Speaker challenges Mormons over baptism for the dead

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)??Baptism for the dead, a religious ritual practiced by Mormons, finds virtually no support in the Bible and no basis whatever in the additional writings treated as scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter?day Saints, said a speaker during a conference on cults at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

"The Book of Mormon contains no references whatever to the practice," said Luke P. Wilson, executive director of the Institute of Religious Research, Grand Rapids, Mich. "The silence of the Book of Mormon on baptism for the dead is an important fact, for it means that a single verse in the Bible ... constitutes its sole mention in ancient Christian Scripture."

Wilson conducted a workshop during "Modern Trends and the Growth of the Cults," a conference on cults, Sept. 19?21, co?sponsored by Watchman Fellowship, Evangelical Ministries to New Religions and Samford's Beeson Divinity School.

According to Wilson, Mormons "are baptized for their dead, non? Mormon ancestors in the belief that they will have the opportunity to accept the gospel in the spirit world, but need this rite performed on their behalf to seal their salvation. ... It is considered the Latter?day Saint's solemn duty to do this 'work for the dead.'"

Wilson referred conferees to 1 Corinthians 15:29 (KJV), in which the Apostle Paul writes, "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?"

Acknowledging that Mormons use the verse to support baptism for the dead, Wilson nonetheless disputed the Mormon interpretation of the passage.

"The first thing to notice about this verse is that baptism for the dead is only mentioned; it is not actually taught," Wilson declared. "The fact that Paul's mention of baptism for the dead is not an endorsement is signaled by the impersonal manner in which he refers to the practitioners. ... If Paul taught baptism for the dead, it is inexplicable that he would exclude himself from those who practiced the rite."

Noting Paul's use of the pronoun "they" instead of "we," Wilson said, "If we ask who the 'they' in verse 29 refers to, the context points us back to verse 12. It is those within the Corinthian congregation who are denying the resurrection and whom the entire passage is written to refute."

Wilson said Paul was pointing out the inconsistency of his opponents, who denied the resurrection but engaged in baptism for the dead, which was ironically based on the hope of resurrection.

"Far from endorsing baptism for the dead, Paul associates it with a group whom he has already identified as being in deep spiritual error," Wilson noted.

Besides omitting any mention of baptism for the dead, the Book of Mormon contains teachings that would contradict the practice, Wilson observed. "It teaches that those who die without hearing the gospel" nevertheless "are alive in Christ, and therefore do not need baptism, and it teaches that baptism is specifically a covenant for this mortal life, so that it would be completely meaningless to baptize for the dead. ..."

"The Book of Mormon forcefully and repeatedly teaches that the eternal destiny of those who hear and reject the truth in mortality is fixed at death. ... Taken together with the silence of the Book of Mormon on baptism for the dead, these positive objections ... constitute a serious contradiction between Latter?day scripture and practice."

Several Bible passages also contradict the Mormon doctrine of salvation for the dead, Wilson said. "The LDS Church rejects the general biblical teaching in passages such as Hebrews 9:27, Luke 16:19?31 and 2 Corinthians 6:2 that our eternal destiny is fixed at death."

Further, the notion that God should give people an opportunity to be saved after they die physically is entirely fallacious, Wilson suggested.

"In Mormonism, the doctrine of salvation for the dead functions as the solution for a false theological dilemma," he stated. "The dilemma is that God would be unfair if he did not offer the gospel to those in the spirit world who never heard it in mortal life."

But the Bible is clear in Romans 1:18?20 and 2:12?15 that "the fate of those who die without hearing the gospel does not threaten divine justice, for such people will be judged only on the basis of the light they did have from creation and conscience," Wilson said.

Mark Coppenger, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said Latter?day Saints' teaching about salvation for the dead helps make Mormonism "the ultimate cult."

"It's hard to lose in Mormonism," Coppenger noted during one of the conference's plenary sessions, which were held at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham. "The worst heaven ?? the lowest, the telestial ?? is better than this earth. So it kind of works out for everybody. ... It's a pretty congenial religion in the last analysis."

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