Thursday, February 12, 2009

Baptism Rant

I know what you are thinking. “You have a rant about baptism?”

Yes, I do. One of my pet peeves is telling innocent little kids that they need to repent of their sins in order to get baptized. You hear it with surprising frequency, like at almost every baptism service you attend, and at lots of Primary Sharing Times. And take, for example, this line from the song “I Like to Look for Rainbows,” sung at every Primary-run baptism I have been to in the recent past:

I know when I am baptized, my wrongs are washed away and I can be forgiven and improve myself each day

How did this get past correlation? Did they not read the scriptures cited in Lesson 7? D&C 29:46-47 tells that that little children are incapable of sin and are redeemed from the foundation of the world. Moroni 8:9-12 says that little children do not need repentance and are alive in Christ.

I would be hard-pressed to identify an LDS doctrine I like more than the redemption of little children. It is beautiful and merciful, and intuitively true. So why do we find ourselves telling innocent little kids that they need to repent of their "sins" to get baptized?

I know that there are scriptures out there that say you have to repent in order to be baptized. I know that there are scripture that say that children have to be accountable and capable of repentance in order to get baptized. But “capable of repentance” and “needing repentance” are two different things. And, don’t get me wrong, I think we should teach our children about repentance and help them understand it. I think they need to know what it is and how it works by the time they reach the “age of accountability.”

But to me, baptism for an 8-year old is different than for an adult. It is about obedience. It is about discipleship. It is about entering the strait gate and joining the Lord’s church. It is not about repenting and remitting sins. What sins has an eight-year old committed? But am I wrong here? Am I misunderstanding something?

End of rant.


  1. Amen, brother, can I get an amen?! As I commented in one of your earlier posts, baptism is more than just remission of sins (the AofF are not comprehensive). And, as you so plainly and accurately stated, for children it is an entering of the gate and a powerful expression of obedience (2 Nephi 31 - BoM to the rescue AGAIN).

    I have a 7 year-old that my wife and I are prepping up, and his expressions to be obedient to the Lord and the commandments really boost my faith. Considering that really humbles me. We really do need to be more like children.

  2. Or is that Amen SISTER, Teacher?

  3. Because gender is an essential characteristic of my eternal destiny and purpose, I feel impressed to disclose that I am, in fact, a brother.

  4. So here is a question: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery got into a bit of a tussle over D&C 20:37. In fact, Oliver *demanded* that Joseph remove the phrase, "and truly manifest by their good works that they have received the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins," as a qualification for baptism. Apparently, Oliver was concerned that this passage would be used as a requirement of some kind of outward indicator that a person was saved, or something like that. Long story short, Joseph told Oliver he was not in a position to be demanding such things, and the verse remained as it is today. What do you make of Oliver's objection and Joseph's insistence? Does this phrase have any bearing on baptism of children?

  5. I wanted to choose something like, "Only those who, before the age of 8, understand the wrongness of what they do, and could do otherwise but don't choose to, and feel repentant afterward, are baptised for the remission of sins."

    Of course this is predicated on the idea that kids develop morally at different rates. I know I did things that I knew were wrong and that I could have avoided doing before I was six, but I realize some kids honestly don't grasp the abstract concepts of right and wrong before they turn eight.

    So I agree that the song lyrics you quoted and the doctrine seem to be at odds, but could it be that the song is only true for the morally precocious children, and not for those whose moral senses don't reach this particular benchmark before their 8th birthdays?

  6. Teacher, I can't disagree with your logic. But I think it is important to teach the concept of remission of sins to children as well. I think they all understand basic rights/wrongs, like stealing candy from a store is wrong, etc. I think most kids don't have to be morally precocious to understand some of these basic truths.

  7. Miriam (Hey, Miriam!) and Heretic, you point out the arbitrariness of the 8-year old baptism requirement. Of course, every child is going to develop differently. Each child will reach her or his baptism at a slightly different developmental stage. Like Heretic says, parents should teach right and wrong, repentance and remission of sins so that children can apply those principles in their lives going forward. In my view, the 8-year guideline is an administrative necessity, not an eternal principle. I doubt there is often really a need for repentance of whatever foibles the average 8-year old is guilty of. The child is baptized to show her or his desire (largely instilled by parents and teachers, let's be honest) to follow the Savior. Then, (s)he starts on the path of discipleship with faith, repentance, and the assistance of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

  8. Yes, let's not forget Alma's words at the waters of Mormon:

    "as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
    9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God 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—
    10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

    It doesn't even mention remission of sins here. Rather we are witnessing that we want to help each other, serve God, and join his community of believers.

    (Oh and thanks for stopping by.)

  9. I am bothered by what I see as forced baptisms of eight year olds. I was at an open house following the baptism of a child, and the discussion at the kitchen table was about which child in the ward was next. I asked how many children reach age 8 and don't want to be baptized. I was looked like I was crazy, and a woman, and mother of 7, that I truly respect stated, "that is like asking how many 16 year olds don't want a drivers license."

    When I mentioned that statement to a woman in her thirties, she agreed with my view. She stated that she still has bad feelings about her baptism at age 8. She told her father that she didn't want to join the Church, and he overruled her decision. She told her bishop that she did not want to be baptized, and he went ahead and approved the baptism. She now has a strong testimony, but she said was not truly ready until she was in her 20's.

  10. That is an interesting perspective, Anonymous. I can definitely see your point: Baptism is a very important decision. More important than we would usually allow an 8-year old to make for themselves. We would not, for example, allow an 8-year old to decide who to marry or make a big financial decision. If you look at baptism a voluntary choice which church to join, eight does seem a little young.

    On the other hand, I make a lot of decisions for my kids that I feel like I am better equipped to make than they are. For example, when they do not want to eat their vegetables, or practice, or bathe, I overrule those decisions. I do that because I feel like I am older, wiser, and better understand what is good for them. I think baptism is a bigger, more important decision than any of those things I mentioned. If you see baptism more as a developmental step in a child’s religious training and understanding, it makes more sense for a parent to make that decision, or to be heavily involved.

    If my 8-year old did not want to get baptized, I would want to understand why. I would try to use it as a teaching experience. It would be really hard, especially if they felt strongly about it. But, in the end, I think I would try to use my influence to help them take that step.

  11. Teacher, what's the reference on the debate that Oliver had with Joseph regarding D&C 20:37?

    And thanks for pulling back the shroud of secrecy - I mean sacredcy - even just a little bit, BROTHER Teacher.

  12. Easton: If you have access to Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling," look at page 120. I think I saw it in the BH Roberts Comprehensive History of the Church, too, but I am not sure about that, and am away from home right now.

  13. I thought when you're baptized the "remission of sins" effects* the infinite atonement, thus making the timing of the baptism immaterial. I was under the impression that the age at which someone accepts baptism (after 8) doesn't matter, but in the finite timing of mortality 8 years old happens to mark the level of maturity to make the decision. The cleansing result of the covenant has nothing to do with that person's previous "sins," but the sins s/he will make at any time in mortality.

    *verb- to produce as an effect; bring about; accomplish;

  14. Anonymous on 2/14: I really like the idea that baptism is for the remission of all sins, past (if any) and future. That interpretation would allow for baptism "for the remission of sins" at age 8. It still begs the question, however, whether the average 8 year-old is mature enough to make the decision to get baptized. It probably depends upon what you think they are deciding.

  15. Interesting last few comments. I admit I haven't spent a whole lot of time considering baptism remitting future sins. I think a lot of members of the Church would have a problem with that, given the current emphasis on works as opposed to grace. Baptism for remitting future sins sounds very Protestant Southern Baptist - their idea of being Saved.

    I'd be interested in scriptures that allude to this doctrine, if you know of any.

  16. Oh, and thanks, Teach, for the reference. In following the footnotes, Bushman got it from Dean Jessee's Papers of Joseph Smith vol. 1.

  17. Easton: I agree that being baptized does not constitute forgiveness for future, uncommitted sins. But could it be a sign of our covenant to follow the Savior and repent of our sins? In that way, it represents the remission of future sins, because we will essentially promise to repent. Obviously, no repentance, no forgiveness.

  18. I know this topic has stopped, but I just had to add a thought. Baptism is a covenant, and the sacrament that we take each week is a renewal of that covenant. The covenant is that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and always remember Him. And we have to be worthy to take the sacrament, we have to be forgiven of our sins to renew that covenant of baptism. Just as we had to be worthy to be baptized.

    So teaching children (through song or otherwise) that they must be worthy, or in other words, that they must repent of their sins, in order to make that covenant (or in the case of the sacrament renew that covenant) I think is entirely appropriate. It's more confusing to try and teach them that for baptism they don't need to repent (and have to explain age of accountability etc) but for taking the sacrament that very next Sunday (which is the same covenant) they do have to repent. Keep it simple, they are 8.

  19. Anonymous (4/17/09): I am totally with you on teaching children about covenants and taking upon ourselves the name of Christ. I am even with you on teaching children that part of making that covenant and being baptized is repenting of the sins we then commit. I think that is a pretty simple concept that children can, and avoids telling little kids they are sinning.


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