Baptism for the Dead
The Mormons practice a baptism for the dead. The following quote, taken from the Latter-Day Saints official website (lds.org), gives the reasoning behind the practice:
Because He is a loving God, the Lord does not damn those people who, through no fault of their own, never had the opportunity for baptism. He has therefore authorized baptisms to be performed by proxy for them. A living person, often a descendant who has become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is baptized in behalf of a deceased person. This work is done by Church members in temples throughout the world.
The New Testament does not agree with this doctrine. Jesus and His apostles commanded people to obey only one baptism in Christianity (Ephesians 4:5). He sent the apostles into all the world to convince men of that baptism (Matthew 28:18-20). Those who believed the apostles were baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-40). They did not teach or command any other baptism. If so, where is the verse that says so?
The Mormons claim Paul preached a baptism for the dead in First Corinthians 15:29. The context shows he was trying to get people to see the folly of practicing Christianity if there is no resurrection, as some at that time were advocating (see Acts 23:8; Matthew 22:23). In response to the charge that the dead are not raised, Paul was showing the various errors of such a belief, including that of baptism. “What point is there to baptism,” we might say, “which is essential to becoming a Christian (Galatians 3:27), if this life is all there is and the dead are not raised?” Another possibility is he referenced an erroneous practice of the day to show how even it was dependent on a belief in life beyond the grave.
If neither of these was his point, and Paul was actually teaching people to be baptized for the dead, as Mormons claim, then he is to be ignored for preaching a different gospel. He himself warned, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Yet, he would have been guilty of that very thing if he departed from the baptism Jesus commanded (Mark 16:15-16), which Paul himself obeyed and taught (Acts 19:5; 22:16). Who is willing to accuse Paul of such apostasy? I will not. I believe he remained consistent with the gospel of Christ in all that he taught and wrote, especially in what he said about a baptism for the dead. In that context, his point was, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
The great fallacy of this doctrine is that nothing in Christianity may be done by proxy. No one may believe for another or meet any other act of obedience to God. He holds each person responsible for his own choices (Romans 14:12). All throughout the Bible, God has had a consistent message: “The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20). Ironically, one the greatest supports of this principle comes from the teachings of the founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith, who wrote:
For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God...Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world...For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:32, 34, 35)
God’s word agrees this warning. The dead are eternally accountable for their choices in life: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10-11). Until that judgment, the dead must wait in Hades, the realm of the dead, where Jesus Himself went when He died on the cross (Acts 2:27, 31). In Hades, no one may change his condition from one side to the other because of the great gulf that is fixed between the two sides (Luke 16:26). Everyone must remain in their condition as they await the judgment. We had better be thankful that is the case because if we could do things in this life to move the dead from a lost condition to being saved, we could also do things to cause the saved there to be lost. If not, why not?
Alas, let God’s word be true and every man a liar who gives false hope beyond the grave. The time to be saved from sin and prepare for judgment is now, in this life, and not the next. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). For, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).