Contend Earnestly: August 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rethinking Baptism: Part 2

So, Why Get Baptized?

Let’s look to the source of Jesus’ command, found in Matthew 28:18-21

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This has been broken down many times before, so I am not going to labor in completely deconstructing this popular passage. It does involve this: Jesus’ power and presence; going (really “as one goes along in life”); making disciples; baptizing, teaching.
I believe that when asking this question of baptism and why we are to do it, it comes directly from this passage and also from Jesus’ baptism found in the gospels.

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him,
and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Matthew 3:16-4:1

What I want to direct our attention to is those who say, “We get baptized because Jesus did it?” The question comes in “Why was Jesus baptized and how does it relate to our baptism?”
This is the thrust of this paper.

1. We are baptized to show our new identity, as Jesus was

Jesus, from what we can gather from the Scriptures, was known merely as Joseph’s son, the carpenter’s son (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3), few (Luke 2:25-34) knew him to be the coming Messiah, or God’s son. When Jesus came out of the water, God spoke this:

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

This both speaks to a new, revealed identity (I am not saying Jesus wasn’t God’s Son before this, but this is where he is identified as such) and also to the fulfillment of Scripture that spoke of the coming one, the coming Messiah.

“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Psalm 2:7

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;
My chosen one in whom My soul delights.
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
Isaiah 42:1

The same is said of us. We are now new creatures with a new identity. Instead of being a son of Adam, we become a son of God. Instead of being a servant of this world, we become a servant of the risen King. Instead of being filled with the power of our flesh being sent to fulfill the kingdom of the world, we are filled with the Spirit and become a sent one of the Kingdom of God.

We see this as we are given a new name in Matthew 28. We have a new Father, we have a new King, who is the Son of God and we have the new Spirit of God with his power abiding within us. So, as we are now disciples of Jesus, we are now sons & daughters, servants and sent ones. Baptism reveals this new identity.

2. We are commissioned to make disciples with this new power, as Jesus was.

Notice what happens in Jesus’ baptism. The Spirit of God descended upon him. We know that Jesus wasn’t “saved” at this point, nor was Jesus now officially deified, but why did the Spirit come down upon Jesus? I believe it is important to note what happened directly after this. After his baptism, the Spirit led him to the wilderness. Jesus’ public ministry started. He was now commissioned to make disciples. It was important for Jesus to start by resisting temptation (although he had been doing this in all the years leading up to this point as well), because he wasn’t making disciples of another, but of himself. So, part of his ministry was perfection for our sake so he could be our perfect high priest. After being led to the wilderness, Luke mentions this:

And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:14-21

You could say that he let the cat out of the bag. Luke starts this passage with, “in the power of the Spirit…” For whatever reason, after Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended and his ministry of making disciples started.

This is what I believe we’ve been missing from the reason we are to be baptized. When one repents and believes and then is baptized, something miraculous happens. It is not that they are saved, because upon belief they are sealed inwardly by the Spirit (Romans 6; Eph 1:13; 4:10) but the commissioning of making disciples under your new name and under your new power is established. Notice that Matthew 28:18-21 is bookended by Jesus’ authority and him always being with us as we go.

One might ask the obvious question, “But I know many who make disciples without ever being baptized, what is the consequence?” I’m not sure that we’ll ever know the consequence of not understanding this commissioning aspect of baptism. It is like asking the question, “If one believes that women shouldn’t be elders, yet the church is growing, where’s the consequence?” Sometimes these questions of disobedience aren’t so quick to reveal the consequences, but might be better understood as what would happen if the command and deeper truth was realized in that person’s life. It’s like one saying they are satisfied in looking at pictures of Hawaii, yet have never stepped foot on her beaches.

What I believe about baptism is that we should do it because:
- We are commanded
- Jesus did it
- It is a proclamation of our new identity

But, I also believe there is a deep connection of the Spirit’s power, because of the authority of Christ, for us to be commissioned to make disciples of our King.

This speaks clearly of why we see every instance of baptism of new disciples happening so quickly after they repent and believe. Those that repent and believe, those that are now followers of Jesus, given a new name, should be now baptized to receive this enormous gift given to us through baptism with water because they now have a new power and a new purpose.
So, yes, we are to be baptized because Jesus was, but if we miss why Jesus was baptized, we miss out on the fullness of us following in the ways and purposes of Jesus.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Rethinking Baptism: Part 1

Before I start, I should begin by letting the reader know that I have always been a believer of credo baptism, or believer’s baptism. Meaning, I believe that baptism is administered only to those who repent and profess faith in Jesus because of his sinless life, his perfect death and powerful resurrection. So, this paper will not involve the discussions that have led to divisions between the paedo (child) and credo baptism crowd. This paper is to discuss the reasons why someone should be baptized and importance of it.

When growing up and seeking to understand baptism I was told many things about baptism and why we administer it within the church. Some of these reasons were this:

It’s a public proclamation of one’s faith
It’s a picture to show on the outside, what happened on the inside
We do it because Jesus did it and he commanded it and we want to be like Jesus
It’s to bring someone into the Christian community

I guess I want to question some of these and then add something I believe that has been missing from our thoughts on baptism, or at least missing from the communities that I have hung around in the past.

Public Proclamation

Many I know of believe that all baptisms should be done in the public of some sorts. What I find interesting is that it’s not public that they desire, but it actually happens within the church walls, where very little of the unbelieving public gather. What I find to be more consistent in the Scriptures is not that it had to happen in public, but it happened immediately with the one who repented and believed. We aren’t sure how much of the “public” were at some of these places (i.e. households, eunuch by his chariot, Lydia by the river with other women), but the seemingly solid stream of evidence points more to the immediacy of baptism, not the place or those present. So, while it may be a proclamation of sorts (so are many other things we do), I’m not sure this is the fullness of the “why” in getting baptized.

It’s A Picture

Although this might be true, there just isn’t a great deal of evidence that points to this fact. We can try and connect some dots between baptism in water with the baptism of the Spirit shown to us in Romans 6, but the actual evidence of this being the reason for water baptism, seems to be lacking. I believe the two are connected, but as you will see below, I believe they are connected much deeper than a mere picture.

We do it because Jesus did it and commanded us to

I don’t believe this is good enough, and as you speak to a postmodern world, they won’t believe this is good enough either. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do what God tells us to do, but as we explain baptism, we shouldn’t merely say, “Do it because God said so.” Our God is one that usually explains things to us, instead of “because I said so.” Now, I know that our parents have conditioned us to just do things because they said so, but this usually isn’t how God operates. There might be times where we do things God calls us to without knowing fully the “why” but most of the time, God operates as a Father who desires for his children to know the reason why he has a command, not merely “do what I say and deal with it.” Because of this, maybe we should ask the “why” Jesus did it and why he commanded it.

It’s to bring someone into the Christian community

I agree to an extent with this statement, but I believe it to be much fuller than this. Meaning, if one believes that you should be baptized so you can be in a new community, this seems to lack in argument for why someone should desire this. If we are dealing with God and his ways, this has to be larger than a particular culture and a particular time we live in. The reason I say this is the mere fact that most don’t have to be baptized to be in community today and most understand within Protestant circles that baptism doesn’t save you. Because of this, if this is the reason why we get baptized, few will be persuaded. Most will show you the Christian community that they are in and have never been baptized. Although they might be kept from some membership rosters, few will care and actually be glad that they aren't considered members of particular churches, because it gets them out of going to business meetings. Not only that, but the Eunuch in Acts 8 didn’t return with Philip but continued in the life and occupation that God had given him to live. So maybe this is deeper than a mere physical community.

Next time we'll get into, "Then, why get baptized?"

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