Have you ever heard that Mormons baptize dead people? What’s the deal?
The first part of the answer has to do with baptism in general. When Jesus was on the earth, he led by example and was baptized by John the Baptist. He also taught that a man must be baptized (born again; born of water) in order to enter the kindgom of God when Nicodemus questioned Him in John 3.
If baptism is an essential ordinance to salvation, what about all the people who never even had the chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lifetimes? And what about the others, who may have been baptized but not by the proper authority? Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) believe that because God is our loving Heavenly Father, He would not condemn those who never had the opportunity to be baptized or those who lacked understanding of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this lifetime. Therefore, He prepared a way by which these people could receive the necessary ordinance of baptism to return to live with Him again. A worthy member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which church is often misnamed the “Mormon Church”) may be baptized by proxy, or on behalf of, a deceased individual in a Mormon temple. These ordinances are usually done by a direct descendant of the deceased for whom the ordinance is being performed. Sometimes, though, if a person has too many family names to perform ordinances for on their own, they can submit names to temples and other Latter-day Saints can perform those ordinances by proxy. So, the baptism is performed by proxy with a living person standing in for the deceased individual.
Wwhat if the deceased person doesn’t want to be baptized a Mormon? Mormons believe that the central part of God’s plan is free agency, or the right to choose. Each person will have the opportunity to accept or reject the baptism (or other ordinances) done on his or her behalf. Each person still has personal choice in the matter, but if the ordinances are not performed, those same individuals have no choice at all.
Many Christians of other denominations say that this just isn’t Biblical! In fact, the apostle Paul wrote about this practice in 1 Corinthians 15:29. If you reject the idea of baptism for the dead, those who never heard about Jesus during their lifetime, at no fault of their own, are therefore damned. How could a loving, just God allow that?
So, what is a crazier belief? (1) That a loving God would damn people who never had the chance to accept Jesus in this lifetime, or (2) that a loving God prepared a way for every one of His children to have an equal chance to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the necessary ordinances to return to His kingdom?
LDS News on Church Policies Regarding Mormon Baptism for the Dead