One of the things that old age brings you is that you are constantly brought face-to-face with death. Since the start of 2018, eight people that I knew well have died. The most recent was my younger brother who died from a combination of cancer and Parkinson’s disease. All eight of those people died slowly over a period of months. All of them were aware of their impending death within their last week of life. None were sudden deaths due to an accident or an unexpected stroke or heart attack. Discover magazine (March 2018, pages 66-68) published an article about the connection between spirituality and peaceful death. It tells about a radiation oncologist named Tracy Balboni who is a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. A major part of the thrust of Dr. Balboni’s work is helping patients make important decisions about the end of life. They can choose whether to use every possible medical technique to prolong their life, or they can decline major interventions and use hospice care and medication for pain control.
I watched my brother die, and I have observed the difference between his dying and the death of atheists I know who died with similar ailments. Every atheist that I have observed exhausted every medical resource possible in an attempt to stay alive. Not only was it expensive, but it brought much suffering to them and anxiety to their family members. One man told me “If this life is all I have been given, then I want to hang onto it as long and as hard as I possibly can.”
In my brother’s case, two years ago this past November I baptized him into Christ. That was the culmination of a great struggle between the atheistic traditions he had grown up with, and the influence of his wife and myself encouraging him to embrace spirituality. When he accepted Christ, he was not facing death, but his mortality was obvious. In the last three months of his life, he became very weak, and his quality of life deteriorated significantly. In the last three weeks, he and I talked extensively. He was resolute in his determination to have no more medical treatments and to be in hospice. His death was a peaceful death.
Balboni has received a two-million-dollar research grant designed to put spirituality on solid ground. To those who would complain that you are measuring nothing in such studies, Balboni says: “No, no, no. There are too many associations that we’re seeing to say it’s spurious and meaningless. That argument doesn’t hold if you care for dying patients.”
My daughter and I were digging up potatoes in the garden. Most of the potatoes were pretty small, but we try to be sure we do not waste anything, so all of them were going in the bucket. Suddenly I heard, “Yuk, this isn’t a potato” and she reared back to pitch a tulip bulb she had dug up into the compost pile. I stopped her and said, “Hey, we want to plant that in the flower bed, and it will be beautiful by spring.” She looked at the dirty, shabby tulip bulb and said, “How can anything as pretty as a tulip come out of something as ugly, old, and beat up as this?”
The fact of the matter is that it is a basic design of the Creator that causes all kinds of beauty and new life to come from an old source that has been buried. These beautiful flowers all were dead looking ugly bulbs at one time. It is a design of nature that allows seeds to come out of a dying and rotten vegetable.
The same thing is true on a spiritual, psychological, and emotional level. A beautiful Christian life is only possible when the ugly old person of sin is buried. Those of us who have found ourselves deep in sin, fight a losing battle if we try to overcome that sin on our own. It is only when we bury that sinful, ugly old person that something beautiful can blossom and grow. That is why baptism is such a wonderful and beautiful act. Perhaps those who have grown up in the church cannot appreciate it as much as those of us who experienced total contamination by the world, but it is far from a meaningless or senseless act.
Our ministry is designed to help people with faith problems. Most of our focus in on the scientific evidence for the existence of God and the credibility of the Bible. Unfortunately, we have to spend a significant amount of time dealing with people who have lost their faith in God because of the actions and/or teachings of people who claim to be Christians. Sometimes things are presented in the name of Christianity that are so outlandish that people can see they don’t make sense. When that happens, we find it’s something that isn’t in the Bible or is a distortion of what the Bible says.
In 1 Corinthians 15:29 the King James translation of the passage reads: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which is the top governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (known as the Mormon Church), teaches that modern day Mormons should be baptized for dead ancestors who didn’t receive baptism while they were alive. On April 1-2, 2017, the Quorum met at a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, that was broadcast in 90 languages throughout the world. They urged members of the Mormon church to participate in the “Baptism for the Dead” ritual.
We have already received some challenges from atheists and skeptics about this practice. The skeptics say that the concept of people choosing to believe in Christ and having the freedom to reject God is destroyed by this practice. We have to side with the atheists here and say that such a practice is ludicrous and makes a mockery of the purpose of baptism. God never forces people to believe or to accept a religious practice and no person can do so on behalf of someone else.
The Mormon baptism is a long way from the baptism described in the Bible. Romans 6 explains baptism as a dying to sin in complete repentance to no longer be a slave to sin. It is an act of becoming a “new person.” Baptism is never portrayed as a ticket to heaven done without understanding or choice. To correctly understand 1 Corinthians 15:29 we need to take it in context. The phrase “for the dead” in the original Greek is “huper nekroon.” This is more accurately translated “on account of.” In the context, beginning in verse 12 the Apostle Paul is writing about the resurrection of Christ. He is challenging those who say that Christ has not been raised from the dead. Then in verse 29, Paul is simply saying, “Why be baptized if there is no resurrection?” In verse 19 Paul points out the fact that if there is nothing after this life, Christians have no hope and should be pitied. But in the entire passage he is insisting that the resurrection of Christ is real, and therefore so will be the resurrection of Christ’s followers who have been baptized. (Examine Romans 6:3-5.) The notion that we can somehow do a proxy baptism flies in the face of everything Paul taught in the rest of the chapter and the rest of the New Testament.
An advertisement currently running on television for a lotion product says that it contains ingredients derived from the “Resurrection Plant.” After doing some research on resurrection plants, I found that several plants are called by that name. The thing they all have in common is that they can become desiccated (almost completely dried out) and then return to life when water is applied. Perhaps the best known is Selaginella lepidophylla which is sold as a novelty. The animation shows one of these plants going from dry to revived over a three-hour period. This resurrection plant is native to the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico and western Texas. It is known by various other names including “rose of Jericho.” It’s also called “false rose of Jericho” because there is another species of resurrection plant called “rose of Jericho” that grows in the deserts of Asia and Africa.