We continue our series on…
The A- Z of the Christian Faith
B for Baptism.
Go therefore to all nations and make disciples; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. [Matthew 28:18-20]
According to Saint Matthew, the very last command that Jesus gave to his followers was to make disciples by baptism and teaching. But at the time of Jesus there were various types of baptism and ritual washing practiced by people of different religion. So what was, and is, unique and special to Christian baptism? First, we are to baptise in the name of the Christian God, the Trinity. But also, Christian baptism is unique because it stems from Jesus’ own baptism by John in the river Jordan.
Baptism is about new beginnings.
Mark’s gospel describes John’s baptism in these terms:
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism in token of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins; and everyone flocked to him… and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. [Mark 1:4-5]
John’s baptism was a sign (or token) of repentance of sins. Part of repentance is saying sorry for the sins we do. In baptism our sins and the associated guilt which clings to us (and which we can also cling to) are washed away. Baptism is, in part, a ritual washing. We are made clean. But it is also more than this. If ‘sins’ are understood as morally bad acts, then ‘Sin’ (note the capital ‘S’) is the attitude of forgetting God and not giving him the honour, respect, and worship which is his due as God. To repent is to say that we no longer want to be guided by Sin and we want to open ourselves up to God and his love. It is to put God first.
Christian baptism is a sign of our desire to live the rest of our lives guided by God. It is also a sign of God’s love for us by washing away our sins and guilt every time we turn to him.
Baptism is about transformation
As well as repentance, Christian baptism is associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Mark’s description of Jesus’ baptism by John:
It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. As he was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens break open and the Spirit descend on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I take delight’. [Mark 1:9-11]
Jesus did in the river Jordan, so all Christian receive the Holy Spirit at their
baptism. The Spirit of God comes to dwell in us. He helps us to pray and, if we
let him, he can slowly transform us to be more like Jesus: more loving and
caring and more in touch with God. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the
Galatians, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’
Baptism is about a new family
The Holy Spirit also unites all Christians with God and each other. St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery… but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if Children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” [Romans 8:15-17]
As we are born into a natural family, through baptism we are adopted into the family of our Heavenly Father. As Revd Alma wrote in last month’s A-Z article, All Saints, the community of the followers of Jesus Christ stretches across space and time. It is made up of Christians from across the world. And it is made up of Christians from the past who now dwell with God; the Church on earth and the Church in heaven is one Church.