Thursday, January 14, 2016

baptismal blessings

The celebration of the Baptism of our Lord last Sunday gives us cause (and pause) to consider our own baptism. As Jesus stands in the place of sinners in the Jordan River to begin His ministry, He is fulfilling all righteousness, and demonstrating for us the reason why He had to come. He stands in our place - to live, die, and rise again for us.

That's really what our Baptism is all about. It is being joined to Christ and His church through Water and the Word. It is becoming part of the great family of God. It is receiving from God all the good gifts He has come to give us - forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Our understanding of Baptism is foundational to our Christian faith, because it gets to the core of what we really believe about God and what He can do. It all boils down to whether we believe that man can somehow get to God, or whether God Himself comes down to us.

Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark, "Believe and be baptized, and you will be saved." Baptism is God's chosen way of bringing us into His family and giving us His good and gracious gifts. Either you are baptized first and then you believe, or you come to believe and then are baptized. Either way, we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, it is possible for a person to be saved without being baptized, like the thief on the cross,  or someone who has a deathbed conversion. But those situations are actually quite rare. The normal way God has set up for people is to believe and be baptized, or to be baptized and then believe.

Those who deny original sin or who claim there is no accountability for young children normally baptize older children and adults.  Those of us who believe that sin is inherited, that we're all born sinful and are in need of salvation, practice infant baptism as well as adult baptism.
Some who practice adults-only baptism will say that baptism is an outward sign of one's choice to follow Jesus and be His disciple. But if baptism is only a sign or a symbol, that diminishes its importance.  It doesn't have the importance it has for those of us who believe that Baptism is a Sacrament, a sacred act, nothing less than the Gospel of Christ, the Word of God itself in action, with all its saving power poured out from God to us for forgiveness and salvation.

The Bible never really sets an age to be baptized. But we do read of "whole households" being baptized in Acts. And "all nations" are to be baptized in Matthew 28. The Apostle Paul says it is "for you and for your children." Peter says in his epistle, "Baptism now saves you."  Surely all of us need what Paul calls in Titus 3 - "the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."

The earliest Christian writings mention the baptism of infants. Infant baptism has been the practice of the majority of the Christian Church since the beginning.

Those who say that baptism should be delayed until children can believe should check Christ's words in Matthew 18, where He warns about causing offense against "one of these little ones who believe in Me." The word translated as "little one" is used in Greek to mean little children under three years old. Jesus seems to think that toddlers and infants two and under are capable of receiving the gift of faith as well ... and I think it's safe to say that Jesus knows what He's talking about.


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