The experience of Joseph and Oliver at their baptism, months before they would receive priesthood with authority to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, requires you to ask yourself:
-Can this experience be regarded as a form of “baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost?”
-If so, then what are the essential elements of the experience?
-If not, then what more is required?
We want to have absolute events; for the light to be either on or off. However, the scriptures use the experiences in the lives of disciples following the Lord to illustrate and teach the doctrines. Nephi in particular, is a gifted composer of experience-based doctrinal teaching. He focuses his narrative entirely on doctrine, but uses his personal experience to draw from to teach the doctrine.
Christ declared the Lamanites experienced “baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost” (3 Ne. 9: 20). This week we have compared that event with the Nephites’ experience in 3 Nephi. The following is a list of what was similar between the two:
-A voice speaks to them telling them to repent. (Hel. 5: 29; compare with 3 Ne. 11: 3.)
-The voice is not thunderous, but nevertheless pierced them to their core. (Hel. 5: 30; compare with 3 Ne. 11: 3.)
-The voice repeats a second time. (Hel. 5: 32; compare with 3 Ne. 11: 4.)
-The voice repeats a third time. (Hel. 5: 33; compare with 3 Ne. 11: 5-7.)
-The communication includes such marvelous information man is unable to communicate it. (Hel. 5: 33; compare with 3 Ne. 17: 16-17.)
-The Lamanite observers saw Lehi and Nephi in a pillar of fire, with angels ministering to them. (Hel. 5: 36-37; compare with 3 Ne. 17: 23-25.)
As the account continued, they repented, were wrapped in fire and were able to speak inspired words. (Hel. 5: 44-45.) These are additional events, so you must decide:
-Do all these things need to occur before there has been “fire and the Holy Ghost?’
-Are they things that will unfold as a result of receiving “fire and the Holy Ghost?”
-Can you receive “fire” and have your sins purged without all of this accompanying the event?
-Can you receive the “gift of the Holy Ghost” as your companion without a visible pillar of fire?
Joseph received an audience with the Father and the Son, stood in a pillar of fire, and was commissioned to do a great work. BUT this happened before he was baptized, before any priestly authority was conferred by John the Baptist, before a church existed, temple rites were restored, before marriage, sealing, etc. If you reflect on that for a moment you will see the order of events does not control. There is an order, and it is generally followed, but it is the fullness of this endowment that is important and not the order it is given.
In Nephi’s explanation of this gift, he refers to another, much shorter list. It includes:
-Repenting of your sins.
-Witnessing your repentance by baptism in water.
-Receiving the power to “speak with the tongue of angels.” (See 2 Ne. 31: 13-14.)
Joseph and Oliver did these things. And, as they experienced it, “No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things.” (JS-H 1: 73.)
The Lamanite experience in Helaman 5 does not include baptism by water before this baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, but it did require repentance. We can know from subsequent missionary work they performed that they preached, and undoubtedly did receive baptism (or rebaptism). But the order is changed. A change in order, however, is not a change in requirement. To fully repent, they needed to witness it by baptism. Therefore, the ordinance may have followed, but it was a necessary part of the process.
The most consistent and the minimum description of this baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost includes these elements:
-baptism by water,
-baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost,
-evidenced by speaking with the tongue of angels.
One proof of baptism of fire is the gift of prophecy. Both Joseph and Oliver experienced the gift. So did the Lamanites, which they used to preach and declare repentance. I also experienced it after baptism in water. The gift follows as a sign to confirm baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. (D&C 63: 9.)
This “gift,” like other signs, is designed to confirm in the one who receives it a witness to them, from God, that this baptism has occurred. It is one of the essential elements, and is present in all the accounts. It appears on Nephi’s list also.
Beyond this minimum list, however, there are these other events that the Nephites and the Lamanites also experienced. There are many facets to understanding the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost, and there is a host of things which can be associated with baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. There is a continuum.
It is in this sense that Nephi’s and Joseph Smith’s experiences provide us the best blueprint. The Book of Mormon accounts (with the exception of Nephi) are often sudden and compressed. Both Nephi’s and Joseph’s were unfolding, growing and spreading to include ultimately comprehending both God and the eternities.