Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Baptism and Culture

This is post #4 in a series on Baptism:
  1. Baptism Questions - some questions I'd like to sort out
  2. What Did Baptism Mean? - a look at how the Greek terms get used and translated in other literature
  3. Baptism without Water - a look at baptism references that are not talking about water
  4. Baptism and Culture -  It seems Christianity adopted a common custom of the time.
  5. The Heart of Baptism - What is at the heart of this ritual 
  6. Who Can Baptize? - Do we think Matt 28:18 - 20 is addressed only for the clergy? 
  7. When Should Believers Be Baptized - At what age? At what level of maturity? 
  8. Baptism With The Holy Spirit - comparing immersion with water and with the Holy Spirit
  9. Baptism Summary Thoughts
      Next question:

      If Jesus had come to a culture that didn't practice something like water baptism, would He have invented this ritual for them, or would He have done something different that would make sense to that culture?

      I have heard that John the Baptist and the early Church were not the only ones immersing people in water in those days. It seems Gnostics had a similar ritual, and so did segments of Judaism.
      Evidently, baptisms were used by a wide variety of religious groups known to the early Christians in order to give witness to purification, to commitment, and to inclusion (rites of initiation and passage). http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?1327 
       Another quote:
      Alfred Edersheim describes the Jewish rite thusly, "The person to be baptized, having cut his hair and nails, undressed completely, made fresh profession of his faith before what were designated ‘the fathers of the baptism'... and then immersed completely, so that every part of the body as touched by the water" (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol 2, p 746). He rightly argues that the information "must be regarded as proving that at that time (previous to Christ) the baptism of proselytes was customary" (Ibid. p. 747). http://firstcenturychristian.com/answers/answers_074.htm
      One more from Christianity.com

      But in first-century Judaism, baptism had a different meaning. In the book of Leviticus, God instructs Jews to cleanse themselves from ritual impurities, contracted through such acts as touching a corpse or a leper. Washing primarily fulfilled the legal requirements of ritual purity so that Jews could sacrifice at the Temple. Later, as "God-fearers" or "righteous" Gentiles expressed their desire to convert to Judaism, priests broadened the rite's meaning, and along with circumcision, performed baptism as a sign of the covenant given to Abraham.
      It seems Christianity adopted a common custom of the time. They likely changed it some, and gave it a new meaning.

      Humor me if you can, imagine for a moment...

      Imagine Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and for some reason he ends up in Canada.  When He grows up he hears there is a crazy guy just outside of town doing some crazy stuff. His name is John,  not me, a different crazy John. It turns out to be the second cousin of Jesus.  John has somehow convinced the masses to turn from their selfish ways and turn back to following God.  The change is happening in their hearts, but they also want to make a visible statement, some sort of sign to tell the world that they are changing.

      This group of Canadians has never identified washing in water with spiritual change.  They had no religious customs involving people getting dunked in the rivers or lakes.  These people live in Canada remember.  Water is frozen in Canada for the majority of the year. 

      So what do you think this group of Canadians would do eh?  And what sort of religious rite would Christians have created if Jesus had come to Canada?

      Would the ritual have included a sweat lodge?

      Would the people have gotten a religious tattoo?

      Would the people have bought a T-shirt with a common slogan?

      Would everybody get a bracelet to remind them to consider what would Jesus do?

      I know some of this sounds silly. But I am having a hard time imagining what they would have done.

      Or do you think Jesus would have insisted that these Canadian Christians build special indoor baptismal tanks so they could start practicing this foreign ritual?

      What do you think?

      So my next question is: What is at the heart of this ritual? I don't believe God is as interested in religious rituals as He is primarily concerned with the heart. So from God's perspective, what is He wanting from us here?


      Steve Martin said...

      In believe that He is after trust.

      God told Naamen to wash in the river and he would be made clean.

      God tells us to wash (be baptized) and we will be made clean. Is it an automatic ticket in? Of course not. We can abandon our baptisms and not trust what God has done there. But that does not negate the promise of our baptisms.

      St. Paul told us in Galatians that "all of us who have been baptized, have put on Christ." I believe that promise.

      Jonathan said...

      Yes, you may be right.

      However Galatians 3:27 may be another passage that is not speaking of immersion into water, but immersion into Christ.

      I think God clearly wants us to be immersed/dipped/dyed into Christ and the Holy Spirit. How we do the outward rituals may not be as important.

      Are there other verses I'm missing where God clearly tells us to be immersed into water?

      Thanks for the dialog with me on these questions.

      Steve Martin said...

      I just about every single case in the New Testament, where baptism is mentioned, it refers to water baptism. That is what baptism was (is).

      When Jesus commanded that we "go...and baptize...", he wasn't telling us to go and 'give the Holy Spirit to people'.

      We can't do that. But we can baptize them, and God can give His Holy Spirit, as it says in Acts 2:38. "In baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit".

      Just some more food for thought.


      Jonathan said...

      Hi Steve,

      We have been taught that baptism means water baptism. But the words baptisma, báptō, baptízō, bapsō, bapsē and bapsas do get translated as immerse/dip/dye/submerge/plunge. Not every NT verse with the word baptize means immerse in water.