I have a pretty simple understanding of the Gospel, and I rarely come across scriptures that can’t be accommodated to my existing world view (or dismissed as scrivener’s errors!). Recently, however, I read a verse in the Book of Mormon that stopped me in my tracks. It is from 3 Nephi 9:19-20, and the speaker is Jesus Christ:
And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.
I don’t understand how a group of people could be “baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost” and “kn[o]w it not.” In modern times, we tend to equate the baptism by fire with confirmation, though I have never thought that the ordinance and the event were required to be coincident. In this passage, it sounds like they were coincident. In any case, the only way I can make any sense out of this is to read it as follows: the Lamanites felt the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost, but had not been taught yet what they were experiencing. Does that sound right?
All of this raises lots of questions about baptism by fire. For example, is it a one-time event, on par with having one’s calling and election made sure? Or does it describe what we feel whenever we truly repent? I have tended to view the baptism by fire as a culmination, but perhaps it is a starting point?