So, I changed my mind about a thing…

Okay, I changed my mind about something I have thought for a long time, but it will take a minute to establish the backstory so that it makes sense. Jump in – you might already know this stuff…you might not.

Last October, Elder Dale Renlund gave a terrific talk in General Conference. (I recently recorded a podcast with Matthew Watkins about this talk. Link here.) In the notes that I share on this blog, I wrote the following:

—> “It is not the water of baptism that washes away sins, it is the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and when we make and keep sacred covenants, we avail ourselves of the power of that Atonement.”

I got the gist of what he said on the fly, but for accuracy’s sake, here is the exact quote from Elder Renlund: “As an eight-year-old, I had mistakenly presumed that the water of baptism washed away sins. Not so. In the years since my baptism, I have learned that sins are cleansed by the power of Jesus Christ through His atoning sacrifice as we make and keep the baptismal covenant.” (link)

This was not the first time I had heard this idea taught. The idea that water washes away our sins has always bothered me. I have other reliable sources that teach that is the Holy Ghost that cleanses us from sin.

Nephi: “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 31:17)

By the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion, we can always retain a remission of our sins. (Elder Bednar)

“The baptism of repentance by water leads to the baptism of the Spirit. The Spirit brings the atoning grace of Christ, symbolized by His blood, both to justify (or pardon) our sins and to sanctify (or cleanse) us from the effects of sin, making us spotless and holy before God.” (Elder Christofferson)

Last, and best, is from the Savior Himself: “Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” (3 Nephi 27:20).

It’s not the water, but the Spirit that sanctifies us.

Back to the beginning: When Elder Renlund made the statement about baptism, I countered with the following:

(Can we finally get rid of that Primary song that says “I know when I am baptized my wrongs are washed away?” That’s false doctrine – especially for 8 year-olds.)

The song I was referring to is a lovely little song called, “When I am Baptized.” However, my problems with it were not new. I did a search on the blog and found I wrote about it all the way back in 2011! (Link)

My two problems with the 2nd verse of the song then, and now, are these:

  1. Water does not wash away sin. (See above.)
  2. Little children do not have the capacity to sin. (Moroni 8:8) There are no “wrongs to wash away.”

Some of my feelings about this stem from my time serving as bishop. I venture to say that half of the kids coming in for baptismal interviews told me that they wanted to be baptized to wash away their sins and become clean. Doctrinally, that is incorrect on not one, but two counts! Yet, those same kids were singing a song in Primary that taught them those very ideas. No wonder!

Back to last General Conference – Here’s where things got interesting: In response to my wisecrack about doing away with the song, I got this amazing comment on the blog from an unexpected source:

A lot to process, no? I spent a lot of time thinking about this comment. It left me with more questions than answers. For four months I thought about it, and all of it bothered me. Last month, I was preparing an Elder’s Quorum lesson on this same talk by Elder Renlund which caused me to think about this comment again. I went back and reread it, and something new stuck out to me:

That gave me pause. She gained a testimony of those lyrics that she disagreed with? Weird. But this time, instead of focusing on the doctrinal issues, I began wondering how she was able to come to a testimony – of what both she and I considered to be wrong? How does that happen?

Then came the epiphany: A simple thought entered my mind, “Milk before meat.” I knew that was from something the Apostle Paul wrote, so I looked it up:

“I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (1 Corinth. 3:2)

I knew at that moment that my quandary was over. To a child, understanding the complexities of accountability, covenants, the Atonement, the blood of Christ and its relationship to the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost is unfathomable. (As it is to many adult members of the Church.)

But, do you know what a child can understand? Taking a bath.

The Spirit let me know I was on the right track, the proceeded to fill my mind with context and support. The first being that the Children of Israel lived for thousands of years while being taught that the blood of sacrificial animals sanctified them – because they were not ready to understand the complexities of the Atonement. Whether the metaphor is sacrificial blood or the waters of baptism, either one (hopefully) points towards an eventual understanding of the truth that is the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

(Hopefully our eight-year-olds can grow into a more accurate understanding of how salvation comes together without having to find out in the Spirit World.)

There are times in our teachings where doctrine is simplified in order to make it understandable at different levels. Have you ever heard anyone say, “If you’re good, you’ll go to heaven?” Not necessarily accurate, but that’s milk. “Sealing ordinances, three degrees of glory and exaltation?” That’s meat.

I’m sure many of you can come up with examples of teachings that do not necessarily reflect the “full” truth, but rather lead to that fullness. (I don’t think we need to delve into them here – milk/meat, etc.)

The end result is this: I have changed my mind about the song. I still maintain that it does not contain full and accurate truth, but it works as a metaphor for its intended audience, and as a simple starting point.

Because of that, I’m OK with it now, and won’t be criticizing “When I am Baptized” anymore. If I have caused any of you to feel negatively towards that sweet Primary song, I apologize, and invite you to give it some thought, as I did.

I find it hopeful to know that we are capable of making adjustments to long-held thought or beliefs. The refining process never ends. It’s good to know that we can always change our minds.

PS: Update: I am out of the wheelchair part of the time and am slowly getting back to full strength. Thanks to those who have checked in on me.

PPS: No word on the raccoon.


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  1. What a fantastic and insightful post! I appreciated the backstory and journey towards this. SO good and important.

    Hope you’re doing better each day!! 🙏🏻

  2. Thanks for your insight into this Primary song. I appreciate all your comments that you write about in your posts. I am soooo thankful that you are steadily improving and have grown out of the walker. 😉
    Karma, hi_seat@yahoo.com

  3. Great post and I thank you for sharing your process of asking different questions to receive inspired answers. That’s given me some things to think about as I apply that principle in other ways. I always appreciate your insight. And glad you’re out of the wheelchair and onto the next phase of healing. ❤️‍🩹 Thanks again!

  4. I like your way of looking at it through the lens of “milk” and “meat.”

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with the song, and I suspect Joseph Smith wouldn’t either, given that he wrote “We believe the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are, … baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.”

    And I suspect Mormon wouldn’t have an issue with it either, given that he wrote “And it came to pass that Nephi went forth among the people, and also many others, baptizing unto repentance, in the which there was a great remission of sins.”

    You may quibble about the exact mechanism by which sins are remitted, but there is plenty of scriptural evidence tying it to baptism.

    More milk versus meat? Maybe. But if it’s good enough for Joseph and Mormon, it’s fine with me.

    1. I like your take, but as I always like to point out Current Understanding > Old Understanding. Living Prophets > Dead Prophets. Living Prophets > Ancient Scripture.

  5. Today, in the Fresno East Stake’s Stake conference, Elder Bednar talked about “When I Am Baptized,” and how the water does not cleanse us, it is once we receive the Holy Ghost that the Spirit can do the job (not a quotation of his words).

  6. Brother McBride, Thank you for this update and post! I really appreciate it. You were gracious with the original comment as well. My mother-in-law died twenty years ago. She suffered from serious health problems most of her life, and her music was very important to her as a source of comfort and healing. Because of the financial problems related to her health challenges, she and my father-in-law moved in with us when we’d only been married a couple of years. This gave me a chance to get to know her before she died. The reason I know her thoughts on this song is because one day she received a letter expressing concern with the lyrics, and we talked about it. That’s why she told me the story of how the lyrics were changed.

    For those who were asking, here are her original lyrics https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/188852261?cid=mem_copy.

    Here is the story of how the song was written, also from her Family Search page:

    1. Thank you so very much for putting this information out there. I used to be a Primary Music chorister and led this many times at baptisms. I was always a little concerned about the lyrics but this has set my mind at ease. Your MIL must have been an awesome talented woman.

  7. Very well said! Milk/meat examples are so needed as refreshers for our testimony. When we are sick we start back with simple diets until we gain strength and can handle a full diet. Same goes for gospel feasting.

  8. As children we are in Primary for such a short time, but the songs we learn stay with us for the rest of our lives. And the Holy Ghost can bring the lyrics to our remembrance when we need them. Perhaps the simplicity of the doctrinal messages in Primary songs are most needed when we are adults struggling to understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and/or overcome the natural man.

  9. Thank you for this and it’s underlying teaching about growing in the gospel and its doctrines. Great thoughts!

    1. I was just about to comment that! Isn’t it interesting how changes in even a Primary song’s lyrics can lead to contemplation and deeper understanding. “I am a Child of God” for instance: teach me all that I must “know” becoming “do”. (And might it change further to “be,” based on President Oaks’ teachings?) Waiting to see what words in this and other hymns may have changed in the new hymnbook…

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