One practice that is unique among the Mormon faith is the practice of baptism for the dead. Sometimes this practice is referred to as post mortem baptism, or baptism by proxy.
Understanding why Mormons baptize the dead is essential to truly understanding the religion as a whole, and what makes Mormons tick.
Bible Verses About Baptism for the Dead
To truly understand baptism for the dead, you have to understand an important truth taught in the Bible. The bible is ripe with references to the importance of baptism, but one which leaves no room for doubt is John 3:5, which says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
This verse is quite clear in showing God’s standard for entering heaven. To receive a heavenly rest, one must be baptized or “born again” as Christ explained to Nicodemus.
The trouble with this requirement is that not all of the world knows of Christianity. In some countries, such as China, the preaching of Christianity is outlawed. In some countries, preaching Christianity is punishable by death! So what of the millions of people who live in those countries?
What of the children born in horrible families and not given a fair chance at life? What of the business man who is so distracted by the world that he or she never really stops to consider religion?
Could it really be that God’s plan would not give these people a chance at redemption? It seems difficult to believe that if God is perfectly merciful, and if he truly wants us to return to live with Him in heaven, that he would create a world with such a stacked deck.
In the Bible, there are a few references to a practice that provides a way for God’s plan to be perfectly just and perfectly merciful.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is speaking to a group of people who are falling away from the faith. Paul teaches the people about resurrection when he says, “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? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?”
This verse shows that the early Christians must have practiced baptism for the dead, because Paul is able to refer to the practice to show that all men will resurrect.
In John chapter 5, a further explanation of how those who have died can be saved is given. Christ says, “Verily, verily I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live….Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation.”
How Do They Find the People to Baptize?
Members of the faith spend time researching genealogy (family history) to find their ancestors who have died. To start in family history, they talk to relatives and find what information is already known of ancestors, then look through family Bibles and other family records to find additional names.
Also, members of the church spend their time indexing (transcribing) old records such as U.S. Census records and wedding licenses.
The Mormon church provides, free of charge, to people of all faiths, the information that is collected by these members of the church. The database of information is so vast that you are sure to find information on some of your ancestors in this database. All of it is available at FamilySearch.org.
Once a member of the faith finds a name that he or she wants to have baptized for the dead, the name is printed out and brought to the temple so a baptism can be conducted.
How Are Baptisms Conducted?
Baptisms for those who have died are only conducted in Mormon Temples (not the local churches that seem to be on just about every street corner). There are approximately 120 Mormon temples currently in operation throughout the world.
Any member of the church who has found a name and has a temple recommend (a member following the commandments he or she has promised to follow) may go to the temple to perform the baptism.
The baptism is a simple ordinance, but a significant one. One person who has authority of the priesthood takes another person into the baptismal font and says a simple prayer to Heavenly Father explaining that the baptism is done in behalf of the person who has died. Then, the person being baptized is dipped under the water in complete immersion. It’s really that simple.
What is the Effect of a Mormon Post-Mortem Baptism?
The effect of a baptism for the dead is nothing if the dead person does not accept the baptism. Mormons do not claim the ability to save another person without it being that person’s express choice.
However, it provides the ability for our dead to choose to follow Jesus Christ and to live with God and Christ in Heaven if they accept their teachings after this life.