Thursday, April 19, 2007

Of Baptism

If salvation is the baptism in the Holy Spirit by Christ, graciously given to those who repent and believe, calling on the name of the Lord, and if it does not need water baptism to be effected, then what might water baptism be?
1] One can do it in raw obedience without a theology. "Jesus said to do it so I'm doing it."
2] It can be like John's baptism, a statement of repentance.
3] It can be a repentant someone who has come to belief and is calling on God as St. Peter said "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 clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." (I Peter 3:21)
4] It can be symbol of our baptism in the Holy Spirit and our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. See Acts 10 and Colossians 2:12

Hebrews 6:2 suggests that the deeper instruction for Christians includes that on baptisms plural. The variety of causes and symbols water baptism enjoys provides that possibility of plural water baptism. Why then do the Scriptures say "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" ?
When the Scriptures speak of "one baptism" it must be that baptism which all the regenerate have necessarily encountered, that of the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 12:13 "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit."

Simon Magus believed and was baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and yet St Peter told him, " You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." Acts 8:21-23

The core of the Gospel, as far as what God has asked of us in it, is to repent, believe, and call on God. Water baptism can coexist (and does in the Scripture) but only as a reference to either repentance, preparing the way for the Holy Spirit baptism (John the Baptist's) or the convicted person calling on and appealing to God for forgiveness (in other words, acting as and outwardly decorating your prayer for salvation) or as a symbolic statement of what you know has already happened (died and raised with Christ /baptized in the Holy Spirit). In each case it is not necessary to the thing it references. A man can repent, call on God, be baptized in the Holy Spirit without this referrer of water baptism. But Biblically we also can and obediently will use it to so refer. Without the baptism of the Holy Spirit you have "neither part nor lot" in the Kingdom of God and Christ. Baptism can symbolize what we believe but can't reference that alone. It doesn't effect, it represents and it must represent that which has happened or is happening.

Those that can't or won't or haven't repented and called on God should not be baptized. Even if they say that they have, and it is clearly not evident that they have been baptized of the Holy Spirit, baptizing such devalues it. Passed from death to life did you? Big whoop. It is like making baptism a currency (which represents value) and deciding that, while the gold standard is desirable it is too rare, so your parishioner "dollars" will now be backed by mud. You can get it everywhere and even make it yourself!
These "cant',won't, haven'ts" includes 14 year old Southern Baptists who know it is time to walk the aisle cuz mammy knows that Elvis did or the baby of parents trapped by the fears attendant to original sin or unconditional election and want some peace of mind, or your boyfriend who is willing to do what it takes to make you believe that this love will last.
Because of promiscuous baptism, these, and these are without number clogging our assemblies, will misunderstand (how could they not?) and think, with the rest of a superstitious world, that the magic has been done and they will never pass from death to life.


Matthew N. Petersen said...

Consider the following two positions.

Position A: Christ’s death was completely sufficient for our sins. Just as he graciously chose to save us through the incarnation, so he has graciously chosen to wash us and incorporate us into his death through our washing with water. Just as Eustace Scrub was made a human again when Aslan washed him in water, so we are made human again when Christ washes us in water. Moreover, this is not (as it was for Eustace) separate from Christ’s death and resurrection, for when we are baptized with water we are incorporated into Christ’s death. This understanding of baptism is no more a denial of justification by faith than asserting that the lame and crippled were healed by their faith when Christ acted on them after then had come to Him denies that their faith had made them whole. When we trust Christ in faith, and so trusting, are washed, we are saved.

Position B: Christ died, but this was not enough. We must work to bring this to us, making it ours. Just as the Jews were saved through submitting themselves to a rite, so we are saved by submitting ourselves to a rite. And by this submission, we obligate God to save us.

Position A is perhaps incorrect, but it 1) affirms justification by faith. 2) Asserts justification by grace alone. 3) Though perhaps incorrect, is not a departure from Christ or his gospel. Position B is a denial of Christ, and his salvation. Just as Macbeth could not wash the blood from his hands, we cannot wash our own guilt. Only Christ can.

Evan has launched an attack against Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, and in general, all who are not Anabaptists for believing position B. This includes his brother, my pastor, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc.

But no one, no Catholic, no Orthodox, no Lutheran, no Anglican, no Calvinist believes position B. We all believe some variant of position A. And a cursory inspection of the literature would show this. And I have several times pointed this out to Evan. Yet he has uncharitably insisted on condemning Christians for holding position B, and insists that they are not in fact Christ. This is not only uncharitable to people who hold position A, but divides Christ. Even if Catholics are not Christians, his attacks divide Christ for the implication of his arguments is that Christ Church and Trinity Reformed, as well as any Lutheran churches are anti-Christian (a conclusion he has expressly stated on at least one occasion). His attacks are not even of positions held by anyone, but operate by slanderously imputing positions not held by anyone to my brothers in Christ.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Which brings us to this post. Taken as an argument against position A, it is relatively cogent. But it seems the greatest divide between people who hold position A, and Anabaptists like Evan is that Anabaptists believe God does not physically interact with us anymore, but we hold that in Christ all the fullness of Godhead dwells bodily, and so when he acts bodily, it communicates the Spirit.

Are there any scriptural reasons for believing Christ acts on us physically? Consider I Corinthians 11. I am not arguing for any particular Eucharistic theology from this passage, but it is clearly referring to the physical celebration of communion. St. Paul condemns the Corinthian practices because “Christ…took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” Why then was this relevant to the apostle’s argument? Because Christ’s words at the last supper establish that “as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” (St. Paul says that Christ said the words because…which is equivalent to what I am saying) And then because of this “whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” But in context “body and blood of the Lord” refer to the earlier verse where we are told the bread is the body of the Lord. Thus we are condemned if we incorrectly receive the sacrament, and looking back to the previous verse, are benefited when we correctly receive it. But this is the physical reception of the physical sacrament.

Again, consider St. Paul’s conversion. On the road to Damascus he confessed with his mouth that Christ was Lord. Yet when Ananias came to him, he was told to be baptized for the remission of sins. Evidentially something more was given through physical baptism than through mere belief in Christ, and acknowledgment of Him as Lord. Else St. Paul would not have been told to be baptized “for the remission of sins” but only to be baptized.

Moreover, Christ and the Spirit are linked in scripture. The incarnation is begun through the action of the Spirit, and where Christ goes, so the Spirit goes. Thus to receive the Spirit is to receive Christ. But Christ is a physical man. Thus the Spirit is received when Christ acts physically upon us. This is usually through baptism, but can also be through preaching of the word, or through Christians loving and thus acting as Christ. But the fact remains that the Spirit and Christ are linked. You cannot have one without the other. But that means we receive the Spirit when Christ physically acts on us. That is, when we are baptized. This may be false, but it is certainly a Christian position.

Furthermore, many times when the gospel is preached in Scripture, it concludes with “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” Perhaps an Anabaptist can find some way to reconcile this with their understanding of baptism, but I cannot imagine an Anabaptist preaching like this. Remember, they believe baptism is something added considerably later to the gospel, and not essential in any way to the gospel. Moreover, St. Peter says “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.” after everyone asks what they should do to be saved. The answer to this is “repent and be baptized.” And promised with this repentance and baptism is “remission of sins.”

(Incidentally this handles the argument from Simon Magus, for it is evident that he did not repent, and thus did not “repent and get baptized for the remission of sins.”)

It is argued that Christ’s flesh is worth diddly. But all the fullness of Godhead dwells in Christ’s body. Whatever Christ’s answer to the disciples questions about cannibalism means, it does not mean that Christ’s body is worth diddly, because then all the fullness of Godhead is worth diddly.

Similarly it is not subjection to the elemental principles of the world because all the fullness of the Godhead dwell in Christ’s body. Thus submission to Christ’s body is submission to one no less that God. Just as the blood of man cannot redeem from sins, but the blood of Christ, who is God, does, so subjection to the physical is damnable, but subjection to Christ’s body is life-giving.

The man Jesus Christ, saves us through the actions of his physical body in which all the fullness of Godhead dwells when he unites us to his death through our baptism. Thus St. Peter links repentance, baptism forgiveness of sins, and the reception of the Holy Spirit.

Daniel said...


Baptism is not necessary to become saved in the same way a wedding ceremony is not necessary to become one flesh. Adam and Eve had no wedding march and flower girls, but that is hardly an argument against wedding ceremonies today. We would rightly counsel a Christian couple cohabiting in a "common law" marriage to march down the aisle to fulfill all righteousness.

There will be exceptions to every rule, but does that mean the command of Christ and the apostles to be baptized is of small importance?

The Oracle said...

Your illustration is perfect but for the other direction. A moments thought given to what marriage actually is and we find that none of the ritual the church offers exists as a necessary to create a marriage. A man is just as faithful and moral a Christian if he goes with his bride to the justice of the peace. Ceremonies are there to serve other urges. But often people ramp up the cathedral wedding and serve marriage deep fried with special music and a unity candle and... every bit of God help us they and their mother can think of. Maybe that special marriage magic will stick. Some people do ramp up ceremony just because they like the high and beautiful. God bless them but not those that think an ordained minister makes them married. To your baptism comment, I agree that we ought because Christ so commanded but the question remains, what is it we are doing when we ought do it? I believe we are to speak of our salvation in those terms. Jesus wants it that way and He is our Lord. I can speak of it many ways but I must, to be obedient, speak it this way. But remember, what it speaks of exists in an entirely different world and with a different set of causes. Baptism speaks of something that entered you without baptism or communion, or any rite, or good works. You believed.