Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm weighing in on baptism today

Jesus said, "Wait for the gift My Father promised ... for John baptized with water, but ... you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4-8).

I find myself in a unique setting here at Willoughby Hills Friends Church. We are both Quaker and have a baptistery. Yep, right under the platform where the the drums set each week in our worship center is a large walk-in hot tub that is uncovered a couple of times each year, filled with water and heated to a comfortable temperature for those who desire to be water baptized in a public setting. But as much as I enjoy baptizing people people with water I never want the Church to forget the significance of the Friends view on baptism.

For centuries Friends did not practice water baptism because of the teaching of Christ. Most Quaker historians would say that Friends started practicing water baptism because of the influence of other denominations and key people like John Wesley and Billy Sunday. Typically today, Friends who practice water baptism state "that it an outward symbol of an inward work of grace." I'm okay with that but I wonder if we are selling short the one true baptism that Jesus spoke of in the process? If we are not clear on our position we can mislead people from the truth of God's word.

Water baptism had a specific purpose in the Old Testament. In fact, it was one of three Old Covenant signs (works) which God required of His people. The signs of the covenant between God and man were "circumcision" (Genesis 17:9-11), "honoring the sabbath of God" (Exodus 20:8-10), and later "water baptism" (John 1:33). In fact, baptism is not mentioned in the Bible as another identifying sign for the Old Covenant until John began doing so in the River Jordon. Some theologians hold that it was only a sign intended for the era of Incarnation stating that Jesus was baptized only to fulfill the Old Testament law (covenant)and never baptized others in water.

Regardless, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ provides us with spiritual circumcision and became the Lord of the Sabbath for us. So, I guess we must ask, "then why the need for water baptism?" Here's where I am weighing in on the subject.

John the Baptist's ministry was new and unique for his time. He preached to people who were interested in the coming Messiah and who believed the promises of scripture. Most accepted John as a prophet from God (he certainly did not fit the status quo) and were good practicing Jews (circumcision, Sabbath observing, etc.). Through the act of water baptism in the Jordan they were indicating their belief that God was about to send the Messiah and they were prepared to receive Him unto themselves. Thus, water baptism was a sign of preparation and expectancy for the Advent of Christ.

So when we practice water baptism today it should be as an indication that we believe the Messiah has come and that we have made preparation in our heart for Him. But we must be clear that the New Covenant sign for identification with God is not circumcision, keeping the Sabbath or being baptized with water. It is being baptized with the Holy Spirit and the evidenced is seen "by loving one another." Francis Shaeffer said, "the sign of Christian love is the mark of the true Christian."

John the Baptist understood this truth when he said at the water baptism of Jesus, "The man who you see the Spirit come down on and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit ... now I must decrease and He must increase."(John 1:33). The hour "now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23).

For the New Testament believer, love is the only outward sign of an inward work of grace. Jesus said, "A new covenant I give unto you (with as new sign of conformity) ... that you love one another. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for another" (John 15:12-14). "By this (Jesus said) will all men know you are My disciples, by how you love one another" (John 13:35).

Have you asked Jesus Christ to baptize you with the Holy Spirit yet? Friend, you need more than just the forgiveness of sin you need a heart transformation that will enable you to love the world to Jesus and show the world that you are a true follower of the Almighty!

Perhaps the water baptism we should practice today is the washing of each other's feet. What say you? Thanks for stopping by!

1 comment:

  1. I consider the notion that water baptism could also be an outward sign of requesting that God would take us deeper into the relationship with Him that you described. I consider the value of public demonstration, and how even in a church of two or three that confession and request breaks down the walls of isolation, pride, and intellect we erect between ourselves and the mystical wonders of the miraculous.