BASIC TRAINING-THE CLEANSING WATERS OF BAPTISM
Dear Christian friends,
When it comes to the teaching of Baptism, there is a great divide within Christianity. A few years ago a woman who was a member at North Point Community Church brought me a CD of a sermon that Andy Stanley preached on Baptism. The sermon came from their website. I don’t know if it is there anymore. I hope not. While their church is huge (they says it is the biggest church in the United States these days), their membership is not getting the full scoop on Baptism. The sermon was forty five minutes long (BTW - I will accept all apologies as you leave this morning for complaints about sermons of twenty five minutes). For forty of the forty five minutes all he did was to try to justify their practice of immersing the baptizee. For the remaining five he basically conceded that “sprinkling” was not necessarily wrong. He left out what is needed most – listing all the blessings of Baptism.
I pray that as we leave today we all will think about and treasure a lot more what God did for us the day we were baptized. Today as part of our Basic Training we will discuss “Baptism’s Cleansing Waters.”
Let’s get something straight about how we baptize. Pastor Stanley spent about 38 minutes of the forty five speaking about how a valid baptism needs to include immersion. While he did concede at the end of his sermon that under emergency circumstances other methods of baptism might be acceptable, he is hardly the only one who holds that position. Many hold to the position of needing to immerse. I am not going to burn up minutes defending what we do – pour water on the baptizee’s head – but this does need a brief address. Many people who have called me their pastor have had questions and were accused of not being baptized because they were not immersed.
The Greek word translated “baptize” simply means to wash. In fact, the Greek word for baptize is the word “baptizo.” It is used for the sacrament of Baptism but it is also used to mean “wash with water.” In Mark 7 the enemies of Jesus accused Jesus and his disciples of heresy. According to Jesus’ enemies, the apostles didn’t wash their hands before they ate according to Jewish Law. I don’t want to get into the argument they were having with Jesus; I simply want to show you and how the word “wash” was used. If you look at the original Greek, a form of “baptizo,” is used. As I read the first verses of Mark seen, while it is translated “wash,” the word “baptize is used. Mark writes, “(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing (baptizing), holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash (baptize). And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing (baptizing) of cups, pitchers and kettles.)” There is even a possibility to include the washing of dining couches in some translations. They were the mats that people reclined on as they sat close to the floor.
Remember they didn’t have a water department in town with a filtration plant. They had the city well. You went to get water there. Can you imagine living in those days and carrying enough water from the city well so that everything that you washed could be immersed – even big cooking kettles? To say, as many do, that a Baptism has to include an immersion goes way beyond what Scripture says. It is not wrong to immerse, after all that is an application of water; it is wrong to say that one must be immersed. Case closed! That didn’t take thirty eight minutes.
Now let’s talk about what is important, the substance of Baptism. Let’s talk about this question: Who is to be baptized? Scripture says it pretty clearly. Jesus gave us the great commission just before he ascended to heaven. This is the work of God’s church: “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” With Jesus to help us whom are we to baptize and teach? All nations! Who is included in all nations? Young and old, male and female! Is anyone to be left out? Is there an age restriction or a size restriction? I don’t see any. I know you don’t either. That’s why we baptize babies too.
Frankly, babies need the blessings of Baptism. Two teachings of the Bible need to be clarified so we understand that Baptism is necessary. One is the teaching that we call original sin. The other is the doctrine of conversion. The Holy Spirit converts and works through Baptism. Let me explain.
The doctrine of original sin is the teaching that we don’t learn how to sin, we know it. We are born with it. King David, whom the Holy Spirit used as his mouthpiece, wrote in Psalm 51, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” We are born sinful. We are sinners the moment we are conceived. That might disturb many, but the passage is perfectly clear.
Think about this. Babies do die. Babies get sick. I know people like to hate on God because of that, but actually what it proves is the nastiness of the curse of sin once Adam and Eve fell and brought the curse of sin in the world.
I apologize to all the people who have heard this story before, but it shows the sinful nature is born in us and not acquired. A couple once visited the first church I served and had difficulty with this teaching that their 18 month son was a sinner. They had trouble understanding infant baptism. As we were talking their infant son saw we were ignoring him. He was a little more than a year. He threw a temper tantrum.
Since the parents didn’t believe that their child had original sin (inborn sin) I asked them the question: “Why did you teach your child to do that?’ The silence was deafening. I finally smiled and told them their son made my point. They didn’t have to teach their child how to show his temper. He came that way. That’s original sin. They had their son baptized a shortly after. Baptism promises cleansing of sin.
I admit that when my own children were born and I got to hold them for the very first time, it was difficult to think that my kids had sinful hearts as they slept, ate and needed diapers changed. Yet it doesn’t take long to see sin manifest itself. They have no problem understanding and using the word “no.” “Thank you” takes a long time to learn. Parents need a few years to teach that church is not about them but to praise God. They need forgiveness of sins. They need the Holy Spirit. That’s what Baptism provides. We all need to remember the promises of Baptism.
Listen to passages about Baptism and the promises that go along with it. “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins.” “Baptism saves you!” says Peter. Acts 2: 38-39 - “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Listen particularly to the next verse Acts 2: 39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is a means by which we receive the Holy Spirit. The promises and gifts are for you and for your children and their children…for all children for the end of time.
The second teaching that we need to know before we will understand baptism properly is that the Holy Spirit is the one in charge of conversion. He brings us to faith. He connects us with Christ. We had a sermon last week on that very subject – Dr. Holy Spirit who replaces hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. The apostle John writes, “(Jesus) came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a man’s will, but born of God.” We need to be born again of God. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit be cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” Titus 3:5 - “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done” (how could we actively do things to deserve the Lord’s attention and love?), “but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit through Baptism brings about spiritual rebirth. We are born anew.
Baptism is a big deal, but it is a big deal for the right reason. When a baby is baptized parents want to have all kinds of people present - Grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles and friends. Many times people spend a good amount of money on a baptismal gown for the baptizee to wear. Sometimes grandmas make those baptismal gowns from the material of mom’s wedding dress. There are parties hosted by the family of the baptizee with good food and drink. It’s a big deal. It ought to be!
The preparations don’t make the Baptism important, but Baptism makes it important. Martin Luther said, “We should not doubt at all that wherever one is being baptized the heavens are assuredly open and the entire Trinity is present and through God’s own presence sanctifies and blesses the person being baptized.” Baptism is all about God doing something for us. It is NOT about us doing something for God.
In Baptism we become God’s sons and daughters. Galatians 3: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Marin Luther said the baptized “enter into brotherhood with Christ, with all the angels, saint and Christians on earth. Hold to this fraternity and live up to its demands.” Our sermon text for today reminds us, “For we were all baptized with one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free.” Baptism makes us members of the body of Christ.
Use your Baptism. Remember the cleansing power of Christ covers you with his righteousness. Baptism is absolution by which we are pronounced forgiven. Far too often we can get depressed because sin took us down like a badly battered and leaky battleship. We feel dirty and guilty. It’s time to turn to and remember the promises of Baptism.
Think of your Baptism as the sun. The sunshine shines on gold the same way it shines on dirt. The sun shines on the garbage dump just like it does on a white veil. The sunshine is not affected by that which it shines on, the heat and the light it brings come from the sun itself. Baptism’s promises come from God and they fall on all the same way. There is cleansing, forgiveness, life and salvation through Christ to whom we are connected by the Holy Spirit. Believe those promises. Remember those promises. Celebrate those promises Baptism and use those promises to live your life for him.