A few years ago, I was in a Relief Society Lesson, where we were discussing Baptism. The thought, that we get baptized to wash away our sins, came up. Of course, for the most part, everyone agrees that this is the reason we are baptized. Or at least it seems so. At least, during the lesson it seemed like everyone was in agreement. A friend in my ward leaned over to me and asked (rhetorically, I guess), “If baptism washes away our sins, and children under the age of 8 are incapable of sinning, then why are they baptized?”
Of course, I know that we, Mormons, believe that children are not able to be held accountable for sin before the age of eight, but based on her question, I was still stumped. I said to her, “Good question.” I know that she didn’t question the reason for this mandate – as it had been set forth by God. I, too, had faith that there was good reason and even an answer for this question, but it would take me a little bit of time to figure it out. She had a good question!
Finally, about six years later, I think that I can answer the question. I was reading the following scripture:
” 16 And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” – Mosiah 3:16
We know from modern revelation that children, when eight, need to be baptized:
” 27 And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.” – Doctrine and Covenants 68:27
In some ways, these scriptures seem to be at odds – children can’t sin, but they need to be baptized for the remission of sins when they are eight. Here are a few things that I think may help to make clearer understanding of this covenant, and the need for children to be baptized at the age of eight.
We are Fallen People.
Children are, in a sense, conceived in sin. I don’t mean to say that we are held accountable for Adam’s transgression because we are not (see Articles of Faith 1:2). Although we are not accountable for Adam’s transgression, He did fall, and we all feel the effects of his fall. We are all natural men – and we exist in a mortal fallen state. Even children, who are not able to sin, are fallen. Without Christ’s atonement, even children, who are not able to sin, would not be able to make it back to Heavenly Father. Even children, who are not able to sin, need the infinite sacrifice and resurrection of Christ in order to overcome the effects of the fall.
All of us, including children, have been cut off from God by the nature of the fall and no fault of their own. Children are not able to commit sin, so, before the age of eight, the full blessings of the atonement are available to them – without covenant or baptism – solely based on the merits of the Savior and His atonement (see Doctrine and Covenants 74:7).
Baptism is a sign of our covenant.
When a child is eight, he doesn’t need the “remission of sins” (other than overcoming fallen man) in the same way a man baptized at the age of 32 (or any age over eight) does. However, baptism is essential in the life of an eight year old in that he/she is ready to covenant with Heavenly Father through Christ. It is impossible for him to take on Christ’s name without the ordinance of baptism.
The Doctrine and Covenants teach,
” 7 But little children are holy, being sanctified through the atonement of Jesus Christ; and this is what the scriptures mean.” – Doctrine and Covenants 74:7
Before a child is eight, he is holy. Once reaching the age of accountability, a child is then able to sin, based on his fallen nature (See Moses 6:55). At this point, we need to be made holy through the atonement of Christ. In order to be made holy, we need to covenant with God – by being bapitzed and then receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Through Baptism and Confirmation, we are cleaned and sanctified – made holy and again able to enter into the presence of God (See Moses 6:59-61). So, an eight year old, though not plagued with the sins that an older person may have, needs to be baptized in order to enter into a covenant with God – in order receive the Holy Ghost and be made holy.
The Baptismal Covenant and Remission of Sins will be Renewed through Life.
This makes sense in my head, and I hope I can explain what I’m thinking well here, too.
When I think of “baptism for the remission of sins,” I think that we kind of get this idea that our sins are washed away at that moment, during baptism. And often, this is true. My daughter would say, “the sins go down the drain.” I think that this concept is true in some cases, but this is also the concept that gets a little misunderstood. As my daughter was baptized at the age of accountability, she didn’t have any sins that needed to go down the drain. Instead the baptism was a symbol of her covenant with God. Yet, she was still baptized for the remission of sins.
When we are baptized, we can renew our covenants weekly through partaking the sacrament. In this way, our sins are remitted every single time we worthily partake of the sacrament. So, baptism is for the remission of sins – sins past if you are baptized later than the age of accountability. And for sins future – any time you are baptized (as long as you continue to repent).
So, in some ways – my daughter was right, her sins washed down the drain that day she was baptized. As long as she continues to repent and live worthy of the Lord’s atonement, every sin will be washed away.
Baptism is necessary in order to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost
All in all – children need not be baptized, until the age of eight. Personally, I think of what happens when we are baptized, we enter into a covenant with God, and then we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized when I was eight. There are a few things that I remember about the day. I remember that it was a peaceful experience. I felt happy. I knew that I was choosing the right. I wanted to choose the right. I wanted to stay close to the Lord.
Of course, over the years, I have sinned. Sometimes my sins were more serious than others. No matter what sin I committed, each sin, in some degree, cut me off from the Lord. I am grateful for the miracle of forgiveness – that I can repent and renew my baptismal covenant each week.
Above all, I cannot imagine my life without the companionship of the Spirit. It took me a while to figure out how the Spirit spoke to me, and often, I feel like I’m still trying to learn. However, if I hadn’t been baptized when I was eight, it would have taken me a lot longer to learn – as I wouldn’t have had the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.
I feel like the covenant of baptism is one of the greatest gifts that the Lord gives us. In this way, we can have the exact tool that we need in order to return back to Him. We can have the Spirit – which will testify and sanctify. I’m grateful to have been baptized when I was eight – as I had this miraculous gift throughout my life.
So – yeah, baptism when a child is eight is a great idea…what do you know!? 😉 I’m grateful for the omniscience and mercy of God, and that He has enabled us to covenant with Him. I’m also grateful for Jesus Christ who makes this covenant possible.