Changing the Ordinance?-The Fallacy of the LDS Argument Against the Mode of Baptism

The Church of Jesus Christ of  Latter-day Saints purports to be the Restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ anciently, as we read in the New Testament.  It claims to have the same priesthood authority and organization, as well as the same ordinances (what Catholics refer to as “sacraments” or “mysteries”) necessary for eternal life, including baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordination for men, the temple Endowment, and the temple Sealing.  The priesthood of God is necessary to perform these ordinances, and they must be performed in a correct way, with the correct words, matter, etc.  A similar principle is also found in the Catholic Church.

But what happens when we change the words or change how the ordinance is performed?  Latter-day Saints frequently refer to such a thing as an evidence of apostasy.  A popular example of this thinking is on the mode of baptism.  Mormons believe that baptism was originally performed by immersion.  Because the Catholic Church performs baptism by pouring water on the head three times, this is a change in the ordinance, and is a sign of apostasy, an example of man changing the things of God.  LDS further believe that God provided latter day revelation as to immersion being necessary for baptism.  Various LDS prophets and apostles have also taught the importance of not changing the ordinances, as they were instituted in Heaven.  Here are a few relevant quotes:

“Following the deaths of the Savior’s Apostles, the principles of the gospel were corrupted and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances. Because of this widespread wickedness, the Lord withdrew the authority and keys of the priesthood from the earth.”-http://seminary.lds.org/mastery/basic-doctrines/dispensation-apostasy-and-restoration?lang=eng

“Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.”-Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 308.

Through time and apostasy following Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, however, the divine authority of the priesthood and the sacred ordinances were changed or lost, and the associated covenants were broken. The Lord revealed His displeasure over this situation in these words:

“For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;

“They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god.” 8

This situation required a restoration of knowledge pertaining to the importance, significance, and appointed administration of sacred gospel ordinances, both live and vicarious, as well as the divine authority of the priesthood and priesthood keys to administer them.”-Ordinances and Covenants

“The corruption of the necessity of immersion in the form of baptism came fairly early as the 2nd century “Didache” (the so-called “teaching of the twelve apostles”) shows”-http://www.boap.org/LDS/Apostasy.pt2.html

“During the Apostasy, many ordinances were altered or added without proper authority. The church allowed infant baptism and baptism by sprinkling or pouring, instead of by immersion.”-What Happened to Christ’s Church?

“During the Great Apostasy, the pure doctrines and ordinances of Christ’s Church became corrupted.”-Doctrine and Covenants Manual

“The Apostasy (falling away from Jesus’ true church) happened after Jesus Christ was crucified and Peter and the other Apostles were killed. Without living prophets or apostles the Church no longer received revelation. Teachings that were not true were added to the Church and some of the truths Jesus Christ had taught were taken away. The priesthood (the authority to act in God’s name) was lost from the earth. People were baptized by methods such as sprinkling instead of being immersed as Jesus was.”-Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History

As we see, Latter-day Saints believe that after the Great Apostasy, Christians did not have the pure doctrines of the Gospel, the priesthood authority to perform ordinances, nor were the ordinances, such as baptism, performed the way they originally were.  The Catholic Church performs baptism by pouring, therefore they introduced a change in the ordinance that was not sanctioned by God.

The problem with this argument is that it is not only circular, because it depends on the LDS understanding and latter day revelation from God on the necessity of immersion, but it only condemns the practices of the LDS Church itself.

When a Mormon goes to the temple for their own Endowment, they  first participate in what is known as the Initiatory, or the Washing and Anointing.  In this ordinance, they are symbolically washed and anointed, and are then authorized to wear the garments, or “Mormon underwear”.  Although the covenants of keeping things “sacred” or not divulging something only are related to very specific components of the Endowment ceremony, many LDS refrain from talking about the ordinances at all, outside of very vague references.  Therefore, I will try not to go into too specific in detail.  What I am talking about is readily available if one searches the Internet with a simple Google search.

When I went to the temple for my Endowment and was ready for the Initiatory Washing and Anointing, not too long ago, I sat in a chair, and the temple ordinance worker put some water on my forehead, pronounced blessings on specific body parts (such as my eyes, ears, back, loins, legs/feet, etc).  This blessing was sealed by another worker, then we went into another area, oil was put on my head, and the same blessings were pronounced, then sealed on various body parts.  The Initiatory really was my favorite part of the Endowment, mostly because of a specific reference to ancient Old Testament practices at the beginning of the ordinance, and that we perform those ordinances.  I felt a connection to the tabernacle and OT temple, and felt that because the ordinances are unchangeable, we were doing the same things they did.  This is quite a common understanding, as I’ve gathered from LDS I’ve talked to in real life, and online.

The problem is, if you talk to LDS and ex-LDS that went through the temple ordinances prior to certain dates, you’ll find out that the mode of these ordinances have changed!  There are books written on the topic of the changes of the temple ordinances, such as “The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship” and “The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History”.

Talking specifically about the Initiatory Washing and Anointing, this ordinance has changed in mode more than once in LDS history, most recently in 2005.  In the earlier days of LDS temple worship, patrons would wash their whole bodies, naked, and each body part would be anointed as it was mentioned in the blessing.  In more recent times, prior to 2005, each body part was touched with water and oil as it was mentioned in the blessing.  After 2005, in the Initiatory as I experienced it, only the head is touched with water and oil, and the body parts are only “symbolically” washed and anointed, as mentioned in the ordinance itself.  This change is documented quite well, and a Google search on “LDS Initiatory 2005” will turn up multiple resources.

So as we see, the LDS Washing and Anointing has gone through quite a significant change in mode.  Previously, it involved a full bath and anointing of each body part.  Now, only the top of the head is touched with water and oil, and the rest are washed and anointed symbolically.  This sounds like a change in the mode of the ordinance in the same way that Mormons accuse Catholics of changing the ordinance of baptism.  If the Catholic Church changed the ordinance of baptism, it’s clear that the LDS Church changed the ordinance of the Initiatory.

But how would faithful LDS look at this issue?  In researching the matter of changing the mode of baptism, it seems as if the issue is that it was an “unauthorized” change (that word is even specifically used in some instances), and the changes in the temple ordinances would be assumed to have been authorized.  LDS do not believe that God authorized the change in the mode of baptism.  However, it’s clear that Catholics, who believe that Church leadership has the authority and keys of the Kingdom to bind and loose, certainly could have been, and was, guided and authorized by God to introduce pouring as a valid means of baptism, along with immersion (which is still practiced in Catholicism).  If the LDS Church itself has the power to actually change how an ordinance is being performed, quite dramatically, then I fail to see how the Catholic example would be an example of apostasy, while the LDS changing of the mode of the Initiatory isn’t.  I wonder if there is a revelation somewhere authorizing the LDS leaders to change the Initiatory.

So, whenever I read of a Latter-day Saint referring to pouring baptism as an evidence of apostasy, I immediately think of the symbolic temple washing and anointing as another evidence of apostasy, if we accept their reasoning.  Or, we can simply accept that the ancient Church, like the LDS Church claims for itself, had the authority to allow for pouring as an acceptable form of baptism, and that they had the authority to make such a “change” (or addition, more accurately).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washing_and_anointing

http://www.ldsendowment.org/timeline.html

http://www.i4m.com/think/temples/temple_ordinance.htm

http://packham.n4m.org/endow05.htm

http://www.mormonthink.com/temple.htm#initiatories

http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2007/05/love-revised-initiatory-system-in.html (a faithful view on the Initiatory changes, viewing them as “inspired adjustments”, which again, could be an equally valid way to look at the adjustments made to the mode of baptism anciently to also accommodate pouring).

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4 Responses to Changing the Ordinance?-The Fallacy of the LDS Argument Against the Mode of Baptism

  1. Seraphim says:

    Another interesting point is that, even if we bought the argument that baptism should always be done by immersion, one could point to various Christian bodies that have maintained this practice, such as Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy which both always baptize by immersion.

    • Very true. I would also add the Eastern Catholics (in full communion with Rome) to that list. But yes, it’s clear that if one rejects the view that the Church can be inspired and have the authority to change the mode of an ordinance/sacrament, or add to the acceptable modes, such as in the case of baptism (and this view certainly can’t be held by LDS, as demonstrated in the article), that various ancient Christian Churches have always practiced immersion baptism as the normative mode, including for infants.

  2. Phillip says:

    When I was received into the Catholic Church (Latin Rite) last year I was baptized by full immersion.

    But there is nothing explicit in the New Testament about full submersion under the water being the required form of baptism, and the Didache, written in the first century, explicity states that pouring is acceptable: “And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.” Early baptismal fonts were often too shallow for full submersion. Instead the candidates would stand in the water and the priest would then pour water over their head. One could also argue that LDS baptism is not identical to what the early church did since the early Christians baptized by triple immersion (or pouring), not a single dunk. And lets not forget that the LDS sacrament was also changed when water was substituted for wine. The endowment ritual itself has gone through several changes, including the removal of the “lecture at the veil”, the five points of fellowship, and the enactment of the penalties associated with the signs and tokens (I just missed the last one since I took out my endowment in 1990).

    • As always I agree with your assessment. Many Latter-day Saints are not aware that the Catholic Church didn’t “change” the mode of baptism from immersion to pouring, but that both forms are used, and are equally valid. Further, as you mentioned, it is clear that the mode/form of various LDS ordinances, such as the Sacrament, Endowment, and Initiatory. LDS will obviously claim that these were inspired, authorized changes, but the same can apply to the Catholic inclusion of pouring as a valid mode for baptism. Very ironic.

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