Wed March 14th, 2018
We live in an age of democracy, and age of personal empowerment and an age where “choice” is a word that describes so much of what we do and say.
It is good that choice is starting to be impregnated in society because God is all for choice. From the very beginning of creation, he gave mankind free will and the ability to choose. We had the opportunity to not disobey God, not to sin, but we chose to use our free will to do so and the world we now know with all the areas in which choice is denied to so many people is a result of that – our choice!
God calls all of us to make the choice to follow Jesus – and it is a choice, a good one, but God will never grab us and abscond with us – it always has to be our choice. When we do follow Jesus we are called to make Him Lord of our lives. His commands are not onerous – that we should love God and our neighbour, that we should control our appetites by not eating the meat of strangled animals, meat dedicated to idols or blood and not engage in sexual immorality. (Luke 10v27, Acts 15v20). In return Jesus gives us everything to enjoy and he genuinely is a God who wants us to live life to the full, or in abundance (John 10v10).
In regards to being part of God’s church – his desire for every person - there are a couple of regulations that we have to follow but all are based on the love God & your neighbour principles. There are just a couple of ‘sacraments’ that the church should follow and they are remembering the death of Jesus by eating and drinking bread and wine and being baptised.
A God idea
Jesus himself commanded that we should baptise:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matt 28:19 HCSB
It was the practice of the early church and still the practice today.
"Can anyone withhold water and prevent these from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:47-48
The word translated “baptise” in our bibles means to submerge or immerse and for that reason the practise of the early church through to today has been to baptise those who choose to follow Jesus by full immersion. We simply lower them into the water until they are fully covered and then lift them out again. This practice fulfils the teaching of Paul about the burial and resurrection of Jesus.
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. Col 2:12-15 HCSB
So being baptised symbolises that you are now dead to your old life of rebellion against God and now live with Christ as part of His church.
Many of us have either been sprinkled as a baby or have witnessed it with others, but this is technically not baptism for the reasons mentioned. It is an ancient tradition that came out of the high infant mortality rates and the idea that your child might not live to be baptised so was sprinkled as a baby. It would manifestly be cruel to hold a baby underwater, so it is easy to understand why they did this. The problem of course with being sprinkled is that it doesn’t signify being lowered into the grave and then rising from it!
Clearly in the scripture people decided to be baptised and as that cannot possibly happen with a baby, it doesn’t fit with the teachings of scripture. There are good Christians who believe that traditions which have been added to the scriptures are valid, but for those of us that accept the teaching of the Bible as being pre-eminent, only full immersion baptism counts and then only when you are of an age to choose it for yourself.
Even some of the older Christian denominations are moving back to Biblical baptism and I myself have publicly baptised with the Archbishop of York on ten occasions.
The experience of baptism is a truly wonderful one. Over the years with all the people I have baptised, I have so often heard people say that they would like to get baptised again! However, baptism is only necessary once and for some people to repeat it according to their emotional desire would rather devalue it. You only die once, and you only need to be baptised once.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope at your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Eph 4:4-6 HCSB
What about people who have been part of religious cults and have been baptised by full immersion? Well they have never been baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit into the Christian faith - so they can be baptised for the first time. What about those who have been sprinkled in line with the sincere beliefs of their parents? Well, they can be baptised for the first time also. What about people who follow Jesus, are baptised then stop but come back after a long while wandering around their own way? Well, their original baptism is enough, but for those who feel they need to mark their return to the faith then a service of renewal of their baptism can be arranged. This might be where sprinkling comes into its own as a reminder of the baptism that they have already experienced. In recent years we have held open air baptisms in front of York Minister with Archbishop Sentamu. At the end of the baptism we have got all the ministers together with cups of water from the tank and sent them out in the crowd to splash anyone who wanted to renew their baptismal vows with a prayer – any renewal could work like that.
What about the disabled or those who would struggle physically to get in and out of a tank of water. There is always a way to help people in and out of the tank, and their willingness to be baptised is especially touching. What about people who have a struggle to breath without going underwater? Well, I would not be willing to take the responsibility for baptising someone who couldn’t hold their breath for 2 or 3 seconds, and I do think that God knows about our physical condition and would not ‘blame’ us for not being baptised. I would say the key is being baptised when you are well enough!
We marry people in public to widen the number of witnesses and we also baptise people in public for the same reason. Baptism at home in a bathtub doesn’t serve the same purpose as Paul describes:
Fight the good fight for the faith; take hold of eternal life, to which you were called and have made a good confession before many witnesses. 1 Tim 6:12 HCSB
Public baptism is a ‘good confession’ of your faith in front of many witnesses. Besides the fact that there are people who can remember with you the great day of your baptism, there is an accountability you have for being baptised on the confession of your faith in front of them.
I once baptised a 75 year old man who had been in church all his life, when he finally decided that he agreed to needed to be baptised. You always have your free will, you will always have your choice, but what you must never do is sacrifice your conscience on the altar of your free will. If the Bible says we should be baptised, then why would we want to argue?
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:21-22
Do not worry too much about other people, what matters is that we have a good conscience before God and that we do all that we can of the very few things that are demanded of us.