Baptism within the Latter Day Saint tradition followed a separate trajectory from other Christian practices of baptism in the 19th century. Revelations received at the formation of the church required already baptized Christians to be rebaptized into the church due to issues of apostasy and authority. Later, new forms of baptism became available to members of the church, as noted by historian D. Michael Quinn:
"For many years [in the nineteenth century] it had been common for members to rededicate themselves to building up the Kingdom through rebaptism. This practice was not considered essential to salvation but was a symbol of rededication. On other occasions the Saints were rebaptized as a symbolic gesture related to blessings for their health, entry into the United Order, preparation for marriage and even for going to the temple if they had not been there for some time. ....."
"As with nearly every public and private practice of Nauvoo during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, rebaptism was institutionalized by Brigham Young as he built the Kingdom of God throughout the Great Basin of the American West. ... The practice of rebaptism for rededication, renewal, reformation, health, and preparation for temple ordinances continued throughout the nineteenth century. Although some rebaptism ordinances, such as for health and rededication, continued to be performed as late as 1913 in the temples, the LDS Presidency decided during the administration of Joseph F. Smith that since rebaptism ordinances had always been supplementary to such principles and ordinances as individual repentance, partaking of the Sacrament, and priesthood blessing of the sick, it would be wise to discontinue a practice that might tend to diminish the importance of the primary principles and ordinances upon which rebaptism was predicated." ['The Practice of Rebaptism at Nauvoo,' D. Michael Quinn, BYU Studies (1978) 18:2]
Joseph Smith also introduced methods to provide salvation rites for the dead through proxy ordinances by the living. The first such ordinance was baptism for the dead, allowing church members to perform baptisms for those who are dead, but who had not been baptized with LDS priesthood authority. One of the more interesting chapters of this practice comes from Wilford Woodruff's journal, where he documents his vision of signers of the Declaration of Independence, and his subsequent temple work for them.
While other forms of rebaptism ceased by the 1920s, baptisms for the dead continue today in LDS temples. The practice has received criticism due to increased scrutiny by the media during the current "Mormon Moment." This has caused church leaders to implement measures to further centralize this practice.
The history of these various forms of rebaptism will be detailed chronologically at LDS-Church-History over the next few months.
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