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Baptism, the Priesthood, and Non-Mormon Christians

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Baptism, the Priesthood, and Non-Mormon Christians

Robert M. Bowman Jr.

Probably the most troubling aspect of the LDS doctrine of baptism is its claim that only those who hold the LDS priesthood have the authorization to perform baptisms. Baptism must be performed by “a person having the proper priesthood authority to baptize…. Baptism by immersion by a person having the proper authority is the only acceptable way of being baptized” (Gospel Principles, 116, 117).

We should be clear about the implication of this doctrine, which may be seen if we set out the logic of the LDS position as follows:

  1. Only those having the proper priesthood authority may perform baptisms.
  2. Only LDS males have the proper priesthood authority.
  3. Therefore, only LDS males who hold the priesthood may perform baptisms.
  4. Therefore, anyone baptized by someone other than a male LDS priest has not been truly or validly baptized.
  5. Therefore, no one outside the LDS Church has been validly baptized.

In short, the LDS doctrine means that no non-Mormon Christian, of whatever denomination, has been validly baptized. It means that a Christian who has genuinely repented of his or her sins, trusted in Christ as Savior, and been baptized in a traditional Christian church (or any church other than the LDS Church), has not yet been acceptably baptized. Furthermore, since LDS doctrine makes forgiveness of sins conditional on baptism, the conclusion is that no people outside the LDS Church are forgiven of their sins.

One searches the New Testament in vain for any suggestion that priesthood authority is a requirement for administering baptism. That is because, in fact, the New Testament does not teach the LDS concept of priesthood. For New Testament Christians, Jesus Christ is their one and only great High Priest, and no other priest mediates between them and God. The true gospel is not “You cannot be saved unless you accept our authority to baptize you” but “You cannot be saved unless you accept Christ’s sacrifice to redeem you” (see 1 Corinthians 1:13-17).

The LDS Church’s doctrine of baptism reflects a severe distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It understands baptism as a step toward a higher “salvation” in the celestial kingdom rather than as a rite that represents salvation from the righteous, eternal judgment of God. It views baptism as a precondition for the forgiveness of sins instead of a symbolic act of accepting forgiveness as God’s free gift. It makes baptism a rite of passage for all eight-year-old LDS children instead of a rite of confession for all who genuinely repent of their sins. And it arrogantly claims an exclusive authority to perform baptism that makes the Christian life dependent on the religious organization rather than dependent solely on Jesus Christ. In all of these ways, the LDS understanding of baptism radically distorts the biblical gospel of salvation in Christ.

For Further Reflection

  • Were you aware that LDS doctrine leads to the conclusion that no one outside the LDS Church has been validly baptized or forgiven of their sins? What do you think of this idea?