The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes called Mormons, believe that baptism is an essential part of Christian life. When someone becomes a Mormon, even if they were previously baptized in another church, they are baptized again by a Mormon priesthood holder.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
One of the first things Jesus did when he began His ministry was to ask His cousin John to baptize Him. John initially protested, knowing that baptism is for the remission of sins and Jesus was perfect. However, Jesus insisted. This bit of discussion tells us just how essential baptism is. If even Jesus needed to be baptized, we, who are not perfect, must experience it. Jesus was baptized by immersion, setting the example for us, and so this is how Mormons are baptized as well.
Robert D. Hales, a Mormon apostle, explained what happens when a Mormon is baptized:
“At baptism we make a covenant with our Heavenly Father that we are willing to come into His kingdom and keep His commandments from that time forward, even though we still live in the world. We are reminded from the Book of Mormon that our baptism is a covenant to “stand as witnesses of God [and His kingdom] at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:9).
When we understand our baptismal covenant and the gift of the Holy Ghost, it will change our lives and will establish our total allegiance to the kingdom of God. When temptations come our way, if we will listen, the Holy Ghost will remind us that we have promised to remember our Savior and obey the commandments of God. ((Robert D. Hales, “The Covenant of Baptism: To Be in the Kingdom and of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 6–9)
Baptism for a Mormon is more than just the washing away of sins. When a Mormon is baptized, he makes a covenant with God. A covenant is a two-way promise between God and a person. God sets the terms and His part is dependent on ours. If we keep our portion of the covenant God will always keep His. We are not free to amend the covenant in any way.
Because this is a sacred covenant, Mormons do not baptize infants. The child must be old enough to understand basic religious principles, to understand right and wrong if taught, and to pray for a testimony. For Mormons, the age of accountability is eight. Mormon children begin their religious education very young and by the age of eight, those who have been active participants have an amazing level of knowledge and a great faith. Jesus taught us to become like little children because He understood they are capable of a powerful faith, often stronger than that of their parents. Many Mormon parents have experienced times when they were frightened or ready to give up and their young child convinced them to pray and to trust God.
Mormon children begin learning the gospel in the home from their parents. They have daily family scripture study and prayer and if a child is too young to fully understand what is being read in the Bible, he is still listening and pulling out selections appropriate to his understanding, helped by parents who explain what is being taught. Every week they have a gospel lesson at home with their parents, personalized to the needs of the family. This is called Family Home Evening and most often happens on Monday nights. It includes family fun time after the lesson.
Mormon children begin attending classes at age eighteen months. Although the toddler nursery includes a great deal of playtime, that playtime is used to teach gospel principles about how to treat others. They learn to share and to help others. The children also have ten minutes of singing time in which they learn church songs and ten minutes of a simple lesson on important gospel principles. At age three, they move into regular church classes. At each age, they learn age-appropriate teachings about God and Jesus Christ and about how to live a Christ-like life. They are taught how to pray and how to receive answers to prayers. They learn that even though they are young, they are old enough to ask God if the Church is true and they learn they are expected to do so prior to baptism. They learn about the covenants they will make at baptism and are encouraged to begin practicing living the gospel. By the time they are baptized, they are ready ready for the commitment they will be making. Before their baptism, they meet with a church leader who makes certain they understand the covenant and choices they are making and that they are making them freely.
Mormons do not believe God punishes people for things over which they had no control. He is loving and completely fair and the atonement covers the sins of children who die unbaptized. It would not be just to punish an infant who never even had a chance to make a decision about Jesus Christ, and God is fair. Children who die younger than age eight return automatically to God.
If a person age nine or older wishes to be baptized, he must meet with missionaries for a series of lessons that teach him the basic principles of the gospel. He is asked to begin to live each teaching he is taught. He, like the children learns to pray and receive answers and is expected to learn for Himself whether or not the church is true. He is told he must not trust any mortal, but to take only God’s word for it. He, too, will be asked in an interview if he has done this and if he is living in a manner consistent with the covenants he will make at baptism.
For Mormons, baptism is the first—not the last—step toward eternal life. It is, however, the step that sets us on a path back home to God.