Baptism: Symbol of Faith or Endowment of Birthright?
By: Michael Flournoy
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Romans 8:16-17 ESV
Romans 8:16-17 always topped my list of favorite Bible passages. When I was Mormon I thought it supported the doctrine of theosis, or man’s potential to evolve into a state of godhood. Since believers comprised Paul’s audience, I assumed they had been granted sonship with Christ through the covenant and ordinance of baptism.
Now that I’m an Evangelical I no longer see the LDS gospel touted within the passage. In fact, I see a message that is antithetical to everything the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches.
Let’s look at the first statement: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs.” As a Latter-day Saint, I believed all human beings, angels, and demons were the literal offspring of Heavenly Father. However, none of the demons would get their birthright because they rejected their first estate and chose not to have bodies. That contradicted the sentiment that heirship was granted because we were God’s children.
“But wait,” a Mormon will say, “we are adopted by Christ when we accept the gospel.”
And thus begins the mental gymnastics. You see, unlike Evangelicals, Mormons believe we are children of God in more than one sense. First, we are naturally the Father’s children since he formed or procreated our spirits. However, this natural birthright isn’t worth anything since their god plans on sending Satan and a third of his spirit children to Outer Darkness for eternity. The vast majority of people who are born will fail to receive the title of joint-heirs with Christ.
Only those who accept the LDS gospel and are adopted by Christ will fully be children of God and claim heirship with Jesus. Here’s the problem with that: many Latter-day Saints associate the verses with our godly lineage through the Father, but the joint-heirs part is associated with adoption by Christ. However, the passage doesn’t make that distinction. It simply cites our sonship with God as the reason for being joint-heirs.
If this passage is talking about the Father, then surely our natural sonship with God would make everyone worthy of Celestial glory, thus negating the need for the LDS church. If the passage is about Christ, then it diminishes the idea of theosis, because it’s talking about adoption instead of a literal bloodline. If I was adopted by aliens, it would be silly for me to go around saying I could grow up to be an extra-terrestrial because I was the child of a couple of gray creatures from the stars.
The simplest explanation is there’s only one God, and men become His children through adoption which occurs at faith. As we dig deeper into this passage and LDS doctrine, that should be abundantly clear.
What Constitutes a Child of God?
The Mormon belief that Christ adopts us is found in Mosiah 5:7-8 which reads:
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
Before I get into critiquing mode, there’s an interesting parallel to Christianity I’d like to point out. This concept is strikingly similar to Federalism, where we are either condemned by association with Adam, or saved by association with Christ.
The LDS will say it’s our adoption to Christ that matters, not our natural lineage. It makes little sense to argue this point, since it’s a common theme we share, to the extent that Christ enables us to be heirs of God.
Just prior to being called “children of Christ” in Mosiah 5, the people come to faith and make a covenant to take Christ’s name upon them and to obey God’s commandments, so they may avoid a never-ending torment.
King Benjamin, the preacher in this narrative, points to the covenant, not their faith-changed hearts, as the reason for the adoption.
This covenant is identical to the one Latter-day Saints make at baptism, namely that they will take Christ’s name and keep the commandments. Mosiah 18:8-10 gives a basic outline of the baptismal covenant:
And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they 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 witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places 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?
Journal of Discourses 15:241-242 further ties our adoption to baptism:
“It is said by some that we are his sons and daughters only by adoption, or through obedience to the Gospel; that we become his sons and his daughters, through being born of the water and of the Spirit. Now I admit that it is necessary for the human family to be thus adopted.”
Not only does this go against John 1:12, it’s also illogical. What child has to sign a contract to be adopted in real life?
The problem becomes more severe when you consider that baptism is just the first step in the Mormon gospel. Concerning this, 2 Nephi 31:17-20 says:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
This is like getting all the adoption paperwork signed and then telling your new child, “This is only the first step. There are other things you must do to become my child, and if you disobey, I’ll bring you back to the orphanage.”
Talk about sucking the joy right of being adopted. What should have been a joyous occasion would be drenched with foreboding. The child might think, “What have I gotten myself into? Do I even want this family?”
Then of course, there’s the legal implications. If you adopt someone, that person is your child despite any requirements you make up. The child cannot gain any more sonship than he already has at the moment of adoption.
The Mormon church faces the same problem with baptism. If it’s really the moment we are adopted into Christ, then how can they put more terms to it? What use are temple ordinances?
A Latter-day Saint might say, “It’s the beginning of the path,” or “there are more blessings God wants to give us.”
I would respond that according to Romans 8:16 if we’re children, we’re joint-heirs with Jesus. That doesn’t sound like the beginning of a journey to me. How can we be rewarded more than that? If we were, our dominion would be greater than Christ’s.
The only reason temple ordinances would be necessary at that point, is if baptism didn’t make us children of God. Temple sealings would only be necessary if the endowment didn’t do the trick either. And if salvation depends on enduring to the end, no one on earth can really claim to be a child of God.
Even a Mormon must concede that temple ordinances aren’t necessary to become joint-heirs with Christ.
If we Suffer with Him
There is a second condition given in Romans 8:17 that Latter-day Saints will point out: “…provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
It’s definitely a stretch to equate LDS covenants with suffering. The only way to arrive at this conclusion is to eisegete the passage. However, you almost have to wonder if any Mormon employing this tactic is making a Freudian slip. Are they admitting that Mormonism is a burden and they’re suffering because of it?
Regardless, this is a case of Mormons having their cake and eating it too, since they call their gospel the Plan of Happiness. Mosiah 2:41 has this to say about those who heed the gospel:
And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
Being blessed in all things and suffering are mutually exclusive in the LDS mindset. Appearance is everything. The culture insists that the happier and wealthier you are, the more blessed and righteous you are. Suffering is a natural consequence of disobedience.
Contrast that with the Christian view that being in Christ naturally brings on suffering. Romans 8:16-17 makes two statements: “if children then heirs” and “provided we suffer.” If the second statement doesn’t occur naturally, then the first is false because the birthright doesn’t make us heirs.
Consider what Jesus told his disciples in John 15:18-19 (ESV). “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Right after saying children of God are heirs, Paul tells the believers in Romans 8:18 that the suffering of the present time doesn’t compare to the glory that will be revealed in them.
He assumes that any believers reading his letter will be suffering. Simply stated, it comes with the territory.
The Birthright of Faith
As I mentioned earlier, if we obtain the birthright at baptism, then there’s no need for ordinances or covenants afterwards. There is nothing we can do to become more of a child of God. We are either adopted, or we aren’t. No other categories exist.
That said, the other problem facing Mormonism is that baptism itself is unnecessary for adoption into God’s family. Romans 8:14 (ESV) states:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
According to LDS doctrine, the Spirit is capable of leading people prior to baptism. In fact, it’s what brings individuals to the baptismal font. If these people are led by the Spirit, then according to Romans 8:14 they’re God’s children before making any covenants.
“But wait,” a Mormon will say, “there’s the power of the Holy Ghost, and there’s the gift. You have to be led by the gift of the Holy Ghost which is given after baptism.”
Mormons believe in different layers of Holy Ghost involvement, but any argument to this effect is desperate and ineffective. After all, the text never distinguishes between the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. It simply states that if someone is led by the Spirit, they are children of God.
Even if we pretend these layers exist, baptism is still disqualified as birthright-inducing because whether by power or gift, the Holy Ghost is still leading people prior to entering the font.
We see this expressed in John 1:12-13 (ESV):
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
This verse points to adoption occurring at the moment we receive Jesus. Of course, Latter-day Saints are quick to say that baptism is the method by which we receive Christ, but that position is untenable.
First, John 1:12 explicitly says that those who receive Jesus are those who believe in His name. Second, baptism is never mentioned in the context of John 1, making this an argument from silence. Third, the passage says they were born by the will of God and not the will of man. Any doctrine that says baptism is a choice men make to assert adoption by their own will is unbiblical.
God adopts us. It doesn’t work the other way around. So if our birthright is obtained by belief in God, as the Bible states, we can conclude that baptism has no sway over our inheritance in heaven.
Mormonism employs layers and layers of doctrine in the hopes of diluting God’s word. That’s why they believe in three heavens, two castes of God’s children, and two relationships with the Holy Ghost. But all the mental gymnastics in the world can’t sidestep the gospel of grace.
If baptism does not cause adoption, we can conclude that priesthood and all the LDS ordinances are irrelevant. The Mormon church has no authority over spiritual adoption or our inheritance in heaven.