Rebaptism in the Church

One of the interesting aspects of how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approaches the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is that it is seen as a renewal of covenants. What may not be as widely known is that the idea of renewing covenants may have originally emerged in the Church in connection with the practice of rebaptism. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, historians Jonathan Stapley and David Grua discussed Latter Day Saint rebaptism. What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

An overview of rebaptism was given as follows:

Within the Restoration there are additional meanings to rebaptism. During its first decades, the Church not only rebaptized converts, but also rebaptized Church members. There were many purposes for these rebaptisms. Unlike other churches, Latter-day Saints required excommunicated members to be rebaptized in order to return to full fellowship. This is a practice that exists today, though we now use the term “withdrawal of church membership” instead of excommunication.

Rebaptism as a sign of repentance and renewal wasn’t limited to excommunication. Many people who experienced church discipline were rebaptized without being cut off from the Church. And many people who were in good standing also sought out rebaptism “for the remission of sins.”

Though not discussed in the referenced article, Joseph Smith introduced the practice of baptism for health—a form of rebaptism used as a healing ceremony along with anointing and blessing. Lastly in Utah, Brigham Young introduced rebaptism “for the renewal of covenants.”

Rebaptism became a relatively common thing, and was done for a few different reasons.

Based on those reasons, most Latter-day Saints were rebaptized multiple times throughout their lives in the nineteenth century.

Latter-day Saints in good standing often were rebaptized at least five or six times at a minimum throughout their lives. Some experienced it many more times. For example, a member in Nauvoo might have been rebaptized:

1. When it was widely introduced;

2. Then again when they arrived in the Great Basin;

3. During the reformation of 1857;

4. When they were endowed in the Temple;

5. When they were sealed in the temple; and

6. When they joined a United Order.

This began to change around the turn of the twentieth century, when leaders of the Church “all viewed the practice as becoming too commonplace.” During the 1890s, rebaptism was no longer a requirement for emigrants and temple attendance. Other rebaptism practices were also curtailed. While the practice has declined overall, there are two circumstances where rebaptism still happens: “First, Latter-day Saints still rebaptize converts who have been baptized in other Christian denominations. . . . Second, Latter-day Saints also rebaptize people who have had their membership withdrawn.”

As mentioned at the outset, one purpose for rebaptism was for the renewal of covenants. In the interview, Grua and Stapley discussed some of how that has remained a part of our doctrine:

The practice of “covenant renewal” in the Church was first mediated through rebaptism. Brigham Young introduced baptism for the renewal of covenants upon arrival in Utah, and it was the primary method to renew covenants throughout the nineteenth century.

Today, covenant renewal is an important aspect of Latter-day Saint religious life. However, instead of rebaptism, it is the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper that mediates that work. . . .

While a lot has changed since Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake valley over 175 years ago, the human yearning for renewal has not abated.

But whereas those early Saints immersed each other to renew their covenants, today Church members across the globe eat the bread and water of the Lord’s Supper to find their covenant renewal. This shift in concept largely occurred at the turn to the twentieth century.

I’ve written about renewal of covenants in the sacrament before, and it’s a topic that fascinates me. Part of that is that there have been a couple indications here and there that the idea of renewing of covenants may be undergoing some reconsideration by Church leaders in our time. Elder Neil L. Anderson noted that despite common use of the phrase when discussing the sacrament, “the title ‘renewing our baptismal covenants’ is not found in the scriptures … and it can’t be the keynote of what we say about the sacrament” (Neil L. Andersen, “Witnessing to Live the Commandments,” General Conference Leadership Training on the Sabbath Day Observance at Church (April 2015). Available to priesthood leaders). Elder David A. Bednar added further differentiation between baptism and the sacrament by teaching that while baptism provides an “initial cleansing of our soul from sin,” the sacrament does not. Both ordinances do, however, offer us the promise of having the Spirit of the Lord with us if we keep our covenants, which is the actual sanctifying force that cleanses us from sin (Elder David A. Benar, “Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins,” CR October 2016, Those thoughts may go somewhere or they may not, but it’s interesting to consider when thinking about the sacrament.

For more on Latter-day Saint rebaptism, head on over to the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk to read the full interview with Jonathan Stapley and David Grua.

11 comments for “Rebaptism in the Church

  1. None members, well at least one that I am aware of, were baptized for healing as well on occasion. I have also heard/read the sacrament is more a ritual where we the partakers are recommitting ourselves. Not a cleansing experience. Amazing how so many things we did in the past are not done today or not even known about by members.

    You going to write about the baptism by fire part we really dont talk about?

  2. One additional reason why a rebaptism might take place: Improper record keeping. In some cases, Church leaders or missionaries never submitted the proper forms or they were never received at Church or area headquarters. I suspect this has become less frequent in recent years, but the issue came up a few times when serving as a missionary in South America in the mid 1990s.

  3. I was interested in the quote from the author about how the leaders of the church around the trun of the century “all viewed the practice as becoming too commonplace”.

    And that was that for the practice of rebaptism.

    No mention of fasting and praying about it from the Prophet, Seer, and ……

    It looks like for over a hund and seventy years or more the LDS church was led by guys who were making it up as they went along.

    Not praying and being let by Heavnly Father as they allueded.

    Do the little children in primary still sing “Follow the Prophet he knows the way”.

  4. I don’t think that your 170 years+ comment is accurate Chloe. The practice of rebaptism was changed at the turn of the 20th century (not the 21st century), so had been in practice for about 60 years. It should also be noted and may have been something that had become too common at that point rather than being innately wrong as a practice–there’s a difference.

  5. Sorry Chad N, I did not express myself clearly.

    My fault I have always had a problem with that.

    My comment about being being misled for a hundred and seventy years was not just about rebaptism but every thing that has been taught at one time as if it had to be so reverently respected and then when the LDS leaders decided some how some way and for what ever reasons it was done away with.

    And so many of the good members who were trying to live their best lives followed along as if getting into the Celestial Kingdom all hung on doing these things that changed with the wind.

    I did enjoy your article.

    I remember how amazed I was the first time I read about rebaptism or how the early members were rebaptised for their health problems.

    I did not learn these things until I was a convert member of over 40 years.

    So much history was not shared quite as much as some of the other history.

    Cherry picking is nothing new in any group of people, they always want to put their best foot forward I suppose.

    Just a suggestion, do an article on “The Law of Adoption Temple Sealings” that was the brainchild of Brigham Young.

  6. Chloe,
    As you know almost everything has changed in the church over time. Most of the leaders of the church would not know about these changes (the history) unless they did the research like you and I have. They got the same version of history that you and I did within the walls of the church. I personally dont think the members were mislead but the history was forgotten until church historians and others started the research. Lots of lost history can be found in older Ensign articles as well. We still are getting a small portion but like you said, we put our best foot forward.

    Regarding BY and adoption sealings… I have read that those were started by JS. I cannot recall where I read it but I did. This makes JS sealings more understandable as they were not all about “marriage” and “playing house” as most think. Some were just ordinances, nothing else. Since there are no known children other than with Emma, I am guessing that most of those so-called marriages were sealings. I think this was JS idea of pleasing God and his wife at the same time. He was in a no-win situation. One or the other was going to kill him… :)

  7. Ah, that makes sense Chloe. It’s definately something that I have had impact my level of trust in the leaders of the Church. And it is not something that I really feel like I have any good answers on.

    As far as adoption sealings, you’ll be happy to know that From the Desk has an interview about Wilford Woodruff and temples coming down the pike that discusses that topic.

  8. Thank you Chad N, I will check into that.

    REC911, I also have read about the many different ways polygamy was practiced in the early LDS church.

    So many different ways it is hard right off the top of my head to name them all.

    I read that after JS died he was “sealed” to women still living as well as being “sealed to women who were also dead These women had families who thought this was a good idea and somehow it was done.

    Brigham Young was sealed to a woman whose husband was serving a mission for the church.

    He was also sealed to two women who were already married, they never left their husband or ever lived with Young.

    Brigham Young maried ( this was written as married not sealed) his mother in law, the mother of his first wfe who died before he joined the church.

    I bring this woman up for a reason.

    BY married about 5 women that were long past child bearing age.

    This is important when reading Jacob in the BOM.

    All of the Book of Jacob is full of the warning to avoid polygamy, it is something that Heavenly Father wanted this people to leave behind in the old world.

    It is called an abomination and is also referred to as a whoredom.

    Jacob 2 24-26 “Behold David and Solomon truely had many wives and conubines which thing was an abomination before me, saith the Lord.

    Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people out of the land of Jerusalem, that I
    might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.

    Wherefore I the Lord will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.”

    Jacob goes on a bit more and I know who ever is reading this is sayin “Yeah Yeah I know this already”.

    Give me a bit more time to finish my point.

    We soon come to the “Out” in the polygamy doctrine, where so many say God gives His permission.

    Jacob 28:30 “For if I will, saith the Lord of hosts, raise up seed unto me I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”

    This verse 30 is where everyone says God can give and has given our previous church leaders permission to practice polygamy.

    Sadly those guys did not follow the rules.

    It is only sanctioned to “raise up seed” to the Lord.

    Only to be used in time of need to reproduce human children here on earth to the Lord.

    As we can see from church history some of JS wives were sealed to him after he died and some after they died.

    Dead people can not “give seed unto the Lord”.

    Some of BY wives were long past child bearing, no seed for the Lord from them.

    The 132 D&C is full of confusing and weird wording ( we will be destroyed) if we do not accept polygamy.

    Really, what happened to repentence and forgiveness, apparantly we get none.

    The rejection of polygamy has been elevated to the unpardonable sin?

    My husband has been studying the early church and some of the things BY came up with.

    He came into the room last night and said “That place (early Utah) sounds like it was a free for all. Those guys just did what ever they wanted to do.

    My husband is a lifer, BYU graduate and served an honerable two year mission.

    He thought he knew about church history but decided to educate himself more when learning the nuts and bolts of the SEC mess.

  9. Chloe,
    Yes I am aware of all that :) as well as everyone’s “seed only makes it right” war cry. I am convinced JS did not know what the heck he was actually supposed to do, at least for a period of time, with polygamy. He clearly thought that by “hitching themselves” (as in high up leaders) to random members/people that there was a salvation of sorts for those members for generations. I personally believe that Jesus did not explain in detail every revelation he gave to JS. It is clear to me from my research that JS did not understand all that was revealed to him. I think we are still to this day, misunderstanding some of those revelations. We think if Jesus tells the prophet something, the prophet will understand it all and get it all right. We (general members) also think everything the prophet says must come from God. This belief system, IMO, has made the history a hot mess. Speaking of hot mess, your hubby is right, it was the wild wild west and pretty much anything went. I think Jesus rolled His eyes when the members picked BY and mumbled something like…”well not who I would have picked, but we can work with it”….and He did.

    So, I believe we have prophets that are at the ready to receive revelation or doctrine but we haven’t really had any since JS. Just because they are set apart as prophets does not open the flood gates. God/Jesus will use them if they need to tho. When I think of our past and present leaders this way, the history in all its craziness simply makes more sense. The gospel is true, the “church” is doing the best it can with the people it has. Kind of like the NT days when the religious leaders were so wrapped up in the “things” of religion they missed the very Savior they were doing the things for.

    D&C 132 is a very interesting section and hardly ever talked about in any detail in any church lessons. And who ended up getting destroyed? Wasn’t Emma….

    As for the seed issue. In general that very thing happened. Sure it was not every member, every time, but I think in general it worked as intended.

    Are you aware that men were sealed to men too back in the day? AKA “Law of Adoption”. Fun stuff!

    Why isn’t JS and others called gay since they were sealed to men? If people are going to use the “only for sex” card then shouldn’t they be called gay as well? I am not saying you believe that, but I am sure you are aware that some past believing members think JS was all about sex. Huge difference between an ordinance and having sex with everyone you are sealed too. IMO.

  10. To be clear, the adoption men to men sealing was a father-son relationship, not a husband-husband relationship. The expectations there are a bit different.

  11. Chad, thanks for making that point. I shouldn’t assume that everyone knows that.

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