When I attended my first Mormon meeting at the age of sixteen, the teacher listed many of the Mormon rules a person needed to be following in order to attend the temple and to be considered a Mormon in excellent standing. Mormon is a nickname sometimes given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I stared at the list and felt overwhelmed. I was, in general, a well-behaved teenager with high standards, but as I looked at the list, I wondered how anyone could be that good. I decided I couldn’t be a Mormon because I’d never be that perfect.
I continued visiting, however, and soon learned I had misunderstood what I had seen. Had I learned about the Mormon rules by meeting with missionaries, I would have learned one or two at a time and practiced them before learning about another one. It wouldn’t have seemed so overwhelming to me. The missionaries would have helped me to understand two principles I had not grasped while attending a class meant for teens who were already Mormon.
First, no one has to be perfect. There are some principles we need to be doing completely, such as not drinking alcohol. However, there are some we just have to be working towards. Reading the scriptures is a commandment, but if I miss a day, I’m not doomed forever. I just need to start again the next day and continue on. In time, I would get better at remembering to read the scriptures. If I lost my temper from time to time…well, people do that. I might never become perfect in this life, but I need to always be working in that direction.
Secondly, I didn’t realize I didn’t have to start all the commandments on the same day. There were some that would be required before I could be baptized, but I could work on them one at a time, as I did when I began to meet with the missionaries. When I was doing pretty well with one, they’d teach me another one. Often, of course, they taught me something I was already doing, like praying, and I could relax a little until they got to something I needed to work on. The behaviors required for baptism don’t include every commandment. They include only the most important ones.
I began to slowly master the rules I needed for baptism. When I fell short, I could repent and I could receive encouragement and help from my Mormon friends, the church teachers, and the missionaries. Once I was working on one at a time, I stopped feeling overwhelmed and the process didn’t seem hard at all.
Why are people expected to be obeying certain Mormon rules before they even get baptized? When we are baptized, we make covenants with God. A covenant is a two-way promise between God and us. God sets the terms of the covenant, not us. If we keep our part of the promise, God will keep His. Making a covenant with God is a serious thing and the Church wants to help us be successful. If we have already mastered the parts of the covenant, we are less likely to fail at keeping them later. Of course, we can repent when we make mistakes—and we all will—but it is best to make those Mormon rules, which are really God’s rules—a natural part of our life before we have been forgiven for all our sins and before we make the covenant.
If you are thinking about becoming a Mormon, you’ll meet with the missionaries to discuss various doctrines. You won’t learn everything—you couldn’t learn it all in a short time—but you’ll learn the basics and you’ll learn what commandments you’ll have to keep after you are baptized. The missionaries will ask you to start keeping each one as you learn about it. When you and they agree you’re doing well at them, you can be baptized. You’ll be interviewed to make sure you are doing the things you need to be doing and that you have a testimony.
During the meetings with the missionaries, you’ll be asked to pray and find out from God if all this is true. They don’t want you to take their word for it. They want you to take God’s word for it, because He knows. In the interview, that is the most important question you’ll be asked. You will probably also be asked about the Word of Wisdom to make sure you don’t smoke, drink coffee, tea, or alcohol, or use drugs. You’ll be asked about various aspects of your morality.
Doctrine and Covenants 20:37 outlines some of the qualifications for baptism. It says:
37 And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.
You should know that when it says you have to witness before the church that you’ve repented, that doesn’t mean they will make you stand up in front of everyone and say so. When you are baptized, that is your witness. You have to repent before you are baptized, so everyone will know.
If you are living a moral lifestyle, attending church, paying tithing, repenting, keeping the Word of Wisdom, building your testimony, and are ready to do anything God asks of you to the best of your ability, you are going to be able to be baptized. The missionaries will let you know which things you have to be perfect in (such as the Word of Wisdom) and which things you can work on over time (such as reading scriptures daily).
I learned the Mormon rules, which seemed so hard that first day, were really pretty easy. Many of them I already did and others were just a matter of changing my habits, a few at a time. Today, even though I’m still not perfect and never will be in this life, many of those rules that seemed hard now seem like a natural part of everyday life. Don’t be scared—God is very patient.