In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul speaks of Baptism for the Dead, he said, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). Later, the apostle Peter also testified of the necessity of the ordinance for the dead, he said, “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6).
The first essential ordinance necessary to enter into the kingdom of God is baptism. The Lord Jesus Christ is our perfect example of this principle of the gospel. Though he was sinless, he was baptized by immersion by John the Baptist who holds the authority of God.
Many of our ancestors have died without the knowledge and blessings of the gospel. Through the inspiration of God, Joseph Smith, the first modern-day prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church by others), said, “And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (Doctrine and Covenants 128: 15).
We are all children of God and therefore all are entitled to the same blessings given to those who are obedient and who are willing to follow His commandments. “Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:32–35).
Mormons don’t discuss details of temple worship and other sacred ordinances outside the temple, even with other members who have attended the temple, because they are sacred and should only be discussed in sacred places.
Latter-day Saints hope all will sanctify themselves in order to be worthy to enter into God’s house and partake of the higher ordinances that can lead us towards eternal life. “And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.” (3 Nephi 27:19–22).
God loves us so much. He is our Father in Heaven. Temple ordinances are essential to bringing us incomparable blessings in our lives. Latter-day Saints believe that baptism is a temporal ordinance. This means that it must be done on the earth by one who has a body. Those who are dead cannot meet either of these restrictions. This is why baptisms for the dead are performed by proxy: by someone who has a body in behalf of someone who does not have a body. Latter-day Saints also believe in free will, however. This means that no one will be forced to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ if he does not with to. When a proxy baptism is performed, that simply means a deceased person then has the choice whether or not to accept the ordinance, whereas before they were unable to participate at all.
Learn more about Latter-day Saint people
LDS News on Church policy regarding baptism for the dead
Mormon genealogy or Mormon family history endeavors are extremely important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons believe that everyone must have the opportunity to hear and to choose to accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who have not had this opportunity, or for some reason have turned away the opportunity, during their sojourn on earth will have it in the world to come.
When people die, their spirits separate from their mortal bodies and go to a place called the “Spirit World” to await resurrection and judgment, then assignment to a kingdom of glory in heaven. The spirit world is divided into two areas — paradise, where the righteous reside, and spirit prison, where the wicked reside. In the spirit world, the Lord “levels the playing field,” so to speak, to give spirits the chance to repent and to lay claim on the atonement of Jesus Christ. Spirits in the spirit world have the same personalities that they did on earth, and they are able to make choices and exercise “free agency” as they did on earth. (Read a prophet’s vision of the spirit world.)
Some of these spirits “died without law,” so they can’t be held accountable for all their behavior during mortality. You can’t break a law unless you understand it. God is just. He won’t punish people who sin in ignorance. Others were blinded by the craftiness of men, hampered by their cultural or family influences, or deliberately rejected the gospel of Christ when presented to them. These latter suffer for their own sins in the spirit world, but then may inherit a kingdom of glory. This suffering might be called “endless torment,” but through modern revelation, we learn that “endless torment” doesn’t last forever:
Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.
Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles. I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest. For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
Endless punishment is God’s punishment (Doctrine and Covenants 19:6-13).
This is a more loving outlook than held in any other Christian faith! This doctrine gives Mormons a perfect brightness of hope for their ancestors who have not received the gospel. Once a spirit accepts the gospel of Jesus Christ and repents, he must do what his earthly counterparts do — be baptized by immersion for the remission of sins and then receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. When this process is complete, spirits who have dwelt in spirit prison may go to spirit paradise to await resurrection. However, baptism is an earthly ordinance and it takes a body to perform. This is why Mormons perform baptisms for the dead.
Baptism for the dead performed in Mormon temples, followed by the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost, does not automatically make a deceased person a member of the LDS Church. The person has free choice whether to accept or reject the ordinances, and his or her name is not placed on the records of the Church. Mormons are not baptized for Holocaust victims or celebrities. They are counseled to find their direct ancestors and to get permission from family members to baptize relatives recently deceased.
Mormon Genealogy Research and Resources
The largest family history library in the world is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Located in Salt Lake City, Utah, adjacent to Temple Square, volunteers who are family history experts stand ready to help anyone of any faith or nationality with family history research. Smaller Mormon family history libraries can be found around the world and are also open to the public with Mormon genealogy specialists there to help. (To find a Mormon family history center near you, click here.)
Mormon genealogy work helps people all over the world, most of whom have no interest in the LDS Church. The Mormon family history website, FamilySearch.org, is a repository for millions of records from all over the world where one can find ancestors and construct family trees, and also collaborate with other researchers in finding and correcting information.
Mormon family history volunteers have spent countless hours putting records into digital format. Mormon genealogy volunteers digitized the records of Ellis Island in New York, the entry point for millions of immigrants into the United States. Millions of records have been digitized in the LDS Church’s “indexing program,” a wonderful aid to the world’s genealogists. Anyone may participate in the indexing program, and some say it gives the same sort of satisfaction as playing a computer game. To participate in genealogical indexing, go to Indexing.FamilySearch.org.
Mormon genealogy research has provided some surprising gifts for famous people. Years ago, the LDS Church gave a gift to TV talk show host Johnny Carson, presenting him with a book of his compiled family history. The LDS Church has also done this for U.S. Presidents, the most recent being President Barak Obama.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints builds Mormon Temples by way of commandment from God. These beautiful structures, now all over the world, are patterned after ancient temples. In them, worthy members of the Mormon Church gather to ponder, pray, seek personal revelation from God for their lives, worship and perform sacred ordinances. Temples are filled with light – literal light as well as the light of God’s teachings. Mormon temples are places of great peace.
Before each temple is dedicated, the structures are open to the public for interior tours. Many visitors feel the wonderful spirit of the temple as they walk through each special room. In addition to the ordinance rooms, which are described below, temples also house offices, laundry facilities, waiting rooms, dressing rooms (including a special dressing room for brides) and often a cafeteria.
Inside Mormon temples are baptistries. Like many other Christian denominations, Mormons participate in the ordinance of baptism, usually in a font inside one of their many church meetinghouses. Mormons are baptized at or after the age of eight, the age at which people should know fully the difference between right and wrong and become accountable for their sins. Baptism is the ordinance that begins one’s spiritual progression in the gospel of the Lord. When adults investigate and decide to join the Mormon Church, it is baptism which begins their church membership.
There are many people who have lived and died without learning the truth of Jesus Christ, His church and His commandments. Because God does not hold His children accountable for sins unless they have knowledge of this truth, many people have the opportunity to learn of Jesus Christ in the spirit world where we go after death to await the resurrection and judgment. Because baptism requires a physical body, something those in the spirit world are temporarily without, Mormons participate in baptisms for the dead, allowing the ancestors they are baptized on behalf of to accept or reject the vicarious ordinance.
Baptisms for the dead are only conducted inside temples. The baptismal fonts where these baptisms – which involve full immersion in water – are performed rest upon the backs of twelve statues of oxen. Like those in Solomon’s ancient temple, the oxen represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Near the font are dressing rooms and also confirmation rooms where individuals, again on behalf of their ancestors, are confirmed, or blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost by those with priesthood authority laying their hands on the person’s head and saying a short prayer.
Inside Mormon temples are endowment rooms. Endowment means “gift” and the endowment ceremony, which Church members go through when they feel they are spiritually prepared for it (usually in young adulthood), is a gift from God. The first time a Mormon goes through the ceremony, they do it for themselves. All subsequent times, they do it on behalf of a deceased person, much like baptism for the dead. Endowment ceremonies are opportunities for Mormons to be taught about the Plan of Salvation and to make covenants, or promises to God that they are promised blessings for fulfilling. The endowment room is a beautiful auditorium. Each temple usually has more than one. The presentation takes about 90 minutes. It begins with a film screening with instruction on the creation of the world and the fall of Adam and follows with further instruction about God’s commandments and his promised blessings. All of this is centered on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The endowment ceremony is always repeated with the same words.
Participating in the endowment ceremony gives individuals added protection from and power over evil in the world. After a church Member has been endowed, he or she wears a sacred garment underneath their clothing for the rest of their lives, symbolic of this protective power.
Inside Mormon temples are celestial rooms. The celestial room is where the endowment ceremony ends. Here, in the most beautiful room in the temple, people may sit quietly, meditate and pray as long as they like. The celestial room, representative of God’s highest kingdom of heaven, is breathtakingly light, white and peaceful.
Inside Mormon temples are sealing rooms. Marriages are performing in sealing rooms, because the special marriage ceremony performed in the temple “seals” couples together for “time” during mortal life on Earth and “all eternity” after death. Children born to couples who have been sealed together are part of that sealed covenant, making the entire family an eternal family.
Each temple has several sealing rooms large enough to accommodate various numbers of guests. All guests who attend sealings must be worthy to enter the temple. Sealing rooms have an altar in the center of the room where the bride and groom kneel opposite each other to say their vows. On opposite walls in the rooms are large mirrors, reflecting the bride and groom an infinite number of times, symbolizing the infinite togetherness they will enjoy throughout eternity.
Like other temple ordinances, sealing ceremonies can also be performed vicariously for the dead. Sealing ceremonies are also performed for couples who joined the church after marriage or who were married outside of the temple for various reasons.
Why Those who have Passed On Need us
One major purpose of Mormon temples has to do with those who have died and left this world. After we die, we are not taken immediately to meet God. The day will come when all men will stand before the throne of God to be judged of their sins, but before that day, there is much to do.
To fully understand this function of temples, one must realize that it is only in and through the name of Jesus Christ that man can be saved. “There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:17). That being said, there are billions of people who have lived on this earth without ever hearing the name of Christ, or coming to understand the sacrifice he made for them. Would God be just in condemning them for not believing in someone of whom they had never heard? And yet, without faith in Christ, they cannot be saved.
To satisfy this paradox and prove God once again both infinitely just and infinitely merciful, God has created a plan to help these people. After we die we go to a place called the Spirit World. Here, those who have died faithful in Christ continue their ministry to teach those who have never heard the gospel. In fact, after Christ’s death and before his resurrection, He Himself came to these people and declared to them that he had died for them as well. (1 Peter 3:18-19, 4:6).
Necessity of Ordinances
Salvation is open to all who repent, but “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Baptism is not open to those who have passed on from this life. Without bodies, they cannot perform the essential ordinances (Link to Perfecting the Saints) the Lord requires of them. So, once again proving the infinite justice and mercy of the Lord, these ordinances are offered in Holy Temples. Baptism for those who have passed away is often called baptism for the dead.
Ordinances for the Dead
All of the ordinances offered in the temple for living members of the LDS Church are also performed by proxy for those who have passed on. This means that someone “stands in” for the person who has died. Baptisms are also performed by proxy for these people who have passed on. Because we have no way of knowing who will or will not accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, these ordinances are done for everyone who has passed on (though we have been encouraged by the Church to keep this work within our own family lines. It’s this very reason that makes members of the church so active in genealogy). To have a family member who has passed on baptized by proxy does not commit them to that baptism, it merely gives them the opportunity to accept or reject the ordinance as they choose. Temple Marriage or Sealings and Endowments are also performed for those who have passed on (Link to Perfecting the Saints).
This aspect of temples truly shows us the majesty and greatness of God, and proves to us that He loves all of His children, and invites all to come unto Him.