Since my excommunication, some folks have inquired as to whether I plan to be rebaptized. This question has set me thinking, and like most gospel truths, the answer may go much deeper than you initially expect.
Before we talk about rebaptism, let's first talk about baptism. Through this outward observance, we testify to an inward commitment we have made to follow our Lord. This means we seek to emulate His way of thinking, acting, loving, serving, and even suffering. Our public testimony to God and our fellow men of this commitment is embodied in this sacred ordinance.
Alma gave a wonderful summary of the baptismal commitment:
And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:8-10)These are lofty goals, to be sure. And not all that easy to live up to. In fact, we will all certainly NOT manage to live up to the commitments we make at baptism.
One of the things we tell ourselves, therefore, is that taking the sacrament renews this broken baptismal covenant and gives us another chance to try another week. And while I agree that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is indeed a wonderful, important, and necessary observance for all of Christ's followers, I cannot find any scriptural indication that sacrament renews baptismal covenants specifically. Many of the same elements exist in the sacrament prayers and scriptures about baptism, but the two ordinances are never directly linked in scripture, nor did the Lord Himself ever link them when He instituted the sacrament in person.
They're different ordinances with different purposes.
So let's suppose you're seeking renewal beyond the sacrament. Something more along the lines of a full-body immersive experience, let's say. Perhaps you were baptized at eight years old, and you didn't really understand what you were doing, couldn't wholeheartedly make your commitment to Christ, and can't remember it by now anyway.
Or suppose you've never received the promised fruits of baptism written in God's word to you:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31:17)Suppose that now, as a fully mature adult, you're ready to make your commitment to Christ in a wholehearted, enlightened and determined way before God and men. Suppose that by doing so, you intend to show your faith that God will fulfill his words and remit your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. Suppose you desperately want, need, and desire this renewal of your commitment to your Lord because you hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Forget the excommunicated castoffs. Is there no provision for the faithful to be rebaptized?
Well, it turns out, there is.
As with all gospel questions, let's turn first to the scriptures.
In 3 Nephi 11, when Christ appears to the Nephites, the very first thing he teaches is baptism.
And it came to pass that he spake unto Nephi (for Nephi was among the multitude) and he commanded him that he should come forth...And the Lord said unto him: I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven. (3 Nephi 11:18, 21)Christ then preaches a sermon on the topic of baptism and its necessity as part of Christ's doctrine. This sermon was apparently believed by Nephi, because the very next day found him at the water's edge:
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized. And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen. (3 Nephi 19:11-12)The interesting point here is that baptism was not a new thing among these Nephites. In fact, Nephi (the father of the Nephi in the above verses) was the go-to guy when it came to baptism among the Nephites:
For behold, Nephi was baptizing, and prophesying, and preaching, crying repentance unto the people, showing signs and wonders, working miracles among the people, that they might know that the Christ must shortly come (Helaman 16:4)And it's worth considering the Lord's own statement that those who were spared the destructions at His death were the more righteous among the people. (3 Nephi 9:13, 10:12) Undoubtedly, these righteous people had already been baptized; undoubtedly Nephi, son of Nephi had been baptized by his father. Yet, there they were, at the water's edge again, doing what Christ asked of them. And they received the promised blessings when they did so:
And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire. (3 Nephi 19:13)I know of no scriptural injunction against rebaptism, and we've just seen a scriptural example of Christ himself teaching rebaptism.
But what about rebaptism in the latter days? Has this practice ever been part of the restored gospel? Well, the answer to that is a resounding YES!
It started at the organization of the Church of Christ in April, 1830, when previously baptized people were rebaptized. Records of rebaptism appear sporadically through the 1830's, and by the Nauvoo era became quite common.
In the April, 1841 general conference Joseph Smith spoke on rebaptism, and the ordinance was thereafter provided to those who requested it. By 1842, rebaptism was common, and perhaps best summarized in a letter written by Jacob Scott from Nauvoo in February, 1843:
"Nearly All the church have been Baptized again, for the Remission of their Sins, since they joined the Church, I have also, by the hands of Br. Joseph (as he himself has been,) & I would advise Jan and you Mary, to attend to it as soon as you can have the opportunity of an Elder or Priest of the Church to administer it."Interestingly, rebaptism was also performed in Nauvoo, not only for remission of sins and recommitment, but also for restoration of health, with numerous recorded examples including the Prophet rebaptizing his wife Emma on numerous occasions.
Rebaptism continued after Nauvoo as well. For example, Brigham Young and all the apostles were rebaptized in Salt Lake on August 6, 1847. Under the "Mormon Reformation" of 1856-1857, nearly every member of the LDS church were rebaptized to show renewed commitment. Rebaptism of the living was even practiced in the temples as late as 1913.
So with all this scriptural and historical evidence that rebaptism is sanctioned by, and pleasing to God, how might one go about receiving this sacred ordinance in our day? More particularly, suppose in your efforts to repent and seek the Lord, he gives you the distinct and repeated impression that He wants you to do this, and will bless you for it?
Well, I suppose you could do it the way it's always been done; you could seek out a priesthood holder and find a body of water. Taking such initiative shows commitment and faithfulness to the Lord. It demonstrates desire for repentance and recommitment to Christ.
Unfortunately, it will also get you punished by those who claim to be Christ's representatives.
I happen to know of a brother who did just such a thing. He and his wife, desiring a greater commitment to Christ, received rebaptism by one holding the proper priesthood authority. This was a private matter of devotion to the Lord and obedience to his commandments. It resulted in a wonderful outpouring of the Spirit, as the scriptures promise.
Eight days after making this renewed commitment to Christ, this faithful brother was excommunicated from the church by men pretending to act for Christ.
Eight days. That's got to be some kind of record!
The brother in question is Brian Beckle of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in telling his story, I need to point out a few things.
First, he acted in obedience to what he understood the Lord was asking him to do. The Lord, in response, provided the promised signs that follow belief. Just like the scriptures promise.
Second, he DID NOT get baptized into another church, movement, or group. This was not about leaving the LDS church or "membership" in anything at all. Rather it was simply about renewing a personal commitment to follow the Savior.
Third, he kept this matter private. He told only one trusted friend, and that friend took it upon himself to inform church authorities, directly leading to Brother Beckle's excommunication.
Here are his own words, presented at his disciplinary council:
To the Minneapolis Minnesota Stake Presidency and High Council,
I grew up in this church, participating in nearly every program available to me – primary, Sunday school, young men, scouting, seminary, etc. I served a full-time mission. I attended the temple. I faithfully paid tithes and offerings. I consistently served in ward and stake callings.
However, about two years ago I began to reflect on my standing before God. I realized that while many of the good things in my life had come from my association with this church, I did not enjoy many of the spiritual blessings promised in scripture, and in my patriarchal blessing.
I began to search. The foundation for my search was the Book of Mormon. I saw in that book an invitation to come and know the Lord. I saw individuals enjoying the gifts of the Spirit. I saw a common pattern and a path forward. I began to realize that I had spent 40 plus years of my life trying to make men happy, thinking that I was somehow pleasing God. I began to realize that many of the things that I had engaged in were essentially only a form of godliness, lacking real power.
On Saturday October 4th at 10AM, after nearly two years of intensive study, prayer and nearly constant reflection and meditation I submitted to the Voice of the Lord urging me to make a solemn covenant with Him. I was baptized in living water along the shoreline of Utah Lake according to the pattern outlined by the Savior in 3rd Nephi. I was baptized by an individual who holds God’s priesthood.
As a consequence of that act, I have witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Spirit upon myself and my entire family this past week. This outpouring has included the voice of prophesy, detailed revelations, dreams, interpretation of dreams, and even a waking vision for my 15 year old son, where he was shown his life’s mission.
At the same time, I have been subjected to church disciplinary action culminating in this meeting where I am now required to come and defend myself in front of 15 men against a charge that in the handbook is in seriousness next to murder and child abuse. The contrast between how the Lord is treating me and how this church is treating me is both striking and instructive. I find the actions of this church in this matter deeply offensive, but I have been directed to submit.
I know my standing before God. My heart is pure and my hands are clean before him.
Brethren, you can do what you want with my membership in this church. I no longer value it as I once did. We can only serve one master and I choose to serve the Lord. My fidelity to Him and what He requires of me will always have priority over the demands of men, regardless of the consequences.
I want to stand accountable before the Lord for what I have done. I know I have His approval. If this council deems my actions worthy of excommunication from the LDS church then I will willingly separate myself from it.
And so he was cast out for following his Lord, by those who claim to control such things in Jesus's name.
Of course, there is scriptural justification for casting out someone for this cause. Read the following:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, 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—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye...be cast out of His church!That's how it reads in your Book of Mormon too, right? (Sorry, I just couldn't resist. For those who accuse me of twisting the scriptures, I thought I should show you what that actually looks like.)
No, all kidding aside, the real quote is as follows:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, 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—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 31:13)When such a thing takes place, when the signs of the Spirit are made manifest, when any repentant soul enters in by the way, shouldn't the Body of Christ celebrate God's gifts? Doesn't the Savior teach in the parables of the Lost Coin and 99 Sheep and Prodigal Son that such a time is for rejoicing?
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Luke 15:6)
And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth! (D&C 18:13)I don't know the men in the Stake Presidency and High Council of the Minneapolis Minnesota Stake. I don't know their hearts and I'm certainly in no position to pass judgment on what kind of men they are. That is for Christ to consider. But I do know their actions and I CAN comment what they have done.
Brethren, I cannot agree with your actions. In contradiction of the very words of our Lord, you have cast one out from among you who did precisely what the scriptures tell us to do, and who then received precisely what the scriptures promise in confirmation of the Lord's approval.
And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)I don't know what authority, or keys, or power, or influence allows such action to be taken against a sincere follower of Christ. Abuse of authority endangers it. "Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man."
No title, office, priesthood, or hierarchy can serve as a shield against the justice of God. You and I and Brother Beckle, we all need repentance and mercy. We all need to seek the Savior.
My brothers, speaking from experience, I can tell you that you may yet come to a point in your own path where the Lord asks you to recommit to Him by baptism. When that time comes, I hope you'll ask Brother Beckle to baptize you. I'm certain he'll be glad to provide this beautiful and powerful ordinance to you. How joyful will be your reunion with him and with that God to whom you will have recommitted. How powerful will be the outpouring you will then receive.
And now in closing: I started by reflecting on the question people ask me about whether I plan to be rebaptized. Here's my answer:
I already have been. And I highly recommend it.
God be praised for his mercy and love, as manifested in the life of His Son. Thank you Lord for setting the example and showing the way that even sinners like me can find access to your grace!
Important note: I, alone, take responsibility for the above words; other than Brother Beckle's letter, these words and thoughts are mine and not his. Therefore, you need not call him to task for what I have said. If you object to what I have written, your problem is with me, not him.