Differences between the
RLDS and LDS Doctrine and Covenants
on Baptism for the Dead

by Jon Tandy

One of the teachings of Joseph Smith that has caused much controversy in the RLDS church is that of baptism for the dead. This teaching was brought forth between 1841 and 1842 in certain alleged letters of Joseph, and were printed in the Times and Seasons before his death. Baptism for the dead is the practice of baptizing a person in proxy for someone deceased who has received the gospel in the prison-house, thus fulfilling in their behalf the requirement of baptism to enter the Kingdom.

These letters were never accepted into the Doctrine and Covenants during Joseph's life, but they were incorporated later. Some believe that the letters containing the doctrine of baptism for the dead were forgeries and not written by Joseph at all. However, this is difficult to establish since they were printed during Joseph's lifetime when he had the opportunity to refute them.

In the Reorganized Church (RLDS), baptism for the dead has never been practiced, although the principle was debated at length. Finally the sections (RDC 107, 109, and 110) were removed to the Appendix by RLDS General Conference action in 1970. These sections are still retained in the LDC as Sections 124, 127, and 128.

The official RLDS position on this is that "we know of no temple building, except as edifices wherein to worship God, and no endowment except the endowment of the Holy Spirit of the kind experienced by the early saints on Pentecost Day." And also, "that 'baptism for the dead' belongs to those local questions of which the body has said by resolution: 'That the commandments of a local character, given to the first organization of the church, are binding on the Reorganization only so far as they are either reiterated or referred to as binding by commandments to this church.' And that principle has neither been reiterated nor referred to as a commandment" (April 9, 1886; Conference Resolution 308, paragraphs 2, 3).

For more discussion on the history and scriptures regarding baptism for the dead, see the tract Baptism for the Dead, by Russell F. Ralston & Charles Hield.