As we discussed yesterday, the earliest references to baptism in the Book of Mormon focus on the baptism of Jesus Christ (which would happen 600 years later). Nephi teaches us that we should be baptized to follow His example (2 Nephi 31).
Four hundred and fifty years later, the prophet Alma teaches the people about baptism at the waters of Mormon. He adds a new dimension to this essential ordinance: Not only must the people be baptized in order to follow the example of the Savior, they must be baptized in order to “come into the fold of God, and to be called his people” (Mosiah 18:8). By being baptized, they were not only promising to “stand as witnesses of God,” but also to take care of each other: “to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). In other words, by being baptized, they were not only entering the path toward eternal life as Nephi had taught (2 Nephi 31:17-18), they were also organizing themselves into a community of believers—a church.
And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church (Mosiah 18:17).
In subsequent chapters, baptism is closely associated with membership in the church:
- “I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life” (Alma 5:62).
- “And it came to pass that whosoever did not belong to the church who repented of their sins were baptized unto repentance, and were received into the church” (Alma 6:2).
- “And it came to pass that there were many that did believe in their words; and as many as did believe were baptized; and they became a righteous people, and they did establish a church among them” (Alma 19:35).
- “And it came to pass that in this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did join themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance” (Helaman 3:24).
- After Jesus Christ visited the American continent, the people He taught were all baptized, “and they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ” (3 Nephi 26:21).
So when we are baptized, we not only enter the path of discipleship, we also become members of the church of Jesus Christ.
Today, I will be grateful for this dual function of baptism. I’ll remember that, when I was baptized, I not only became a disciple of Jesus Christ but I also became a member of His church, with opportunities to serve other people and to be strengthened by them as we walk the “strait and narrow path” together.