Saturday, August 1, 2009

Alma's Baptismal Covenant

In the church we typically view baptism as an individual covenant that puts us on the pathway to eternal life and exaltation. In the book of Mosiah we see Alma the Elder travel this entire road, from sin and rebellion to repentance, baptism, and enduring to the end with a promise of eternal life. What I love about his journey, however, is that it underscores how much these important individual covenants are actually not about the individual at all. Alma's words to the gathered prospective saints at the waters of Mormon are a great example of this:

Mosiah 18:8‒9
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life--
It's interesting that the individual covenant of baptism is not as much about the individual who makes the covenant as it is about those around them. Will you mourn with and comfort them? Will you bear their burdens? Will you stand as a witness of God? We tend to celebrate the individual who makes the covenant, whereas the wording of the covenant itself is asking that person to celebrate others. It's not really about them at all.

Near the end of his life, Alma pours out his soul to God as he seeks for guidance about the rebellious nature of the rising generation. The response he receives takes us back to this baptismal experience and includes a promise of eternal life:

Mosiah 26:15, 20‒21
15 Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
20 Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
21 And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.
After reminding Alma about the prior covenant of baptism that consisted of promising to serve others, God makes another covenant with him, promising eternal life. But once again, this covenant is not as much about Alma as it is about serving God by gathering his sheep. Once again the focus of the covenant is not on the individual but on what that individual will do for others.

In this we follow the example of Christ. Nephi's vision of the Savior's baptism (1 Nephi 11:27) is immediately followed by the statement that the Reedemer “went forth ministering unto the people, in power and great glory” (1 Nephi 11:28). In other words, he was baptized then started serving others. And he informs us that we need to do the same: “He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do” (2 Nephi 31:12). Just like the juxtaposition of losing your life to find it, the individual covenants we make with our Heavenly Father in the end are really more about those around us.

1 comment:

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Richard William Wallace