The Fourth Article of Faith for Mormons states:
“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Articles of Faith 1:4)
Jesus calls the gift of the Holy Ghost, “the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost”. (D&C 20:41)
There seems to be three ways in the scriptures in which the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is received:
- After offering a broken heart and a contrite spirit. 3 Nephi 9:20 and Moroni 8:26. In this case, the recipient may not know they have received the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, and they may never become official members of any earthly extension of the church in this life but still be members of Christ’s heavenly church as defined in D&C 10:69.
- Believe in Christ, repent, and be baptized by immersion. 3 Nephi 11:22-41 (the doctrine of Christ) and 2 Nephi 31. There is no mention of the laying on of hands in these scriptures . . . just baptism and repentance and belief in Christ.
- By the laying on of hands by someone who has been touched by Jesus and given power to confer the gift. 3 Nephi 18:36-37 and Moroni 2.
What does the LDS confirmation ordinance mean, then? In my opinion, I see the LDS confirmation as honoring the above 3 scenarios by commanding the new member to “Receive the Holy Ghost”, and it is an ordinance that can be done by those who have not been touched by Jesus yet. However, contrary to tradition, it does NOT confer the gift of the Holy Ghost in and of itself without one of the three conditions above being met at the same time. See D&C 20:38-43, also see Oliver Cowdery’s Apostle’s charge below:
“It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven to yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out; although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will therefore see the necessity of getting this testimony from heaven. Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid his hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid his hands upon his disciples, why not in latter days? . . . The time is coming when you will be perfectly familiar with the things of God. . . . You have our best wishes, you have our most fervent prayers, that you may be able to bear this testimony, that you have seen the face of God. Therefore call upon him in faith in mighty prayer till you prevail, for it is your duty and your privilege to bear such a testimony for yourselves.” (Documentary History of the Church, 2:196.)
Taking the point from Cowdery’s charge, with a two part process wherein an elder/apostle is ordained and then has his ordination completed by having hands laid on him by the Savior, it stands to reason that the LDS Church, considering the interim between the two events, innovated an ordinance that inadvertently highlights the fact that some elders don’t have power to confer the Holy Ghost, but allows for the possibility that another one of the conditions might be met and the gift might actually be bestowed anyway. In fact, in a revelation to Ezra Thayre and Northrup Sweet before either of them had received the high priesthood, the Lord anticipated this disparity and said to these two elders (whose ordinations were incomplete), “And whoso having faith you shall confirm in my church, by the laying on of the hands, and I will bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost upon them,” (D&C 33:15). In this verse, it is the Lord who bestows the gift in a separate way, reminiscent of scenarios 1 and 2 above. The laying on of hands in this revelation deals only with confirming someone a member of the organization, which is similar to the current LDS practice today.
The language with the verbal command to “receive” puts the burden on the recipient, rather than on the minister as in Moroni 2. It appears the LDS Church has quite forgotten any of the reasoning behind the ordinance’s ambiguous language, however, and we are stuck having to reverse-engineer it to consider things.
Additionally, one very interesting historical point (if I have a correct understanding of what was happening at the time) is found in contrasting D&C 20:68-69 with D&C 52:10-11.
D&C 20:68-69 “The duty of the members after they are received by baptism—The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning the church of Christ to their understanding, previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order. And the members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures—walking in holiness before the Lord.”
D&C 52:10-11 “Let them go two by two, and thus let them preach by the way in every congregation, baptizing by water, and the laying on of the hands by the water’s side. For thus saith the Lord, I will cut my work short in righteousness, for the days come that I will send forth judgment unto victory.”
In section 20, we see the rule set down by the Lord in the church articles, that there is to be a “sufficient time” for “the members after they are received by baptism…previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order” (my emphasis).
Yet, during a conference in Kirtland in 1831, when the high priesthood was first conferred on members of the Church, the Lord explained that, for the purpose of “cut[ting] my work short in righteousness,” they were to go “two by two…baptizing by water, and the laying on of the hands by the water’s side.” There was to be no delay between baptism and confirmation. This was obviously an exception to the rule set out in the church articles, and a special revelation designated it was expedient to do so, yet the exception has become the rule without any indication of whether or not the Lord wanted the exception ended at some point. Perhaps the Lord wanted the church built up quickly with voting members to prepare for the Kirtland temple, or some other righteous purpose.
Today, Mission Presidents and Stake Presidents seem confused as to whether or not they should confirm right away, or wait until fast and testimony meeting at least, and there is no indication that a long period of, say, a year or more, would be considered as an appropriate waiting time between baptism and confirmation, like the scriptures suggest. They cite evidence of losing new members who, within the week’s time between baptism and confirmation, have somehow fallen prey to the adversary, assuming it is because they didn’t get the Holy Ghost in time to secure their membership. If such a fear were valid, then D&C 20:68-69 would never have been written, and the Lamanites referred to in 3 Nephi 9, would never have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost (see Helaman 5).
I’ll leave that for your consideration, because I’m sure there is much more to learn about the subject, but suffice it to say, we don’t confirm by the laying on of hands, seeing that we don’t have any command from the Lord to do so outside of a church context, and not having authority yet to do so, and not having been touched by Jesus ourselves yet. For now we look for the gift by way of the three scriptural precedents above.
But, in an LDS context, confirmation is also used to confirm someone a member of the LDS Church, and it is wholly appropriate to charge the newly confirmed member to receive the Holy Ghost from God in one of the above mentioned ways, as charging someone to receive something is different than bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost itself.
Outside of the LDS Church, we are only baptizing and re-baptizing others, and not confirming anyone as members of Christ’s church, since there is no new church being formed. See my post here to learn about the extension of Christ’s church beyond the boundaries of the LDS institution, and such a definition of Christ’s church requires one to be authorized to confirm members into it, which authority we do not claim to possess at this time. With the LDS Church losing Priesthood authority, we consider the church of Christ as having entered into the “wilderness” again, or in other words, membership in Christ’s church stands as a status between the individual and the Lord, with no earthly extension of the Lord’s church being organized at this time, although a person can belong to the church of the Lamb by definition.
Certainly a worthy Priesthood holder (see the post here and read the comments) could confirm someone a member of Christ’s heavenly church by the laying on of hands (as explained above, an ordinance preliminary to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, commanding the recipient merely “receive the Holy Ghost” as a future endeavor) if so directed by him, but such an ordinance would not make the person a member of the institution of the LDS Church led by Salt Lake, as that ordinance requires their common consent.