“Why did some Utah pioneers undergo rebaptism?” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 45
Russell R. Rich, professor of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University: Baptism is a necessary ordinance of the gospel that was originally given to Adam by the Lord. It provides for the remission of sins and opens the door to membership in the kingdom of God. It signifies one’s willingness to live a life of righteousness and to accept Christ as the Savior of mankind.
Early Church leaders also used baptism for other purposes, always in a way whereby man was expressing his devotion to his creator and his willingness to better serve his fellowman.
The purpose of rebaptism was to bring the Saints closer to God. Oftentimes a rebaptism was for renewing a person’s religious obligations. But whatever the reason for the ordinance, there was no baptism performed if the individual was not contrite and repentant.
When the Latter-day Saint pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, they felt they were finally free from their enemies and they desired to express their gratitude to God by renewing their covenants and promising to obey his commandments from that time forward. They chose baptism as the symbol, which was not only an outward sign to their Father in heaven but also to each other. It was not meant to replace their original baptism, as ordinarily one baptism by water for the remission of sins is sufficient. Baptism signifies one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of Christ’s atonement that salvation is possible.
During the so-called “Reformation of 1856–57” the Saints used baptism as a symbol of their repentance and as a pledge to live better lives in the future than they had in the past. Later, beginning in 1874, the Saints rebaptized in some areas to signify membership in the United Order. It was also used by couples just prior to entering the sacred ordinance of marriage.
Throughout the history of the Church rebaptism has also been used when membership records have been lost and for repentant excommunicated members who were returning to the Church. It is still used today in such instances.
Because the Lord has given us the ordinance of sacrament for renewing our covenants, and because the purpose of baptism began to be somewhat confused in the minds of some members of the Church, the Lord directed Church leaders to discourage the use of baptism for other than the sacred purpose of the remission of sins and for gaining membership in the Church.