The word “baptism” comes from the Greek word baptisma (βάπτισμα), which refers to dipping or submerging something.
Jesus instructed His disciples on the American continent how to perform baptisms. They should stand in the water with the person being baptized, call the person by name, pronounce some specific words, and then “immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water” (3 Nephi 11:26).
The people who were baptized at the waters of Mormon were “buried in the water” (Mosiah 18:14). Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, and then “went up straightway out of the water” (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10). The prophet Nephi urged his readers to “[follow] your Lord and your Savior down into the water” (2 Nephi 31:13). In 1829, John the Baptist, who baptized the Savior, appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and conferred on them the Aaronic Priesthood, “which holds the keys…of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (Doctrine and Covenants 13:1).
The church handbook explains that the person must be completely submerged. “It must…be repeated if part of the person’s body, hair, or clothing is not completely immersed.”
Why is complete immersion a fitting symbol for becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ?
I’ve written before about the trust and humility inherent in the act of allowing ourselves to be submerged in water. Today, I’m thinking about another reason for total immersion: because it is symbolic of a complete commitment to follow the Savior, holding nothing back.
When James and John approached Jesus with an unreasonable request—to be given special status in the next life—He responded, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22, Mark 10:38). On another occasion, He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). In both cases, He was clearly using baptism as a metaphor for the painful and difficult experiences He had to endure to fulfill the mission given Him by His Father. Total immersion was symbolic of total consecration.
Elder David A. Bednar emphasized both the symbolism and the obligation of immersion for a disciple of Jesus Christ:
And after we come out of the waters of baptism, our souls need to be continuously immersed in and saturated with the truth and the light of the Savior’s gospel. Sporadic and shallow dipping in the doctrine of Christ and partial participation in His restored Church cannot produce the spiritual transformation that enables us to walk in a newness of life. Rather, fidelity to covenants, constancy of commitment, and offering our whole soul unto God are required if we are to receive the blessings of eternity.“Ye Must Be Born Again,” General Conference, April 2007
Today, I will remember the symbolism of my baptism, and will strive to keep my baptismal covenant through total commitment to the gospel.