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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Does This Baptism Count? » Does This Baptism Count?

Does This Baptism Count?

Rusty - October 23, 2007

Priesthood holder holds the person’s hand with his left hand, his right is at the square, he says the baptismal prayer, lets go of the person with his left hand and the person submerges himself.


  1. Oh, come on, you can’t just vote and not give a reason for your answer! Perhaps I should take the poll off the post and make everyone answer in the comments?

    Comment by Rusty — October 23, 2007 @ 7:15 am

  2. I am a firm believer that the Lord will honor substance over form in many instances.

    Comment by Jordan — October 23, 2007 @ 7:16 am

  3. I would say no because the person is then baptising himself. However, I would first check the handbook. If it’s not there, then I would ask a leader or two. Jordan is right about substance over form, but I know that sometimes form is very important. I mean, the Sacrament Prayer must be said exactly as written, but I know some men that have flubbed up the beginning of a baby blessing and nobody cared.

    Comment by Cheryl — October 23, 2007 @ 7:37 am

  4. My mission president gave permission for just such a baptism to happen when an investigator had almost drowned as a child and so had a phobia of people putting her under water. Of course that isn’t the final word, but I think it’s fine.

    Comment by austin smith — October 23, 2007 @ 7:42 am

  5. I think Robert Duvall baptized himself in the movie, The Apostle. I thought it was odd. But hey, if you can ordain yourself an Apostle, self-baptism is small potatoes.

    Comment by Tom — October 23, 2007 @ 7:59 am

  6. Cheryl,
    What do you mean when you say the person is baptising himself?

    Comment by Rusty — October 23, 2007 @ 8:08 am

  7. Rusty,
    The words of the ordinance are active: “I baptize [immerse] you.” In the scenario you describe the baptizer isn’t performing the act of immersion, he’s witnessing it very closely and supervising it, but he’s not performing the act. You said it yourself: “. . . the person submerges himself.”

    Of course, the way we use it, to baptize is not only to immerse, but to perform the ordinance of baptism. The question is are you performing the ordinance of baptism even if you are not performing the actual baptism/immersion? I don’t know. I tend to think that God is pretty lenient in matters of procedure—I can’t imagine anybody’s eternal welfare being put in peril by a technicality like a toe not being submerged or something like that [which isn't to say that the Church shouldn't be sticklers for details].

    Comment by Tom — October 23, 2007 @ 8:31 am

  8. Tom,
    So under your definition the baptizer must be touching the baptizee while he goes under the water? Does he need to touch his back and his hand or just his back (or hand)? Does he need to go backwards under the water or is squatting okay? What if the baptizer is wearing gloves (I don’t know why he would), then he’s not technically touching the baptizee, right?

    I know, stupid questions but I’m trying to understand where the line is that you are drawing.

    Comment by Rusty — October 23, 2007 @ 8:52 am

  9. If the witnesses say it is valid, then it is valid. But should the witnesses say it is valid? Don’t know the official answer, but I would approve it if there was any physical contact between the priesthood holder and the baptisee while submerged.

    On the other hand, one need not rely on Robert Duvall as a precedent for self-baptism. Alma baptised himself at the same time he baptised Helam (Mosiah 18:12-15).

    12 And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.
    13 And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
    14 And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.
    15 And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.

    Comment by Last Lemming — October 23, 2007 @ 8:56 am

  10. I baptized my autistic kid brother. When I tried to lay him backwards into the water, he instead curled up into fetal position and I couldn’t lay him down. So I just put my hand on top of his head and shoved him all the way under.

    The Bishop gave me a weird look, but didn’t say anything.

    Comment by Seth R. — October 23, 2007 @ 9:10 am

  11. Using baptismal imagery, can/does a corpse bury himself?

    Comment by mondo cool — October 23, 2007 @ 9:28 am

  12. There is some symbolism that is lost in the above scenario. The officiant, “having been commisioned” is much like a Christ figure who reaches down into the grave(water) and pulls us up toward salvation and into a new life.

    With the above symbolism, I think it is important that the prayer is said, and the the person is submerged, and there is help from the officiant when coming up from the water – not so important how they get under the water in the first place.

    Comment by gilgamesh — October 23, 2007 @ 9:29 am

  13. I say yes.

    can/does a corpse bury himself?

    It’s certainly capable of falling into a hole when let go.

    Comment by Peter LLC — October 23, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  14. Rusty,
    I don’t know how much contact or active participation would be needed before you could say that one person immersed another. I know I can’t say that I immersed you if all I did was stand by your side as you immersed yourself, just like I can’t say I punched you if all I do is watch you punch yourself. In a literal sense, taking baptism to mean to immerse, the person in your scenario baptized himself. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t recognized by God or that it shouldn’t be recgnized by the Church. When we talk about baptism we’re talking about more than just the immersion part of the ordinance; it encompasses the entire ordinance: to baptize isn’t just to immerse, but to perform the ordinance of baptism. So in that sense, the person in your scenario didn’t baptize himself because he didn’t perform the ordinance in its entirety.

    Of course, none of that answers whether or not the baptism is valid.

    Comment by Tom — October 23, 2007 @ 9:59 am

  15. This description reminds me of the Jewish Mikvah. I think whether it counted or not would depend on the presiding authority in charge of the ordinance, wouldn’t it? (abstains from voitng)

    Comment by Matt W. — October 23, 2007 @ 10:11 am

  16. Peter LLC (#13):
    I fell into a hole once, does that mean I was buried?

    Are you a lawyer?

    Comment by mondo cool — October 23, 2007 @ 10:11 am

  17. i say yes, my husband says no. it reminds me of our last baby’s blessing, where the stake president insisted that the three men hold our baby by placing one hand under her. ridiculous, considering she weighed 20 pounds and was an active and squirmy 6mo. “that’s what is required in the handbook.” i wanted to ask him why he doesn’t insist that the 3yo and 4yo convert kids be bounced from underneath, but kept my trap shut.

    Comment by makakona — October 23, 2007 @ 10:19 am

  18. I don’t know that I’ve ever actively immersed anyone. We grasp each other’s arms, and my hand is on their back. Really, though, laying back into the water is up to them, then I help them up. I’ve never had a witness ask me to repeat the ordinance.

    When you do proxy baptisms in the temple, it really helps the the proxy squats so the person baptizing doesn’t have to pull you back up. You can get tired really quickly if you do it the “normal” way.

    Comment by KyleM — October 23, 2007 @ 10:45 am

  19. I am a firm believer that the Lord will honor substance over form in many instances.

    I’m a firm believe that the Lord will honor substance over form only so long as the form can’t be corrected.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — October 23, 2007 @ 11:32 am

  20. Rusty-
    I was rarin’ to tell you why I thought what I thought, but I read the other comments first. I’m glad I did. I agree with Tom’s comments.

    Comment by Cheryl — October 23, 2007 @ 11:35 am

  21. Yes!
    At least I hope so… I was the witness that suggested that’s the way they do it so… I would agree that some of the beautiful symbolism was lost in the way it was handled. However, I don’t believe that whether or not those symbols are present make or break the validity of the entire ordinance, otherwise I think there would be more direction.

    Comment by Jeff — October 23, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

  22. Jeff,
    Ssssshhh, you weren’t supposed to reveal that this was anything more than a hypothetical!

    Comment by Rusty — October 23, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

  23. I agree with Tom’s comments as well, but I’m more interested in why Rusty, do you have so many posts about technicalities? Just curiosity or is there more to it?

    Comment by Bret — October 23, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  24. Bret,
    I have a lot of posts about technicalities? Hm. I didn’t notice. But if that’s the case then I’d answer it by saying that I’m interested in the gray area between black and white and where people’s lines are. I mark my own lines and it’s interesting to see why other people mark differently.

    Comment by Rusty — October 23, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  25. Half the church now knows that this wasn’t just a hypothetical.

    And we knew it before this blog revealed it.

    I heard of a baptism once where the very large lady kept backing away from the skinny young elder who was trying to put her under. It was in a motel swimming pool. When the elder realized he’d never get her under the usual way, he dived under the water, grabbed her ankles and pulled her feet out from under her. Down she went, and up she came, a new member of the church.

    Just as the handbook says nothing about the number of hands under the baby, it simply says that the person baptizing should immerse the person. If he is afraid of water, let him squat and bow his head forward to get it under the water, and a little pressure on the back or the shoulder will count. You don’t have to lay the person back, you don’t have to hold his right wrist with your left hand and have him hold your wrist with his left hand–that’s all custom, not prescribed form.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 23, 2007 @ 8:12 pm

  26. Everything Mark B said.

    If the baptizee is of age, there of their own free will, the authorities are present and accounted for, the prayers are said properly, and the person was submerged and surfaced (creating the proper symbolism) the rest is frosting.

    Comment by tracy m — October 23, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  27. “If the baptizee is of age, there of their own free will, the authorities are present and accounted for, the prayers are said properly, and the person was submerged and surfaced (creating the proper symbolism) the rest is frosting. ”

    Except for the part about WHO does the immersing.

    If the technicalities don’t count, then any form of baptism would be valid as long as the one performing the ordinance has the proper authority.

    Comment by JM — October 24, 2007 @ 8:25 am

  28. I once baptized a Medical Dr in his tiny ancestral village in South Africa in a childs wading pool.

    The water was 2 ft deep. After I said the prayer I pulled him down and 2 local Xhosa elders grabbed his legs and helped me guide him into the water. We then pushed his body down and made sure his clothes were submerged.

    That Bap counted I tell you. Later I ran into him in Capetown at a baptism in a font and we laughed about how “easy” the guy getting baptized had it.

    Comment by bbell — October 24, 2007 @ 9:11 am

  29. re: 25, the handbook doesn’t specify number of hands under the baby, but it does state that hands should be under it, does it not? because our baby was so big and older than your average baby being blessed, my husband was holding her with the others standing around her, each having a hand ON her. the stake president interrupted the blessing, saying my husband couldn’t hold her in his arms, that it was required that the child being blessed must be held from below by one hand from each elder.

    Comment by makakona — October 24, 2007 @ 11:19 am

  30. I don’t have a handbook here, but I think the stake president was quoting from the Book of Old Recollections and Traditions.

    Besides, it’s just stupid to hold a baby out in mid-air and expect him/her to feel secure. I’d scream too!

    And whoever dreamed up this “gotta bounce the baby” idea? I’ve stood in circles where I tried to act as a shock absorber to keep the rest of the crew from tossing the child into the air on every upswing.

    And then someone mentioned the blessing of a child, not a baby. Whoever thought you should take a 5-year-old and hoist him/her aloft like a 5-week-old while giving a blessing obviously has long since taken leave of his senses!

    Comment by Mark B. — October 24, 2007 @ 11:59 am

  31. I’ve got a copy of the Missionary Handbook here. At a few times in the instructions, it uses the paranthetical phrase, “for convenience,” but with “The priesthood holder places his right hand high on the person’s back and immerses the completely…,” It isn’t there. I think the priesthood holder must lower the person to properly complete the ordinance.
    That being said, I don’t think God would discount the ordinance if it was never caught, and the person proceeded on with their life with that baptism.
    However, I believe doing things “by the book” whenever possible eliminates the question in the first place, and you don’t have to worry. I don’t see any situation where any need for the priesthood holder to let go would arise, so I would say not to.

    Comment by Jarom Luker — November 5, 2007 @ 9:17 am

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