, authority has been a sticky issue since the death of the Apostles. Many priests or bishops from different denominations claim to be the recipient of authority from deity to interpret scripture, preach, or baptize, based on their reading and comprehension of scripture and the academic degree associated with their study. While anyone who commits such time—and often their lives—to such research ought to be admired and respected for his or her efforts, members of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints (often misnamed Mormons) believe the power to administer doctrines and ordinances pertaining to the full works of God has to given by Him: “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebrews 5:4). It is a tremendous blessing to know that the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith (the first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) received this power and authority from the individuals who had administered the gospel after Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, having been given power and authority by Him.
John the Baptist returned first, and gave Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the power and keys of the Aaronic Priesthood—which is “to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:20) and is that same power held by the Levite priests of the Law of Moses, which is how John the Baptist had this authority himself.
After John the Baptist restored the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, Peter, James, and John all returned to the earth to pass on the authority and keys which had been granted them by the Redeemer Himself (Matthew 10:1, John 15:16) of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which power holds ”the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:18–19). This priesthood has the authority to confirm those baptized with the Gift of the Holy Ghost and to administer the higher ordinances of the Church.
I feel so blessed to be able to affirm that Latter-day Saint males who hold the priesthood can trace their authority through a line of specific individuals back to Lord Himself. What a wonderful confirmation of the Lord’s hand in His work.
Too often have I felt the presence of God as many works have been administered by the priesthood—including baptism, confirmation, the sealing (eternal marriage) of a man and a woman with the promise of eternal life together, etc.—to deny this power. I have been blessed countless times to receive guidance from inspiration given to priesthood holders who have given me a blessing through the laying on of hands. That same divine witness has come to me as I have administered ordinances and blessings to others myself.
Rhett Wilkinson is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), a Utah State University athletics correspondent for the Ogden Standard- Examiner, and serves on the editorial staff at the Utah Statesman.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often misnamed the Mormon Church) teaches that homosexuality is a sin. However, as the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage has come to the forefront of society, the “Mormon” approach to homosexuality has changed somewhat, though the doctrine is the same.
Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) believe “the family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World“). Mormon doctrine teaches that the family unit is intended to be eternal, and God has decreed that families are to be headed by a man and a woman who are married.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” goes on to say, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Latter-day Saints believe that men and women have complementary characteristics which God has given to them to provide the best possible environments for His children to grow and learn of His gospel. No matter how wonderful a woman is, she cannot be a father; no matter how wonderful a man is, he cannot be a mother.
The opposition of Mormon doctrine to homosexuality is not based on bigotry or ignorance. There is a real, fundamental reason that Mormon doctrine teaches that homosexuality is a sin: it is in opposition to God’s plan. Mormon doctrine does not teach that those who choose to practice homosexuality are evil, bad people. On the contrary, Latter-day Saints are taught to be loving and accepting of the person, while not supportive of the action they believe to be a sin.
Sadly, this teaching gets warped. Those who firmly believe that homosexuality is a sin often find shame if they have these feelings or if they discover that a loved one has these feelings. Mormon doctrine actually teaches there is no shame in these feelings. While the LDS Church still stands in opposition to most of the world’s feelings about homosexuality (in that they do not believe people are born gay and they do not believe homosexual feelings will exist in the next life), they recognize that a person cannot help having these feelings. A person can, however, choose how to react to these feelings. If they do not act on any of their homosexual feelings, they have committed no sin.
For anyone who does not agree with Latter-day Saint beliefs, this can seem a harsh reaction. Why should a person who cannot control his or her feelings be condemned to celibacy and loneliness? Well, Mormon doctrine teaches that abstinence before marriage and fidelity inside of marriage is the standard for everyone. There are heterosexual Latter-day Saints who never have the opportunity to marry. The same standard is expected of them as of any homosexual Latter-day Saint. This is because it is God’s commandment, not man’s. It will not change.
Latter-day Saints who struggle with homosexual feelings often feel shame and isolation. They should not. Help and support are available. A wonderful pamphlet has been put out by the LDS Church on homosexuality. It is titled “God Loveth His Children” and reminds all Latter-day Saints that they are beloved children of God. The atonement of Jesus Christ can heal all wounds and all suffering, and many have found that when they accept themselves for who they are, they feel the love of God and of Jesus Christ. This does not make their struggles go away, but it does give them the strength to cope.
Mormon doctrine teaches that all who are faithful and endure to the end will be join-heirs with Christ in God’s kingdom (Romans 8:17). While many struggle with homosexual feelings or with being alone in this life, they are assured that if, despite their struggles, they remain faithful to God’s commandments, they will receive all blessings which other faithful followers of Christ will receive.
While Jesus was walking with His twelve apostles on the coasts of Caesarea, Philippi, the Lord asked them, “Whom say ye that I am?” Without any trace of doubt or hesitation, Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15–16). His confession was genuine. That inspired declaration of faith and conviction by Christ’s chief apostle has, for hundreds of years, defined the faith of millions of Christians around the world. After the Lord’s ascension, Peter testified to the people that Jesus “was foreordained from the foundation of the world.”
“Whom say ye that I am?” That same question has generated various responses from different organizations who profess faith in the Savior. A person’s response to this soul-searching question does not only reveal how much he knows about Jesus Christ, but more importantly, it also manifests his personal testimony of the divinity of Savior and His role in the salvation of mankind.
Today, religious organizations hold different views regarding the divinity and mission of Jesus Christ. Like some people in Peter’s day, many today see Jesus merely as one of the prophets, an influential leader or philosopher. He was a carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary, so they say. He was a great teacher. Yet, because of His teachings, many considered him the greatest offender, as both Peter and Paul later testified referring to the prophesy of the prophet Isaiah, how the Christ—“the stone which the builders disallowed”—was “made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient” (See 1 Peter 2:7–8; Romans 9:33; Isaiah 8:14–15).
John’s own testimony of the Lord shows the impact on one’s salvation of having a correct understanding of the Lord’s character: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declares in unison with Peter and other apostles of old that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He was with God from the beginning. He was the Supreme Creator, and all things were created by Him under the direction of the Father. In the great council of the Gods, he presented the Plan of Salvation whereby all of the Father’s children would have the opportunity to come to the earth, be tested, and return to their heavenly home in God’s presence.
As the only begotten of the Father, Jesus Christ was chosen from the beginning to atone for the sins of all people. He possessed all the attributes which were necessary for Him to accomplish this mission. He was a God from the beginning, yet His personal development was gradual. The scriptures testify that He grew from grace to grace until He received the fulness of His Father.
Jesus Christ was the God of Israel, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Great I AM. He appeared to Abraham, Moses, and other ancient prophets before His mortal birth. When the Lord commanded Moses to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, He told him what he should say to the people: “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:14). During his ministry among the Jews, He declared to the arrogant Pharisees: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
When Paul delivered his discourse among the Jews, he declared that Jesus Christ was the God who accompanied them on their journey out of Egypt. Paul reminded them of how their fathers “did all eat the same spiritual meat and drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ“(1 Corinthians 10:1–4).
Latter-day Saints maintain that Jesus Christ offered His life to atone for the sins of mankind. Nobody could take His life against His will. The Lord said, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17–18). He laid down His life out of love for His Father and for all mankind. But having power over death, He rose triumphantly the third day and ministered to the saints of the early Church. After His ascension, He appeared to His people in the Americas and ministered to them for three days as a resurrected, glorified being.
In this glorified and resurrected state, He, together with God the Father, appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820, in answer to the young boy’s prayer to know which church to join. Several years later, the Savior appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inside the Kirtland Temple to accept the holy edifice. To this day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declares that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and that He continues to communicate His will to God’s children through a living prophet.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the Mormon Church) who hold current temple recommends can attend the temple as often as they are able. The first time they go through the temple, they go through for themselves. After that, they are able to participate in ordinances for those who passed away without the opportunity of receiving the ordinances themselves. Each person who attends the temple must hold a current temple recommend. A temple recommend is obtained by interviewing with ecclesiastical leaders to verify an individual’s worthiness.
In the basement of each temple is a baptistry. Baptism by immersion is the first ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Converts into the Mormon Church and children who have reached the age of 8 are baptized for a remission of their sins and are able to become members of the Mormon Church.
Once a person has reached the age of 12, he or she is able to receive a limited-use recommend from his or her bishop to enter the temple. This recommend allows these individuals to participate in the ordinance of baptism for the dead. The ordinance is performed in the same manner, by immersion, as it is when a living person is baptized into the church. A man who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood performs the baptism, while two witnesses watch to be sure the ordinance is completed correctly. There is also a recorder keeping track of the all the ordinances performed. Following the proxy baptism is a proxy confirmation where two men, also holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, confirm the person a member of the church and give them the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the second ordinance of the gospel.
Prior to serving missions for the Church or to getting married, Latter-day Saints have the blessing of going through temple and receiving further ordinances. The first time they attend, they receive these blessings and ordinances for themselves. After that, these ordinances are performed by proxy for those who are dead, just as the baptisms are. The ordinances are always the same, and by attending often participants can gain increased understanding of all the covenants they have made.
The ordinance following baptism and confirmation is the endowment. Brigham Young explained the endowment by saying, “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” [Discourses of Brigham Young, 1941, pg. 416].
The first part of the endowment is the initiatory, where individuals are symbolically washed and anointed with only a drop of water and oil. These ordinances were first revealed anciently and are recorded in the Old Testament in Exodus 40. After participants have received their own initiatory, they put on the holy garments for the first time. They receive a promise that obedience to the commandments and covenants they have made will protect them spiritually throughout their lives.
Following the initiatory comes the endowment, during which individuals learn about their true relationship to God through His dealings with His children, beginning with the creation. Participants are “given instruction relative to the purposes and plans of the Lord in creating and peopling the earth and in exalting His children in the life to come” [“Some Things You Need to Know About the Temple,” Elray Christiansen, June 1971, New Era ]. Elder Talmage, who served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained further that instruction is received regarding the significance and sequence of past dispensations. Members receive ordinances and make covenants to observe the law of chastity, to devote talents and material means to spreading the gospel, to consecrate all they have to the Lord, and to be charitable to those around them. Obedience to these covenants brings specific blessings.
Bruce R. McConkie taught that, “Recipients are endowed with power from on High…they receive knowledge relative to the Lord’s purposes and plans.”
After receiving their endowment, members of the church are able to enter into the celestial room of the temple. This room represents the Celestial Kingdom where, through our obedience to the laws and ordinances of Heavenly Father, we can once again return to live with Him again. This room is beautiful and peaceful, and those who have received their endowment are welcome to sit in there as they ponder, pray, and continue to learn more about the gospel.
By following Jesus Christ and keeping the commandments of our Heavenly Father, we can qualify to live with them again in the life after this. In addition to this marvelous blessing, in the temple we can also be bound together as eternal families when we are sealed together. When couples are married in the temple, they receive the promise of an eternal marriage, and all children born to them receive those blessings as well.
If a couple is married outside the temple, they may have the blessing of being sealed together after they have received their endowments and have been sealed to each other. If they have young children, those children are may be sealed to them.
Sealings can also be performed by proxy for those who died without being sealed to their families and spouses. The sealing is performed by one who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood. As couples kneel across an altar from each other, they make covenants with each other and the Lord to serve Him and to be faithful to each other. There are mirrors on opposite sides of the altar. Couples can look into one mirror and back into the other where they will see infinite images of themselves. This represents their ancestors that came before them, their future posterity, and the link they share as eternal families.
The blessings and ordinances of the temple are very sacred to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as such, they are not open for view to all the world, but rather are saved for those who qualify for the blessings through righteous living.
In 1842, John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, wrote a letter to Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and asked him about the basic beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is officially known. In the early days of the LDS Church, its members received a great deal of persecution. A surprising amount of misperception and completely false ideas raged about their practices and beliefs, and many of these continue into the present day. Below is Joseph Smith’s response to Wentworth. This list of the basic doctrines of the LDS Church have become canonized as the thirteen Articles of Faith. Each is briefly explained.
1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
Mormon doctrine states that the Godhead is made up of three separate, distinct beings. God and Jesus Christ each have bodies of flesh and bone, while the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, able to speak to the hearts of men and to testify of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ directly to men’s souls. Other Christian faiths adhere to the Nicene Creed, which stated that God is unknowable and has no body. However, the Bible clearly states that man was made in the image of God, and Mormons (or Latter-day Saints believe this to be literally true. In addition, Mormons believe that the members of the Godhead are one in purpose, while other believe the Trinity to be literally one, just different manifestations of the same all-knowing, yet unknowable being.
2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
Latter-day Saints do not subscribe to the doctrine of Original Sin. While they concede that Adam and Eve transgressed God’s law by partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we suffer no eternal consequences for that action. They became mortal, as we are. We will all suffer death, but through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we will all be resurrected and our bodies and souls will be reunited for eternity. adam and Eve were cast out of the presence of God, and we are also not worthy to enter His presence. Also through the power of Christ’s Atonement, however, each of us will be brought back before the presence of God to be judged according to our choices. Thus, we will be punished for our own sins and choices, but we will suffer no eternal consequences for Adam and Eve’s choices.
3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
Mormons believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ was a very real thing. Jesus Christ was the literal son of God, and the only one capable of taking upon Himself the sins of the world. He paid the price for our sins that we might, if we obey His commandments, be worthy to return to the presence of God and dwell with Him in heaven eternally. Jesus Christ set the standards for qualifying for the power of the Atonement. We must obey His commandments and receive the ordinances of His gospel as He set forth in order to be cleansed from our sins and iniquities.
4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The first principle of the gospel is faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and is the Savior of the world. Once a person believes this, he must repent of his sins through humility, restitution, and finally, by baptism. Mormon doctrine teaches that baptism must be by immersion, as it was when Jesus Christ Himself was baptized. The ordinance of baptism by immersion is symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also symbolic of the death of our old, sinful self, and the rebirth of a new person who has taken upon himself the name of Christ. Once a person has been baptized, he must be confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is done by those who are in authority, who hold the priesthood, by the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost cleanses our spirits by fire, as discussed in the New Testament. When you have the gift of the Holy Ghost, you are entitled to His protection if you are living worthily of it. In addition, you are entitled to personal revelation, with the Holy Ghost speaking to your heart and mind.
5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
Latter-day Saints believe that the power of God, or the priesthood, was restored to the earth by those who held its keys last: Peter, James, and John, and John the Baptist. This priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and to Sidney Rigdon. Any many who serves God and preaches in His name must be called by the power of the priesthood, which is conferred to those who are worthy by the laying on of hands.
6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
When Jesus Christ was on the earth, He organized His Church. When He restored His gospel to the earth in 1830, it was the same structure and organization. Each position which existed in the Primitve (or Early) Church exists in the Mormon Church today.
7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interprettion of tongues, and so forth.
Just as Jesus Christ’s Church was restored in its original organization, the gifts of the spirit which existed in the Early Church are present in the restored church today. These gifts are given through the Holy Ghost and through the priesthood of God. Many Latter-day Saints testify to personal experiences with all of these gifts, especially the gift of healing through the power of the priesthood.
8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
Mormons are often accused of replacing the Bible with the Book of Mormon. In fact, Mormons accept the Bible as the word of God. However, they also recognize that many plain and simple truths have been lost from its pages over the course of hundreds of years and through the designs of some evil men. Principles which were once accepted with joy and clearly understood are now the subject of much debate in many Christian denominations. Some of these include baptism of infants, the resurrection of the dead, baptism for the dead, and many others. The fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored through the translation of the Book of Mormon (a second witness of Jesus Christ and His dealings with the inhabitants of the ancient Americas) and through continuing modern revelation.
9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
Continuing revelation is an aspect of Mormon doctrine which receives much criticism from the world. However, the scriptures show that God always calls a prophet to speak to and lead His people and to call them to repentance. Our day is no different. Joseph Smith was called in the modern days to restore the fulnes of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He did this through revelation from heaven. Each prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since Joseph Smith has continued to receive revelation from God. Prophets will continue to receive revelation for the inhabitants of this earth until Jesus Christ comes again.
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
Mormon doctrine takes the scriptures to be both literal and figurative. Most prophecies are filled in both ways, but, whereas many Christian denominations take nearly everything in the Bible to be figurative, Mormons believe these things to be literal. Latter-day Saints believe that the Jews who were scattered thousands of years ago will be gathered together again. The New Jerusalem spoken of in the New Testament will actually be built, and it will be built upon the American continent. Mormons also believe that Jesus Christ was literally resurrected from the dead and that He lives now and resides at God’s right hand. However, He will return to the earth, in His resurrected body, and will reign upon this earth. Lastly, this earth will be cleansed from wickedness and will be exalted.
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
The early Saints were heavily persecuted for their beliefs, not the least of which was taking so many prophecies literally. Joseph Smith defended the right to the Saints’ freedom of religion, as allowed under the United States’ Constitution. He also believed this freedom should be extended to all those who wished to worship, however they wanted, as long as their practices did not infringe upon the rights of others.
12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
Latter-day Saints have always been taught to respect the laws of the land they live in. Only God’s law transcends the law of man, but to maintain order and peace, all members are responsible to obey the laws of the land they live in and to be a peaceful, respectful people.
13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
In addition to being obedient, Mormons are not only encouraged, but are held responsible by doctrine, to seek out and uphold the virtuous things in this world. They are commanded to lead righteous lives and to share the goodness of their lives with those around them in love and happiness. Though there are hard times in everyone’s lives, these things can be endured through the hope of salvation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church) has unique doctrine about missionary work for the dead. Though this practice is referred to briefly in the New Testament (“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), it is a very controversial verse of scripture among different Christian denominations.
Mormon doctrine teaches that many plain and simple truths have been lost from the Bible over the course of hundreds of years. Some of these truths were lost through translation, some through the transmission of text, and some by the designs of evil men. Mormons believe that after the death of the Apostles, the authority to act in God’s name was lost from the earth. The Church fell into confusion about who had authority to interpret text and to receive revelation. This led to various councils, like the Council at Nicaea in 325 A.D. Here “learned” men discussed various doctrines until a consensus was arrived at. This is not how the church of Jesus Christ operates. Jesus Christ gave direct instruction and God has always given direct revelation to His prophets concerning His will. This knowledge and authority was lost from the earth for several hundred years, due to the wickedness of men. It was restored, however, in 1830, through another prophet of God, Joseph Smith. Now all the doctrines which have caused confusion in the past are clarified, including that of resurrection and baptism for the dead.
Common sense will testify to the truth of the Mormon doctrine of baptism for the dead. Anyone believing in a just God must concede that some principle is necessary for those who have died without an opportunity of hearing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While all Christians believe that one must believe in Jesus Christ and accept Him as the Savior in order to be saved, what of those who never even heard of Jesus Christ during their lifetimes? Would a just God condemn these people to endless misery through no fault of their own? Of course not. This is where Mormon baptism for the dead comes in.
Mormons believe that the ordinance of baptism is the first ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One must repent of his sins and take upon himself the name of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. This ordinance must be done on this earth. However, in order to provide a way for all those who did not have an opportunity to be baptized while on this earth, Jesus Christ instituted the practice of baptism for the dead.
Baptisms for the dead are only performed in Mormon temples. Here the work is done by proxy for those who have died. This means that a living person will stand in on behalf of the deceased and perform the ordinance of baptism and confirmation. Confirmation is the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority. It is the baptism by fire spoken of in the New Testament and is an essential companion ordinance to baptism. Either one without the other is null and void. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, age 12 and older, who are living their lives in accordance with the standards of the Mormon Church may participate in the ordinance of baptisms for the dead.
Baptistries in Mormon temples are used only for baptisms for the dead. When a living person receives this ordinance for him- or herself, it is usually performed in an LDS meetinghouse, though it can also be performed anywhere where there is enough water to immerse the person being baptized. Mormons believe that baptism must be by immersion, as Jesus Christ Himself was baptized. Mormon temple baptistries are always located under ground. This adds to the symbolism of death and burial of the sinful person and a rebirth of the new, cleansed person. Mormon temple baptismal fonts rest on the backs of twelves oxen carved out of stone. These oxen represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Latter-day Saints have always believed that Israel was the chosen people of the Lord. They were given the responsibility to spread the gospel to the world. Thus, when one is baptized into the covenant with Jesus Christ, one is adopted into one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Mormons believe that individuals have a solemn responsibility to provide Mormon temple ordinances for immediate, deceased family members who died without a knowledge of the gospel. Baptism is the first of these ordinances, followed by the initiatory and endowment, and sealing to family members for eternity. Thus, family history work is a very important part of Mormon doctrine and Mormon culture. Mormons are encouraged to do temple work for their immediate ancestors, as far back as they can find records. Sometimes people have so many family names they could never do all the work themselves. They can submit these names to any Mormon temple to have other people attending the temple help with the work. When a Mormon goes to the temple, he or she receives ordinances only one time on behalf of him- or herself. Each subsequent time they attend, they complete the same ordinances, but this time on behalf of someone else.
Many people feel angry at the thought of Mormons taking the right of people to choose their own religion away from them. However, the Mormon doctrine of baptism for the dead, as well as all other temple work, is simply a service. Because Latter-day Saints believe these ordinances must be performed on this earth, they also believe that those who have died without an opportunity to participate in these ordinances cannot progress until the ordinances are performed for them. However, Mormons also believe that free will is an eternal principle. Thus, when these ordinances are performed, no one is forced to accept them. They are simply given the ability to choose whether or not they want to accept the ordinances done on their behalf.
Mormon family history is strongly encouraged among all members. Mormon family history centers have incredible resources, which are made available to the public free of charge. Anyone who wishes to find out more about his personal family history may attend the nearest family history center and receive help from people trained in the field, all for free. Mormons believe that connecting to one’s past is a very important thing to ground oneself in the present as well as the future, and Mormon baptism for the dead is a wonderful way to serve our ancestors.
LDS News on Church Policy for Baptisms for the Dead