Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The First Century Meaning and Implications of Baptism

Baptism is one of only two "sacraments" which the Protestant Orthodox tradition recognizes as biblically mandated. We agree. This two are not just ceremonial activities. They are sourced in the very commands of Christ and the apostles and they are symbolic of relational reality in which everyone who claims to be a child of God should be doing.

The Holy Communion or the re-enactment and commemoration of the Lord's Last Supper as Incarnate Christ is commanded both by Christ and reiterated by St. Paul. They depict a close bonding between Christian and Christ which is very deeply relational.

Water baptism is another very relational sacrament. The act signifies a willful identification and intimate union of the believer with Christ to follow Him in obedience and newness of life in the power of the Holy Spirit characterized by personal holiness.

It is quite unfortunate that many baptisms or baptismal ceremonies fail to emphasize what the sacrament declares. What even makes it worse is the failure to realize the context wherein the first century Christians underwent water baptism. The following would be a list of their particular circumstance:
  1. The Christian faith was classified as an illegal and anti-government sect
  2. As such, Christians were not only persecuted but hauled away to jail, fed to the lions or burned at the stake. Their children were killed in front of their eyes and their property confiscated.
  3. The Jewish converts knew that undergoing water baptism would permanently ostracize them from their Jewish relatives and friends.
In contrast to today, Roman Catholic baptism for one is a status symbol. Being baptized in that Church entails the very opposite environment that the first century Christian would face. It is small wonder that the religion is taken very much for granted by its converts. The pope bans abortion, but Roman Catholics are notoriously undergoing abortion in droves.

The same is true of so many other churches whether Eastern Orthodox or Protestant in all its flavors. Contemporary Christianity has lost sight of its origins. Church history is not even taught in any pulpit or Catechism or Confirmation class or Sunday School. Contemporary Christianity has deteriorated into a symbolic religion instead of a dynamic faith and relationship with the Living God through the Resurrected Christ.

Another relational meaning of baptism is analogous to a loved-filled relationship where the couple passionately desires to fulfill their wedding vows and display their wedding ring proudly. Baptism is our "wedding cermony" and "wedding ring" with God. We should desire to have it and display it proudly and passionately.

....more later...

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