In his February 2015 Ensign article entitled, “The Gate Called Baptism” (45-47), Elder Devn Cornish of the Second Quorum of the Seventy said that “…baptism, a holy sign of a covenant between God and His children, is required for our salvation” (45). Christians would say that baptism is not essential for salvation, but according to the LDS tradition, water baptism by immersion is a must for members eight years old and older (D&C 68:27).
According to LDS Article of Faith #4, part of the official Mormon canon:
“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Baptism is so important to LDS members because, as Elder Cornish quotes the Guide to the Scriptures, “Baptism by immersion in water by one having authority is the introductory ordinance of the gospel and is necessary to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (p. 46; See also, Guide to the Scriptures, “Baptism, Baptize“).
2 Nephi 31:17 says,
“Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.”
In light of this understanding, Mormons place a misinformed interpretation upon John 3:5, in which Jesus says to Nicodemus, “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.” In the LDS mind, this means we must be water baptized, and then baptized in the Holy Ghost. As Elder Cornish implies, “baptism is required for us to dwell in the presence of the Father and the Son…” and is the “…gate through which we enter the Lord’s Church and subsequently the celestial kingdom…” as well as being a beginning to the “ongoing process of becoming ‘perfect in Christ'” (“The Gate Called Baptism,” 46).
Speaking of the John 3:5 passage, the late LDS Apostle James E. Talmage wrote that the “words of the Savior, spoken while He ministered in the flesh, declare baptism to be essential to salvation… It is practically indisputable that the watery birth here referred to as essential to entrance into the kingdom is baptism” (Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith, 1977, 122, emphasis added).
Ron Rhodes, in his book Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons, writes that “critical to a proper understanding of John 3:1-5 is verse 6: ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (p. 331). Flesh can only produce flesh, and spirit can only produce spirit, since the biblical law of reproduction is “after its own kind” (see Genesis 1:11, 24-25). Since we must be born again, we realize that it is God who gives eternal life to him who believes in Christ (Titus 3:5). This is a spiritual rebirth, which comes by faith. Rhodes explains this even further, saying,
“Notice what Jesus said to Nicodemus: First He spoke about being ‘born of water and of the Spirit’ in John 3:5; then He explained what He meant in verse 6. It would seem that ‘born of water’ in verse 5 is parallel to ‘born of the flesh’ in verse 6, just as ‘born of… the Spirit’ and ‘born of the Spirit’ are parallel in verses 5 and 6. Jesus’ message, then, is that just as a person has had a physical birth, so also must a person have a spiritual birth if he wants to enter the kingdom of God.” (Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons, 331-332)
In other words, James E. Talmage’s argument is flat-lined. Being born of water is not water baptism, it is a physical birth, which we all go through.
LDS Apostle Orson F. Whitney stated that “There is no salvation without repentance, and no remission of sin without baptism” (Whitney, Baptism: The Birth of Water and the Spirit, 6). Yet what did Peter mean in Acts 2:38 when he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (emphasis added)? Does this mean that we receive remission of sins via baptism? According to Mormonism, yes. According to a correct interpretation of the Bible, no. “Eis” is the New Testament Greek word for “for” in this case. Ron Rhodes points out that this word for is a “preposition that can indicate causality (‘in order to attain’) or a result (‘because of’)” (James Bjornstad, “At What Price Success? The Boston (Church of Christ) Movement,” Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993, reprint, Christian Research Institute, 4; quoted in Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures, 328).
In Acts 2:38, “for” is used in the resultant sense, meaning that Acts 2:38 can be paraphrased “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of [or as a result of] the remission of sins.” Rhodes implies that this verse does not mean, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ in order to attain the remission of sins” (Ibid, 328). In other words, water baptism comes as a result (or because) of the fact that we have already received a remission of sins by our faith in Jesus Christ.
Mark 16:16 says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (emphasis added). Notice the second part to the verse; if one does not believe, he is damned. If you believe but are not baptized, you are still saved; that is the clincher.
The Book of Mormon gives a chilling twist to the biblical passage in Mark 16:16. Third Nephi 11:34 reads, “And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned” (emphasis added). This means that if you believe but are not baptized, you have not experienced the introductory ordinance to enter into the celestial kingdom, because water baptism is necessary, according to LDS teaching.
LDS Apostle Rudger Clawson stated,
“One cannot get into the kingdom of God upon the principle of faith alone, or repentance alone, or receiving the Holy Ghost alone. He will have to be baptized, go down into the water, and come up out of the water, and have hands laid upon him for the gift of the Holy Ghost. That is the procedure that was followed by the apostles of Christ. That is the procedure of the Church today. It is the only way.” (Rudger Clawson, Conference Reports, October 1932, 9)
No, that is not the only way. Faith alone in Jesus Christ is the only way. Paul simply and beautifully stated in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (see John 5:24; 11:25; 12:46; and 20:31). Elder Devn Cornish quotes Moroni 8:25 on page 46 of his article by saying, “And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins” (emphasis added).
No, fulfilling the commandments does not bring a remission of sins. If that was possible, then Christ died in vain. What would we have needed him to die on the cross for? He died for us so that our sins may be forgiven if we have faith in Him. It is impossible to fulfill all the commandments. Even trying is not good enough, according to LDS Prophet Spencer W. Kimball. Kimball stated: “To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can.” (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 165) Since our best is never good enough, and trying is never good enough, how can the inconsistent Mormon god whom the Book of Mormon claims “giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7) expect His people to fulfill ALL the commandments in order to bring forth His forgiveness?
Faith alone in God alone, not baptism, is essential for salvation. And nothing else. It’s really, really that simple.