First Corinthians 15--Baptizing for the dead, part 2
Sep 28, 2017
Paul writes in Romans 6:3,
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
Many miss the point that we are baptized into Christ—not into the church denomination. The church denomination did not die for our sins, nor did they redeem us from the slavery of sin. Hence, the denomination (or ministry) has no right to claim a baptized believer as their servant. Men are only stewards giving instructions and clerks recording the transfer of the title deed. The baptized believer used to be the slave of sin (Romans 7:14), but now has been purchased (or redeemed) by the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:23,
23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
When men baptize others into their own ministry or denomination, expecting to increase their slave membership, the baptism becomes perverted. The one being baptized may have faith in Christ, but he ends up being a slave to men. This is the spirit of denominationalism that has characterized the church age since the time of Paul, who did his best to combat this spirit. Paul did not want the believers to be divided up among Cephas, Apollos, Christ, or Paul himself, as if the people were the slaves of men.
So also is it with baptism on behalf of the dead. The Mormons revived the practice of baptizing for the dead in the early 1800’s, but their purpose was not to facilitate the purchase of slaves for Jesus Christ, but for their own future kingdoms. So important is this to them that they expend vast amounts of energy putting together genealogical tables in order to redeem their dead ancestors.
When they find one, someone stands in proxy for that dead relative and is baptized for him or her in a Mormon temple. They believe that such baptism is only valid if done in a Mormon temple, because that dead person is then confirmed as a member of the Mormon religion. The dead person specifically becomes part of the household of the one being physically baptized on his behalf. Thus, baptizing the dead increases their personal kingdom, they say, when they become gods creating their own worlds in future times.
Baptism itself is a biblical doctrine, but like all truths, it can be abused in practice. Most church denominations abuse it by using it to obtain their own servants in the name of Jesus. But yet they limit their scope to the living. The Mormons, however, go beyond this by laying claim to the dead as well, baptizing them into the Mormon organization and enslaving them to men. Their claims are invalid, of course, because even as God redeemed Israel from the bondage of men in Egypt, so also did Christ redeem us by His blood from the bondage of men in the world.
The problem would be solved if men understood and taught the story of King Saul, who is a type of the church during the Pentecostal Age. Saul was crowned on the day of wheat harvest (1 Samuel 12:17), which is today known as Pentecost. Hence, Saul was a type of the church in the Pentecostal Age. Saul usurped authority and claimed the kingdom for himself, thinking that God had given him ownership of the kingdom. But he was a rebellious king, even though it is likely that he always thought that he had the God-given right to rule as he did.
Contrast him with David, who occupied the throne as a steward-king, knowing that the throne was not his own, but that he was only authorized to rule under God and to enforce God’s laws. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). David was a rare gem, for most men do not comprehend the principle of God’s ownership and man’s stewardship. It is for this reason that men find it difficult to distinguish between the church whose membership is in heaven (Hebrews 12:23) and their own man-made earthly organizations, whose members are enrolled in the earth.
The problem that we face is that only once does Paul mention baptism on behalf of the dead. He gives a few hints, but very few details. Neither does he give us practical instructions. A single witness gives the facts in a case, but it requires two or three witnesses to confirm it. We only have a single witness here, so to some extent we are left in a state of limbo.
For that reason, many have rejected Paul’s statement for various reasons. But one cannot reject even a single witness without rejecting a portion of the living word. One commentator claims that Paul was speaking of some Greek cult, rather than Christian practice. But that view is strained, in view of the fact that Paul does not condemn the practice in any way.
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:29 tells us that if there is no resurrection, then baptism on behalf of the dead is useless and pointless. He treats such baptism as if it is normal. Remember that Paul was answering Chloe’s letter, and it is apparent that baptizing for the dead was not controversial—or at least, the issue was not raised by her letter.
Because we have only one witness as to the validity of baptism for the dead, we can only assume, for the moment, that baptism for the dead has validity. If so, how should it be practiced today? Should we baptize in proxy for the dead? First, if we were to do so, we should baptize people into Christ, rather than into a denomination. We ought to seek to increase the number of Christ’s slaves/servants, rather than increasing the size of the kingdoms of men.
Baptism for the dead may not depend upon whether the dead are conscious or not. But it seems as though it is better to think that the living cannot impose the benefits of baptism upon an unwilling subject. According to the law of baptism in Leviticus 14:1-7, no one was to be baptized unless they came to the priest for inspection. If the person had been healed of leprosy, then the priest baptized him. If leprosy remained, then the priest was not to baptize him.
In other words, baptism is an earthly witness to a heavenly act that was done prior to the baptism. In the New Testament, people came for baptism if they had faith. If the baptizer saw that faith, he bore witness to it by baptizing the person. We are justified by faith by hearing the word of God; baptism is man’s earthly witness to God’s justification. Baptism itself did not justify anyone, for it is possible that a person might pretend to have faith and might even convince the baptizer of his faith. In such a case, his baptism is invalid, for it bears false witness.
Infant baptism, I believe, is not a valid baptism, though it certainly has value as a dedication of one’s child to God. But an infant is too young to consent to the baptism. Infant baptism has been used as a tool of church membership, which supposedly saves a person—but that is the problem of the denominational spirit. The baptizer in such a case pretends to dedicate the child to God, but in practice, the child is dedicated to the church organization and becomes the slave of men who act as if they own the kingdom.
If the dead have no conscious existence on any level, then they cannot consent to their baptism. Since baptism is a witness to one’s faith, the dead must first have faith in order for anyone to baptize for the dead. The biggest hurdle in such a case is that the baptizer must have the spiritual discernment to know if the dead have faith or not. In the days of Moses, it was relatively easy to see if a person had been healed of leprosy. When ministers baptize the living, it is a bit harder, but not impossible, to discern the heart of the candidate for baptism and to see evidence of faith. But to discern evidence of faith in the dead is far more difficult. Hence, it goes without saying that not many would be qualified to baptize for the dead.
It is likely, too, that if the dead stand in need of baptism, someone must preach the gospel to them in order to spark faith in their hearts. But it is unlawful to communicate directly with the dead, as many in the occult claim to do (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). We are instead to hear the voice of the Prophet similar to Moses who was to be raised up in the latter days (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19). That Prophet is Jesus Christ (Acts 3:20, 21, 22, 23).
So we see that baptism for the dead first requires that the dead be conscious on some level and that he is in need of baptism. Now we see that in order to do this work, it cannot be done except as an act before the divine court. It should not be done except in the presence of God and by His consent and authority. There the spirit of the dead one must be given a simple gospel message that might invoke faith, so that he is eligible for baptism. If these hurdles can be met, then baptism for the dead may be done.
What about Communion?
But this also raises another question. What about communion? Baptism and communion were two ritualistic carryovers from the days of the Old Covenant, though both were altered to some extent to fit the new paradigm under the New Covenant. The spirit of a dead person can do neither on his own, but requires a proxy on earth to do these things on his behalf.
Communion is another topic, and we cannot cover that topic fully here. However, we have taught in recent months how communion can be extended to the earth itself to release the land of drinking innocent blood. Innocent blood may well be one of the reasons for baptizing the dead. If their blood cries from the ground, as we see with the blood of Abel, then it seems that at least some of the dead are seeking a resolution to their problem. Can we, as members of the body of Christ, do anything on their behalf?
Well, we are indeed redeeming the land from innocent blood by the principle laid down in Deuteronomy 21:9. Instead of pouring out the blood of animal sacrifices, as they did under the Old Covenant, we pour out the blood of the New Covenant, which is the blood of Jesus Christ. This is a main feature of communion. If we may take communion in proxy for the land and for innocent blood that is shed upon the earth, then might this principle also extend to baptism for the dead?
There are many things to ponder, but as I said earlier, since Paul mentions this only once, I cannot presume to teach it as an established doctrine. On an individual basis, each person must pray for his/her own witness, and if the Spirit bears witness to it, then each should do whatever the Spirit instructs. My hope is that this discussion has been helpful in some way.
This is part 109 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.