Latter-Day Saints believe that baptism is a covenant between man and God. It is the way a person becomes a member of Christ's church. Baptism is necessary for remission of sins and for entry into the celestial kingdom. To be baptized, a person must have faith in Christ and repent of their sins and be at least 8 years of age. When we are baptized, we promise to serve God and keep his commandments and He promises that His Spirit will always be with us. To complete the baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost is conferred on the new member. 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 Ne 31:17 We believe that baptism must be performed by immersion by someone who has authority from God to act in His name. Baptism by immersion teaches us through its symbolism: Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Rom. 6:4 Most men in the LDS Church have the authority to baptize. I was baptized by my father and my older children have been baptized by theirs. An LDS baptism is a very reverent and beautiful spiritual experience. I am always pleased when my children choose to follow Christ's example and to be baptized as He was.
Though baptism is necessary for salvation, baptism alone does not guarantee salvation. Nephi explains to those who enter into the covenant of baptism, "ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. " 2 Ne. 31:19-21
Some question why we believe that baptism is necessary, citing Christ's promise of paradise to the thief on the cross. When the thief died, he went, as the spirits of all men do, to the Spirit World to await his resurrection. After His death, Christ went to the spirit world and there declared His victory over death and organized the preaching of His gospel to the spirits in Hell. After this work was done, Christ was resurrected; only then did he ascend to Heaven and to His Father.
Jesus Christ was baptized to "fulfill all righteousness". He had no sins, yet it was still important for him to be baptized, not only to set an example for us to follow, but because it is a commandment that all must be baptized. To remain sinless, Christ complied with every commandment He was given by His Father. Christ was baptized by immersion by John the Baptist, who had the necessary priesthood authority to perform this ordinance. After Christ was baptized, the Holy Ghost came in the promised sign of the dove and the voice of Chris's Father was heard from Heaven declaring, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Matt 3:17
Baptism for the Dead
One of the most exciting doctrines in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is that, though baptism is required for everyone who is capable of sin, those who did not have the opportunity for baptism are not lost. In the temple, a person can receive the ordinance of baptism in behalf of a specific person who has passed on. The person for whom the baptism is performed has the opportunity in the spirit world of accepting or rejecting this saving ordinance. Paul cited this practice in the early church as a defense for the reality of the resurrection, "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?" (I know that there are other interpretations of this scripture, but I believe this is what it means) I am grateful that God has provided a way for every willing individual to comply with His law of baptism and to receive the ordinances that He has declared are necessary for us.
Around 400 A.D. some of Christ's followers were disputing whether little children needed baptism. The prophet Mormon gave this response in a letter written to his son: Wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in [Christ], that it hath no power over them...little children need no repentance, neither baptism...But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism! Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell...awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.... Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy. And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption. Moroni 8:8-20 I think that this understanding of Christ's atonement is one of the most beautiful doctrines taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I am grateful for the opportunity that we have been given to come to Christ and to be baptized and cleansed of our sins. I know that God loves each of His children and has provided a way for all to partake of his goodness.
For repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law. And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins; And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God. Moroni 8:24-26