July 17, 2008

Rebaptism and the Mormon Reformation

or "I will take you into the waters of baptism" 
Brigham Young
September 21, 1856

Since arriving in the Salt Lake valley in 1847 Brigham Young and other Church leaders felt it was their duty to build up a righteous people in preparation of the second coming of Jesus Christ. In getting there the desert needed to be tamed; fences constructed, fields plowed, homes and temples built. Approaching Zion was taxing and at times the leaders worried that converts and emigrants were becoming distracted or unfocused regarding their faith in Jesus Christ amidst the more temporal concerns (though the two were often inseparable to Mormons). On October 23, 1853 Brigham instructed "the brethren and sisters who have lately come over the plains."
My counsel to them today is, as it has been on former occasions to all who have come into these valleys, Go and be baptized for the remission of sins, repenting of all your wanderings from the path of righteousness, believing firmly, in the name of Jesus Christ, that all your sins will be washed away...
I have heard of some of you cursing and swearing, even some of the Elders of Israel. I would be baptized seven times, were I in your place; I would not stop teasing some good Elder to baptize me again and again, until I could think my sins forgiven. I would not live over another night until I was baptized enough to satisfy me that my sins were forgiven. Then go and be confirmed, as you were when you first embraced the religion of Jesus. That is my counsel (JD 2:8-9).
Brigham had made it clear that baptism, in and of itself, was not efficacious to wash away sins. He emphasized the covenant behind the ordinance, lest any Saint put their trust in what Moroni called "dead works" (Moroni 8:23):
Has water, in itself, any virtue to wash away sin? Certainly not; but the Lord says, “If the sinner will repent of his sins, and go down into the waters of baptism, and there be buried in the likeness of being put into the earth and buried, and again be delivered from the water, in the likeness of being born—if in the sincerity of his heart he will do this, his sins shall be washed away.” 
Will the water of itself wash them away? No; but keeping the commandments of God will cleanse away the stain of sin (JD 2:4).
Today members of the LDS Church are baptized once, excepting excommunicated members who must be rebaptized if they wish to join the Church again. Instead of rebaptism in general, the sacrament, or Lord's Supper, is emphasized as a renewal of the baptismal covenant each Sunday in Church services.[1] Rebaptism, however, was not uncommon in this earlier period of Church history, especially for emigrants entering the Salt Lake valley; they would often rededicate themselves through baptism to withstand the rigors of desert living, as well as witness their continued faith and commitment to the Lord and His kingdom.

By 1856 it seems things hadn't progressed spiritually as much as Brigham would have liked. Intimations of a "reformation" could be detected in some of his and other Church leaders' sermons in early 1856.[2] Among other things, Brigham had mentioned people who were "full of contention, full of covetousness, full of pride, and full of iniquity" (JD 4:43). Things really picked up when Jedediah M. Grant was called to the First Presidency after which he began vigorous calls to repentance sparking a large-scale effort to rekindle the faith of the Saints. In early September, 1856 Grant traveled to preach at a stake conference at Kaysville and then Farmington, Utah, enjoining the Saints to repent and to manifest their faith by being rebaptized. The Deseret News called it "The Great Reformation," or the Mormon Reformation. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints were rebaptized and reconfirmed members of the Church.[3]

One week later Grant joined Brigham at a meeting in the Bowery in Salt Lake. Brigham stood before the congregation and started in:
I have an impulse within me to preach the Gospel of salvation...

I feel to call upon this congregation to know whether any of them, or whether all of them wish salvation. If they do, I have the Gospel of salvation for them; and I call upon the people to know whether they are the friends of God, or only of themselves individually. I do not know of any better way to get an expression from the people, as to whether they wish the Gospel preached to them, whether they desire to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to obey his counsels, and live to his glory, denying themselves of worldly lusts and of everything that is sensual and contrary to his Gospel, and feel as though they wanted to be Saints of the Most High, than to have the brethren and sisters, those who so wish and desire, manifest it by rising upon their feet. You will observe all who do not rise.

[The vast congregation all responded by standing up.]

Take your seats again. You have manifested that you want to be Saints, and I am happy for the privilege of talking to such a people.
Brigham said he felt many were "preparing for apostasy," especially hypocrites who would not to be tolerated, that he would be like a "flaming sword" against them. All who wished to "awake out of their lethargy and walk up to their religion, to their duty, to the highest privilege that ever was or ever can be granted to mortal man upon this earth, which is eternal life," could witness such by being rebaptized; some by Brigham himself:
When we get the font prepared that is now being built,[4] I will take you into the waters of baptism, if you repent of your sins. If you will covenant to live your religion and be Saints of the Most High, you shall have that privilege, and I will have the honor of baptizing you in that font, or of seeing that it is done.
Otherwise, Brigham said "the thread must be severed; for I cannot hold men and women in fellowship that serve the devil and themselves, and give no heed to the Almighty; I cannot do it."

Brigham felt, given all the Saints had been taught regarding God, Christ, life and salvation, many of them seemed to still lack understanding. "Where is the man, the officer, or the community," he asked, "that understands what has been taught them?" Generally, from what he saw, people tended to close their eyes to eternal things, focusing instead on "that which pleases the eye, that which is in accordance with the lusts of the flesh, that which is full of iniquity; and they care not for the righteousness of our God. I repeat that, as far as those who are disposed to refrain from their evils, to renew their covenants and live their religion, I will have the honor and you the privilege of going forth and renewing your covenants, otherwise their must be a separation."

What seemed to concern Brigham most at the time was materialism, and despite his repeated admonitions he said he felt his instruction was "pass[ing] into [their] ears and out again, and is no more remembered." Echoing the Book of Mormon, wherein land and prosperity was promised to those who seek God above all else, Brigham warned that "this people will not be suffered to walk as they have walked, to do as they have done, to live as they have lived. God will have a reckoning with us ere long, and we must refrain from our evils and turn to the Lord our God, or He will come out in judgment against us...Show me the man who knows enough about his God, and is sufficiently acquainted with the principle of eternal lives to be able to say, “I can handle...the possessions of this world...I know how to use them, to deal out this and to distribute that, and to do all to the glory of my Father in heaven...” 

Just as quick as you are prospered you are lost to the Lord, you are filled with darkness....I have taught you these things weeks and months ago, and yet there is not a man or woman in this congregation that understands them in their fulness. These are simple principles that should be learned...[5]

In the coming months the rhetoric to stir the hearts of the Saints would only increase as the reformation spread through the territory. It seems the leaders wanted to light a fire under members who were stagnating, putting the fear of God in them, so to speak, as subsequent posts will discuss.[6] Brigham concluded:
Well, I just say, my brethren and sisters, it cannot be suffered any longer, a separation must take place; you must part with your sins, or the righteous must be separated from the ungodly. I will now give way, and call upon others of the brethren to speak to you. Amen (JD 4:43-45).
Rebaptism formed a large part of the reformation, thousands eventually entering the waters again to rededicate themselves to God. A little over three weeks after this sermon the Endowment House baptismal font was dedicated on 2 October. Eugene Campell described the event:
The following Sunday the reformation continued in earnest. Members of the First Presidency and several home missionaries addressed crowded meetings at the bowery during both the morning and afternoon. At 5:30 p.m. the people gathered at the new baptismal font and a great number were rebaptized and afterwards reconfirmed under Grant's direction.[7]


"Today the sacrament is an ordinance in which Church members partake of bread and water in remembrance of Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice. This ordinance is an essential part of worship and spiritual development. Through this ordinance, Church members renew the covenants they made with God when they were baptized." (LDS.org Gospel Topics, "Baptism.") See also Robert D. Hales, “The Covenant of Baptism: To Be in the Kingdom and of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 6–9, among countless other conference addresses and writings on the subject.

Fiery rhetoric played a part in the Mormon reformation. 1856 examples include Brigham Young, (see "Preaching Pitchforks From the Pulpit") and Heber C. Kimball (see "Contrasting Attitudes: Keeping things in context"). Jedediah M. Grant was especially known to speak strongly and was nicknamed "Brigham's Hammer." He played a large role in the reformation preaching and baptizing. After a vigorous speaking tour of northern Utah settlements and sessions of baptisms Grant caught pneumonia. Despite administrations by various Church leaders, Grant died December 1, 1856. For more, see Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869, Signature Books, 1988, pp.192-194.

Earlier Brigham had discussed the virtues of Utah as a "saint-raising country," but knew the harsh reality was prone to make life difficult for even the most faithful. For example, see "Utah: Saint-Raising Country." For more on the reformation, see Paul H. Peterson, "Reformation (LDS) OF 1856-1857," Encyclopedia of Mormonism; Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869, Signature Books, 1988.

This font was built as an additional west wing of the Endowment House where various ordinances were completed prior to the completion of full temples. This font was dedicated October 6,1856. See Lamar C. Berrett, "Endowment Houses," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 456; A. William Lund. "History of the Salt Lake Endowment House." Improvement Era, 39 (Apr. 1936):213. The image "Endowment House, Temple Block, Salt Lake" was taken by Charles Savage. (BYU Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, MSS P 24 Item 420.) Interestingly, baptisms for "healing" were also performed. See Jonathan Stapley, "Baptism For Healing," Splendid Sun blog, Nov. 3, 2005, accessed 7/15/2008.

A month earlier, on September 17, Brigham had preached a remarkable on the same subject; that of making one's interest God's interest. See "Implicit Confidence in God"; specifically parts 3 and 4. Also, see the same sentiments expressed in 1852, "Cast from you the love of the world."

For intimations of the reformation and a brief introduction to some of the more abrasive rhetoric employed by Church leaders, see "Preaching Pitchforks From the Pulpit."


Campbell, opt. cit. p. 188.

July 15, 2008

"Star" of Mormon "Films" Arrested for Theft

How about some relatively useless news, much like you might find from many current "news outlets" enamored with "celebrity" fodder. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 

You may remember him from such comedy classics [sic] as The Home Teachers and The Singles Ward. This week he joins the ranks of other Mormon or Utah actors who have received negative publicity recently. Here's the news from KSL:

Actor in several LDS comedies arrested
July 14th, 2008 @ 4:54pm
By Sam Penrod

He's had a leading role in several LDS comedies, but he spent this weekend in jail on theft charges.
Michael Birkeland was arrested on Friday after police say he stole a computer from Utah Valley University. The man, who is used to being in front of the camera, was actually caught because of a camera built in the computer.
The computer was stolen in April, and police have been trying to catch up with the suspect since then. They did on Friday and arrested him on charges of felony theft.
From "The Singles Ward," to "The Home Teachers" and "Church Ball", Michael Birkeland has become a familiar face to moviegoers in Utah in these LDS comedies.
But his face was also familiar to an art instructor at Utah Valley University. The instructor's computer disappeared after class on April 3, a class that Birkeland was visiting.
Two days later, the victim logged onto Skype and, thanks to the built in camera in his MacBook Pro computer, he could see exactly who was using his stolen computer over the Internet.
The instructor contacted Birkeland online and also by phone, asking for the computer back, which is valued at $2,128.
Court documents state that Birkeland then covered up the camera on the computer to conceal his identity.
Instead of directly returning the computer, police say he dropped it off at the gift shop at Thanksgiving Point.
Investigators have been looking for Birkeland ever since and found him on Friday. He was arrested and booked into jail on charges of felony theft and was there until he had a bail hearing this morning.
Birkeland's bail was set at $3,000, and he posted bond this afternoon. He will be back in court next Monday.

It's too bad. I do have to say this reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry's car is stolen and Jerry calls the car phone only to have the thief pick up the line and have a chat.

Apparently Michael has had minor trouble in the past. He was arrested August 14, 2007 for seven offenses, basically involving driving with a suspended license, altering plates, speeding, and failure to appear. I feel his actions are unfortunate, and obviously look not only wrong, but slightly stupid. Still, while many may be eager to throw the man under the bus I think it would become us all to realize we all have our own issues to deal with, and hope that Michael can turn things around.

Kirby Heybourne, from The Singles Ward, The RM, The Best Two Years, and other Mormon films, found himself on the outs with some Mormons who were offended by his appearing in a Miller Lite commercial. I noticed he has been ousted from DearElder.com, though it might be unrelated:

Here's the commercial, which after viewing, left me slightly wondering what all the hubbub was about. Though I suppose Kirby should have known this would offend a large chunk of his Mormon demographic:

July 14, 2008

"Cast from you the love of the world"

Brigham Young
April 6, 1852

Brethren and sisters, cast from you the love of the world, and let it have no dominion over you...You know the mental and physical weakness of man, so common to mortality, and which the enemy is so ready to turn against you, to his own advantage. You think that your business needs your continual and undivided attention, that you must attend to this, or to that, before you can dedicate yourselves and families to the Lord.
There may perhaps be some few here this morning who feel they ought to be plowing, fencing, building, or attending to some minor affair, and cannot possibly spend time to remain at the Conference.

If you will hearken to the counsel of your humble servant, you will say to the fields, the flocks, and the herds, to the gold and the silver, to the goods and chattels, to the tenements and the possessions, and to all the world—Stand aside, get away from my thoughts, for I am going up to worship the Lord.

Let it all go by the board, brethren, and who cares? I do not. Your oxen and horses will not live for ever, they will die occasionally; and sometimes we are deprived by death of our children, and other members of our families. I say, let the dead bury the dead, let the corn and the wheat, and all other things, take care of themselves, but let us dedicate ourselves, our families, our substance, our time, our talents, and everything we have upon the face of this world, with all that will hereafter be entrusted to us, to the Lord our God; let the whole be devoted to the building up of His kingdom upon the earth, and whether you are called here or there, it makes no matter; but this morning let every heart be humble, watchful, and prayerful, dedicating themselves unto the Lord (JD 1:199-200).