Thursday, April 12, 2018

8.6 Baptism (Biblical Theology)

8. The Theology of the Church (so far)
8.4-5 Apostolic, Eschatological Community

8.6 Baptism
8.6.6 Rule of Faith
  • Relates to the washing of sins, although different Christian traditions relate it differently
  • Relates to entrance into the people of God
  • If viewed as a sacrament, it is an "outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."
8.6.7 Origins in Judaism
  • Jewish ceremonial washings were common at the time of the New Testament. There are numerous miqvaot remains scattered around Israel. These were repeatable washings, meant to make a person ceremonially clean. Qumran has one both as a means of entrance and exit into the community.
  •  John the Baptist gave a one-time baptism to indicate both individual and corporate repentance for Israel's sins. He baptized at the location of Joshua's entrance into the land.
  • Acts 19 indicates that such baptism was not yet Christian baptism. Those at Ephesus needed to be rebaptized in Jesus' name and thus to receive the Holy Spirit. Baptism in water was thus associated with receiving the Holy Spirit, which was the literal event of cleansing for sins and entrance into the people of God.
  • The earliest layers of the New Testament have baptism in Jesus' name. Matthew, writing perhaps in the 70s, has baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
8.6.8 New Testament Significance
  • Paul's earliest mentions of baptism in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 are less than promotional. One wonders if Apollos was more invested in baptism than Paul (which would make sense given his background in the John the Baptist movement). At first Paul only mentions baptizing Crispus and Gaius, but then perhaps individuals from the household of Stephanus arrive and remind Paul that he baptized them as well.
  • By Romans, however, Paul is using baptism as a central feature of his theme of participation in Christ. Romans 6:3-4. This passage also may imply that Paul baptized by immersion. The resurrection symbolism suggests the end of sin and rising to new living.
  • 1 Peter 3:21 brings out the cleansing aspect of baptism. I view this as a metonymy. Baptism is so associated with the cleansing of sins that 1 Peter can say figuratively that "baptism saves you." More precisely, however, it is the Holy Spirit that cleanses sins. This cleansing is the inward grace of which baptism is the outward sign.
  • In Acts, receiving the Holy Spirit and water baptism are associated events, although they often do not take place at exactly the same moment. We are never told when or even if the apostles received Christian baptism. At Samaria, they are baptized but they do not receive the Spirit until Peter and John travel up to lay hands on them (the disassociation is seen as a problem). In the case of Cornelius and the Gentiles, they receive the Spirit before baptism.
  • Acts 2:38 is programmatic: repent, undergo water baptism, receive the Holy Spirit. In practice today, most individuals receive the Holy Spirit and thus are "in" and cleansed before they undergo water baptism.
8.6.9 Points of Debate
  • Whether to baptize (Salvation Army, Quakers). The vast majority of Christians today see this position as an extreme over-reaction to the ritualism of the Roman Catholic Church. Baptism is a normative practice for Christians, although God is merciful and no doubt will receive true believers into the kingdom whether they were baptized in water or not.
  • Not cleansed until baptism (UPC, Apostolic, Christian Church, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches). Although some may have a sense of God's mercy if one is on the way to baptism or other extenuating circumstances, these groups believe in some form of baptismal regeneration. Higher church groups see infant baptism as cleansing original sin. However, such rigidity does not seem to match the biblical text. (The thief on the cross is technically pre-Christian, so is not a good argument against this position, however)
  • Mode of baptism--immersion, sprinkling, pouring. The New Testament does not prescribe a mode of baptism; therefore, it is a non-essential on which there should be liberty within the Church. Description is not prescription and the New Testament does not even really describe how they baptized. The root fallacy is often invoked about the root of the word baptizo. Suffice it to say both Mark 7 and the Didache reveal that immersion was not always the meaning of the word. 
  • However, it is quite possible that immersion was the default. The Didache is very practical and often dated to around AD100.
  • Infant versus believer's baptism. Believer's baptism is arguably a contextualization of baptismal practice within the individualist cultures of the West, especially the hyper-individualistic United States. Both practices reflect valid concerns and both have rich significance.
  • We should not be surprised that most of the baptisms in Acts are adult baptisms. This is the beginning of baptism and those joining the movement were already adults when the gospel reached them. 
  • It is debated whether the household baptisms of Lydia and the Philippian jailer included children. It would have fit the culture of the time, which was collectivist, but we simply do not know for sure.
  • Since we believe children are "in" until they reach some sort of point of accountability, since it is not the baptism itself that saves you, there is a rich symbolism of inclusion within the family of God that is part of infant baptism. It places a stronger onus on the church to pray for and guide this young person who is part of the body of Christ. The young person then faces the pressure not to leave the body and it is easier to stay in than to choose to join.
  • Believer's baptism has the benefit of a conscious individual choice, which is a hallmark of Western identity. We do not arrange marriages. We date and make individual choices to marry. Nevertheless, the child is "outside" in limbo and the threshold of choice to join requires more impetus and thus some might not join.
  • How many times. Once baptized, there is no need for a repeat. Baptism is a sacrament of inclusion, and it is bad theology to see yourself going in and out and in and out of the body. Nevertheless, God is very practical. Spiritual benefit trumps ideological symbolism.
Previous "chapters"
Chapter 1: What is Biblical Theology?
Chapter 2: Theology of God
Chapter 3: Creation and Consummation
Chapter 4: Sin and Atonement
Interlude: A Theology of Israel
Chapter 5: Jesus the Christ
Chapter 6: Salvation
Chapter 7: The Holy Spirit

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