Churches of anticipation (pt. 2): baptism [revised]

[UPDATED 03/16/08 — made some corrections and significant additions]

In my earlier posting on “churches of anticipation”, I pointed out some parallels between Alma1 and John the Baptist, noting in particular that while Nephi1 spoke of baptism and his brother Jacob preached it to the Nephites, there is no record after that point in the Book of Mormon of baptism actually being practiced until Alma1 reintroduces it.

Today, while preparing a program for a convert baptism in our ward this afternoon, I re-read Alma1‘s famous introduction of baptism in Mosiah 18. We tend to read it in light of an established church and the covenants we make when we join. Alma1, however, was talking to a group of Nephites who lived under the Mosiac law (however poorly they might have been following it; cf. Abinadi’s rebuke to Noah and his priests) but who had become convinced of the relatively imminent birth of the Messiah back in a ‘homeland’ half a world away and half a millennium removed.

Read what Alma1 has to say while keeping in mind that these people apparently did not practice baptism but instead (if anything) lived under the law of Moses:

And it came to pass that [Alma] said unto them:

Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus they were called)
and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God,
and to be called his people,
and are willing to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light;
yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn;
yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,
and to stand as witness of God at all times and in all things,
and in all place that ye may be in,
even until death,
that ye may be redeemed of God,
and be numbered with those of the first resurrection,
that ye may have eternal life —

Now, I say unto you,
if this be the desire of your hearts,
what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord,
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 now when the people had heard these words,
they clapped their hands for joy,
and exclaimed:

This is the desire of our hearts. (Mosiah 18:8-11)

In all of scriptural history, we only have six (6) places where baptism is specifically introduced and practiced:

  • at the time of Adam (see Moses 6:64-68), though it’s unclear how extensively it was practiced (due to apostasy) until the time of Enoch;
  • at the time of Enoch (see Moses 7:10-12);
  • by Nephi and Jacob in the New World, around 560 BC, though there is no record of any follow-up after that point;
  • by Alma1 in the New World, around 121 BC;
  • by John the Baptist, in the Old World, around roughly 30 AD;
  • and in our own day, with the appearance of John the Baptist to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in May 1829 (D&C 13; JS:H 1:68-72).

In fact, throughout most of scriptural history, lack of baptism as we understand it appears to be the norm. While under Mosaic law total immersion for ritual cleansing was used for Gentiles converting to Judaism, as well as for Jewish women and men suffering from certain ritual uncleanness, there was no indication that it was used as a covenant-making act, particularly among those born Jewish.

In the last three instances above (Alma1, John, Joseph), baptism appears to be introduced — or adapted — specifically in preparation of the advent of the Savior, either during His mortal ministry or for his Second Coming. Furthermore, I think that Enoch’s call by the Lord to preach repentance and baptism is in anticipation of the great winnowing that will result in (a) the establishment and translation of the city of Enoch, (b) the on-going translation of those who accepted the Gospel after the city of Enoch was taken from the earth (cf. Moses 7:27), and (c) the purging of the wicked from the earth (the Flood).

In fact, one could argue that baptism is specifically introduced and stressed by the Lord in advance of great destruction, to wit:

  • in Enoch’s time, in advance of the Flood;
  • in the time of Alma1 and Alma2 (and going forward from there), in advance of the destruction that came upon the Nephites and Lamanites at the time of Christ’s crucifixion;
  • in John the Baptist’s time, in advance of the destruction that came upon the Jews (~70 AD);
  • in Joseph Smith’s time, in advance of the destruction preceding the Second Coming.

The churches of anticipation, then, could also be considered to be anticipation of judgment and destruction in this life, not just in the life to come. This is reflected in the messages preached by each of them:

Enoch: “And the Lord said unto me: Go to this people, and say unto them — Repent, lest I come out and smite them with a curse, and they die.” (Moses 7:10)

Alma2: “Behold, now I say unto you that he commandeth you to repent; and except ye repent, ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. But behold, this is not all — he has commanded you to repent, or he will utterly destroy you from off the face of the earth; yea, he will visit you in his anger, and in his fierce anger he will not turn away.” (Alma 9:12)

John the Baptist: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

Joseph Smith: “Yea, verily, to seal them up unto the day when the wrath of God shall be poured out upon the wicked without measure — unto the day when the Lord shall come to recompense unto every man according to the measure which he has measured unto his fellow man.” (D&C 1:9-10)

One last question. The Savior Himself was very clear on the universal application and requirement of baptism (cf. John 3:5, Mark 16:16), and that is echoed in the experiences of Adam, Nephi (2 Ne 31:, Paul (1 Cor 15:29) and Joseph Smith (D&C 39:20, 68:8-9, and sections 127 & 128). We have built over 100 temples — and we’re likely to build hundreds more — in order to apply retroactively what throughout history has only been practiced in some very limited circumstances and some very limited portions of the world.

My question is: why? Any thoughts? ..bruce..