The Baptism of Fire


The following is my current understanding of the baptism of fire.

One baptism in three parts

The gospel of Jesus Christ has one, tripartite baptism consisting of the baptism of water, the baptism of fire and the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The purpose of baptism is to witness that there exists a covenant between God and the man being baptized. Unless all three witnesses have occurred, the covenant between him and God is not binding.

The doctrine of re-baptism applies equally to all three

Anyone who enters into an agreement with another is free to witness or affirm the fact of the agreement by attestation for as many times as desired. There is no law of man or God against this. In fact, under the law of God, we are to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” that we may be in, even until death. So, the principle of witnessing and re-witnessing is a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The manner in which man witnesses of his covenant to serve God is through water baptism. This means that in order to re-witness his covenant, he must be re-baptized. Therefore, he may receive the baptism of water whenever and as many times as he desires and must, per his covenant, be ever ready to be re-baptized at all times and in all places, to re-attest of the validity of his covenant. This is the doctrine or principle of re-baptism and it applies equally to both water, fire and Holy Ghost baptisms.

Order: fire and Spirit, then water, then fire and Spirit, etc.

Re-baptism being a principle of the gospel, the order in which these baptisms are received is not all that important. The only necessary thing is that each one is received, for these are really three parts of one baptism. Nevertheless, the scriptural, ideal order is first the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 20: 37), followed by the baptism of water, followed by another baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and thereafter, any part may be repeated multiple times throughout one’s life.

Another thing that the gospel states is that after a baptism of water, the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is supposed to follow on its heels, either right after coming out of the water, or right after confirmation by the laying on of hands.

To demonstrate these principles, Joseph Smith received a baptism of fire during the First Vision, then a baptism of fire during each of Moroni’s visits and during the visit of John the Baptist, then a water baptism by the hand of Oliver Cowdery, followed by a baptism of the Holy Ghost after he came out of the water. Later he received other baptisms of fire with the visits of Peter, James, John, Moses, Elijah, etc. He also received another water baptism after the church was legally organized, etc.

Simultaneity

A baptism of fire is always accompanied with a baptism of the Holy Ghost, but a person may be baptized with the Holy Ghost without an accompanying baptism of fire. This is why the baptism of fire is always called the baptism (singular) of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and not the baptisms (plural) of fire and of the Holy Ghost. These two parts of the tripartite baptism occur simultaneously as a single baptismal event whenever there is a baptism of fire.

Jesus alone performs the baptism of fire

Unlike the baptism of water, which can be performed by the hand of a mortal man under priesthood power and authority, the baptism of fire is reserved for Deity alone to accomplish and is based upon the state of a man’s heart and his faith in Him. (See 3 Ne. 12: 1-2; 3 Ne. 9: 20; Matt. 3: 11; Luke 3: 16; JST Mark 1: 6; JST John 1: 28.)

Confirmation is not the baptism of fire

The scriptures say that elders are “to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying of of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.” This is the ordinance of confirmation. Laying hands on someone’s head for the baptism of fire does not baptize anyone with fire. Only the Lord can do that.

When the scriptures say that this ordinance is “for” the baptism of fire, it is using that word “for” to mean “indicating the end with reference to which anything is, acts, serves or is done.” Specifically, the word “for” in that sentence means “as a preparation for” or “with the object of.” So, elders lay hands as a preparation for the baptism of fire, or they lay hands with the object of the baptism of fire.

The ordinance of confirmation, then, is a preparatory ordinance, which precedes an actual baptism of fire. This ordinance is called confirmation because it is intended to confirm the believers’ faith, both that of the one being confirmed and that of those doing the confirming. This is because true priesthood is “inseparably connected with the powers of heaven,” so when true priesthood is exercised as an ordinance of the gospel, there will be a corresponding manifestation of heavenly power. So, after the ordinance of confirmation, there is supposed to be a baptism of fire that occurs, showing that the covenant of the newly baptized person is accepted of God, as well as the priesthood of the one who is doing the confirming.

Binding and accepted covenants

The baptism of fire serves to witness to the new member, to the priesthood holder(s) confirming, and to the church that is present, that the covenant that the man has entered into with his God, witnessed by his water baptism, is accepted by God and is now in force. In other words, that it is binding, both upon the man and his God.

To put another way, water baptism is man’s way of witnessing to God that he has entered into a covenant to serve Him, whereas fire baptism is God’s way of witnessing to man that He has accepted that covenantal relationship.

(Jesus said, “Whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record (witness) of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” See 3 Ne. 11: 35.)

Plasma is the medium

To serve as a witness to all these people, the baptism of fire must be a visual sign. The medium used is not the fire of a gas stove or match, but discharging plasma in appearance as fire. Depending upon where one is located in relation to the plasma display, it may look like the flame of fire, like a palpable or living light, like lightning, or just as immense glory or brightness.

Specifically, the baptism of fire consists of twin plasma filaments, rapidly rotating around a central axis, creating a plasma tube or sheath, or plasma column, in other words, a cylindrical shape around the person being baptized. When viewed from the outside, it appears to be “a pillar of fire.” When viewed from within the tube, the fire aspects may or may not be discerned, but its bright light or glory is apparent. Thus we have the various accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, which was a baptism of fire, using the words “fire,” “flame,” “light,” “brightness” and “glory” to describe the discharging plasma he was witnessing.

Sometimes the twin filaments themselves can be discerned, and so we get a description of “cloven tongues of fire,” meaning twin tongues (or filaments) of plasma flame. Other descriptions are of fire “encircling” the persons being baptized, showing that the filaments rotate around the person.

All of these scriptural accounts are describing the same plasma manifestation observed from different spatial perspectives, and so accounts vary. But even with everything before a person, sometimes details can still be missed, as in 1 Ne. 15: 27.

Other aspects

Fire baptism is by complete, or cellular, immersion. Plasma both surrounds and enters the man, so that he becomes “filled with fire.” The fire can be seen and felt. To the one immersed in it, it initially feels like he is burning to death, in an incomprehensibly complete and rapid manner, as every part of the body seems to have caught on fire. Great fear instantly comes upon the man as he fully believes he is about to die. But in the next instant his mind realizes that death has not occurred, that there is no pain and that there is no apparent cellular damage or harm. The fear leaves just as suddenly as it comes, only to be replaced with a feeling of awe and gratitude as the mind realizes that this same destroying fire, which should have instantly atomized the body, is somehow keeping the body protected from its own destructive power.

The divine plasma has the effect of cleansing the heart of man, purifying it of all dross (sinful desires), so that he no longer desires to sin, but instead abhors it. In this swept clean condition, the Holy Ghost then unexpectedly and suddenly enters the man and causes the individual bits of his soul to shout for joy, because of the presence of Deity.

Fire baptism allows other heavenly manifestations to occur

The baptism of fire purifies a person’s heart and Jesus said that all the pure in heart shall see God. So, whenever a person receives a baptism of fire, chances are real good that they will also see either an angel, vision or God Himself. At the very least some revelation or prophecy will occur along with the baptism of fire, or some other manifestation of one of the gifts of the Spirit.

Fire remits sin

Whenever a person receives a baptism of fire, his sins are automatically remitted. In other words, he becomes justified, or guiltless, before the Lord. Nephi said, “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.”

Fire brings forth a new tongue

Nephi also said that when a man receives the baptism of fire he then can speak with a new tongue, even the tongue of angels, and that “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.”

There are only two, definitive, scriptural examples

There are plenty of scriptural verses that mention the doctrine of baptism of fire, but there are only two accounts in our current standard works in which it is definitively stated that actual baptisms of fire occurred. Of those two accounts, only one applies to us in the latter days. They are:

Adam’s baptism of fire
After Adam was baptized by the Spirit of the Lord, as recorded in Moses 6: 64-68, he heard a voice saying, “Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost.” Nevertheless, there is no mention of any manifestation of fire in the account. Although quite interesting, this experience was, apparently, Adam specific and is not the template for the baptism of fire among the modern masses.

The Lamanites’ baptism of fire
When the Nephite missionaries Nephi and Lehi preached among the Lamanites and were imprisoned, about 300 souls received a baptism of fire, as recorded in Hel. 5: 20-49. This is the scriptural template of a baptism of fire for all mankind. We know this because the voice of Jesus Christ said so:

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Ne. 9: 20)

So, the Lord categorically states in the above scripture that the experience of the 300 souls was a baptism of fire. Additionally, He states that all baptisms of fire that He performs will be “even as the Lamanites… were baptized with fire.” The Lamanites’ baptism of fire, then, is the standard, the rule, and NOT the exception. It is the event that the Lord points to for us to determine whether a baptism of fire has occurred.

(The word “even” in the phrase “even as the Lamanites” means “in or to such (indicated) degree or kind.”)

What the baptism of fire consists of

Based upon the Lamanites’ experience, there are six characteristics of any baptism of fire. They are:

1. Fire encircling an individual, forming a cylindrical shape, such as a column or “pillar of fire” or plasma tube. This would be twin Birkeland currents (plasma cables or filaments) rotating rapidly around a central axis, in appearance like a fire tornado. This is the visual sign to all those witnessing the baptism.

2. The presence and ministration of angels.

3. Justification, meaning a remission of sins.

4. Purification, by fire entering the heart.

5. Sanctification, by becoming filled with (baptized in) the Holy Ghost.

6. Speaking with a new tongue (the tongue of angels, meaning speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost.)

Two more scriptural examples

Using the six characteristics above, we find two more scriptural examples of baptisms of fire which exactly match that of the Lamanites, although the text does not specifically say that they were fire baptisms. They are:

The Nephite little children’s baptism of fire
Jesus baptized little children with fire, as recorded in 3 Ne. 17: 21-25 and as witnessed by 2500 people. These children were encircled by fire, had angels minister to them and spoke in new tongues (see 3 Ne. 26: 14, 16.) Also, we know that they were justified, purified and sanctified, for they were little children and all little children are alive in Christ.

The 12 disciples’ baptism of fire
The fire baptism of these men is recorded in 3 Ne. 19: 11-15. They were encircled about by fire, filled with fire, had angels minister to them and prayed by the power of the Holy Ghost. From the text it is clear that they were justified, purified and sanctified.

Other intimated baptisms of fire

Joseph Smith’s baptisms of fire
As mentioned above, each of Joseph’s angelic ministrations was attended by a baptism of fire (plasma), including the First Vision.

For example, one First Vision account says, “A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with un-speakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed…I saw many angels in this vision.”

Another First Vision account says, “while in [the] attitude of calling upon the Lord [in the 16th* year of my age] a pillar of {fire} lightabove the brightness of the Sun at noon day come down fromabove and rested upon me and I was filld with the Spirit of God”. In this account Joseph couldn’t decide whether what he saw was fire or light. He finally decided on light and crossed out fire. The reason for his confusion was that he was witnessing discharging plasma.

I believe that it is reasonable to conclude that the plasma nature of the angel Moroni’s visit (see The plasma aspects of the First Vision and Moroni’s visit) was typical of all angelic ministrations to Joseph, and thus all such events in his life were likely baptisms of fire.

Moses’ vision of God
In Moses chapter 1 it says that “the glory of God was upon Moses.” That sounds to me like a plasma event and that he received a baptism of fire.

Lehi’s pillar of fire
1 Ne. 1: 6 mentions Lehi seeing a pillar of fire. It is obviously a super-duper abridgment of all that occurred, but it sounds like a baptism of fire.

Nephi’s visit from the Lord
Nephi mentions in 1 Ne. 2: 16 that he was visited by the Lord. He doesn’t elaborate but my guess is that this was Nephi’s first baptism of fire. Jesus states in 3 Ne. 11: 35 that when the Father visits people, He visits them with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

Cloven tongues on day of Pentecost
As recorded in Acts chapter 2, there appeared “cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” They were filled with the Spirit, spoke other tongues and spoke by the power of the Holy Ghost. It’s not an exact match of the Lamanite experience (angels are missing), but pretty darn close.

Gentile cloven tongues
In Acts 11: 15 we read Peter’s words about how the Gentiles also received the Holy Ghost. He said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” That, to me, seems to be saying that the Holy Ghost fell on the Gentiles in the same way that the Holy Ghost fell on the Jews, namely, with accompanying manifestation of cloven tongues like as of fire. This could explain the astonishment of the Jews who witnessed the manifestation of tongues among the Gentiles. (See Acts 10: 44-47.)

Downgrading the baptism of fire

Now, when you compare the scriptural accounts of the baptism of fire to our modern, LDS definitions, it becomes obvious that we have downgraded the sudden, rapid changes effectuated by the marvelous, visual, power displays of the real deal to something gradual, drawn out, imperceptible and nondescript. For example:

While one definition of this expression (the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost) refers to a cleansing by the Holy Spirit as if by fire, still the scriptures and the writings of the prophets indicate there is something more.

The new convert who has accepted the gift of the Holy Ghost with the right spirit will experience not only a cleansing but a feeling that will give him a new heart and make of him a new person. Sometimes this is immediate, and sometimes it happens over a period of time.

The scriptures, and even our church history, record miraculous instances when visible flames encircled the humble followers of Christ—literal manifestations of fire and the Holy Ghost—but more often this fire works quietly and unseen in the hearts of those who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The witness, the change, the cleansing that comes gradually is no less powerful to the person with the right heart, and he or she is impelled to action whether the experience was a sudden, miraculous manifestation or the quiet workings of the Spirit.

(Fire and the Holy Ghost, Loren C. Dunn, Ensign, June 1995)

We have taken away the majesty of the Father’s witness and replaced it with something that goes entirely against nature. Nature is cyclic, cycling between periods of rest and periods of activity. All things work on this principle, including spiritual things. Baptism (all three parts) are designed to be moments of spiritual intensity. You cannot perform a baptism of water over a period of time, or gradually, quietly and unseen. No, you are outside of the water (which can be visually discerned), then you are immersed, and then you come out of the water. There is nothing gradual about it. A single water baptism cannot be performed over days and years. In like manner, the baptism of fire is a punctuated, spiritually intense event.

No one’s spirituality is designed to grow gradually. Gradual spiritual growth is the same as no spiritual growth. There is no such animal as gradual spiritual growth. You either have intense spiritual experiences from time to time or you are spiritually dying. This is why we are commanded to come together often, to intensify the Spirit so as to be capable of growing spiritually.

Joseph Smith’s life was meant to be an example to us. He had multiple, very intense spiritual experiences. It began with a baptism of fire, it continued with more baptisms of fire and it ended in a volley of gun fire. John Taylor said that Joseph lived for glory, died for glory and glory is his eternal reward. Glory = plasma = the baptism of fire. Joseph did, indeed, live for those fire baptism experiences. He had a lot of them, he saw a lot of angels and who knows how many visions, and he wanted to have more of the same. And he tried ceaselessly to get the saints to experience what he was experiencing. So did Moses and all true prophets.

You are either immersed in plasma or you are not. You are either in an intensity phase or in a rest phase of the cycle. There is no such thing as non-cyclic gradualness. If you think you are growing spiritually for the past ten years without any intense spiritual experiences, you are kidding yourself. It means that you have been in a spiritual rest phase of the cycle during this time. No one can remain at spiritual rest for any extended period of time before spirituality begins to decay. It is an impossibility. So, the LDS concept of a gradual, life-long, imperceptible baptism of fire is patently false and leads to spiritual death.

Everyone will receive a baptism of fire

It is not a question of if, but when and how. If a man humbles himself before the Lord and enters into a covenant to serve Him, he’ll receive a baptism of fire in this life, one that will purify and justify him. But there are other baptisms of fire that can be received. For example, one is the baptism of fire that the earth and all those that do wickedly upon her will receive at the Second Coming. Another is the baptism of fire that occurs when the sons of perdition are immersed in the lake of fire and brimstone. One way or another, we are all eventually going to have to go through some type of baptismal fire.

And they knew it not

In closing, let me address one other thing. Jesus said that the Lamanites “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” Some have taken that to mean that the Lamanites experienced a change upon their hearts which they did not perceive, because it happened gradually, over time. In other words, that the Lord meant that there was no great manifestation during the Lamanites’ fire and Holy Ghost baptism. And also that the Lord was not referring to the 300 Lamanites who were in prison with Nephi and Lehi, but was referring instead to other Lamanite converts.

This is an incorrect interpretation.

The real meaning of the Lord’s words is that the Lamanites (the 300 souls in that prison) had a magnificent, visual baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, but did not know what it was. That is all that the Lord meant by what He said.

Any time someone experiences a baptism of fire without first being taught about it, they go through the experience without knowing what it is. Joseph’s First Vision fire baptism was performed on him while he was still a boy totally ignorant of such a thing as a baptism of fire. In my own life, I remember that the first time that I had a baptism of fire (prior to my water baptism) I was blown away and didn’t know what it was. The missionaries that had taught me the gospel had not explained this doctrine, so it came as a complete surprise to me and it was only years later, as I studied and learned more of the gospel on my own, that I was able to determine what the hell it was. Prior to that time, it was always an anomaly to me and when talking to others about the various spiritual experiences I had had over the years, I would always set it apart by saying something like, “The second time the Holy Ghost manifested itself to me was quite different than the other times. It was, well, a really big manifestation with a lot of power and I thought I was going to die, or I did die and came back to life. I’m not really sure what happened. All I know is I was consumed in fire but somehow survived unharmed.” Such were my ignorant descriptions. But of course it was a different manifestation than the others. It was a baptism of fire, for crying out loud! But I knew it not.

And in the same manner, neither did the Lamanites.

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