The common LDS use of the term “familiar spirit” seems to imply a set of ideas that are ungodly because one takes them as truthful merely because someone else has vouched for them…hence you come under their influence due to nepotism, or “familiarity” with the speaker. The original sense of the term dealt with a sorcerer’s supposed familiarity with a spirit or spirits from the beyond, or rather, more precisely, a spirit’s willingness to obey and serve a witch or sorcerer. The LDS definition would be an accurate description of someone’s mindset if the person in question didn’t come to their own conclusions about each and every matter, and just accepted a thought because someone like a “Denver Snuffer” or a “Thomas Monson” said so, becoming in a sense, servants to these men. Further, the implication is that the “spirit”, or set of ideas conveyed, is false and ungodly in its own right. “Ungodly” has a specific set of criteria, or rather, “godly communication”, or “truth”, has a specific set of criteria that establishes the communication as coming from God, proving all other communications as evil or base. Those criteria are plainly discussed in the Lectures on Faith and in the Standard Works.

Furthermore, it is obvious in the scriptures that the priesthood of God has power over devils. The question is, when various workshops for hire crop up to teach how to overcome evil spirits, are the devils in question strong-armed definitively by such efforts (See Mark 3:22-30)? Or, does the devil of all devils laugh at them and play games with their minds, leaving them alone just long enough to convince them that they have some power and authority in these things, only to return and torture and tease them anew (see 2 Nephi 9:37 and Moses 7:26)?

Perhaps unintentionally, the LDS Church promotes sorcery by claiming the temple rites employ ancient techniques of using rich symbolism to teach godly ideas (See Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings”), while offering virtually no support for discovering the meanings of those symbols. Superficial treatments on temple symbology are offered in sanitized and approved books that necessarily avoid discussing off-limit topics such as signs, tokens, key words, and really anything involving the wording in the rituals. Within the temples themselves, a culture of fear prevails masquerading as reverence (stemming from the days the LDS Church was scrutinized by the US Government over their secret temple rites), stifling all discussion about such symbols in places that are ostensibly deemed as the only appropriate venues for such holy conversations (in the beginning of the twentieth century, the LDS Church President stopped all conversations about symbols inside of temples because it was feared the US Government had infiltrated the temples with spies…hasn’t the time for the militaristic oversight passed yet?). Ironically, the Masons foster much more freedom amongst themselves to discuss similar symbology, which promotes an insatiable appetite for learning and strong camaraderie over treasured concepts, even if their rituals are only a degraded remnant of something in the past with many interpolations introduced over the years. So, in absence of even this cementing virtue of brotherly love through rich shared meaning and purpose, the LDS have devolved into a stalemate over the symbols themselves. Russell M. Nelson can say the following about the meaning of the symbols: “Teachings of the temple are beautifully simple and simply beautiful. They are understood by the humble, yet they can excite the intellect of the brightest minds” (Ibid.), because there are no cultural reasons for the leadership to avoid discussing the meanings; yet there are for lay-members, who are sometimes afraid to even ask God about them, or ignorant that there are any intended interpretations at all. Devoid of meaning, the symbols have become venerated in LDS culture as magic talismans that harbor mysterious power over the heavenly hosts, as well as over demonic forces. A simple arm raised to the square while invoking the name of Deity is thought to be the authoritative means by which to cast out evil spirits. In the absence of success with this simpler practice (see Acts 19:13-17), more elaborate rituals are concocted by the foolhardy, who prey upon others who pay money to learn all the extra dance steps involved. Such individuals display a hunger for contact with the divine or other-worldly (a natural impulse to be sure), but they hunger not for righteousness; and, those claiming to “live without a veil” also seemingly live without sense in these matters as well, despite how many legitimate experiences they might have had.

Jesus said the adulterous seek after a sign, but do not get them (except unto damnation, see Matthew 16:4); yet the believing, humble, and penitent souls receive signs constantly at his hand (D&C 68:10). Furthermore, he said that some evil spirits “goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Prayer is a two-way communication, as the LDS are wont to say, so it begs the question: what is being communicated by God when the case of casting out an evil spirit is presented before Him? A revelation in the D&C is instructive on this point:

Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God. And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—Not with railing accusation, that ye be not overcome, neither with boasting nor rejoicing, lest you be seized therewith. He that receiveth of God, let him account it of God; and let him rejoice that he is accounted of God worthy to receive. (D&C 50:31-34).

Symbols have meanings. What is dramatized in an ordinance is not the heart of the matter involved, but merely a symbolic parable of an eternal reality. The eternal reality is not reached unless God reveals it to you (the things of the Spirit are only understood by the Spirit, see 1 Corinthians 2:11). Even if studying things out amongst fellow believers in sacred places is an advisable first step, every individual must learn their meanings from God alone. At that point, the use of a symbol becomes infused with power due to the understanding of the person using it, as that understanding is given to them by God. It becomes an extension of language and thought, and not merely a dance step or ritual. Even still, having trivia knowledge concerning symbolic meanings doesn’t mean a person is capable of acting on God’s behalf indiscriminately. The devils understand many meanings, and have no power with God (see James 2:19). There is no valid substitute for meekness (as in only doing those things the Lord asks, no more and no less) and keeping all the commandments of God, as the means by which to develop power with Him:

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:45-46).

And, although coming from a second-hand account, I find this reminiscence about Joseph Smith’s interactions amusing:

I recollect a gentleman who came from Canada, and who had been a Methodist, and had always been in the habit of praying to a God who had no ears, and as a matter of course had to shout and halloo pretty loud to make him hear. Father Johnson asked him to pray in their family worship in the evening, and he got on such a high key, and hallooed so loud that he alarmed the whole village. Among others, Joseph came running out, saying, “What is the matter? I thought by the noise that the heavens and the earth were coming together,” and said to the man, “that he ought not to give way to such an enthusiastic spirit, and bray so much like a jackass.” Because Joseph said that, the poor man put back to Canada, and apostatized; he thought he would not pray to a God who did not want to be screamed at with all one’s might. (Ohio Reminiscenses About Joseph Smith).

Speaking about his experiences with the divine, Joseph Smith gave us all reason to pause and consider how dreadful a task it is to represent the Lord, a warning that we take seriously ourselves:

…had I inspiration, Revelation & lungs to communicate what my soul has contemplated in times past there is not a soul in this congregation but would go to their homes & shut their mouths in everlasting silence on religion, till they had learned something. (Funeral Sermon delivered at the Nauvoo temple site on August 13, 1843).

One cannot reemphasize the following passage from Joseph Smith’s letter from Liberty Jail enough:

A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity, thou must commune with God. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137).

In the LDS Church, there is not much clarity on this subject. Most LDS equate it to a burning in the bosom, described in D&C 9:8. And, in the absence of dramatically miraculous occurrences, the LDS General Authorities have described an almost imperceptible incremental process over the lifetime of the believer as their idea of the what the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is (just do a word search for “incremental” on www.lds.org).

In the Mormon Christian fellowships, sometimes dramatic changes of heart are pointed to as the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, where the believer experiences a feeling of purity washing over them, and an increased closeness to Deity.

Denver Snuffer did a remarkable series of posts on this topic, which are worthy of your review:

Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost

BFHG, Part 2

BFHG, Part 3

BFHG, Part 4

BFHG, Part 5

BFHG, Conclusion

Despite these reassurances about what these baptisms are, whether through the LDS explanations, the cultural fellowship explanations, or Denver’s expounding, the question still remains for many: “Have I received it yet?” Given all the ideas and expounding above, some believe with confidence that they can answer: “Yes, absolutely!” Yet, as we shall see, it may be prudent for even these folks to re-consider things and at least ask themselves: “Is that the last time I will experience it?”

A look at the implications of the words involved in these terms is in order:

First, what does “baptism” imply? With the Restoration’s insight into the matter, most would say categorically that the word refers to its Latin root, being “immersion”.

What aspect of “fire” is most thought of in a religious sense? Most would not argue with the idea that it implies purification, and in a religious sense, purification from sin.

What is meant by the term “Holy Ghost”? With the re-emphasis on the Lectures on Faith we’ve discussed earlier, the new implication would be that it is “the mind of God,” and not a separate, third-party spirit-personage. If you take Denver’s posts above to be a synthesis of the two concepts of “mind of God” and “spirit entity,” the only spirit personage potentially referred to in his expounding would be your own spirit, as it is endowed with the mind of God. It follows that you can’t be immersed in the spirit body of another personage, or else you would have one huge conglomerated mass of a conjoined person! This sentiment is similar to how Joseph Smith mocked the idea of two personages being joined:

Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. “Father, I pray not for the world, but I pray for them which thou hast given me.” “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are.” All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God—he would be a giant or a monster. (HC, Vol. 6, p.473-479).

With these new assumptions, you can ask yourself, what does it mean to be immersed in a fire that cleanses from sin, and to be immersed in the mind of God? Do you have a fulness of the mind of God at all times, and can you say you have all the knowledge in the universe as He does? Are you as pure as Christ is pure, every moment of every day? If not, it could be argued that there is yet more of an immersion in fire and in the Holy Ghost for you, no matter what you have experienced so far.

This is not to take away from anyone’s experiences in the least, but to avoid the following “wo” pronounced by Nephi and others:

Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! (2 Nephi 28:27-29)

When James and John asked Jesus about their status in his kingdom, Jesus responded with a sobering reminder of how strait the course ahead is (for them and for us): “But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” But, after putting this tough perspective clearly in their view, he encouraged them with the following: “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized” (Mark 10:38-39).

Sometimes when wondering whether or not we have had the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, or when wondering what it is in general, we know not what we ask. In some of the more fuller experiences outlined in scripture, and as Denver mentioned, we are told of elements that are part of the overall pattern that many of us do not consider as belonging to this topic. For example, have we been purified in the flesh with fire such that our faces have shone bright and white like Moses (Exodus 34:30), Abinadi (Mosiah 13:5), Nephi and Lehi (Helaman 5), the people praying before the Lord at Bountiful (3 Nephi 19:25), Lyman Wight (The Book of John Whitmer, chap. 7), Reynolds Cahoon (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, Oct 3, 1883), and potentially Joseph Smith (Wilford Woodruff, An Epistle to the Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 722)? Have we seen things encircled about with fire and not burned like Moses’ burning bush (Exodus 3:2), heard the rushing of mighty wind as in the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2), been overshadowed by a cloud and encircled about by fire and not harmed (Helaman 5; see also Daniel 3), or have we been ministered to by angels, including Christ (3 Nephi 19:14-15)? If we have had any one of these events in our lives, have we had them all? In regards to this topic, let us look again to the meek example of John the Baptist, who, upon meeting his Lord, said, “I have need to be baptized of thee” (Matthew 3:14). Certainly if we have experienced incremental changes as the LDS believe, or had a washing over us that cleanses our souls as many in the fellowships describe, to paraphrase Alma, “Yea, I admit it may be termed [a baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost]” (see Alma 40:15)…but well might we all ask ourselves if we have more need of these baptisms, and the other attendant elements mentioned in these scriptures, too. Ask and ye shall receive, etc (3 Nephi 27:29).

For those who feel as though they haven’t received it yet, and wonder when it will occur, we hope you can see from the examples in this post that even though the Lord has not said when he will fulfill the promise, he has promised it to those who believe and are baptized. It is worthy also to note that he hasn’t said he will fulfill the promise only once. So, we believe that, according to His goodness, he will fulfill that promise until your cup runneth over, whether it be immediately after your baptism, years after like the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, and perhaps even over and over again until the perfect day.

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:2-3; 3 Nephi 24:2).

The real question is, do we believe the scriptures and the authority of the baptism(s) in water we have received? If we believe in the authority, is it based in something unseen which is true? Has God really given the power to the individual who baptized you and do you have that witness? Have you been baptized with the understanding outlined in the doctrine of Christ (3 Nephi 11:31-40), or were other conditions required? If there is no harm in being re-baptized, and scriptures suggest that you should be re-baptized for rededication at least anyway (see Mosiah 18*), what do you have against being re-baptized until you are sure (2 Nephi 31)?

*Alma, the priest of King Noah, was undoubtedly re-baptized in this chapter, for he being a priest would surely have been baptized before, as most of the people would have been as well.

ADDENDUM: Perhaps the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost are related to coming into the proximity of a just and holy being. Your heart burns within you as you are immersed in light and knowledge from the communication, whether through a veil as they go unseen by you, or in person (compared to a distinct absence of such transformative power from a visit from the devil; Moses 1:10-15). If such were the case, then receiving the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost only once would seem most disappointing. Such communications, nonetheless, can indeed be life-changing (see Luke 24:32 and Alma 27:11-20 compared to Alma 8:14-18).

ADDENDUM 2: If all we receive is a remission of sins in this life and no redemption back into His presence, and if all we receive from visitations and baptisms of fire and the Holy Ghost are communications and intelligence for this life, than well might the following proverb apply to us:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:19).