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Baptism as the Establishment of a Covenant Community (Mosiah 18)

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 19:
We Have Entered into a Covenant with Him (Mosiah 18-24)




Among several purposes for baptism that appear in the Book of Mormon, the establishment of a covenant community—bound together by faith in and obedience to Christ and mutual service, and united by doctrine and ordinances—is a major theme.

Mosiah 18 gives Alma the Elder’s introduction of the baptismal covenant after leaving the court of King Noah following the ministry of Abinadi. Beginning with verse 8,

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—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

This established that baptism enacts or signifies a covenant to serve God; however, the main language of the covenant related to entering God’s fold, becoming his people and how they will treat one another as part of God’s people. This points to establishment of a covenant community as a priority rather than solely individual salvation. Reciprocally, it established that those who do these things will be redeemed of God and numbered among those of the first resurrection, and receive an increased abundance of the spirit of the Lord.

17 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.
18 And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
19 And he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.
20 Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.
Once again we see the community aspect is an important focus, after discussing the role and calling of priests in verses 18-20, and regulation of doctrine in order to support unity in belief in verse 21 he again turns toward the character of the covenant community which which should exhibit unity of feeling
21 And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.
22 And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God.

In this same passage, we get some key teachings about authority. In verse 12-13 we read, “And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart. And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.” This establishes that baptism is by authority from God. Verse 17 notes, “And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.” So baptism is the entrance to the Church of Christ.

In contrast to what happened with Alma the Elder, in Mosiah 21:32-33, we learn concerning Limhi and his people, “And now since the coming of Ammon, king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people, to serve him and keep his commandments. And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant.”

Based on these examples, it appears that baptism, first, must be by authority from God and that exercise of faith in Christ by itself does not confer that authority, and that second, even if one has such authority, one must be worthy and ought to be full of the Spirit of the Lord before doing these things.

3 Nephi 7:25 supports the importance of ordination, “Therefore, there were ordained of Nephi, men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water, and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins.” A key function of the Church is to provide the ordinance of baptism by authority. This is gained by specific ordination. Reciprocally, the members of the Church also witness this baptism and are thus, in a sense, ritual participants in the covenant-making process by providing memory of and accountability for the event.

Alma 4:4-5 supports a number of these points regarding baptism by one with authority as entrance to the Church, “And they began to establish the church more fully; yea, and many were baptized in the waters of Sidon and were joined to the church of God; yea, they were baptized by the hand of Alma, who had been consecrated the high priest over the people of the church, by the hand of his father Alma. And it came to pass in the seventh year of the reign of the judges there were about three thousand five hundred souls that united themselves to the church of God and were baptized. And thus ended the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and there was continual peace in all that time.”

The latter part of Alma 5:3 likewise, seems to identify baptism with building up of the Church of Jesus Christ. “I say unto you that he began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon; yea, and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon.”

Moroni 6:4 reads, “And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” Baptism thus establishes the point of recorded entrance into the Church for the purpose of nutritive ministry.

Baptism also confers entry into the covenant people of the Lord. The first part of 1 Nephi 20:1 reads, “Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, …” This explanatory gloss of Isaiah suggests that baptism makes one part of the covenant family of the House of Israel. 3 Nephi 30:2 likewise supports this idea, “Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel.” Thus baptism is understood as conferring membership in the House of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people.

Finally, baptism as taught by the Lord in 3 Nephi 11 is designed to establish unity, including by giving examples, authority, and exact instructions:

21 And the Lord said unto him: I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven.
22 And again the Lord called others, and said unto them likewise; and he gave unto them power to baptize. And he said unto them: On this wise shall ye baptize; and there shall be no disputations among you.
23 Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words, and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall ye baptize them—Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them.
24 And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying:
25 Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
26 And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water.
27 And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.
28 And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
This is key: the people are to be one as the Godhead is one and the ordinances are being introduced and explained specifically so this oneness can be brought to pass. Ending the divisions among the covenant community comprising the Church of Jesus Christ is the central stated purpose of the actions he is taking here.
29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

If you look at the amount of space a few verses that are used to discuss personal salvation, and the amount spent discussing and establishing unity—virtually the rest of the passage when you include announcement of procedures designed to promote unity of practice, descriptions of the unity of the Godhead, condemnation of divisions, establishment of unifying authority—it is clear that the oneness of the Saints was a clear goal of Jesus’s ministry among them and central to his purposes in the introduction of baptism among them.

In the first two verses of 3 Nephi 12 this same theme of unity continues by Jesus establishing the teaching authority of those who have been called to baptize so that, similar to Alma’s establishment of the Church previously, this group of believers can be one in doctrine as a result of their being one in baptism.

1 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.

Baptism is thus a vehicle for establishing a covenant community unified in authority and doctrine by following those who the Lord has ordained, unified in love one toward another through service as Alma emphasizes, and unified by doctrine which puts an end to contention and establishes peace based on the Lord’s ways.

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