We Teach Two Different Versions of the Baptismal Covenant at Primary

Several years ago, one of my first assignments as a new Primary Presidency member was to create a certificate for newly baptized children to hang on their wall. It would be a meaningful reminder of a sacred covenant. Also, it would be a $1 gift. Always resourceful and efficient (i.e., a bit lazy), my first act was to search the web for a memento someone else had already made that I could print.  But I wasn’t finding what I needed. Other people had made them, but the covenant was wrong. Well, technically it was correct, but it was summarized and truncated like this:

The baptism memento I made for my Primary, featuring Alma’s version of the baptismal covenant

  • Take upon us the name of Christ
  • Always remember Jesus Christ
  • Keep the commandments

Why was there no mention of mourning with those that mourn? Comforting those that stand in need of comfort? Bearing one another’s burdens? Standing as a witness of God?

At the time, the Primary curriculum was emphasizing how the baptismal covenant matched the covenant given in the Sacrament prayer (D&C 20:77,79), rather than going into the details of Alma’s sermon on baptism in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 18:8-9). The curriculum varies year to year; last year’s Primary manual covered the Book of Mormon and emphasized Alma’s version of the baptismal covenant. This year, the curriculum is based on Doctrine and Covenants and focuses on how the sacrament prayer describes it.

Technically, all the good stuff found in Alma’s sermon falls under the umbrella of “keep the commandments.” While I favor keeping commandments in general, the baptismal covenant Alma described emphasizes certain commandments, specifically. I think there is a reason that Alma highlighted mourning with other people, comforting them, bearing each other’s burdens and standing as witnesses of God as the most relevant commandments to the first saving ordinance of the gospel. Jesus taught that the “first and great commandment” is to love God and that the second is to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). Alma’s sermon is pretty much a primer on following the first and second great commandments.

“Keep the commandments” is a nice, short statement to remember, but well near impossible to achieve. There are so many commandments, we are bound to flub them up! Talk of keeping commandments often digresses into listing rules, but the baptismal covenant Alma described wasn’t about rules. Jesus warned against fixating on rules. He taught by example that helping people in need was more important than following rules (Mark 2, John 5).

At baptism, a child doesn’t promise to serve a two-year, full-time mission; marry in the temple; pay 10% of their adult income to the church and attend church meetings every Sunday for the rest of their lives, accepting and magnifying every church calling offered to them. It wouldn’t be ethical to ask an eight-year-old to make those kinds of commitments, but a child can love God and the people around her.

My oldest child received one of the baptismal mementos I made when I was serving in the Primary presidency, with Alma’s version of the baptismal covenant printed on it.

My youngest child was baptized recently. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Primary had not convened for months. I floated the idea of holding off on the baptism. It had been so long since he’d been to church; did he even remember what baptism was all about? But he wanted to be baptized immediately. He loves God. He loves people. He was ready.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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8 Responses

  1. marilyn Hawes says:

    wonderful

  2. Melissa says:

    I’ve been saying a version of this since I was a child, albeit less eloquently. The sacrament, which renews our baptisms, focuses on covenants not listed in the baptismal prayer or in Alma. Why, when I am baptized, do we not say what we promise, like we do in the sacrament or the temple? We just are “baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

    Then when we renew this, we promise to obey all of the commandments? All of them?? I could never get a meaningful answer from anyone as to what all of the commandments entailed. If we can’t even list them, how can we, as minimum eight year olds no less, promise to keep them?

  3. TopHat says:

    It’s because of this that I made sure I gave the talk at my daughter’s baptism. I had seen my MIL talk at a nephew’s baptism about sin and commandments and I didn’t want that for my daughter, so I gave a talk on the Alma and the Waters of Mormon story and promises instead.

  4. Lizzie says:

    So many thoughts. My kids are 10, 8, and almost 6, so we are right in the middle of baptism discussions. Firstly, the “cleansing our sins” thing doesn’t work for child baptism in our theology — we baptize at 8 and teach that they aren’t accountable, and therefor can’t sin, before then. So I’m not about to teach a child that they need to be cleansed, and I work hard to counter any of that teaching. And the obedience/ keeping the commandments thing — totally agree: there is no reason to get into rule following and the litany of all the minutiae the church considers “commandments.” While it can be tempting to scare my kids into strict obedience, I actually want them to think for themselves when they’re adults. Which is why I focus on the beautiful language in Alma’s sermon (and even redirected the Sunday School class I taught on baptism this year back to it) — every rule we choose to follow needs to be measured by that first commandment to love. Which is why we mourn, and comfort, and why we “stand as a witness” when we stand up against people who want to terrorize and push others down. We stand up against people like that no matter where we find them — there should never be an assumption of infallibility anywhere. So I guess this is a long winded way of saying I completely agree and love that you focus on Alma’s words too.

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