Baptism as a Way of Life

baptism.ashxAlthough we baptize people of all ages, the predominant image in our tradition is that of a child having water poured on his or her head as part of a worship service on a particular Sunday.

Baptism for most people is an event in which family gathers, words are spoken, a cute baby is admired and pictures are taken. Is that what baptism is though?

As people of the early church gathered in secret to be baptized they knew it was far more than an event. The God who had loved and created them, who had called them from their rebellious and sinful lives and had gifted them with new eyes of faith in Jesus Christ, was now inviting them to become part of a new community and way of life. To be baptized for them was a life and death decision since to be a Christian back then could mean persecution, torture and ultimately death.

Is that how we see baptism today? When parents bring their child or when an older person comes for baptism do they recognize the life implications of this action?

We certainly do not live in a time and place where Christians are dragged out of their homes to be persecuted and killed. However, does that somehow change the significance of being baptized?

In the early church people underwent a very lengthy preparation for baptism. It emphasized the seriousness of this decision. Likewise, the baptism of infants was restricted to those households who were already actively engaged in the Christian community.

In contrast today, many pastors baptize infants of almost anyone requesting baptism, whether the parents are baptized or not. And adults are baptized after a very brief period of instruction. What does this tell us about baptism and the life it represents?

Baptism is certainly God’s action. It is about Christ’s death and resurrection. It is God reconciling us through Christ’s death and gifting us with the opportunity of a new life.

However, baptism is also about us as sinners, called to repent and renounce our old way of living so that we might follow Jesus into a new way of life. The problem that we face in the church today is that we have been reluctant to define what that new life is except when it comes to speaking against certain moral issues.

So what is the life of baptism or the life of being a disciple of Jesus? I believe that if we can begin to define this in non-legalistic terms we will also begin to understand what we must repent and renounce, as well as move towards.

Baptism is a way of life for at its core is life with God.

2 Replies to “Baptism as a Way of Life”

  1. In the last little while I have tried to dig into the historical tradition of baptism and the meaning and origins of the word. According to the concordance the word “baptism” does not appear in the Old Testament and therefore I’m assuming is not part of Judaic thought though interestingly Jewish women go through some form of bathing and purification ritual after their period or as part of their conversion to Judaism. (Perhaps I should explore the term purification)
    The term baptism itself appears to have both Greek and Roman roots. In the New Testament, references to baptism are mainly focused on John the Baptist’s ritual, the repentance of sins. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter on several occasions talks about or takes part in a baptism. One incident in Acts refers to Philip baptizing a eunach. Paul refers to baptism in his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians and later in his letter to the Galatians where the meaning suggests a baptism into Christ, focused on Christ’s death and resurrection.
    The language of being baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection has, I believe, a unique meaning that might baffle a newcomer to the Christian faith. Without a knowledge of John the Baptist, his place in Jesus’ life and the circumstances and events of Jesus’ own baptism by John, baptism into Christ death and resurrection is a bizarre turn of phrase, similar to early non Christians believing Christians were cannibals for eating the body and blood of a crucified man. Without John’s baptism, I believe, baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, would have limited meaning like trying to understand the Last Supper without knowing about the Jewish Passover.
    These parallels and metaphors in the Christian tradition, I believe, make it difficult for people outside the tradition to understand the notion of having, for example, an internal spiritual life where these metaphors and parallels resonate with our experience, our world view and our values. An accumulation of 2000 years or more of religious thought and practice is sometimes difficult to summarize.

    1. Ceremonial washing has long history in Judaism.Converts to Judaism had to go through a ritual washing as part of that process.

      Christian baptism developed in practice and understanding over time. Even within the New Testament we see this shift from John the Baptist versions to emphasis on the Holy Spirit to deeper theological meanings connected to Christ’s death and resurrection.

      You are correct in noting the difficulties with understanding the connection between baptism and Christ’s death and resurrection for people today. Nothing has really changed in that sense. Paul noted how people in his own day perceived his message about the cross as foolishness. Many have tried to “dumb-down” the message, but in the process have lost the radical calling to Christian message.

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