I have a friend who used to attend a Mormon church and was baptized there. Later, she left the Mormon religion and joined a Christian church. She says she was a true believer in Christ when she received her Mormon baptism, but she wonders if that baptism qualifies as a Christian baptism?
First, we need to understand the differences between the false teachings of the Mormon church concerning the Gospel and water baptism, and the proper biblical perspective on these matters.
Water baptism is an ordinance the Lord prescribed for His Church so we would testify to the world concerning our faith in Christ. When a believer submits to water baptism, they make a public confession (by their words and actions) of faith in the Gospel.
Specifically, a believer testifies that Jesus died on the cross in his place as payment for sin (which is pictured by being “buried” in the water), and that by faith he will be resurrected with Christ in a future day (which is pictured by being raised up out of the water). Every person who believes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is commanded by Jesus to take part in water baptism as a testimony of this belief.
Regrettably, the Mormon church does not hold to these truths. They do not believe that faith alone in Christ’s death is the one and only means to eternal life, nor do they understand water baptism to be a picture of our salvation. Instead, they teach that eternal life is earned through a life of sinless works (water baptism being the first work required for salvation), and they teach that water baptism pictures a person’s commitment to becoming sinless and earning their salvation.
Here’s a quote on water baptism taken from an official Mormon website:
First, the quote says Mormons believe all mankind will be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of God. In other words, Mormons profess to trust in their own works to bring them into eternal life. The quote also explains that Mormons believe water baptism is one of the required works for salvation. Also, notice that Mormons assign a false symbolic meaning to water baptism. They state that water baptism symbolizes the death of a person’s "sinful life" and a commitment to obeying and serving God.
Mormon views on the purpose and meaning of water baptism and on the Gospel itself are contradicted by the Bible. First, the Bible teaches that water baptism is a testimony of our clear conscience made possible by Christ’s redemptive work done on our behalf, not a testimony of our commitment to work for Him.
1Pet. 3:20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.
1Pet. 3:21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Notice Peter clarifies in v.21 that the baptism that saves a person is NOT the one that removes dirt from the flesh (i.e., water baptism), but it is the baptism that accompanies our appeal to God for a good conscience (i.e., the Spirt baptism that takes place at the moment we repent and believe in the true Gospel). Notice also that Peter says that our salvation is accomplished “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” and not by our works.
Secondly, the Bible teaches that believers are to submit to water baptism because we have been saved, not as a means to being saved, since no works are involved in the salvation offered through faith in Jesus Christ:
Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
Eph. 2:9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ironically, the Mormon perspective on salvation and baptism is literally 180º opposite from the biblical truth. Mormons have taken the Gospel of grace through faith in Christ and perverted it into a system of earning salvation through meaningless and useless works. They have distorted water baptism's beautiful testimony of Christ's death and resurrection assigned to us by faith into a boastful claim to live sinlessly in earning God's favor.
Finally, the Mormons also misrepresent the relationship between water baptism and Spirit baptism. The following quote (also taken from the mormon.org website) reveals how Mormon teach that the Holy Spirit doesn’t indwell the believer until after water baptism takes place (which is false), and therefore they consider water baptism a “gate” (i.e., the first step on a path of works) leading to Heaven:
Baptism is the first and an essential Ordinance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first principles and ordinances of the gospel are 1. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 2. Repentance, 3. Baptism by Immersion for the remission of sins & 4. Receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost (which comes only after Baptism)….Baptism is the gate to the strait and narrow path that to be taken in the Gospel. It is only your first steps in the Gospel.
Notice again that Mormons claim water baptism is “only your first step in the Gospel,” meaning it is merely the first work required to earn entrance to Heaven. This is a false Gospel and anything BUT the good news of salvation by faith in Christ. The saints saved by faith alone (like Abraham and the thief on the cross) stand as witnesses against the Mormons' false teaching on baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Suffice to say the Mormon religion is a false church preaching a false Gospel, which saves no one even as it persuades millions into placing their hope in a dark deception. Though individual Mormons can be very sincere in their beliefs and practices, sincerity is not a substitute for the truth, and unless and until a Mormon escapes the false teaching of their institution and comes to know the true Gospel, they will perish in their sins.
So given the meaningful differences between Mormonism and Christianity, we believe your friend should pursue a baptism in a Christian church. Her prior "baptism" was a Mormon ceremony signifying agreement with Mormon teaching and submission to the Mormon religious system. It was pagan ritual, and even though the Mormon “baptism" may look like a true Christian baptism (i.e., both rituals involve submerging a person under water), this similarly does not mean the two experiences are interchangeable.
Many (if not all) false religions use water in rituals of one kind or another. Nevertheless, we should no more accept a Mormon washing as a substitute for a Christian baptism than we would accept a washing performed under Buddhism or Islam. Remember, the spiritual value of water baptism rests entirely upon the meaning we assign to the ritual. Since Mormons assign false meaning to their ritual, a Mormon baptism holds no value for a Christian.
Therefore, we must conclude that your friend’s participation in the Mormon ritual was not a Christian baptism, even if she was a professing Christian at the time. We urge you to explain these things to your friend patiently and with love in the hope she will willingly submit to a true, Christian water baptism. We believe it will be a wonderful opportunity for her to witness to the faithfulness of God to bring her out from under the false religion of Mormonism and into the truth of His word.