Re-baptism in the early days

In the early church members were re-baptized for several reasons. Doing genealogy, one thing I often see is that Mormon pioneers were re-baptized when they arrived in Salt Lake. For example, Stephen Luce and his mother Ruth Luce were re-baptized and confirmed 29 September 1850 by William Hicklenlooper in Salt Lake City, according to the Early Church History card file.

I’ve always thought it probably had to do with confirming that they really had been baptized, perhaps in cases where the original record had been lost. But it seems to have become a custom.

According to the Church, “When the Latter-day Saint pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, they felt they were finally free from their enemies and they desired to express their gratitude to God by renewing their covenants and promising to obey his commandments from that time forward.

As I think about it now, the church in the 1840s and 1850s had been through so much turmoil, record keeping probably wasn’t the foremost reason for anything. However, the Church does say, “Throughout the history of the Church rebaptism has also been used when membership records have been lost and for repentant excommunicated members who were returning to the Church. It is still used today in such instances.

The practice has changed over the years so that re-baptism is rare. “Because the Lord has given us the ordinance of sacrament for renewing our covenants, and because the purpose of baptism began to be somewhat confused in the minds of some members of the Church, the Lord directed Church leaders to discourage the use of baptism for other than the sacred purpose of the remission of sins and for gaining membership in the Church.

So now I understand the question is more nuanced than I thought, but for research purposes I can take it that pioneers arriving in Great Salt Lake City were re-baptized as a matter of custom. And that opens a new research question — if Stephen Luce was granted a Salt Lake City lot in 1848, why was he not re-baptized until 1850? My working theory is the custom became established over time. It was not yet a rule in 1848 but by 1850 had become pervasive enough it felt to the Luces as though it was a necessary remedial step.


“About the time the doctrine of rebaptism for members in the Church was first revealed in Nauvoo, Joseph, the great seer and revelator to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made some remarks on the subject: On one occasion he read, among other scriptures, Hebrews, 6th chapter, 1st and 2nd verses, as follow: Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. The Prophet said the first verse should read: ‘Therefore, not leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, etc.’ This explanation not only made the entire subject of the two verses clear but reconciled them with other scriptures. Notwithstanding Paul is made to say ‘leaving,’ etc., the inference is clear that if the foundation of repentance, baptism and the laying on of hands should be relaid they would have to perform those works over again, as every careful reader of the text must see. This also corroborates a revelation to the Church of Ephesus: Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works. All latter-day Saints know that the first works after repentance are baptism and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost. Here we find a presiding elder of a branch or ward of the Church commanded to perform these works over again, under pain of removal if he failed to obey the divine behest. (Dan Tyler)

“After we had arrived on the ground of Great Salt Lake City we pitched our tents by the side of a spring of water; and, after resting a little, I devoted my time chiefly to building temporary houses, putting in crops, and obtaining fuel from the mountains. …Having repented of our sins and renewed our covenants, President John Taylor and myself administered the ordinances of baptism, etc., to each other and to our families, according to the example set by the President and pioneers who had done the same on entering the valley. These solemnities took place with us and most of our families, November 28, 1847.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt)

“We were counseled to be rebaptized as we had been a long time traveling and all that wished to be Saints they should make it manifest. Consequently, there was a number baptized on the first of July, 1849 by John Harris … (Autobiography of Joseph Lee Robinson)

“I will here state that Martin Harris, when he came to this [Utah] Territory a few years ago, was rebaptized, the same as every member of the Church from distant parts is on arriving here. That seems to be a kind of standing ordinance for all Latter-day Saints who emigrate here, from the First Presidency down; all are rebaptized and set out anew by renewing their covenants.” (Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses 18:156-61)

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