Excursus | Response to the Book of Mormon’s renunciation of infant baptism

Now, for the only time in this survey, we’ll look at how one heterodox system of doctrine views baptism: Mormonism — specifically, in the Book of Mormon. During the doctrinal tumult produced by the Second Great Awakening in the 19th-century American northeast, the founders of Mormonism attempted to settle the baptism debate once and for all, in their sacred text known as the Book of Mormon, by condemning the practice of infant baptism as an abominable heresy. The Book of Mormon’s statements against infant baptism will be provided, followed by the biblical response to those statements.

In summary, the Book of Mormon is a text published in 1830 by Joseph Smith Jr., who claimed that a heavenly messenger delivered to him golden plates upon which an ancient record was compiled that he would proceed to translate. According to this record, several ancient peoples migrated to what we now know as the American continents, the most noteworthy being a group from the Israelite tribe of Joseph shortly before the Babylonian incursion of Jerusalem in 598 B.C. During the next 600 years this expedition allegedly went on to populate the continents, produce several warring tribes and carry on Jewish traditions that culminated with an alleged appearance by Jesus Christ, who delivered the gospel to these inhabitants of ancient America and founded the church on the continent.

The Book of Mormon supposedly was written by several different prophets and historians during a period of at least 1,000 years. According to this record, the last prophet and custodian of the plates was named Moroni, who allegedly wrote at length to establish doctrine and very detailed instructions for how the church was to carry out practices and ordinances of the gospel.

The founders of Mormonism would have us believe the Book of Mormon narrative is historical, written by ancient prophets and preserved for the eventual restoration of the once-apostasized church of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon claims to be a divinely inspired text which restored doctrines that were corrupted from the Bible, therefore it purports to exceed the authority of the Bible as Scripture.

Time and pertinence don’t permit us to deal with the manifold difficulties of these claims. All evidence, in fact, points to the Book of Mormon as pseudepigrapha, or having a false ascription of authorship — and as a much more recent text, no older than the 1820s.

For the sake of argument, we’ll accept that the Book of Mormon actually is historical, and suspend our disbelief long enough to examine the theology of the Book of Mormon in Moroni chapter 8, supposedly written circa A.D. 401 by a Jewish prophet. We’ll lead that theology to its logical conclusion.

First, the prophet Mormon states that children are “whole, for they are not capable of committing sin.”

(Moroni 8:5-10) “For, if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children.
And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.
For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying:
Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.
And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.
Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach — repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.”

After claiming that Christ’s atonement cleanses human beings of original sin, effectively stating everyone begins life sinless, and that infant baptism is solemn mockery before God, the prophet continues,

(Moroni 8:11-13) “And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.
But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!
Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.”

Here, the writer states that fulfilling commandments brings remission of sins, stating a positive causal relationship between works-righteousness and forgiveness. On top of that, the writer purports that if children are born with sin and are not baptized, then without baptism, they will be eternally lost.

(Moroni 8:14-15) “Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.
For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.”

After stating that anyone who propounds infant baptism or even considers it must go to hell, he restates that children are incapable of repentance and are “alive in Christ.”

(Moroni 8:19-24) “Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.
And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.
Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment. I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment-seat of Christ.
For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing —
But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.
Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.”

The text claims that redemption comes to those who are not accountable to the law of God. This begs the question, if human beings — specifically, children — are not under God’s law, are not accountable to it and have not broken it, from what do they need to be redeemed? Why do they need salvation? If there is no more indwelling sin, why has every person who has ever lived after Adam, with the exception of Christ, proceeded to commit sin and need to repent?

(Moroni 8:25-26) “And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;
And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.”

These statements culminate with the assertion that ritual baptism actually expiates sin, in other words, it has atoning power to bring forgiveness to its recipient. This is an inescapable works-based salvation teaching.

These claims by the Book of Mormon are problematic for several reasons. The Bible teaches that human beings are radically corrupted by sin because of the Fall in the garden of Eden. Sinful nature has been passed on to everyone since Adam and Eve, and atonement is available by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

(Romans 3:9-11, 19-26) “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
‘None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God. …
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

(Romans 5:12-21) “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The notions that children are sinless, and that human beings are capable of repenting and having faith by their own autonomy and obedience, were not new in the 19th century.

The Book of Mormon condemns infant baptism, but clearly not on a biblical basis. The work was influenced by a combination of semi-Pelagian and Arminian theology, as well as a turbulent religious climate in 19th-century upstate New York known as “the burned-over district.” The Book of Mormon writer attempts to resolve a hotly divisive theological debate, but in doing so he purports several logical fallacies. His conclusion that infant baptism is an abomination doesn’t even call for biblical rebuttal, because his premise is completely heretical.

Mormonism as a religion has used its cosmological doctrines (i.e. pre-mortal life, eternal progression, celestial marriage, populating spirit worlds through children, and vicarious baptism) to market itself during the past 150 years as a very family-oriented religion, which is why it’s so ironic that its own sacred text has so vigorously condemned one of the most endearing values that God has given covenant families, which is baptism of children.

Whoever wrote Moroni chapter 8 believing that children are pure and innocent obviously never had to supervise children, and then turn his back on them, leaving them alone together for just five minutes.

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Covenant theology, sacramentology, systematic theology