Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Chapter 13: Baptism (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on July 7, 2014

See here for the lesson at lds.org.

From the life

Pres. Smith says:

I had a sister who was very kind, as all my sisters were, who impressed upon my mind the need of keeping myself unspotted from the world. Her teachings to me the day I was baptized have stayed with me all the days of my life.

Question: What does it mean to be unspotted from the world?

Sometimes we draw a false dichotomy between the world and the kingdom of God. After all, there are lots of good things in the world, things that are “virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworth” (our 13th article of faith). However, when we use the term “worldly” at Church, I think the implied meaning is referring to aspects of the world that, by definition, do not fit this definition. And these worldly forces are often quite subtle—at least the more dangerous parts of the world function this way, in my experience.

So, for me, one example of a challenge I face in remaining “unspotted from the world” is a tendency to feel stressed out about things that are either related to work, or finances, or tasks I have to do that I dread doing. The feelings accompanying these thoughts tend to crowd out the joy and peace that I feel when I am mor focused on things of the Spirit. These worldly concerns tend to make me more impatient and grumpy, especially around my family.

1. Baptism by immersion

We learn in this section that baptism is symbolic of death and rebirth:

(3) Baptism is literally, as well as a figure of the resurrection, a transplanting, or resurrection from one life to another—the life of sin to the life of spiritual life.

Question: What distinguishes “the life of spiritual life” from a non-spiritual life? Is this difference something that our others notice, or should notice? our friends and neighbors? our ward family? our family and/or housemates?

I’m currently a ward missionary, so I am interested in the ways that we can live so that others will notice a difference. I was also assigned to give a talk on Elder Eyring’s recent talk on “Our Heritage of Hope” (or something close to that) and I was struck by the way that he linked the ideas of living the Gospel, having hope, and being optimistic. I am not, by nature, a particularly optimistic person, but I’ve been recognizing more and more the link between having hope, in the Gospel sense, and being the kind of person who has a deep-seated, hopeful outlook on the world. This, of course, means too many things to do more than hint at here, but I’d like to (1) strongly recommend Joe Spencer’s recent book For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope and (2) note that a hopeful attitude is, to my mind, closely linked to the atonement and an ability to overcome negative thoughts and feelings, including feelings of discouragement, guilt, apathy/boredom/tedium, etc.

2. Baptism and accountability

Question: How does the Mormon doctrine of accountability help us understand the meaning and significance of baptism?

Baptism is not a magical ordinance that saves us, just because we are baptized. The meaning and significance of baptism is intimately tied up with the covenant that we make at baptism, which is the topic of the next section of the lesson.

3. Making a covenant

Question: What covenant do we make at baptism?

I think this is actually a surprisingly difficult question to answer correctly, or at least to substantiate. I’ve heard that we renew our baptismal covenant when we take the sacrament, but I’ve never found chapter and verse to quote to support this idea. So, although I won’t be teaching this lesson, if I were I would plan to ask quorum members to quote me scripture in their answer, and I would suggest slight alternatives to what they say, some playful and absurd and some more nuanced but slightly different, in order to try and generate a bit of friendly debate about what we are really covenanting to do when we get baptized. At any rate, a very nice answer is quoted in the manual’s citation of D&C 20:37:

All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.

Many of the teachings that are most distinctive and central to Mormonism can be traced back to the conception of baptism outlined right here. If I were teaching this lesson, I’d be very tempted to spend most of the lesson considering the meaning and significance of each phrase in this passage. With Joe Spencer’s focus in his book on consecration, it’s interesting to think about the continuities (and some differences) between this covenant and the covenant of consecration that we make in the temple.

4. Continuing to repent

Question: What what must we be sure to do after we are baptized?

I would suggest the answer “obedience” as an answer to this question. Then I would discuss the strengths and weaknesses of such an answer. Then I would turn to the following quote from the manual:

Every soul baptized, truly baptized, has humbled himself; his heart is broken; his spirit is contrite; he has made a covenant before God that he will keep his commandments, and he has forsaken all his sins. Then after he gets into the Church, is it his privilege to sin after he is in? Can he let down? Can he indulge in some of the things which the Lord has said he should avoid? No. It is just as necessary that he have that contrite spirit, that broken heart, after he is baptized as it is before.

What I like about this is answer is how it differs from the perhaps more usual answer “obedience.” It is not so much that we must be obedient, but that we must have an obedient attitude, which is basically what I think it means to have a broken heart and contrite spirit.

3 Responses to “RS/MP Chapter 13: Baptism (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)”

  1. Steve Warren said

    In my view, Christ’s most clear teaching on baptism is verses 21-28 in 3 Nephi 11, a passage that isn’t included in the lesson. Perhaps the manual writers didn’t want to open up discussion on what Christ means in chapter 11 when he five times says to be baptized “in my name,” It turns out that he’s actually saying his name is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. (See verses 25 and 27.)

  2. I don’t know of any scriptural reference to the Sacrament renewing our baptismal covenants. However, it is spoken from the pulpit often in General Conference.

    So I wonder, is this is a latter day teaching that came through revelation, or an unfounded “tradition” the church has held onto for some time. I wonder if we can’t identify who first taught it, and their reasoning.

  3. Jae said

    Mosiah 18:10 says that when we are baptized “in the name of the Lord” we do so “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”.

    And again in 3 Ne 18:10-11, after Christ has instituted the sacrament among the Nephites, he says (10) “Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you” (11) And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name: and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”

    Clearly these two scriptures, and the sacramental prayers, show the relationship between baptism and the sacrament. The covenants and the promise are the same in each.

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