Wednesday, March 28, 2007

living out the truth of baptism

Being from a low church background, I've understood water baptism as an act of faith and obedience, as well as testimonial and identification symbolically with Christ and his death and resurrection. Though I don't believe in baptismal regeneration as in the idea that one is regenerated or born again by the Spirit through water baptism, I do think the language of Scripture is not reckoned with very well by simply seeing baptism as an ordinance that becomes for many today, dispensable. Certainly many good brothers and sisters do not see water baptism as something practiced by believers today (like Quakers). And I think it ought to go without saying that one does not have to be water baptized to be saved. Though, as my New Testament professor in seminary said, the New Testament doesn't know of any unbaptized believers (at least not post-Pentecost).

I've been surprised too, at the liturgical language for baptism found in the Reformation such as in Lutheran and Calvinist liturgy, making it the means by which one comes into regeneration by the Spirit. It is more sacramental in their view, and I think there is something true in this as I consider passages on it. Faith ends up being critical for the person/infant who is baptized. And this is true in the Roman Catholic (and I'm sure Eastern Orthodox) practice as well.

But this presents just a backdrop for the point of this post. I believe we're called to live out the reality of our baptism. Romans 6 I take, along with most of the church past and present, to refer to water baptism. The rich symbollism there speaks of a reality we enter into in Christ by faith. When baptized we're baptized into Christ which means being baptized into his death and resurrection. Our old self ("in Adam", not in this passage) is taken under the water (whether by immersion, pouring or sprinkling) and a new self ("in Christ") emerges. It is not enough for us just to get help. We need an entirely new "us". And this is true in Christ and through baptism (some take baptism in this passage to refer to Spirit baptism).

This passage, however, makes it plain that we must live out this dynamic. In Christ we can. But I think it is clear that this is not automatic. On the basis of this baptism into Christ's death and resurrection we're to count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. And because of that, we're to refuse sin's reign in our lives, no longer offering ourselves in slavery to sin and unrighteousness which results in death. But we're to offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life. And offer every part of ourselves as slaves to righteousness and obedience. This results in holiness and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Therefore, while I need to keep working through the dynamics given us in Scripture, and this will sometimes include a real struggle in a sin area, I need to do this from the standpoint of the new identity I have in Christ and in his death and resurrection. We are a resurrection people here and now. And this is to directly impact how we live. It is a new you in Christ that is alive. We need to reckon on that and live on the basis of that, by faith.

Sanctification/holiness begins at conversion. And it continues on as a process, we being conformed more and more into the image of Christ. But we need to do so on this basis we find in Romans 6, and seek to live out the truth of our baptism.

What would you like to add to this? Or do you have any problems with this, as expressed here?


andre said...


Thanks for drawing attention to living the reality of our baptism. I'm not sure I've ever looked upon my baptism in that way.

I was wondering - how about communion - do you find a similar thread to live out that reality as well?

Ted Gossard said...

Andre, I don't know. I think in some ways, yes. Like isn't this a koinonia or communion/sharing/fellowship in the blood and body of the Lord? (1 Corinthians 10;

Susan Arnold of Philosophical Pastor has an interesting post from a reading of John Howard Yoder that I think is related to this:

How we practice it relates to our understanding of its significance for us. And then from that, it should affect how we live with each other as well as affecting how we evangelize, surely.

Thanks for bringing that up, Andre.

Mark Goodyear said...

Ted, I grew up Church of Christ. So I have a lot of baptism baggage.

But I believe it is very very important. Communion too.

I like what you've talked about here--that we live out our baptism daily. And Andre's suggestion that we live out our communion with Christ (and the church) daily.

But I have found real value in the (admittedly) bizarre ritual itself. For me there is just something about saying publically, I believe in God so much that I am going to participate in this rite. Now. In front of all of you.

That's really important--not for what it does to us in God's eyes, but for what it does to us in our own eyes and in the eyes of our community.

Kafo said...

I'm like Mark I have baptism baggage not because I went thru a hard time growing up in the church but because now I know people who are getting re-baptized.
There is a certain lady who has re-baptized 7 times.
What's the point?
It seems like each time she has an affair or commits some visual sin she has to go back into the water just to appease the powers that be.
all that matters is your heart and your motives.
This whole public declaration thing is overrated.
okay enough of mii venting

Good post tho

Mark Goodyear said...

Right, Ted. I don't understand multiple baptisms either. For me the experience is like a marriage ceremony.

Once I'm married, I don't have another wedding. I suppose later in life we might renew our vows or something, but it won't be a full blown wedding like the original.

Joe said...

I walked the aisle of a denominational church when I was nine, and was baptized but did not come to true faith in Christ until I was 22. I struggled with the thought of getting baptized again for several years, wondering if it was "necessary." After much prayer and discussing it with my pastor, I decided to be baptized again because of the greater depth of meaning and spiritual significance it would have now that I was truly in Christ.

It was an amazing and very spiritual experience, one that I carry with me as a touchstone in my spiritual journey.

In another place in Scripture (forgive me I cannot remember the reference) Paul compares baptism to the act of circumcision. It is a "cutting away" of the old life and an entering in to the new life of covenant with God through Christ. It seems to me that this could only take place when a person has come to faith in Christ.

When I was baptized, my pastor proclaimed this truth when I was immersed by saying "Dead to sin" and when I came up out of the water he said "Raised to walk in newness of life."

I am not attempting to minimize of contradict the significance of infant baptism, but merely to say that from my own experience, being baptized into the faith after you have come to faith is very powerful indeed.

Ted Gossard said...

Mark, Yes, this is public and open and as Peter says, it's an expression or "pledge of a clear conscience toward God".

I think the event is important. And most important in it is that we are doing it in faith and obedience. I believe in believer's baptism, though good Christians believe in infant baptism with some good theological arguments for their view, at times. God receives both as valid baptism, I believe.

So from that, it's important that those who have faith in Christ live out the truth of their baptism. That's really what's important to me. The event compared to that, especially in today's American climate, may pale in significance. Though in some places and time the event is a stark, vivid picture of what the believer is entering into. A drawing of a line in commitment.

Ted Gossard said...

Kafo, Thanks for reading and commenting.

People need to realize that baptism is not magic. And I find it theologically troubling to rebaptize, unless one is convinced they need to do so as an adult.

What's important is that people need to be taught the truth of living out the meaning of their baptism. That this sacrament (small "s") is blessed by God in Christ through faith to make an impact on our lives. With a new "us". Though remembering we're still in process in that.

Ted Gossard said...

Mark, Good point on baptism. It's to be done once from my reading of Scripture. As for us breaking the meaning of that baptism, there's repentance and forgiveness and restoration/cleansing ongoing for us in Christ, of course.

Ted Gossard said...

Joe, I think you made a good decision. As I recall, I did the same. I was baptized when younger, but really had no saving faith at the time. Later, after I had faith in Christ, after conversion, I too was rebaptized.

Good to hear of how meaningful it was for you. I think just like in conversion and salvation, what's most significant is the meaning for us now. Faith and the meaning of baptism is ongoing for us.

Thanks for sharing that.

Anonymous said...

Ted and others -- this is a wonderful discussion of Baptism. One thing I found so helpful from my time in the Presbyterian church was the idea of Baptism as a sacrament for the church as well as the individual. They baptised infants (or new adult believers if they were not baptised as infants), and I struggled with that, having been raised Baptist. But I could certainly embrace the concept of community of believers, renewing our own commitments of Baptism, in a sense, each time we observed the sacrament of an individual being baptised.

Sorry this is so convaluted. Hope this makes sense.

Ted Gossard said...

Charity, Thanks for sharing that! I like the thought of believers renewing their own commitments from their baptism. In a sense renewing or saying "Amen" to one's baptism and its ongoing meaning.

Anonymous said...

You refer to "water baptism". There is no reference to "water baptism" in the NT. Christian baptism is baptism in water and the Spirit. The closest thing to water baptism is "John's baptism", but is has been superceded.
Ron McK

Ted Gossard said...

Ron, Paul talked about baptizing people himself in 1 Corinthians, and that surely refers to water baptism. And of course we see it in Acts, clearly, as well.

I myself question interpretations that take the Matthew 28 passage and the Romans 6 passage and don't see water baptism there.

But if yours and others' interpretation is right, the crux of what this post is getting at is still true. We're to live out our baptism into Christ.


JP Manzi said...

Baptism in an interesting study, isn't it? Baptism too me, is the starting point. Simply meaning, baptism joins us to Gods story. We should not even be asking the question "Do I have to be baptized" As your professor stated, we know of noone post-pentecost who was not baptized. The proper question is "What hinders me from being baptized?" Too many christians make it technical. It should not be. It's Gods gift for us.

Ted Gossard said...

JP, Well expressed. And a good way of dealing with believers who haven't been baptized. Thanks!

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Welcome to the historic Christian faith on this matter. I too think baptism is more important than what typical American Evangelicalism makes it. Tracing the replacement of repentance and baptism with the "Four Spiritual Laws" makes for an interesting study.This does seem to be a frontier American development that has gone sort of mainstream. When I read Acts 2, a paradigmatic moment in the history of the church, what did Peter command the people to do (cf. vv. 37-39).

The church has always held to a high view of baptism and the Lord's Supper until Zwingli took the soul out of both.

There are some fine scholarly works out there on baptism: Karl Barth's The Church's Teaching on Baptism; G.R. Beasley-Murray's Baptism in the New Testament; and a recent book by Dr. John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor called "Down In The River to Pray."

Thanks for a thoughtful post. I am glad to have stumbled across your blog.

Bobby Valentine

Ted Gossard said...

Bobby, Thanks for the very kind words. And the books you mention look very good. Our practices in evangelicalism do seem strange sometimes compared to the Biblical narrative, baptism being one good example of that, I'm afraid.