Category Archives: Baptism

Baptism references

A recent discussion prompted me to think again of some posts I did on baptism. My friend was emphatically saying something like we all know baptism isn’t necessary, etc, etc. I know very well how deep that thinking goes for many Protestants, and the context of the discussion wasn’t good for challenging assumptions, so I just let it be, but I know now that baptism is necessary. I also believe that God works with people where they are, and that one’s conscience is fundamental, so I’m not particularly worried. Still, it’s good to refresh one’s memory from Holy Scripture and be ready for possible future discussions.

This post was originally publish April 26, 2011.

Sermon of St. John the Baptist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1566

The following citations come from the English Standard Version (ESV) translation. The purpose of this list, for me at least, is to gather in one place as many of the scriptural references on baptism as I can so that I might begin to understand the place and meaning of baptism in the life of faith. If I have missed any biblical references, whether directly mentioning baptism or whether pointing to baptism metaphorically or symbolically, please let me know.

John baptizes:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4-5)

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3:7-8a)

John points to Jesus:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:15-16)

They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:25-27)

Jesus gets baptized:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

“I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:33-34)

Jesus baptizes:
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). (John 3:22-24)

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:25-26)

The nature of John’s baptism?
“The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?'” (Matthew 21:25)

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (Mark 11:30)

He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luke 20:3-4)

Jesus’ teaching on (or related to) baptism:
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized . . .” (Mark 10:38-39)

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) (Luke 7:28-30)

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:49-51)

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)

Baptism in the first generation church:
“. . . beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-40)

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. (Acts 8:12-13)

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:14-16)

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39)

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19)

“. . . you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed” (Acts 10:37)

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:47-48a)

“And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 11:16)

“Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” (Acts 13:24)

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:14b-15a)

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)

He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. (Acts 18:25)

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:3-6)

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)

Paul on baptism:
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:2-4)

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:13-17)

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4a)

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Peter on baptism:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

1 Comment

Filed under Authority, Baptism, Bible Study, Catholic Church, Christian Life, Dogma, Gospel, Kingdom of God, Lists, Protestantism, Sacraments, Theology, Tradition, Trinity, Truth

Pope John Paul II on the Sacrament of Confirmation

JP2

Confirmation Perfects Baptismal Grace
by Pope John Paul II

[Confirmation, as the completion of Baptism, was the subject of the Holy Father’s talk at the General Audience of September 30, 1998; a continuation of catechesis on the Holy Spirit.]

1. In this second year of preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, a renewed appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s presence focuses our attention especially on the sacrament of Confirmation (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 45). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “it perfects baptismal grace; it … gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (n. 1316).

In fact, the sacrament of Confirmation closely associates the Christian with the anointing of Christ, whom “God anointed with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10: 38). This anointing is recalled in the very name “Christian”, which derives from that of “Christ”, the Greek translation of the Hebrew term “messiah”, whose precise meaning is “anointed”. Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

Through the seal of the Spirit conferred by Confirmation, the Christian attains his full identity and becomes aware of his mission in the Church and the world. “Before this grace had been conferred on you”, St Cyril of Jerusalem writes, “you were not sufficiently worthy of this name, but were on the way to becoming Christians” (Cat. Myst., III, 4: PG 33, 1092).

Sacrament of Confirmation perpetuates Pentecost
2. To understand all the riches of grace contained in the sacrament of Confirmation, which forms an organic whole with Baptism and the Eucharist as the “sacraments of Christian initiation”, it is necessary to grasp its meaning in the light of salvation history.

In the Old Testament, the prophets proclaimed that the Spirit of God would rest upon the promised Messiah (cf. Is 11: 2) and, at the same time, would be communicated to all the messianic people (cf. Ez 36: 25-27; Jl 3: 1-2). In the “fullness of time” Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1: 35). With the Spirit’s descent upon him at the time of his baptism in the River Jordan, he is revealed as the promised Messiah, the Son of God (cf. Mt 3: 13-17; Jn 1: 33-34). All his life was spent in total communion with the Holy Spirit, whom he gives “not by measure” (Jn 3: 34) as the eschatological fulfilment of his mission, as he had promised (cf. Lk 12: 12; Jn 3: 5-8; 7: 37-39; 16: 7-15; Acts 1: 8). Jesus communicates the Spirit by “breathing” on the Apostles the day of the Resurrection (cf. Jn 20: 22) and later by the solemn, amazing outpouring on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2: 1-4).

Thus the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, begin to “proclaim the mighty works of God” (cf. Acts 2: 11). Those who believe in their preaching and are baptized also receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38).

The distinction between Confirmation and Baptism is clearly suggested in the Acts of the Apostles when Samaria is being evangelized. It is Philip, one of the seven deacons, who preaches the faith and baptizes. Then the Apostles Peter and John arrive and lay their hands on the newly baptized so that they will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8: 5-17). Similarly in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul lays his hands on a group of newly baptized and “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19: 6).

3. The sacrament of Confirmation “in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC, n. 1288). Baptism, which the Christian tradition calls “the gateway to life in the Spirit” (ibid., n. 1213), gives us a rebirth “of water and the Spirit” (cf. Jn 3: 5), enabling us to share sacramentally in Christ’s Death and Resurrection (cf. Rom 6: 1-11). Confirmation, in turn, makes us share fully in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by the risen Lord.

The unbreakable bond between the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is expressed in the close connection between the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. This close bond can also be seen in the fact that in the early centuries Confirmation generally comprised “one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a “double sacrament’, according to the expression of St Cyprian” (CCC, n. 1290). This practice has been preserved to the present day in the East, while in the West, for many reasons, Confirmation came to be celebrated later and there is normally an interval between the two sacraments.

Since apostolic times the full communication of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the baptized has been effectively signified by the laying on of hands. An anointing with perfumed oil, called “chrism”, was added very early, the better to express the gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, through Confirmation Christians, consecrated by the anointing in Baptism, share in the fullness of the Spirit with whom Jesus is filled, so that their whole life will spread the “aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2: 15).

Differences in Confirmation rite express its rich meaning
4. The differences in the rite of Confirmation which evolved down the centuries in the East and West, according to the different spiritual sensitivities of the two traditions and in response to various pastoral needs, express the richness of the sacrament and its full meaning in Christian life.

In the East, this sacrament is called “Chrismation”, anointing with “chrism” or “myron”. In the West, the term Confirmation suggests the ratification of Baptism as a strengthening of grace through the seal of the Holy Spirit. In the East, since the two sacraments are joined, Chrismation is conferred by the same priest who administers Baptism, although he performs the anointing with chrism consecrated by the Bishop (cf. CCC, n. 1312). In the Latin rite, the ordinary minister of Confirmation is the Bishop, who, for grave reasons, may grant this faculty to priests delegated to administer it (cf. ibid., n. 1313).

Thus, “the practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the Bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church” (CCC, n. 1292).

5. From what we have said not only can we see the importance of Confirmation as an organic part of the sacraments of Christian initiation as a whole, but also its irreplaceable effectiveness for the full maturation of Christian life. A decisive task of pastoral ministry, to be intensified as part of the preparation for the Jubilee, consists in very carefully training the baptized who are preparing to receive Confirmation, and in introducing them to the fascinating depths of the mystery it signifies and brings about. At the same time, confirmands must be helped to rediscover with joyful wonder the saving power of this gift of the Holy Spirit.

© L’Osservatore Romano, Editorial and Management Offices, Via del Pellegrino, 00120, Vatican City

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptism, Catholic Church, Sacraments, The Early Church, Theology, Tradition

sufficiently existential?

From The Early Church by Henry Chadwick:

[T]he Christian Gospel spoke of divine grace in Christ, the remission of sins and the conquest of evil powers for the sick soul, tired of living and scared of dying, seeking for an assurance of immortality and for security and freedom in a world where the individual could rarely do other than submit to his fate. The terms were those of the baptismal vows: a renunciation of sin and everything associated with demonic powers, idols, astrology and magic; and a declaration of belief in God the Father, in the redemptive acts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and in the Holy Spirit active in the Church. Though it is improbable that all converts knew themselves to be sick souls (perhaps relatively few found their way by guilt and tears and there is no evidence that many were hag-ridden with anxiety in this age more than in others), baptism and admission to the sacred meal meant a break with the past and a gift of grace by which the individual could live up to ideals and moral imperatives recognized by his conscience. In a word, Christianity directly answered to the human quest for true happiness—by which more is meant than feeling happy. (p. 55)

I am increasingly curious about the expected and necessary relationship between being “saved” and the existential experience of guilt and shame which Christ’s death and resurrection solve. Is that relationship truly necessary? It seems clear that the relationship is real and necessary in many believer’s lives—consider the tradition of personal stories of conversion. However, what of those who might merely hear the Gospel, believe it is true, and go through the process of becoming a Christian, can they also be “saved”? Does one have to experience an objectively sick soul, feel profound guilt, experience tears, and be hag-ridden with anxiety? Can one become a Christian without these existential marks?

A related question: Is Christian baptism (with renunciations and declarations, etc.) efficacious in the economy of salvation? Consider some of the baptism stories in the New Testament. Rarely are we given a picture of a guilt ridden individual wracked by existential angst who only gets baptized as an after-conversion act for the sake of making a public statement. What we read are stories like Philip and the Ethiopian where Philip explains the scriptural foundations of the Gospel and the Ethiopian asks to be baptized. After his baptism the Ethiopian rejoices, which shows his joy and thus his heart, but the conversion process was “hearing the truth + believing the truth + baptism = Christian.” Right? Can one truly convert and not have go through either Luther’s angst and fear or the modern evangelical’s emotional ecstasies? Are not renunciation, declaration, and baptism existential enough?

Works cited:
Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church: The story of emergent Christianity from the apostolic age to the dividing of the ways between the Greek East and the Latin West. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptism, Church History, Gospel, Liturgy, Sacraments, The Early Church

a shift of being

Commenting on the early use of the Christian creeds, namely the proto-apostles creed, with which the initiate (the one being baptized) would three times renounce the devil (“I renounce the devil, his service, and his works”) and three times proclaim belief in God (I believe in God the Father, I believe in God the Son, and I believe in God the Holy Spirit), and then go under the water three times (“die” three times) and come up from the water three times (“resurrect” three times), Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote in his Introduction to Christianity:

[F]aith is located in the act of conversion, in the turn of one’s being from worship of the visible and practicable to trust in the invisible. The phrase “I believe” could here be literally translated by “I hand myself over to”, “I assent to”. In the sense of the Creed, and by origin, faith is not a recitation of doctrines, an acceptance of theories about things of which in themselves one knows nothing and therefore asserts something all the  louder; it signifies an all-encompassing movement of human existence; to use Heidegger’s language, one could say that it signifies and “about-turn” by the whole person that from then on constantly structures one’s existence. In the procedure of the threefold renunciation and the threefold assent, linked as it is with the thrice-repeated symbolization of resurrection to new life, the true nature of faith or belief is clearly illustrated: it is a conversion, an about-turn, a shift of being. (p. 88)

Work cited:
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Introduction to Christianity. Trans. J. R. Foster. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004. (Note: First published in German in 1968)

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptism, Catholic Church, Church History, Gospel, Liturgy, Sacraments, The Early Church, Theology, Tradition, Trinity

Paul and baptism

As part of my ongoing study of Christian baptism I have now come to an important passage in the first chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians. Paul says a fair amount on baptism throughout his letters to the early churches. Most of the verses on baptism from Paul seem to assume things about baptism that must have been understood by those of that time, but are not necessarily the same assumptions we have today. In other words, Paul often mentions baptism without providing a complete teaching on baptism, probably because he didn’t feel he needed to explain everything. His readers probably knew what he was talking about. For us today, with two thousand years of various traditions and teachings, we have to work to figure out what Paul thought on baptism. Did Paul think baptism was required for a Christian, whether to received the Holy Spirit or to be initiated into the visible church or to receive some kind of grace? Or did Paul think baptism was a good cultural thing to do, a meaningful thing to do, but a thing that could and should be tossed aside if it causes one to stumble in the faith?

As with my previous posts on baptism, this one is a kind of meditation and not a final statement.

The passage from 1 Corinthians chapter one is important because we have Paul raising the issue of baptism in light of larger issues of faith and understanding within a church community. Here are the key verses:

1 Corinthians 1:4-17 (ESV):
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

This is a powerful passage and it must be pointed out that the issue at hand is not baptism but quarreling, and really quarreling about who different groups within the church community were “following.” In other words, it is clear that Paul is not writing to the Corinthian about baptism, but baptism was a piece of the picture, enough so that Paul must bring it up so as to explain how or where the Corinthians got things wrong.

I want to make it clear that I am no scholar regarding the New Testament or the theology of Paul. What I want to do, as in my previous posts on baptism, is to use this passage to provoke my thinking and see where it may lead. You can participate in the process via the comments. Let’s go through this passage.

Paul says: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

My notes: Paul affirms their faith. Is the “grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” a grace imparted at baptism? There does not seem to be any indication of that. He says they were enriched in speech and knowledge, that they lack no spiritual gift, and that Jesus Christ will sustain them guiltless to the end. what we don’t have here is the means laid out. Just how was this grace given? When was it given? What does it mean to be enriched in him, in all speech and all knowledge? How was the testimony confirmed? What did that look like? What are the spiritual gifts Paul means here? How does Jesus sustain anyone? I find passages like this one difficult. It is packed with ideas that I feel I know, but on reflection I realize I don’t. Spending my entire life within Christianity has produced a tendency to read such passages without reflection, for I “know” what Paul means. Do I? What I find interesting is that Paul is writing that these things are true, and then he will go on to say that he is glad he baptized very few of the Corinthians. Does this mean that all these things (grace, spiritual gifts, etc.) are true even if one does not receive baptism. I would say it might.

Paul says: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

My notes: Here Paul reminds the Corinthians that God is faithful, that they can count on Him. The question I have is whether the entering into the fellowship of Christ requires baptism. From what Paul is going to say many would say probably not. I am not so sure. It might.

Paul says: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

My notes: Here Paul addresses the main issue at hand. There are divisions and Paul calls for unity. Exactly what Paul means by “the same mind and the same judgement” I am not sure. Is this primarily doctrinal? Did these divisions produce lack of unity elsewhere? Did various factions refuse to fellowship with other factions? I would say we must read the rest of the letter to answer those questions.

As an aside: How, in light of this passage, should we understand the East/West Schism of 1054, or the Reformation, or the subsequent Protestant divisions?

Paul says: “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

My notes: Here we have more of a picture of the nature of the divisions, that is, quarreling. Is this quarreling merely doctrinal disagreement? Or are the Corinthians also being unloving? The history of Christianity has taught us that we can have different doctrines and practices and still love each other even though we often don’t. It seems that Paul sees these divisions as a kind of dividing up of Christ. What does that mean? Clearly one aspect is that the Corinthians have turned their focus from Christ to individual teachers. Whether these teachers represent, in the minds of the Corinthians, different doctrines, approaches, styles, or charisms is unclear. Did some follow Apollos because he was a more dynamic leader, or because he emphasized certain things, or because he has a different nuance on doctrine. I would guess his doctrine was sound and in line with Paul. Could it be that there were some differences, but the differences insignificant, and the problem is that the Corinthians made a big deal out of insignificant things while forgetting the big picture?

Paul asks whether they were baptized in the name of Paul. Clearly the Corinthians, and Paul, saw baptism as being meaningful. To be baptized in the name of Paul is very different than being baptized in the name of Jesus. But why? Paul would not draw this distinction if he did not see baptism as being meaningful. However, how meaningful? It would seem that baptism means, at least in part, to be a follower. How did the Corinthians gets this wrong? Christians today follow Christ, but they do so by being part of a tradition. Thus, one might say, though not necessarily in these words, I follow Christ by following Luther, or I follow Christ because I am a Catholic (or Baptist, or Anglican, etc.). Is this any different than the Corinthians? Baptism becomes an important question when one changes denominations or goes from Protestant to Catholic or  vice versa. Was one’s baptism valid? Have we made too much of baptism or, maybe, too little? Have we divided, and then continued to divide and to divide, Christ?

Paul says  “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)”

My notes: This is the first of two “big” verses in terms of baptism. How can Paul say that he thanks God he did not baptize very many of the Corinthians? What this would imply is that baptism is relatively unimportant to the bigger issues of unity. (I was tempted to say bigger issues of faith, but it could be argued Paul is not directly dealing with that here, though it is probably implied.) In fact, one could conclude that Paul is implying that baptism is not necessary and, apparently for the Corinthians, it has become a kind of stumbling block anyway. Better to not be baptized, Paul would seem to be saying, and receive salvation, than to be baptized and then falsify one’s baptism by turning to divisions. Or, one could say, it is not the name into which one is baptized as much as it is the name that one follows with one’s life. In other words, one’s life will demonstrate one’s allegiances, not one’s baptism.

Of course, Paul did baptize the Corinthians, even if only a few. Could it be that Paul is not saying baptism is relatively unimportant, but instead is saying that it is too important to take so lightly as the Corinthians have taken it? In other words, if one was baptized into Christ, and yet tramples on that baptism with petty divisions, would it have been better to have not been baptized in the first place? Could this, then, be an argument for baptism, and not only that, but for a high view of baptism? It seems to me that Paul is angry (or at least deeply worried), so much so that he wishes he had not performed such an important and sacred act as baptizing any more than he did. It is as though he is saying, “How dare you disdain your holy baptism, which brought you into the unity of Christ and his church, by now dividing Christ up with your divisions. Did not that baptism mean anything to you? Do you not understand how profound and precious is that baptism?” These, of course, are not Paul’s words, but do they get at his meaning? I am incline to think so.

Paul says: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

My notes: This is the second “big” verse. Here Paul contrasts baptism and preaching the gospel. It would seem that, again, Paul is dismissing baptism by comparison to the gospel. In other words, Paul says, it would seem, that baptism may be just fine, but compared to the gospel it is nothing. Therefore, we Christians—so it goes by implication—can get baptized if we want to, but Paul wasn’t that into baptism for he knew what was important, that is, the gospel. But is this what Paul is truly saying? Maybe. I wish I could call him up and pester him with questions (I’ve got a lot and I know I’m not the only one. Mostly, though, I just want an excuse to make the call and talk to him). What we must realize, though, is that the Corinthians are not asking why Paul never baptizes anyone. That is not their question. The fact is he did; Paul preached the gospel and he baptized.

As I understand it Paul went around the Mediterranean preaching the gospel and baptizing converts. I would guess that he saw these two activities as being combined, maybe even inextricably linked. What I see him doing here is not denying or downgrading baptism, but calling the Corinthians on lying, that is, on accepting the gospel, getting baptized in the name of Christ, and then denying both by their divisions. This verse may, in fact, imply a high view of baptism, not a low one. I do not see the issue here being that the Corinthians had a perverted view of baptism, such that baptism was a magical rite that made one into a Christian. I don’t even see this as a correction of the Corinthians’ view of baptism as much as it is Paul pointing out that he is glad he did not baptize anyone who is now acting out a blatant disregard for the gospel for which their baptism is a part (or for which it stands).

It is clear that Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 1:4-17 is about schisms forming in the church (specifically the local church in Corinth) and not about baptism. In fact, I would argue the entire letter is about divisions, including many passages that are often taken out of context, like Paul’s famous exhortation on love recited at so many weddings. What, then, did baptism have to do with salvation in Paul’s thinking? I would argue that one has to start with Paul’s understanding of what it means to become a Christian. I have neither the intellect or space to unpack that here, nor do I want to fall into hubris, however, one thing that seems clear enough is that to become a Christian is to become a member of the church, that is, the body of Christ. There are many interpretations of what this means, but it must at least mean that one is now a part of that group which follows Christ.

My thoughts here align somewhat with what is called the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), though I have not bought into that perspective entirely, nor can I say I fully understand it. However, it seems clear to me that Christians, now grafted into the people of God, find their identity as Christians, that is, as members of that group. But for Paul it is nothing like merely being a member of a club, rather it is far more radical than that. Later in Corinthians Paul, with thoughts (I would argue) of the Corinthians’ divisions foremost on his mind, he reminds them of the children of Israel being saved by God and rescued from slavery in Egypt. He says:

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4a)

It is interesting that Paul says they were baptized into Moses. It would seem that that baptism came about as a result of being both under the cloud and walking through the parted waters of the Red Sea on dry ground; a place of immanent death and, I would assume, a terrifying experience. This passing through corresponds to the going under the water in baptism which corresponds with Christs’ death. The question here is whether the baptism into Moses was merely a symbolic act signifying an internal or spiritual reality. I would say no.

The Israelites did not go through the sea in the kind of voluntary way we tend to think about baptism. They were desperate, they were facing death from the Egyptians bearing down on them, they were angry at Moses, then the sea parted and they fled. The act was accomplished by God, and it was nearly an act of coercion. Sure, they did not have to go, but when someone puts a gun to your head you will probably do what they say. This is not to say that God made them walk through the Red Sea, but it comes close, and it is not until after they are safe on the other side, with the Egyptian army drowned behind them, that they turn to God and sing His praises. (That strikes me as a very human story.) One could also say they did not have a choice in being under the cloud. In short, their baptism was done by God for their benefit as He put His seal on them. It was one of the things, along with the spiritual food (manna?) and spiritual drink (water from the rock?), that God gave/did to make them His people. In this sense baptism was not a sign of repentance and a profound heart change. It was not even a sign of choosing to be the people of God. It was something done to the “fathers” to make them members of a select group of people, a people called out by God and to God. The terrifying I AM came upon them, as it were, and declared them His people. Is Christian baptism like this in some way? I would say yes on two counts.

First, we are saved because God saves us. He chooses us as an act of His grace and, in response, also as an act of His grace we choose Him. It is a two-way street, yes, but God does all the driving. It is act and response. Second, because God’s grace pours out on us we then enter into that group of people we call the church. We are His people, like our “fathers” the Israelites. Thus, like the Israelites passing through the sea we receive faith, and like the Israelites becoming the people of God we also become God’s people. I am not arguing that gentile Christians are Jews, or have quite the same unique status in His universe, but that Christianity comes from Judaism and the Jews are our brothers and sisters. We are kin.

Paul wants the Corinthians to see that, like their fathers, they too have been baptized into a membership, that is the body of Christ. It follows then that if all Christians are children of God we should not have divisions. It does not matter what one’s background, social status, ethnicity, etc. Paul says, again in the letter to the Corinthians:

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

So, did Paul think baptism was required for a Christian, whether to received the Holy Spirit or to be initiated into the visible church or to receive some kind of grace? It would seem the answer is three yeses. The next question is whether this baptism is the work that God does through His spirit or whether it is the act of water baptism that has become our tradition, or is it both? Is it another example of God acting and we responding? If Paul wants us to draw a connection with how God made the Israelites His people then the answer might be yes. Their story included both the act of God and the physical/visible baptism of cloud and sea. I suppose God could have done anything. He could have written an entirely different story. He could have chosen them but never told them. He could do the same for us. But He didn’t for them, and He doesn’t for us. Still, is this baptism of the Spirit or of water, or both?

I am inclined to think Paul uses the word to mean technically by water. We know there are references in the New Testament that specifically refer to water (Acts 8:36-39, Acts 10:47-48a), and they are apparently positive about water, that is, the apostles do not say that water baptism is no longer required, nor do they teach that it is now inappropriate (even in 1 Corinthians, as I suggested above). We also know that baptism by water was a Jewish practice (and maybe throughout the pagan world), and Paul was steeped in Judaism. We also know that Jesus baptized with water (John 3:22-26). And, finally, we know the early church practiced baptism, which should not quickly be dismissed. What we have mentioned in the New Testament is that to believe the gospel and become a Christian involved repentance, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Spirit. How all that fits together I am not yet sure, but I believe Paul understood baptism in this “formula” as being water baptism, but as also being inextricably intertwined with repentance and receiving the Holy Spirit. Is there an order to these three activities? I am not sure. Maybe it is different for each of us.

A tentative conclusion of sorts: I have inherited a non-sacramental theology. I am a child of the Reformation (which was not a true reformation from what I can tell, but a rebellion, for good or ill. I am still deciding) and I have deep roots in certain beliefs. But I wonder if the stripping of everything (all external religion, smells, bells, recited prayers, and even baptism) in an attempt to get at some kind of pure essence (an essential Christianity) that we have not turned our back of God in some way. From scriptures we see that God is both all about the heart (internal) and action (external). We see God giving a carefully described, detailed, rule-bound religion to the Israelites. I always thought that He did that as a way to either lay burdens on them in order to teach them something, or in order to make them be separate from the rest of the world. I now think God gave them religion because He made human beings to be religious. The religion that God gave His people was a gift in light of their created design, their humanness. He gave them a raft of symbolic acts and religious practices that He then connected to their hearts and to His providence. Could it be that we also are to have the internal and the external moving in concert? Is religion a good thing for us Christians? Has the “passing through the sea” become now a spiritual, internal process leading to faith with no necessary external component? This is the great question for me, one that I am still sorting out, but a question that might be leading me back, in some fashion, to a pre-Reformation expression of Christianity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptism, Gospel, Protestantism, Religion, Sacraments, The Early Church

Becoming religious—via baptism


The Sort of Person They Call a Christian: First Picture
by Søren Kierkegaard
From The Attack Upon “Christendom” (1854-1855)

     It is a young man—let us think of it so, reality furnishes examples in abundance—it is a young man, we can imagine him with more than ordinary ability, knowledge, interested in public events, a politician, even taking an active part as such.
     As for religion, his religion is—that he has none at all. To think of God never occurs to him, any more than it does to go to church, and it is certainly not on religious grounds he eschews that; he almost fears that to read God’s Word at home would make him ridiculous.
     When it turns out that the situation requires him to express himself about religion and there is some danger in doing it, he gets out of the difficulty by saying, as is the truth, “I have no opinion at all, such things have never concerned me.”
     This same young man who feels no need of religion feels the need of being—paterfamilias. He marries, then he has a child, he is—presumptive father. And then what happens?
     Well, our young man is, as they say, in hot water about this child; in the capacity of presumptive father he is compelled to have a religion. And so it turns out that he has the Evangelical Lutheran religion.
     How pitiful it is to have religion in this way. As a man, he has no religion; when there might be danger connected with having even an opinion about religion, he has no religion—but in the capacity of presumptive father he has (risum teneatis!)1 that religion precisely which extols the single state.
     So they notify the priest, the midwife arrives with the baby, a young lady holds the infant’s bonnet coquettishly, several young men who also have no religion render the presumptive father the service of having, as godfathers, the Evangelical Christian religion, and assume obligation for the Christian upbringing of the child, while a silken priest with a graceful gesture sprinkles water three times on the dear little baby and dries his hands gracefully with the towel—
     And this they dare to present to God under the name of Christian baptism. Baptism—it was with this sacred ceremony the Savior of the world was consecrated for His life’s work, and after Him the disciples, men who had well reached the age of discretion and who then, dead to this life (therefore immersed three times, signifying that they were baptized into communion with Christ’s death), promised to be willing to live as sacrificed men in this world of falsehood and evil.
     The priests, however, these holy men, understand their business, and understand too that if (as Christianity must unconditionally require of every sensible man) it were so that only when a person has reached the age of discretion his is permitted to decide upon the religion he will have—the priests understand very well that in this way their trade would not amount to much. And therefore these holy witnesses to the truth insinuate themselves into the lying-in room, where the mother is weak after the suffering she has gone through, and the paterfamilias is—in hot water. And then under the name of baptism they have the courage to present to God a ceremony such as that which has been described, into which a little bit of truth might be brought nevertheless, if the young lady, instead of holding the little bonnet sentimentally over the baby, were satirically to hold a night cap over the presumptive father. For to have religion in that way is, spiritually considered, a pitiful comedy. A person has no religion; but by reason of family circumstances, first because the mother got into the family way, the paterfamilias in turn got into embarrassment owing to that, and then with the ceremonies connected with the sweet little baby—by reason of all this a person has—the Evangelical Lutheran religion.

1. Do not laugh!

I posted this earlier this week, then Blogger blew up and I had to re-edit and re-post it. I had originally written an introduction, but I can’t remember what I wrote. So this time I left it off.

4 Comments

Filed under Baptism, Christian Life

Westminster Confession of Faith on Baptism

My ignorance of the Westminster Confession of Faith may be without bounds. I know it is Calvinist in its premises and adopted by the Church of Scotland and used by Presbyterian churches worldwide. My notes in between each point and between the footnotes below probably display my ignorance better than anything I can say in this preface. Nonetheless, I am using the Westminster Confession’s teaching on baptism to spark my thinking and to help me raise questions in my pursuit of understanding baptism in the life of faith. What I find, and what I hope everyone will find who examines such famous and weighty documents as the Westminster Confession of Faith, is that it does not stand alone as an unassailable statement. It is, in fact, a document created by men and believed by men, and not without a raft of assumptions holding it up. Are those assumptions true? Maybe, but I do not want to assume they are.

Chapter XXVIII
Of Baptism

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ,[1] not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church;[2] but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace,[3] of his ingrafting into Christ,[4] of regeneration,[5] of remission of sins,[6] and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.[7] Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.[8]

My notes: Each point here makes sense to me, is what I was taught growing up, and yet most now are in question in my mind. Is baptism truly a sacrament? (I have many questions on the very idea of sacraments—another thing I need to study.) Is baptism required for “admission . . . into the visible church?” Does baptism ingraft us into Christ, provide regeneration, remission of sins, etc.? If baptism is strictly or primarily the spiritual activity of the Holy Spirit then I would say “yes.” If baptism is the traditional act of water immersion, then I am not so sure, except maybe the admission into the visible church (which is certainly not the same as being saved). If we take baptism as being a sign of the ingrafting,  regeneration, remission, etc., then I would say that’s true enough. If it is only a sign, then such a weighty statement on baptism is prone to cause misunderstanding and may lead Christians to think baptism is more than it is and something that it is not.

Also, it seems to me that many of the footnotes are not proof of the statements they refer to, or are, at least, linked to. This, I think, is a big deal. From point #1 above and the footnotes below it is clear that this confession of faith is less of an argument and more a statement, and a statement expressing a particular church tradition. It is not the only possible understanding of scripture (or even of tradition), though, like any creed, it tends to assume that status. I have strong reservations about creeds, and I tend to be non-creedal in my approach to faith. The fear of heresy tends to produce individuals with atrophied brains and shriveled souls. Thanks be to God for His love that overcomes our fears.

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.[9]

My notes: I find it interesting that in footnote [2] it says: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body….” By implication, then, Christian baptism is spiritual, or done by the Spirit rather than a water baptism, unless by spirit Paul means idea, which I doubt. I am sure there are plenty of arguments to show water baptism and Spirit baptism are linked or even the same, but that water is used may have more to do with Church traditions born out of popular cultural traditions than from biblical commands. Also, what does it mean that a minister of the gospel is “lawfully called thereunto?” Does that mean a priest? And how is one lawfully called? What is that process, what does that mean? In Catholic doctrine it is expected that a priest would perform the baptism, but there is provision for baptism being administered by anyone, even a non-believer, as long as the process is properly followed. I don’t see such a provision called out here.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.[10]

My notes: Again, I do not see such a rule—that immersion, pouring, and sprinkling are all considered fine—called out in scripture, even in the footnotes (which seem more a mashup of verses than an argument). Thus, this is a determination by the Church as far as I can tell. For a Fundamentalist (of which I was nearly one) such a position is untenable, but I no longer have any issue with it. Sprinkle away! Still, I find it interesting that “rightly administered” cannot mean “as clearly described by the apostles” or some such thing, for we do not have any clear rules set forth on the actions or process of baptism in the Bible. Thus, this must refer to the church traditions which have been handed down. Fine enough, but which ones? Are we not back then to the Catholic (or Orthodox) church? “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant,” said Cardinal Newman. Is that where we have come?

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ,[11] but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.[12]

My notes: I agree that infant baptism is a great way for parents and their church community to make a public dedication to the infant and to say they will raise him/her in light of the truth of scripture, etc. Does baptism, however, confer anything on the child spiritually? Does it bring anything down from Heaven upon the child? Is grace imparted? Other than a public dedication, why do it? Some churches do not do infant baptism but still do dedications. Is that not enough? Most of the footnotes do not specifically call out baptism, and not one clearly calls out baptism of children. I know it is not uncommon for many to believe that infant baptism confers some amount of divine grace on the child and therefore parents often feel obligated to have their children baptized, and worry if they don’t. This is an important issue that I am still sorting out.

V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance,[13] yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it:[14] or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.[15]

My notes: I find this statement crazy-making. As I understand it: One can be save without baptism, one can be regenerated without baptism, and one can be baptized and be neither saved or regenerated, BUT it is a great sin to contemn or neglect baptism. What about the pearl of great price? Was that not enough? What makes it a great sin unless, for a given individual, the rejection of baptism is because God has been rejected as well? Is baptism a touchstone of faith? Is it that one does not need to be baptized to be saved, but rejecting baptism calls into question the validity of one’s claims to believe? Religion has a tendency to place heavy weights on people, weights that we carry around as burdens and yet, in light of eternity, are nothing. Is this one of those?

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered;[16] yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.[17]

My notes: This point raises a lot of questions: How does baptism have efficacy, what is the agency of or in it? Is it the act of baptism that produces its efficacy? Is there only one way, one “right use” of baptism? What grace is promised? Salvation, sanctification, what? How is it really exhibited? Tongues of fire, righteousness, what? Is the council of God’s own will different than just God’s will? This point, and my questions, get at the very nature and doctrines of sacramental theology—something I am still sorting out.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.[18]

My notes: This makes sense to me, however, if this is water baptism, I don’t see any “one time only” rules set out in scripture.

Footnotes:
[1] MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

My notes: What does baptism mean here? Does it mean with water or with the Spirit? Does this command make it a sacrament? See my previous post on baptism and the “great commission.”

[2] 1CO 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

My notes: Here we have baptism “by one Spirit.” Does the Spirit use water to accomplish this baptism? Or does water baptism need to accompany this spiritual baptism? I would tend to say this has to do with the work of God on our hearts, calling us to repentance, and not to water baptism. So then how is this a seal? I am also confused by the wording: “drink into one Spirit.” What does that mean?

[3] ROM 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also. COL 2:11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

My notes: Here we have “the seal.” It is not baptism, rather it is righteousness, it is the circumcision of the the heart, made without hands. Therefore the seal is not something imparted or administered through the agency of a priest or fellow believer. It must be a seal that comes from God directly, for we know that no amount of water, blessed or otherwise, can ever reach a person’s heart/will. In fact, the Romans passage calls into question the validity of any outward, physical mark or action. Here we have the distinction made between circumcision and non-circumcision. When Paul says, “though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also,” could one also assume, in another context, “though they be not baptized; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also?” Certainly we have a situation where righteousness is imputed and no mention of baptism. Regarding Colossians, is there also a baptism made without hands? In terms of circumcision and baptism, what is more important, physical circumcision or spiritual circumcision? Physical baptism or spiritual baptism? If spiritual then what emphasis should we place on the physical? Should we disregarded the physical, outward sign as superfluous? Are we to be that strict, that iconoclastic? Or does God give us, and ordain, religion as an outward set of practices that, though not the core essence of faith, are still part of our humanity? If God was so concerned that his people would mistake the outward for the inward then why did He take so much care to give them minute details of religious practice? Is a man rightly related to his faith, understanding fully the nature of salvation and God’s grace, also called, then, in some way, to be religious? If we disdain religion and its outward practices, including baptism, are we rejecting God or, at least, our God-like imageness?

[4] GAL 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. ROM 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.

My notes: Again, what does it mean to be baptized “into” Christ? Is this metaphysical, mystical, spiritual, metaphorical, what? Is this baptism water baptism? Does scripture teach that water baptism is necessary? Paul argues that we will be planted (or united) together in the likeness Christ’s death (in a death like his); is that uniting a product strictly or even actually of the physical one-time act of baptism? The previous verses Paul says: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Roman 6:3-4, ESV) It would seem that Paul does have in mind baptism here as the one-time act, but is that a baptism by water or by the Spirit? Let’s assume it is water baptism; I would hazard a guess that Paul does not see water baptism as magical in this regard (and officially, neither do most of the Christian traditions), rather Paul is saying something like, “Remember that day you were baptized, remember that public statement you made before everyone that you are now a follower of Christ? Well then, if you take that seriously then be committed to not letting sin reign in your life… etc.” In this sense can we not say, then, that the continued commitments of our hearts and the kind of lives we live as a consequence of those commitments is the greater “sign and seal” of the covenant of God’s grace, more so than any act of water baptism could ever be?

[5] TIT 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

My notes: See my previous post on the question of “washing of regeneration.” My conclusion is that this washing is not so clearly water baptism, or any kind of baptism administered by human hands. Though I still have questions. Let’s look closer at the Titus passage: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) When Paul says it’s not by works done by us in righteousness, this could mean (or include) not by water baptism. When he says it’s by God’s mercy that we are washed by the Holy Spirit, that indicates it is a God initiated spiritual baptism. Paul goes on to use the picture of pouring, that is it is God pouring His Spirit out on us, which implies, again, a spiritual baptism not a water baptism.

[6] MAR 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

My notes: I think we must keep in mind that the baptism of John and the baptism of the Spirit are potentially two entirely different baptisms, rooted though they are in the gospel (one announces and the other seals). The question I am still trying to answer is whether Jesus saw John’s baptism as a picture or example of future Christian baptism, or whether John’s baptism was the old, Jewish custom that will be supplanted by the new spiritual baptism of the the Holy Spirit. Even John points to Jesus’ baptism by saying that he (John) baptizes with water but one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

[7] ROM 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

My notes: One argument for water baptism that makes a lot of sense to me is that to go under the water is visually and symbolically like going into death. Coming up out of the water, again, is like resurrection. However, see my notes on Footnote #4.

[8] MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

My notes: here again we have a “great commission” statement. See my previous post on this. In short, this verse (and all the great commission passages) does not necessarily imply water baptism. Also, this verse does not say, and only thinly implies, if at all, that baptism is to be continued in perpetuity.

[9] MAT 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. JOH 1:33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

My notes: This footnote is to be proof for two things: the requirement to baptize with water and to baptize in the name of  Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. First, both Matthew 3:11 and John 1:33 could (and more properly?) be understood as an argument against water baptism for Christians. See my post on this. Second, are we to understand Christ’s command to baptize in the name of . . . as a formula? That is, are they to specifically baptize with water and, while doing so, say “I now baptize you in the name of . . .?” Personally I love the formula. When I witness a baptism I literally get chills. So I don’t have any issue with the formula per se, but are we to understand the formula as having been commanded by Christ is the sense that we have tended traditionally to understand it?

[10] HEB 9:10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, 20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. ACT 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 16:33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. MAR 7:4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

My notes: I am over my head entirely with the book of Hebrews, but with all these passages, I find no proof for the point above. How do these passages undergird an argument that baptism can be full immersion or pouring or sprinkling? I don’t see it.

[11] MAR 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. ACT 8:37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

My notes: Verse 37 of Acts chapter 8 is likely not in the original text, but was added somewhere after in order to make the story fit with established church doctrine. I do not have an issue per se with the ideas in the verse, but I would not quote it to support dogma. Interestingly, this passage shows a rather solitary baptism, a baptism not as part of a local church community and, presumably, without other witnesses. Therefore, the baptism of the eunuch does not seem to be for the purpose of admission into the visible church, and yet it appears to be considered adequate, certainly from Philip’s perspective. I am still sorting this one out.

[12] GEN 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. GAL 3:9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. COL 2:11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. ACT 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. ROM 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. 1CO 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. MAT 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. MAR 10:13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. LUK 18:15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.

My notes: There are just too many verses and ideas here to tackle in these notes. See my previous posts [post 1, post 2, post 3] that will cover some of these verses and ideas.

[13] LUK 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. EXO 4:24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. 25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. 26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

My notes: The Luke reference makes sense in light of the point above, but it does not specify water or spiritual baptism, which may makes some sense here. Certainly the Pharisees rejected God and his Messiah. Was their rejection of baptism a sign of that ultimate rejection? Is it the same issue for us today, either because we are in a different time, culture, and place, or because we are in a post-Christ’s death/resurrection world? The Exodus reference perplexes me.

[14] ROM 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also. ACT 10:2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. 22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. 31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

My notes: Here we have one of the clearest references to water baptism being performed by an apostle. Was water baptism necessary, or merely a common cultural practice of the time? Could it be that Peter saw the necessity of water baptism in order that a visual sign is provided to “they of the circumcision” that God has given the good news to the Gentiles? Does this hold true for us today?

[15] ACT 8:13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. 23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

My notes: From what I can tell, here we have an example of a man getting baptized and yet it not fundamentally changing him; he still must be confronted with a fuller understanding of the truth. Also, Acts 8:16 clearly says that baptism does not or, at least sometimes does not, lead to one being filled with the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, it is through the laying on of hands that they received the Holy Spirit. Is this spiritual baptism? Is this the baptism that the apostles are commanded to take to the world? Is this the kind of baptism that John the Baptist said the Christ would bring, whereas John only brought water baptism?

[16] JOH 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

My notes: See my previous post for my thoughts on being born of water and spirit.I am still working through this one.

[17] GAL 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. TIT 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; EPH 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. ACT 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

My notes: I am not convince the Ephesian passage means baptism in water, or baptism at all. It could be a metaphor or image of how the truth (word) replaces or cleanses (washing) the mind and/or heart of the repentant individual. Then again, it could be water baptism.

[18] TIT 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

My notes: As far as I call tell, this verse offers no argument or evidence of support to point VII. In fact, could not the washing and the renewing be ongoing actions and not a one time only act?

Tentative conclusion: Me desire is not to challenge the Westminster Confession of Faith. Too many minds far greater than mine have tackled and supported this important document. However, I find in it so many questions that I cannot without many qualifications accept it as a clear and accurate picture of apostolic teaching. It may be, but my notes should make it clear that, as I said in the preface, the Westminster Confession rests on a raft of assumptions.

2 Comments

Filed under Baptism, Church History, Sacraments, Theology