It all started on Facebook. (Oh boy, doesn’t every interesting drama somehow either start or end up on Facebook these days?) Someone brought up the question that, if Mitt Romney is elected President of the United States, will he be sworn in on a Book of Mormon? In the resulting thread, a few LDS adherents chimed in, indicating that he would be sworn in on the King James bible, because of this being the version that is used in the LDS church. The initial poster also brought up several other differences between the Mormon church and mainstream Christianity, among them the nature of who God and Jesus are, and polytheism in their (LDS) belief structure. I just had to step full-on into the mire with both feet, didn’t I? (You’re supposed to say “Oh, no you di’int!” at this point.) Oh yes my fine young readers, I did. I brought up the practice of “Baptism by proxy.”
Now, I don’t normally get this involved in discussions and debates of a theological nature. I’m not a Theologian, I’ve never been to cemetery…oops, seminary. I’m by no means anything other than a layperson, albeit one that tries to keep informed. So as a result of this shortcoming, I went on a bit of an information hunt. Do any of you have any idea just how daunting it is to find a minister to sit down and talk to on a Monday afternoon!? Rest assured though, that while being an undertaking of herculean proportions, it can be done. (And if it can be done, I’ma gonna do it!) Six churches into the search, and I found myself having an in-depth theological discussion with a Lutheran minister, on the significance of baptism among the differing denominations, including the Latter-Day Saints.
Before I get into the baptism by proxy of those who are dearly departed, I want to posit some related ideas to you, having to do with salvation and “going to Heaven” as it applies within the construct of Protestant Christianity. I’ll do my best to not lose you all along the way…
How does one come to a relationship with Christ? Who gets to go to Heaven, who goes to Hell? Well, it depends on who you ask. Those in the Calvinist camp (Reformed Theology) will tell you that it has already been determined by God. The Calvinist concept of “Predestination” states basically that God has already chosen who will be saved, and who will be damned. In simpler terms, the “fix is in,” and has been from the git-go. This school of thought denies that man has free will per se, and cannot willingly choose to either follow or deny Christ, relying instead on the associated concept of “irresistible grace.” (Those chosen by God to be saved are saved by God’s grace, which compels these “elect” to follow him.)
So, now let’s apply that to the idea of baptism by proxy. Let’s say that the Mormons proxy-baptise…oh, say 1,000 people. Let’s also say for the sake of argument that the percentage of Hell-bound / Heaven-bound is a 70 /30 proposition. This means that of the 1,000 people proxy-baptised, 700 are going to Hell anyway…so why are the Mormons spinning their wheels? Seems like a waste of water to me. Then by that same token, 300 are already going to Heaven, so again…why waste the water!?
But I digress. Another school of thought (Arminianism) posits that man, being created in God’s image, can choose to repent and follow Christ. According to Arminianism, grace is not irresistible. (If it was, then the Calvinist view would have to be true.) At any rate, within the confines of this school of thought, the choice is up to us, and us alone. No amount of intercession on the part of others is going to impact one’s entry into Heaven. With that in mind, the entire process of proxy baptism becomes an exercise in futility.
The difference ultimately lies with the way in which Mormonism differs from every other mainstream Christian denomination. Mormons believe that man will get a “second chance” at salvation when they get to Heaven. The practice of baptism by proxy is meant to “smooth the way” for that second chance to happen. Ask any other “mainstreamer,” Catholic or not, whether man gets any chances beyond this mortal coil at redemption. The resulting answer is several varying degrees of no.
I guess the long and short of it is that, if the Mormons want to take a few extra baths for those whom they think they can help save, then more power to them. (With the summer months coming up, I’d save the water and just say a simple prayer, if it t’were me.) In closing, before my LDS readers try to tell me that I’m “blasting Mormonism,” no I’m not. I’m simply pointing out the differences in theologies. Vive la différence!