In the LDS Church, there is not much clarity on this subject. Most LDS equate it to a burning in the bosom, described in D&C 9:8. And, in the absence of dramatically miraculous occurrences, the LDS General Authorities have described an almost imperceptible incremental process over the lifetime of the believer as their idea of the what the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is (just do a word search for “incremental” on http://www.lds.org).
In the Mormon Christian fellowships, sometimes dramatic changes of heart are pointed to as the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, where the believer experiences a feeling of purity washing over them, and an increased closeness to Deity.
Denver Snuffer did a remarkable series of posts on this topic, which are worthy of your review:
Despite these reassurances about what these baptisms are, whether through the LDS explanations, the cultural fellowship explanations, or Denver’s expounding, the question still remains for many: “Have I received it yet?” Given all the ideas and expounding above, some believe with confidence that they can answer: “Yes, absolutely!” Yet, as we shall see, it may be prudent for even these folks to re-consider things and at least ask themselves: “Is that the last time I will experience it?”
A look at the implications of the words involved in these terms is in order:
First, what does “baptism” imply? With the Restoration’s insight into the matter, most would say categorically that the word refers to its Latin root, being “immersion”.
What aspect of “fire” is most thought of in a religious sense? Most would not argue with the idea that it implies purification, and in a religious sense, purification from sin.
What is meant by the term “Holy Ghost”? With the re-emphasis on the Lectures on Faith we’ve discussed earlier, the new implication would be that it is “the mind of God,” and not a separate, third-party spirit-personage. If you take Denver’s posts above to be a synthesis of the two concepts of “mind of God” and “spirit entity,” the only spirit personage potentially referred to in his expounding would be your own spirit, as it is endowed with the mind of God. It follows that you can’t be immersed in the spirit body of another personage, or else you would have one huge conglomerated mass of a conjoined person! This sentiment is similar to how Joseph Smith mocked the idea of two personages being joined:
Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. “Father, I pray not for the world, but I pray for them which thou hast given me.” “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are.” All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God—he would be a giant or a monster. (HC, Vol. 6, p.473-479).
With these new assumptions, you can ask yourself, what does it mean to be immersed in a fire that cleanses from sin, and to be immersed in the mind of God? Do you have a fulness of the mind of God at all times, and can you say you have all the knowledge in the universe as He does? Are you as pure as Christ is pure, every moment of every day? If not, it could be argued that there is yet more of an immersion in fire and in the Holy Ghost for you, no matter what you have experienced so far.
This is not to take away from anyone’s experiences in the least, but to avoid the following “wo” pronounced by Nephi and others:
Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! (2 Nephi 28:27-29)
When James and John asked Jesus about their status in his kingdom, Jesus responded with a sobering reminder of how strait the course ahead is (for them and for us): “But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” But, after putting this tough perspective clearly in their view, he encouraged them with the following: “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized” (Mark 10:38-39).
Sometimes when wondering whether or not we have had the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, or when wondering what it is in general, we know not what we ask. In some of the more fuller experiences outlined in scripture, and as Denver mentioned, we are told of elements that are part of the overall pattern that many of us do not consider as belonging to this topic. For example, have we been purified in the flesh with fire such that our faces have shone bright and white like Moses (Exodus 34:30), Abinadi (Mosiah 13:5), Nephi and Lehi (Helaman 5), the people praying before the Lord at Bountiful (3 Nephi 19:25), Lyman Wight (The Book of John Whitmer, chap. 7), Reynolds Cahoon (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, Oct 3, 1883), and potentially Joseph Smith (Wilford Woodruff, An Epistle to the Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 722)? Have we seen things encircled about with fire and not burned like Moses’ burning bush (Exodus 3:2), heard the rushing of mighty wind as in the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2), been overshadowed by a cloud and encircled about by fire and not harmed (Helaman 5; see also Daniel 3), or have we been ministered to by angels, including Christ (3 Nephi 19:14-15)? If we have had any one of these events in our lives, have we had them all? In regards to this topic, let us look again to the meek example of John the Baptist, who, upon meeting his Lord, said, “I have need to be baptized of thee” (Matthew 3:14). Certainly if we have experienced incremental changes as the LDS believe, or had a washing over us that cleanses our souls as many in the fellowships describe, to paraphrase Alma, “Yea, I admit it may be termed [a baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost]” (see Alma 40:15)…but well might we all ask ourselves if we have more need of these baptisms, and the other attendant elements mentioned in these scriptures, too. Ask and ye shall receive, etc (3 Nephi 27:29).
For those who feel as though they haven’t received it yet, and wonder when it will occur, we hope you can see from the examples in this post that even though the Lord has not said when he will fulfill the promise, he has promised it to those who believe and are baptized. It is worthy also to note that he hasn’t said he will fulfill the promise only once. So, we believe that, according to His goodness, he will fulfill that promise until your cup runneth over, whether it be immediately after your baptism, years after like the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, and perhaps even over and over again until the perfect day.
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:2-3; 3 Nephi 24:2).
The real question is, do we believe the scriptures and the authority of the baptism(s) in water we have received? If we believe in the authority, is it based in something unseen which is true? Has God really given the power to the individual who baptized you and do you have that witness? Have you been baptized with the understanding outlined in the doctrine of Christ (3 Nephi 11:31-40), or were other conditions required? If there is no harm in being re-baptized, and scriptures suggest that you should be re-baptized for rededication at least anyway (see Mosiah 18*), what do you have against being re-baptized until you are sure (2 Nephi 31)?
*Alma, the priest of King Noah, was undoubtedly re-baptized in this chapter, for he being a priest would surely have been baptized before, as most of the people would have been as well.
ADDENDUM: Perhaps the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost are related to coming into the proximity of a just and holy being. Your heart burns within you as you are immersed in light and knowledge from the communication, whether through a veil as they go unseen by you, or in person (compared to a distinct absence of such transformative power from a visit from the devil; Moses 1:10-15). If such were the case, then receiving the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost only once would seem most disappointing. Such communications, nonetheless, can indeed be life-changing (see Luke 24:32 and Alma 27:11-20 compared to Alma 8:14-18).
ADDENDUM 2: If all we receive is a remission of sins in this life and no redemption back into His presence, and if all we receive from visitations and baptisms of fire and the Holy Ghost are communications and intelligence for this life, than well might the following proverb apply to us:
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:19).