Baptism, rebaptism, and rebaptism again

When I was 20 years old, I was one of two designated witnesses to the baptism of an eight year old girl by her father. The father pronounced the blessing as he had memorized it, almost exactly as it is written in our current Doctrine and Covenants section 20. He called her by name and said:

…having been commissioned of Jesus Christ I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

He omitted two instances of the word “of”before immersing his daughter. It was such a subtle thing, I had to review what I’d heard in my mind to make sure he hadn’t simply said ” o’ ” or another abbreviated vowel-form of the word. The other witness agreed with me that he had not said the words, and we had to request that the man say the prayer again. Though we attempted to clarify the correct wording beforehand, he made the same mistake again before again baptizing his shivering daughter. Finally, we had to get a copy of the scriptures opened to D&C section 20 to show him the word he was leaving out. On the third try, he said the prayer correctly and rebaptized his now crying daughter.

Though this little girl had been baptized not only once, but twice, and the blessing pronounced on her was identical in meaning in all material respects, we still had to request that she be rebaptized. We understood the principle that we should not deviate from the ordinances God has commanded us to perform. When a word is omitted, added, or changed, the words and immersion must be repeated. This is true of both the baptismal blessing and sacramental prayers.

While I believe that if we had not known that there had been an error despite our best efforts to ensure it was done correctly, that God would honor the baptism as a righteous act. But we did know, and thus had an obligation to correct the error.

What if we had immediately discovered that the copy of the D&C where we found the baptismal blessing had been misprinted and no longer contained the words appointed by God? Surely we would have located the correct words asked that she be rebaptized once again.

What if all copies of the D&C printed since 1835 contained an altered invocation? Would our obligation to locate the correct prayer be any less, or the desire to be rebaptized with the correct prayer any less appropriate?

If ensuring the correct words is truly important, then we should carefully review the relevant historical records. If we are doing what God commanded, then we will be validated. If we are not, we should be grateful for the correction.

 

June 1829 – “..rely upon the things which are written”

In June of 1829, as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery neared completion of the translation of the Book of Mormon, they contemplated the procedure for establishing God’s church. In response to a request for guidance on that topic, the Lord gave a revelation, now comprising D&C 18:

NOW behold, because of the thing which you have desired to know of me, I give unto you  these words:
2 Behold I have manifested unto you, by my Spirit in many instances, that the things which you have written are true:
3 Wherefore you know that they are true; and if  you know that they are true, behold I give unto you  a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written, concerning my church, my gospel, and my  rock.
4 Wherefore if you shall build up my church, and  my gospel, and my rock, the gates of hell shall not  prevail against you.

 

As surely as God’s spirit had manifested to Oliver that the Book of Mormon was true, it could be relied upon as a guide for the building up of the latter-day Church. In fact, that was God’s purpose in preserving it as he did, ensuring that “in them are all things written, concerning my church, my gospel, and my rock.” No necessary principle was omitted, and building on the principles in the text would ensure that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” those attempting to build the Church.

Oliver immediately set about composing a set of articles to guide the small group of believers, using the language in the unpublished manuscript of the Book of Mormon to outline the proper mode of worship. The document was entitled “Articles of the Church of Christ”, and can be read here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/appendix-3-articles-of-the-church-of-christ-june-1829?p=1. True to the Lord’s commandment to rely on the Book of Mormon, the instructions on the mode of baptism are identical to those found in 3 Nephi 11, including the words to be spoken:

And now behold these are the words which ye  shall say calling them by name saying Having authority given me of Jesus Christ  I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Ghost Amen

April 1830: Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ

To create the final form of the Articles and Covenants of the Church that would serve the Church as a legally organized body, Joseph composed another document drawn less directly from the text of the Book of Mormon. Still, the procedure for baptism and sacrament was: “And the manner  of baptism & the manner of administering  the sacrament are to be done as is written  in the Book of Morman[sic].”  Misspelling aside, the Church’s founding document points us to the manner of baptism given in 3 Nephi 11:
23 Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words, and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall yebaptize them—Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them.
 24 And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying:
 25 Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 26 And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water.
As of the writing of that document, the words of the baptismal blessing still comply with the Lord’s instructions in 1829.

June 1832: Republication in the Evening and the Morning Star

Rather than point the reader to the Book of Mormon, this edition extracts the language for the baptismal blessing and sacrament prayers from 3 Nephi 11 and Moroni and includes them in the Articles and Covenants verbatim.

January 1835: Republication in the Evening and the Morning Star.

The baptismal blessing now reads “…having been commissioned of Jesus Christ…” The Joseph Smith Papers editors explain:
“The first issue of the reprinted newspaper, which appeared under the slightly modified title Evening and Morning Star, was published in January 1835. Though touted as a reprint that would correct typographical and other errors, Evening and Morning Star actually contained significant changes to the revelation texts. In the first issue, editor Oliver Cowdery explained the revisions he was making in the reprinted versions of the revelations:
“On the revelations we merely say, that we were not a little surprised to find the previous print so different from the original. We have given them a careful comparison, assisted by individuals whose known integrity and ability is uncensurable. Thus saying we cast no reflections upon those who were entrusted with the responsibility of publishing them in Missouri, as our own labors were included in that important service to the church, and it was our unceasing endeavor to have them correspond with the copy furnished us. We believe they are now correct. If not in every word, at least in principle.”
Despite the implications of Cowdery’s statement, very few of the changes in the reprint represent a restoration back to the earliest text, though Cowdery consulted early manuscript sources when reprinting some of the revelations.”

 

It is significant that Oliver Cowdery, not Joseph Smith, took responsibility for explaining the changes made. The committee for compiling and printing the Doctrine and Covenants had been commissioned the previous September. Between September and January, Joseph’s journal mentions several times his labor in preparing to instruct the School of the Prophets that winter, as well as many other items which made for a busy winter. He never mentions any time spent reviewing and revising the revelations, but repeatedly mentioned his preoccupation with the School of the Prophets and the Lectures on Faith, claiming they precluded his involvement in other affairs. Since major or minor revisions occur across the breadth of the body of revelations, a comprehensive review must have been undertaken by some members of the committee. We cannot say with certainty that Joseph was not involved, but the preponderance of the evidence indicates that the Lectures, rather than the revelations, were his focus.

August 1835: Doctrine and Covenants first published

The text altered by Oliver Cowdery earlier in the year was perpetuated here and in all future editions of the scriptures, and in official Church policy. It is now the wording used throughout the Church. It is not clear whether the altered wording was immediately adopted, or whether the Church continued for a time in following the Lord’s instruction to rely on the Book of Mormon.

Therefore…what?

The Church was given clear instructions from God, and initially followed them. There is no clear directive from God changing those instructions, so they remain in force. Does this information empower us? It is a well-worn (if not quite true) cliche that we are generally incapable of perfect obedience. We certainly don’t have Christ’s strength of spirit, ability to resist temptation, and grace. The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it starts small. The Lord doesn’t lay the law of the celestial kingdom on us before we are capable of living it, any more than we sign our toddlers up for Iron Man Triathlons. The Lord laid out the first steps when he taught the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11:
Repent
Believe in Christ
Become as a little child
Be baptized according to Christ’s instructions
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
Those are the foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. They are the first law. They are like walking practice for a toddler. They empower us to obtain all other direction and higher laws which we might need (Moses 8:24). We can do them perfectly, with the correct words and in the correct order. When an opportunity to obey God perfectly arises, we should jump at the chance. Since we have God’s commandment to rely on the instructions in the Book of Mormon (D&C 18:1-4), and the instructions in the original Articles of the Church accepted by covenant on April 6, 1830 to follow the manner of baptism in the Book of Mormon, we have authority to act; for commandments from God always bestow the authorization to fulfill them (D&C 1:5-6).
When we say the wrong words in a baptism, we request that the ordinance be performed again. It is standard procedure. Not to please men, but because God has given specific instructions. We need no further permission. We need no audience. We simply need a priest with authority willing to baptize according to Christ’s instructions, a repentant soul, and a body of water.
Go to Part 2
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