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Mormonism's fourth Articles of Faith creedal statement reads, "We believe that 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."
Faith in Jesus Christ and Repentance
Although I firmly believe that the LDS gospel is a "distorted gospel," not a "restored gospel" (see Gal. 1:7), Mormonism does teach faith in Jesus Christ and personal repentance of our sins. This is how the LDS Church defines repentance:
Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel and is essential to our temporal and eternal happiness. It is much more than just acknowledging wrongdoings. It is a change of mind and heart that gives us a fresh view about God, about ourselves, and about the world. It includes turning away from sin and turning to God for forgiveness. It is motivated by love for God and the sincere desire to obey His commandments.
Mormons do believe that humans will be punished for their sins if they do not respond to Jesus' atoning death on the cross. In fact, each week during their church services they partake in communion of bread and water in remembrance and confession of Jesus Christ's atoning death. The third LDS Articles of Faith creedal statement emphasizes that Mormons teach and believe in the atonement of Jesus Christ. This is how the official LDS Web site describes Jesus' atonement:
As used in the scriptures, to atone is to suffer the penalty for sins, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinner and allowing him or her to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ was the only one capable of carrying out the Atonement for all mankind. Because of His Atonement, all people will be resurrected, and those who obey His gospel will receive the gift of eternal life with God.
Mormonism does not believe a person's sins are forgiven without the person's first putting his or her faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Let us emphasize once more: the LDS Church does distort and twist many biblical truths concerning eternal salvation, but it does confess and believe that Jesus-although falsely and heretically identified as a spirit-son of Father God-was incarnated in the flesh (see John 1:1-18; Phil. 2), lived a perfect and sinless life, died on the cross, was buried, was resurrected, and was and will always be the one and only messianic Savior of our world. In this general sense, Mormonism reflects the first truths of New Testament Christianity as presented by the apostle Paul, which he calls the first truths of the gospel:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Faith in Jesus Christ's atonement on the cross and personal repentance is an essential component of Mormonism. The more recent LDS books by Brigham Young University professors such as Dr. Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet have focused on and articulated this component more clearly than has historical Mormonism. Unfortunately, however, Mormonism's requirement to put one's faith in Jesus Christ and repent is easily lost and made functionally dormant under a heavy load of extrabiblical salvation requirements and works foreign to all the main branches of Christianity.
It is important to emphasize that Mormonism's faith in Jesus Christ and repentance provides a person with only the opportunity to earn a position in one of the three LDS kingdoms through obedient covenant works, and does not guarantee eternal life with God. There is a significant difference between Jesus' simply providing us an opportunity to merit eternal life, and being the absolute and sufficient guarantee of eternal life as taught in Christianity.
Water Baptism and Joining the Mormon Church
Following faith in Jesus Christ and repentance, new Mormon converts are required to submit to the ordinance of water baptism by immersion for the remission or forgiveness of their sins, and as the means of becoming official members of the LDS Church.
Mormonism teaches that water baptism must be performed by an ordained male in either the Aaronic or Melchizedek LDS priesthood. If a person is not baptized in the LDS Church, that person does not experience forgiveness or remission of his or her sins. It is important to keep in mind that Latter-day Saints reject the legitimacy of water baptisms performed at all Christian churches. All Christian water baptisms are deemed unacceptable, unauthorized, and invalid before God. Most Christians agree that water baptism is a vital act of obedience, but that simply failing to be baptized does not cause us to lose our salvation because eternal life is based on our faith in Jesus Christ alone. As a friend of mine often says, we believe in Jesus plus nothing.
The Mormon sacrament of water baptism is performed only once, and is available to anyone who has reached the age of eight, the age of personal accountability and understanding in the LDS Church. Water baptism is performed by the LDS priesthood in a large sunken pool or baptismal font-approximately four feet deep and six to ten feet in width and length-located in most Mormon church meeting houses. During the saving ordinance of water baptism, the authorized Mormon male facilitating the baptism must recite exactly prescribed words over the person being baptized. This is how the Encyclopedia of Mormonism describes the baptismal prayer:
When an individual is baptized, the person with the proper priesthood authority goes down into the water with the candidate, raises his right arm to the square, calls the individual by the full legal name, and says, "Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen," and then immerses the candidate.
For clarification, water baptism ordinances performed within Mormon temples are not the same type of water baptism as the saving church sacrament performed in Mormon churches. Water baptisms performed in Mormon temples are proxy baptisms performed by individual Mormons for the salvation of the dead.
Contrary to the Mormon requirement of a saving baptism performed by a member of the LDS priesthood, the Bible teaches in Romans 10:9-10 that we experience God's salvation if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Water baptism is a symbolic outward demonstration of our inner heart's faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and is accepted by God not based on the one who performs it, but on the authenticity of the faith of the one who experiences it.