Have you ever imagined what it must have been like for the Nephite multitude at the temple in Bountiful when Christ visited? This event is unique in scripture as it simultaneously documents a number of singular occurrences not seen elsewhere with clarity—or at all—and they happen together.
In these chapters, we witness the opening of a new dispensation; clear teaching of Christ’s doctrine, out of his own mouth; the endowment and opening of the connection with heaven; explanation of other scripture and prophecy, the implementation of the Lord’s supper, and perhaps most important, the ministry of a God among mortals. There’s nothing even remotely like this anywhere else in scripture.
Those who survived the destructions at the crucifixion were the “more righteous part of the people” who “received the prophets.” (3 Nephi 10:12) And the fact that they made the journey to the temple to observe the required holy days—even though most of the population and many cities had been destroyed less than a year before—shows their commitment to obeying the Lord. They were rewarded with the privilege of beholding Him face to face, feeling his wounds, embracing Him, shouting Hosannah, and bowing before Him.
Immediately after these momentous events, the Lord called forth Nephi and empowered him to provide re-baptism to the people. Likewise, He called 11 others and similarly empowered them. He did this publicly so there would be no question about who was authorized to provide this ordinance, and who was not.
Next, the Lord launched into an explanation of the requirements for who was to be baptized, and exactly how it was to be done—even giving the precise wording and procedure to be used. He explained this as a commandment, to be performed “after this manner” and “according as I have commanded you.” He expressly forbade disputing about this commandment.
Having thus laid the foundation by clearly teaching the need for, and method of, baptism (or in this case, re-baptism), the Savior then taught His doctrine—culminating with the absolute requirement that His doctrine be obeyed by all those who desire salvation. He taught these things publicly so all could hear and understand. And He taught these things first, giving them absolute primacy in His religion.
The Lord’s actions and teachings make clear the following points:
- Performing the ordinance of baptism requires the Lord’s authorization. Though unauthorized others may offer the ordinance, the Lord will not recognize it.
- The practice of ordaining priests existed among the Nephites (see 2 Ne. 5:26, Mosiah 18:18, Moroni 3). Therefore, it’s clear that priestly service requires both ordination by man, and empowerment by the Lord. Scripture does not make provision to neglect either step.
- Precise qualifications, wording and actions are to be followed in baptism.
- There is no other way to salvation. In fact, the Lord repeats four times the requirement for baptism, categorically stating that “whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.” He leaves no room for exceptions.
- In recognition of the new dispensation Christ was establishing, a new baptism was required, even for those who had already been properly baptized.
- Water baptism is a prerequisite to receiving the Holy Ghost, both the first time, and at the opening of a new dispensation when re-baptism is required. Baptism by water is the gate to receiving the baptism of fire.
Christ is not at liberty to change these commandments; they came from His father. Changing them or making arbitrary exceptions would make Christ both disobedient and a liar.
Too often, we tend to view commandments as limitations, curtailing our freedom, and restricting our behavior. Many chafe at such perceived limitations. But perhaps it’s useful to think of commandments in another way. Suppose you faced the difficult task of diffusing a bomb, under the direction of an experienced bomb expert. Your very life would depend on exactly following the expert’s instructions. This is not a time to improvise. If you follow the directions exactly, you will safely accomplish the task. In such a situation the directions, or commandments, given by the expert are NOT designed to curtail your freedom or restrict your behavior. Rather, they are the actions that will save your life. There’s no point arguing or refusing to obey the expert’s instructions. Your only hope lies in doing exactly as he says.
Well, Christ is the expert. He has trodden the path and knows the way to be redeemed from the fall. Baptism is not an arbitrary commandment He can change or waive at will. Due to the requirements of eternal, immutable laws, there are good reasons baptism must be received, and must be performed in the correct way. Again, even Christ is not at liberty to change these requirements. There’s no point arguing about it. The only safe course is to do as Christ directs.
Nevertheless, some have trouble receiving Christ’s word and some refuse baptism for various reasons. Some seek to argue the points of His doctrine rather than submitting to it.
I have no desire to argue about these things, but I do think it’s worthwhile providing a few points here in response to some objections I’ve encountered to the ideas Christ has expressed. Please don’t think me unkind if I’m direct in what follows. The time is at hand to declare truth with boldness.
My previous baptism was good enough. I know the Lord accepted it.
That may be so, but the validity of your previous baptism is not the question. Whenever the Lord initiates a new dispensation, He invites those who accept His gospel to be baptized, or re-baptized, in recognition of the new covenant He makes available.
Such a requirement came at the opening of Joseph Smith’s dispensation. However, some felt their prior baptism was adequate and they therefore refused to be re-baptized. In response, the Lord gave the following revelation:
Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning. Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works. For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old. Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God. Amen. (D&C 22:1-4 emphasis mine)A new dispensation is upon us. The Lord has renewed the command to obey His doctrine. Those who accept Him will do so. Refusal is really rejection of Christ. How can you reject Him now, and yet rely on your previous baptism to be honored?
The Lord knows my heart. He surely won’t reject me simply because I didn’t get re-baptized.
The Lord does indeed know your heart, and finds there an unwillingness to hear and obey His voice. Your good intentions cannot overcome the Lord’s edict: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Refusal to obey Him is evidence your love for Him is feigned. Yes, the Lord knows your heart, but perhaps you don’t. Turn your heart to him.
But what about all my good friends who worship Christ? I can’t believe a loving and merciful God would reject a believing soul simply because they didn’t get baptized—or didn’t get baptized in the right way. I cannot accept such a God.
Your refusal to accept the Lord’s commandment doesn’t make His commandment void. Those who sincerely worship Christ will humble themselves and seek His word, wherever it is found. The minute someone starts dictating what God “should” be like, based on their own flawed understanding of mercy, justice, love, or any other principle, they cut themselves off from learning God’s true character, perfections and attributes. And without a correct understanding of these, faith is impossible. (Lectures on Faith 3:4)
In other words, if you want to engage in ultimatums about what you will and will not accept in your God, then by definition you do not and cannot have faith. You simply believe in a fairy-tale Jesus who bends to conform to your will—a false Christ indeed. (See Matthew 24:24)
In the final analysis, God is more intelligent than us all. His work and glory is to exalt us, and He knows how to do it. We ought to trust Him and let Him do His work, in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. Those who will not accept what He offers in this life will require continuing efforts on His part beyond this mortality. Our best course is to receive all he offers here and now, while it’s available.
I believe the commandment applies to others, but I’m the exception.
Thus making God a respecter of persons, and a liar. Seriously?
But I’ve constructed a complex and nuanced scriptural argument to prove that, although the Lord commanded re-baptism, He really didn’t mean it, and I won’t be deceived into doing it.
And yet, he says, “And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.” (3 Nephi 11:37) Is your complex and nuanced scriptural argument adapted to the capacity of a child? Did you construct your argument as a result of your childlike, humble faith and obedience, or did you construct this argument to avoid doing what the Lord plainly and openly said to do? Is it likely Christ was deceiving us with His commandment? Or is it more likely your wisdom is foolishness?
O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28, emphasis mine)Anyone can go to God and get power to baptize. It is arrogant to claim that only a certain group or lineage has access to that power. If what he says is true, then very few people who ever lived on earth will be saved!
The Lord instructed us to anticipate only a few would accept His offer. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) “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)
By broadening Christ’s permissiveness to suit your desires for large numbers, you really just change the parameters of who is excluded. But there will still be exclusions. Whether hundreds, thousands, millions, or billions accept, it is still not everyone. Are you in a position to choose who is excluded? What number would make you happy? Or is it even better to exclude nobody and follow Nehor’s teaching that ALL will be saved at the last day? (Alma 1:4)
You might be able to convince me if you can answer each of my concerns and defeat all my arguments.
Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe. (Alma 32:16)Yes, but...
Now, having talked through a few of these objections, imagine someone present in the multitude at Bountiful, raising their hand during Christ’s sermon, and advancing one of the arguments listed above. Do you suppose the Lord would argue the points of His doctrine? Do you suppose He would offer a series of exceptions to accommodate those who preferred not to obey Him? Do you suppose He would stand there with holes in His hands, feet and side, where He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, (Isaiah 53:5) and be persuaded by the accusation that He is not a “loving God?”
You and I cannot comprehend the price Christ paid to make our rescue possible. He informs us of the exact steps required to take advantage of His offer. What is there to argue about? If you’re drowning and someone throws you a rope, is there any point in arguing about the color, weave, or length of the rope? Is there any point in refusing to take hold unless everyone else does too? Are you in any position at all to critique the throwing form or pulling power of the one who will save you? Take hold of the rope.
The Prevailing Gate
When Nephi discussed the Doctrine of Christ, he referred to repentance and baptism as the “gate” by which we should enter:
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)Until you have entered through that gate, it remains closed to you. Given that you currently reside in a Telestial kingdom, the gate really is the way of escape from Hell. (2 Nephi 9:10). If you do not enter in at the gate, you remain trapped and unredeemed. Or as Christ explained, if the gate remains closed, Hell prevails against you. You must build upon His Rock:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 11:39)In conclusion, I’ll simply add my personal invitation: Please come unto Christ through repentance and baptism. Turn to Him, obey His word, and let Him fill you with fire and the Holy Ghost. I know from personal experience His words are true.
Authorized ministers are waiting to help:
And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
—2 Nephi 31:10-11