We believe the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The less one knows about the LDS faith, the more likely they are to ask about polygamy, our prohibition on smoking and drinking, the missionaries, or blacks and the priesthood. Often, the first questions have to do with subjects that are not core doctrine. Sometimes innocently, sometimes maliciously, these questions miss the point.
We often make the mistake of thinking we have to give an answer. We don't. Instead, we should answer what they should have asked. For example, you can say, "There was a time in our history when polygamy was practiced, but that was a long time ago. Actually, the focus of our religion is Jesus Christ-that we must have faith in him, repent of our sins, and be baptized as He was." Paul said we should avoid "foolish and unlearned questions" because they only lead to contention and strife (2 Tim. 2:23)
When someone asks about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, or polygamy, or the Blacks and the Priesthood, it usually stems from ignorance, bias, or prejudice. Discussing these topics will never change their minds. Like the wicked and adulterous generations of previous dispensations, they are looking for proof not truth. They are looking to berate not to believe. We should not make the mistake of walking down the path they want us to walk.
Even the topics of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and modern prophets take second stage to the doctrine of faith, repentance, and baptism. Before we start building the house, we must lay the foundation. If we are painting the picture of Mormon beliefs, we must start with faith in Jesus Christ. The great and spacious building may lack a foundation, but Lord's Church does not (1 Ne 8:26). We must lay the cornerstone of Christ; then lay the bricks of faith, repentance, baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost to hold the cornerstone in place.
As early as 1836, the Prophet Joseph Smith counseled missionaries to "preach Christ and Him crucified; not to contend with others on account of their faith or systems of religion, but pursue a steady course." (History of the Church, 2:431) This is particularly important when responding to questions about the Church.
"As I finished my first mission over in Amsterdam, over seventy-five years ago, I was invited into the home of one of the Saints to talk to her neighbor. When my companion and I arrived, the neighbor was there but she had her minister with her. We had a little difference of opinion on priesthood, and right there he challenged me to a debate in his church the next Saturday night.
"When we arrived, the church was full; all of his people were there, and all of our people. How our people found it out, I don't know; I didn't tell them!
"The minister stood up and said, 'Now, inasmuch as Mr. Richards is a guest in our church, we will accord him the privilege of opening this debate, and we will each talk for twenty minutes. Is that agreeable with you, Mr. Richards?'
"I said, 'Very much.' I didn't tell him, but I would have given him the shirt off my back for the privilege of opening that debate, and he just handed it to me on a silver platter! I didn't know whether the Lord had anything to do with it or not, but I thought He did!
"Then I stood up and I said, 'The last time I talked with my friend, we had a difference of opinion on priesthood. Tonight I have come prepared to discuss that subject, but I don't propose to start at that point. (This was one of my strong points in my mission.) If you are going to build a house, you don't try to put a roof on it before you get the foundation in.' They agreed with that, so I said, 'I propose to lay the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ,' and I chose for my text the sixth chapter of Hebrews where Paul said:
'Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.' (Heb. 6:1-2.)
"I hurried over faith and repentance-I thought they believed in them. I spoke on baptism by immersion for the remission of sin until everybody was giving me accord.
"Then it came to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. And they didn't believe that. I never found a church that did believe it outside of our Church-they think the Holy Ghost comes just like the breezes that blow over the head...then I gave them a few more references on the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and sat down.
"The minister stood up and talked for twenty minutes, and he never once mentioned a word I had said. He started on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the 'Mormon Bible,' and stated that Joseph Smith had admitted he had made many mistakes; and then in a most courteous manner, he said: 'Now if Mr. Richards will enlighten us on these matters, I am sure this audience will be most appreciative.'
"I was on my feet just like that...I said, 'In the days of the Savior, his enemies tried to trick him with cunning and craftiness. I don't suppose there's anybody here tonight that would like to see us resort to those old tactics.' I said, 'If I understand a debate, it is the presentation of argument and the answering of those presentations. Has this man answered any of my arguments?'
"Everybody said, 'No.'
"I said, 'All right, my friend, you may have your twenty minutes over again.' He couldn't do it, and I knew he couldn't.
"Finally his wife stood up in the audience, and she said, 'What Mr. Richards is asking you is fair. You ought to answer him.'
"But he couldn't do it, and I said to my companion, 'Stand up and give me my coat and hat.' I said, 'One more chance. I am willing to remain here until ten o'clock tomorrow morning, when we have to be in our own church, provided this debate can go forward on the basis that you set it up. If not, I am going to leave and ask my companion to leave and ask our members to leave, and we will leave it with you to settle with your people for what has transpired here tonight.'
"I met him on the street a number of times after that, but he would duck his head so he didn't need to speak to me!" ("What the Gospel Teaches," Ensign, May 1982, 30-31)
Faith means to believe in something which is true but can't be seen (Alma 32:21; Heb. 11; Ether 12). In a religious context, it means to believe that Jesus is our Savior. It means to believe he is the Son of God even if you haven't seen him in heaven standing on the right hand of God. It means to believe that Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world, even if you haven't seen Him on the cross. It means to believe that His resurrection overcomes death, even if you haven't seen Him rise from the tomb. Surely, it would be easier to believe if you could see all this and more, but then it wouldn't be faith, would it? Besides, there are great blessings for believing without seeing. Thomas was told, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)
Faith is a principle of power.
We understand that the principle of power which existed in the bosom of God, by which the worlds were framed, was faith; and that it is by reason of this principle of power existing in the Deity, that all created things exist; so that all things in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, exist by reason of faith as it existed in Him.
Had it not been for the principle of faith the worlds would never have been framed, neither would man have been formed of the dust. It is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things. Take this principle or attribute-for it is an attribute-from the Deity, and he would cease to exist.
Who cannot see, that if God framed the worlds by faith, that it is by faith that he exercises power over them, and that faith is the principle of power? And if the principle of power, it must be so in man as well as in the Deity? This is the testimony of all the sacred writers, and the lesson which they have been endeavouring to teach to man...
Faith, then, is the first great governing principle which has power, dominion, and authority over all things (Lectures on Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 1:15-17, 24)
Faith is a principle of action
James E. Talmage
Faith implies such confidence and conviction as will impel to action... Belief is in a sense passive, an agreement or acceptance only; faith is active and positive, embracing such reliance and confidence as will lead to works. Faith in Christ comprises belief in Him, combined with trust in Him. One cannot have faith without belief; yet he may believe and still lack faith. Faith is vivified, vitalized, living belief. (Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 87)
George S. Romney
The doctrine as taught by the Latter-day Saints clearly indicates that it is necessary not only to believe and to have knowledge but to put that knowledge into practice. More than that, faith is not only a belief with action, but also a confidence in God; a belief of such a nature that we can accept and do his will and he will keep his promises to us. (Conference Report, April 1933, Third Day-Morning Meeting 104)
Repentance means to change-to change from bad to good, or from good to better. It means to turn away from the ways of the world and turn toward the ways of God. It is to exchange the carnal, sensual, and devilish for the spiritual, holy, and divine.
This is our message. We are told to cry "nothing but repentance unto this generation." (D&C 6:9) What does that mean? We are asking people to change which is against their nature. Humans don't like change. They like to be told they are doing great. When we invite them to repent, we are inviting them to go against their nature, to rise above the natural man, to do things differently, to keep the commandments, to follow God. No wonder we are not always well received. Repentance is not a popular idea.
David O. McKay
The message of these young men who are going in all parts of the world, the message of the Church to all the world is: Repent of those things which contribute to the superiority of the physical senses over our love for spirituality. That is why they cry repentance! What does repentance mean? A change of life, a change of thought, a change of action. If you have been angry and hateful, change that hatred and enmity to love and consideration. If you have cheated a brother, let your conscience smite you and change that, and ask his forgiveness, and never do it again. In thus changing your life from those things which are on the animal plane, you repent of your sins. If you profane Deity, never do it again! Instead of profaning his name, worship him! And once that feeling of change comes to the soul, you desire to be born again, to have a new life...
This changing of life, this repenting is what the world needs. It is a change of heart. Men must change their way of thinking! Change their way of feeling! (Gospel Ideals: Selections from the Discourses of David O. McKay [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953], 328)
Baptism is the first ordinance of the gospel. God requires ordinances as outward manifestations of covenants. When we are baptized we are witnessing to everyone-friends and family, God and angels, believers and non-believers-that we have entered into a covenant to take upon us the name of Christ. It is a demonstration of our commitment. Once baptized, we are on the Lord's side. Others can expect us to behave as one who has "a determination to serve [Christ] to the end." (D&C 20:37)
Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, and to heaven that we do the will of God, and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come to Him to be saved, and enter into the Kingdom of God, except faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, and any other course is in vain. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 198)
Baptism must be by immersion
A man covered in mud is not clean after someone sprinkles water in his face. Neither is a spirit cleansed by symbolic sprinkling. The ordinance is a washing, a cleansing, and a sanctifying. The total commitment requires total immersion. Without immersion, the symbolism of being born again is lost. Childbirth is associated with blood, water, and the Spirit. The water of childbirth is amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby. Baptism is a rebirth with the blood of Christ, the water of Baptism, and the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. In baptism, we should be immersed as literally as a baby is immersed in amniotic fluid in the womb.
Joseph Fielding Smith
The mode of baptism is by immersion in water. Sprinkling or pouring did not come into vogue until two or three centuries after Christ, and such a practice was not universal until about the 13th century A.D. We have to go into history to find these particulars. Baptism cannot be by any other means than immersion of the entire body in water, for the following reasons:
- It is in the similitude of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of all others who have received the resurrection.
- Baptism is also a birth and is performed in the similitude of the birth of a child into this world.
- Baptism is not only a figure of the resurrection, but also is literally a transplanting or resurrection from one life to another-from the life of sin to the life of spiritual life. (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 2: 324.)
Baptism symbolizes the remission of sins
What effect," inquires one, "has water in washing away sins?" It would have no effect whatever if God had instituted some other way; but, seeing that he has not, but has commanded sinners, first to believe that Jesus is the Christ; second, to repent of their sins; and third, to be baptized for the remission of their sins in his name, that is the right way; and though the water, independent of the blood and atonement of Christ and the commandment of God, has no efficacy whatever to wash away sins, yet it has great power because of these things. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 14: 178 - 179)
"My baptism truly was a spiritual experience from beginning to end, and not just for me but for everyone attending. I remember as I entered the font my body felt electric. When I came up out of the water, the feelings that swept over me were indescribable. I knew I had been washed clean. I felt as pure as a newborn baby coming into the world." (Jennifer L. Thwaites, "Walking in Newness of Life," Ensign, Jan. 1999, 48)
"As I came out of the water I felt infinitely small, truly newborn, with the surety that my sins had been forgiven and I was washed clean. And when I was confirmed I sensed my heart opening like a clear vessel to receive the Holy Spirit. I was filled with wonder and peace and humility. I will always be grateful for those missionaries, whose coming altered my whole life. (Erika Harder, "An Answer Like a Splash of Fire," Ensign, Dec. 1983, 22-23)
"Several years ago in Germany I witnessed the newness of life that can come as a result of this power. The members of our branch were rejoicing over the conversion of a young father whose wife was already a member. When this young man came up out of the waters of baptism, his expression was radiant. Afterward he said, 'I'm clean! I'm new! I can't express the joy I'm feeling right now!' Through his repentance and through the priesthood ordinance of baptism, he had tapped into the power of the Lord's atonement and had been purified." (Joy Saunders Lundberg, "The Priesthood: God's Gift of Love," Ensign, Feb. 1993, 16)
4. Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost
The greatest gifts come from God: from the Father, the gift of Life, from the Son, the gift of the Atonement, and from the Holy Ghost, the gift of the Spirit. These are the greatest gifts in the Universe.
Because of the Fall, Adam and Eve were cast out of God's presence. Because of the Fall, we too are separated from God, a condition called spiritual death. Spiritual rebirth through the Gift of the Holy Ghost overcomes this separation; by its influence, we are no longer cast from His presence. When we feel the Spirit, we are actually in the presence of God. We are actually communing with God, becoming subject to His will, and following His plan. Through this gift we can become one with God (John 17:21).
Joseph Fielding Smith
When Adam transgressed in the Garden of Eden he died the spiritual death, as well as changing his nature and bringing upon himself mortality. Spiritual death is banishment from the presence of God, and Adam was shut out from the presence of the Lord. Angels were sent to him, however, to teach him the plan of salvation. The earth probation was prolonged that he might repent and accept the plan offered to him. Through his repentance, baptism and confirmation, he was brought back again into the presence of God through the Holy Ghost. This same spiritual death comes upon all unrepentant and unbaptized men, and the only way they can be brought from spiritual death to spiritual life is through obedience to the Gospel. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 133)
No longer must mere mortals struggle to know what they should do, "the Holy Ghost... will show unto you all things what ye should do" (2 Ne. 32:5). What a great promise! What a great gift! What a privilege it is to feel the Spirit of God!
Difference between the influence of the Holy Ghost and the Gift of the Holy Ghost
Anyone can be influenced by the Holy Ghost if they are searching for the truth or listening to God's messengers or sincerely praying, but it is not their privilege to have it all the time. Those who enjoy the Gift of the Holy Ghost may have the Spirit with them all the time. For the baptized, the Spirit is present except when it has been driven away. For the unbaptized, the Spirit is present only when it has been invited in.
Dallin H. Oaks
The Light of Christ is given to all men and women that they may know good from evil; manifestations of the Holy Ghost are given to lead sincere seekers to gospel truths that will persuade them to repentance and baptism.
The gift of the Holy Ghost is more comprehensive. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: "There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 199; emphasis added).
The gift of the Holy Ghost includes the right to constant companionship, that we may "always have his Spirit to be with [us]" (D&C 20:77).
A newly baptized member told me what she felt when she received that gift. This was a faithful Christian woman who had spent her life in service to others. She knew and loved the Lord, and she had felt the manifestations of his Spirit. When she received the added light of the restored gospel, she was baptized and the elders placed their hands upon her head and gave her the gift of the Holy Ghost. She recalled, "I felt the influence of the Holy Ghost settle upon me with greater intensity than I had ever felt before. He was like an old friend who had guided me in the past but now had come to stay."
For faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ, the companionship of the Holy Spirit should be so familiar that we must use care not to take it for granted. For example, that good feeling you have felt during the messages and music of this conference is a confirming witness of the Spirit, available to faithful members on a continuing basis. A member once asked me why he felt so good about the talks and music in a sacrament meeting, while a guest he had invited that day apparently experienced no such feeling. This is but one illustration of the contrast between one who has the gift of the Holy Ghost and is in tune with his promptings and one who has not, or is not. ("Always Have His Spirit," Ensign, Nov. 1996, 60)
Must be given by the "laying on of hands"
The pattern for administering the gift of the Holy Ghost was given by apostles Peter and John. Phillip's proselytes had been baptized but had not yet received the Holy Ghost. So "the apostles... sent unto them Peter and John... (For as yet he [i.e. the Holy Ghost] was fallen on none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they receive the Holy Ghost." (Acts 8:12-17)
Simon was jealous of this great power: "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." (Acts 8:19-20)
Orson F. Whitney
The laying on of hands is the divinely-authorized method of administering spirit baptism...The laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost was an ordinance in the Christian church for centuries. The ordinance remained with the church much longer than did the Holy Ghost. Cyprian mentions it in the third century; Augustine in the fourth. Gradually, however, it began to be neglected, until finally some of the sects repudiated it, while others, retaining the "form of godliness," denied "the power thereof." (Gospel Themes [Salt Lake City: n.p., 1914], 63)
A necessary part of baptism
The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use; they are necessarily and inseparably connected. An individual must be born of water and the spirit in order to get into the kingdom of God. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 360)
You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half-that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. (History of the Church, 5:499)