Thursday, October 7, 2010

But I Am Baptized [pt1]

This past Sunday, while continuing our Shaped By Worship sermon series, we considered the issue of baptism.  But before we even get directly into baptism let me ask two questions: 1) What has shaped you to this point in your life? and 2) By what do you desire to be shaped from this point forward?  While both questions are valid, they are certainly not equal. 

Question #1, "what has shaped you?" can (LET ME BE CLEAR - it certainly does not have to) lead to a victim mentality.  E.g., "Well I did ______ because of ______."; or "Two years ago _____ happened and so now I ______."
Now, I am certainly not so naive as to say events and circumstances of our past have no impact on us.  This would obviously be false.  Yet we cannot ignore the reality that "has shaped" is a passive phrase.  In other words, the focus is on something external to us which has impacted us in such a way that we are "just this way" now.  Obviously this is a simplification and my intention is not to minimize life-shaping and even life-altering events.  Yet I do want to move our focus to... 

Question #2, "by what do you desire to be shaped?" can (again it will not automatically) lead to an overcomer mentality.  E.g., "I know ______ happened, but I am a child of God and so I am to imitate Him; therefore I will _____." 
If we desire something that puts us in an active role.  Once again this is a simplification and I do not want to be read as indicating we can "take the world by the ears" and become whatever we want.  Yet the reality is, to a large extent, we are in the driver's seat when it comes to things which shape our life. 

So how does this relate to baptism?  Well, before we get into that we need to briefly look at the actual word.  There are a handful of things we need to note...
  1. It is a transliteration of a Greek word.  What this means is instead of taking the meaning of the word and bringing it over into English, the Greek letters have been brought directly (or correlatively) into English.  This should be clear when we see the Greek verb βαπτίζω close to the English "baptize".  This happens frequently in the Bible and a major drawback is words are then open (even moreso) to interpretation.  In the case of baptism it not only leads to confusion about how it is done (e.g., sprinkling, pouring, immersing), but it also leads to a loss of some significant nuances in the word...
  2. The Greek word(s) related to baptism are full of violence.  E.g., Josephus uses the verb for "baptize" to describe ships that were sunk in the Mediterranean Sea, Herod the Great drowning an "enemy," and even for a sword being plunged into another's body.  As I said, much violence surrounds this well as death.  These historical realities seem to be a "missing link," if you will, in understanding baptism today. 
With that (abbreviated) bit of background done it seems clear to me that baptism involves 1) being plunged under water and 2) death.  Yet it seems Christianity cannot even agree on these basics... 

In my "church heritage" (i.e., the Stone-Campbell Movement) a large emphasis has historically been placed on baptism.  After all, the leaders of the movement (which desired to unify all Christians, in whichever sect (basically denomination in our verbage today) they found themselves, in order to evangelize the world - cf. Jn17:20-23) desired to follow the New Testament Church as closely as possible.  I certainly applaud that intention...but we all know it is difficult (perhaps some of those difficulties will be a future post). 

In order to shorten this post I will quickly cut to the chase and end part one.  Often those in the heritage of the Stone-Campbell Movement (e.g., Christian Church, Chuch of Christ, Disciples of Christ) have focused on Acts 2:38, "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."  While I think it is admirable to do this, unfortunately due to differing Theological perspectives (e.g., Reformed, Arminean, Openness, etc.) there is a great deal of disagreement on a text which seems very clear. 

I am not going to focus on v38 because what flabbergasts me about this text is not what Peter says so much as the response to what he said.  In v41, "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls."  That is amazing.  Yet a question that must be answered is "Why the response?".  Perhaps if we focused on the answer to that question the contention around baptism would dissipate and we would be able to utilize it as the tool/resource that it truly can be (and I believe was intended to be). 

Oh, you can read Galatians 3:23-29 as well as Matthew 21:23-27 to prepare for the next post.