I remember feeling curious during my elementary school days about the religious events my peers encountered at their various churches. In second grade, first communion was the talk of the classroom. During middle school, I heard mentions of bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs and confirmations.
The ordinance I was most familiar with at that point was baptism. A month after my eighth birthday, I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than 20 years have passed since then, and my memory of the event isn’t especially vivid. But I can say with surety that I was baptized the same way Jesus Christ was — in water, by immersion — with a goal in place to live as he did and eventually return to God’s kingdom.
Last week, while preparing to teach a Sunday School class to the teens in my congregation, I thought more about the method and purpose of baptism. I’ve often wondered why my Church requires baptism by immersion, as opposed to sprinkling or pouring, and why it’s necessary at all (can’t it be enough to live virtuously?). I focused my studies and my lesson to the class on Jesus Christ’s baptism as it is written in the New Testament.
A look at the word baptism reveals answers in an instant. Baptism comes from a Greek word that means to immerse. The physical act of immersing someone into the water carries great symbolism — death, burial, and resurrection are all aspects of the act. A number of scriptures (Matthew 3:16, Acts 8:37–39, Romans 6:1–6, Colossians 2:12) show that immersion was the method used in Christ’s church as he established it originally.
As far as the question of why it’s necessary, Jesus Christ’s decision to be baptized — as a perfect being who had no need for the remission of sin — gives solid evidence that it is essential for all. When John the Baptist questioned why it was so, Jesus responded that it was to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Later, Jesus instructed Nicodemus with a more specific reason for baptism: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
At age eight, I surely didn’t have a complete understanding of the way God works and the way Jesus Christ lived his life — I still don’t! But I had a desire to learn more, and to follow Christ’s lead. And that’s the beauty of choosing to be baptized into Christ’s church — we don’t have to have all the answers up front. Instead, we are required to have faith enough to step into the water, commit ourselves to Jesus Christ, and live in such a way that God can be proud to bring us back into his presence.