Monday, November 28, 2011

Baptism: What it Was and Is -- by Jay Quine


Literally, the word “baptism” (baptismo in Greek) means “to dip” or “to submerge.” It was used for dying clothing as well as for various ritual baptisms.

Ritual or Religious Baptisms

In ancient Israel a person could be baptized for a variety of purposes. For instance, if a Gentile wanted to convert to Judaism and participate in the benefits of the Covenants God made with Israel he had to go through a ceremony which included public baptism. This demonstrated that he was breaking from his past heritage, and identifying with the God of a new nation, and a new community. Baptism (through immersion) became known as identification – to cease to become identified with the old to be associated with the new.

When John the Baptist arrived as the herald of the Lord, the Pharisees did not ask him “What is baptism?” (for they were familiar with the practice of baptism) but “Why do you baptize?” (they were not familiar with the reason he baptized). He baptized those who wanted to identify themselves with his message of “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand” and “behold the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.” Those whom he baptized wanted to demonstrate that they were leaving the old (the religious system of Pharisaic Judaism) and associating with John’s message of the King and the coming Kingdom. As was the practice of their day, it was an outward expression of what they already accepted, the truth of John’s message.

Baptism Today

Jesus commanded his disciples to go to the people of Israel and preach the message of repentance and of the coming Kingdom (Matthew 10). It is likely that they baptized the people who accepted their message. The people would be acquainted with this practice, and understand its significance as an outward demonstration of leaving the old and identifying with this message of God’s grace. Thus, when Jesus again commanded the disciples to “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28) they did not question Him, wonder what He meant, or why. They baptized converts who accepted their message of grace and peace through Christ as an outward demonstration of the inward reality. Baptism of these new believers would outwardly show identification with Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Thus, believer’s baptism today continues to be used as an outward demonstration of one’s identification with Jesus Christ by grace through faith. It is for those who have accepted the gospel message and wish to show that they have left their old way of religion or way of approaching God and embraced the truth that Christ established the only way to eternal life with God by His death and resurrection. Baptism demonstrates that they have trusted Christ alone as their Savior. Thus, we may draw some conclusions:

· Baptism is not for infants—it is reserved for those who have accepted the Gospel message of Jesus Christ as their Savior.

· Baptism does nothing to add to our salvation—it is the outward expression or demonstration of the inward reality that has already occurred.

· While baptism may be spoken of as a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (by the immersion of the person) its historical practice which continues to serve as the roots of our practice was certainly not used that way. However baptism does symbolize our identification or union in Christ (Col 2:12) which includes His death, burial and resurrection (Rom 6:1-10).

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