When I came out to Massachusetts for the first time to look for a place to live I had an interesting conversation with our real estate agent about baptism. He brought up the subject and was telling me about a baptism he had witnessed for a family member. The baptism was of a young baby and it was a communal baptism, he said about 5 babies were baptized at the same time. He didn’t mention the religion but he just mentioned that it didn’t seem right to him. He thought that baptism should be more personal. I told him I agreed with him and that in my church baptism was very personal. I realized that the way we baptize in the Mormon (Latter-day Saint) Church is pretty unique.
The (not completely) unique things about baptism in our church is that first we do it by immersion. In other words, there is a large font of water and the whole body is submerged in water after a priesthood blessing. You may be thinking that it is pretty cruel to completely submerge a baby when they don’t know how to hold their breath which brings me to the next unique thing about baptism for Mormons, we don’t baptize small children. We start baptizing at the age of 8.
The reason we start baptism at the age of 8 is two-fold. First of all, we don’t believe that man is born with sin. The Atonement of Jesus Christ takes away the sin of Adam, we are each born pure and clean. Babies and small children don’t need baptism to take away sin, they don’t understand good and evil therefore cannot choose evil, therefore cannot sin. The second reason we wait until we are a little older to baptize is that for us baptism is more than just taking away sin it is our first real commitment to God. At baptism we literally take upon us the name of Jesus Christ so that from that time forward we are representatives of Jesus Christ and commit to act accordingly. That is a pretty big commitment, one that each person should make on their own and not their parents. We believe that by age 8 a person is able to understand the basic concepts of representing Jesus Christ and therefore is free to choose for themselves whether they will or will not be baptized.
I remember my baptism. I was born into a Mormon family and was baptized at 8. I remember my parents sitting down with me and explaining to me what baptism meant. I also met with my Bishop, the ecclesiastical leader over our congregation, on my own and he talked to me about baptism. He asked me if baptism was a step I wanted to take and I told him yes. My father baptized me (a family member or close friend that holds the priesthood is normally the one to perform the baptism, not the head of the congregation) and I remember the day quite clearly. My dad made sure the water in the font was warm (something I was concerned about) and many of my friends (both friends in my faith and out of it) and congregation members came to witness. After the baptism I was given the gift of the Holy Ghost by a priesthood blessing to help me to know how to follow Christ and make the right choices for the rest of my life. Afterward my mom served refreshments, banana bread with cream cheese frosting (my favorite), and we all celebrated the day.
Baptism is more than wiping away the past, it is looking forward to the future as a representative of Jesus Christ. It is mapping out the direction you want to take in life. It’s a choice I am glad I made and reflect on often. How do your ideas about baptism impact your life?