Baptism: Saving Ordinance or Symbolic Sign?

Baptism:

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Both biblical Christians and Mormons practice baptism, but why they practice baptism differs. That difference opens a great chasm between the cores of Christianity and Mormonism.

LDS Baptism

“Baptism is the first saving ordinance of the gospel” in the LDS salvation system.1 “All who seek eternal life must follow the example of the Savior by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.”2

Baptism also grants certain blessings: the gift of the Holy Ghost, remission of sins, and the new birth.3 Baptism is the first of many works necessary for eternal life and salvation blessings. No baptism, no salvation.

By Faith Alone

The LDS teaching on baptism contradicts the biblical teaching that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. Paul says, “And yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified” (Gal. 2:16). Numerous other passages also teach this (Rom. 1:16-17; 4:4-5; 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).

Salvation and its blessings are free gifts, given by God in his grace, and based on Jesus’ work, not ours. We receive them by faith, not by works. Baptism cannot be necessary for eternal life or other blessings. Salvation can, but not baptism.

Biblical Baptism

Biblical baptism is a symbolic sign. It publicly declares that someone has committed his or her life to Christ, and it symbolizes that person’s union with Christ (Rom. 6:1-5).

Your LDS friend may cite Acts 2:38, which says, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” After Peter says this, “those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them” (Acts 2:41). The pattern throughout Acts is belief followed by baptism.

Acts 2:38 also connects baptism with being counted as part of the church, but Acts 4:4 mentions only belief. This indicates that the early church viewed baptism as an outward sign of inward faith. Peter later clarifies this: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). The physical act of baptism doesn’t save; faith in the resurrected Christ saves. Baptism is closely associated with faith, but baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Despite its importance, baptism is thus downplayed in the Bible. Baptism is absent from Peter’s second sermon (Acts 3), Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7), the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), and Paul’s Athens sermon (Acts 17). Romans, the greatest work on salvation, mentions baptism only three times, all of which refer to baptism’s symbolic portrayal of a believer’s union with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4).

If baptism were the first step of salvation, the Bible would clearly and prominently teach this. Instead, it heralds that salvation is by faith alone. And so, Paul says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my name. I did, in fact, baptize the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t recall if I baptized anyone else. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:14-17).

Baptism Talking Points

Here are some questions you can ask your LDS friend about baptism to point them to the truth:

  • What do you believe about baptism?
  • The Bible teaches that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, not by works. How can baptism be necessary for salvation?
  • If baptism were necessary for salvation, how could Jesus say that the thief on the cross was saved (Luke 23:39-43)?
  • If baptism were necessary for salvation, why would Paul downplay its importance in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17?

Footnotes

  1. “Baptism,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Accessed January 31, 2022.

  2. “Baptism,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Accessed January 31, 2022.

  3. “Baptism,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Accessed January 31, 2022.