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Baptism


When we speak about baptism we usually mean baptism of water, either by sprinkling or immersion. This is frequently mentioned in Acts. However also talked about is the baptism of fire or the Holy Spirit. Both John’s and Jesus’ baptisms were of water, however Jesus also sent the Holy Spirit baptism; first by tongues of fire for the disciples and then usually at the baptism of believers (Jesus’).


Water baptism is not only restricted to Christianity it is also an important part of other religions. Water was used as a symbol of purification in many religions at a very early date. In the ancient world, the waters of the Ganges in India, the Euphrates in Babylonia, and the Nile in Egypt were used for sacred baths. The sacred bath was also known in Hellenistic mystery cults.





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Jewish law provided for the use of water in ritual cleansing (Leviticus 115, 40; 155-7); and Elisha commanded the Syrian commander Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan River to be cleansed of leprosy ( Kings 5).


Well before the 1st century AD, converts to Judaism were required to bathe (or baptize) themselves as a sign of entering the covenant (tebilath gerim). Some of the later prophets envisaged that Jewish exiles returning home would cross the Jordan and be sprinkled with its water to cleanse them of sins prior to the establishment of the kingdom of God (Ezekiel 65). In this tradition, Jesus older contemporary John the Baptist urged Jews to be baptized in the Jordan for the remission of sins (Mark 14).


In Acts, John’s baptism is mentioned in chapters 1 and 1. In chapter 1 Jesus was quoted “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus drew a distinction between water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.


In chapter nineteen we meet believers whose conversion was incomplete. Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t know what he was talking about. They had only had the baptism of John. Paul explained that John’s baptism was one of repentance, while Jesus’ is one of believing and acceptance. In the end they receive the Holy Spirit after being baptized in the name of Jesus. This passage highlights the difference between John’s baptism and the baptism that Jesus commanded for his disciples. Jesus says, in Matthew 8 “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.” This shows that the baptism of Jesus was not only to show sorrow and repentance of sin, but also to show trust in the God’s revelation of himself in Jesus.


John’s baptism shows a willingness to be repentant of sins, but Jesus’ baptism is a commitment to Jesus as the one who saves us. Following what Jesus said, wherever his disciples went they encouraged people to believe and be baptized in the name of Jesus. On the first day of the disciples’ preaching three thousand people accepted the message of Jesus and were baptized. Peter promised them that in doing this they would be forgiven and would receive the Holy Spirit.


In Acts chapter eight there is a story of an incomplete Christian baptism. The people of Samaria accepted the word of God and were baptized in Jesus’ name but they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit. They may not have had enough teaching so Peter and John were sent to them. They prayed for them, laid hands of them, and the people received the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is not mentioned with baptism. The Ethiopian Eunuch had the scriptures of Jesus explained to him and was keen to be baptized as soon as he saw enough water by the roadside.


Sometimes the Holy Spirit works differently. In Paul’s case it is possible that he received the Holy Spirit before he was baptized. Paul lost his sight and was given it back by Ananias who also said he would receive the Holy Spirit when he received his sight. Therefore it is possible that he merely followed up out of obedience by getting baptized. A clearer example is the story of Cornelius who received the Holy Spirit even while Peter was preaching. Peter recalled the charge given him by Jesus and baptized Cornelius’ household because he could see that they had already received the Holy Spirit and so were obviously acceptable to God.


So, we can say that the basic ingredients of baptism in Jesus’ name are faith in Jesus, water and obedience. Then God can be relied on to supply the forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit in His time and His way.


Infants were probably baptized in the early church, following the Jewish understanding that even the youngest children belong to the covenant community. The early church tradition provided for it, probably based on the story of the Philippian jailer. After the earthquake which shook their prison, the jailer was about to kill himself but Paul saved him; both his physical and spiritual life. His whole household believed when Paul and Silas preached. They were baptized, and it is assumed that the household included young children. Whether or not there were small children included in a family decision, most of the stories of baptisms in Acts are of believing adults.


Most Protestant churches adopted traditional views and practices regarding baptism, although often stressing its covenantal character more than its relation to sin. So, Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Presbyterians baptise babies, usually by sprinkling. Baptists and Anabaptists, however, insisted on adult baptism, on the ground that only adults can be guilty of sinful acts, repent, and understand salvation�a view also adopted by Pentecostal churches and neo-Pentecostal groups.


Both my parents come from Presbyterian homes and were baptized by sprinkling when they were babies. They were both also rebaptized by immersion in their early twenties. My mother had felt for a few years that she really wanted to show obedience to Jesus by choosing her baptism, rather than just confirming her parents’ early decision for her. But, she was held back by not wanting to seem to reject what they had done for her. Finally she was baptized after she had left home and was in another country. (And her parents understood and were not upset.)


My father was confirmed in the Presbyterian church and did not feel the desire for baptism as strongly. However, when they were married and wanted to join a Baptist church, he was happy to be baptised. My parents decided to save my brother and me this kind of confusion by having us dedicated as babies, and leaving it to us to decide to be baptized as believers.


I think that people who believe in child or “pre-decision” baptism can make it harder for their children when they read the Scriptures for themselves. Presbyterians baptise first, that is, perform the action, then confirm the action when the person makes his or her own decision. Baptists believe in a dedication first, then confirm the dedication with the act of baptism when the person makes his own decision. I think that it makes more sense to baptise someone when they have made the decision and can understand the symbolism.


SOURCES


The NIV Study Bible


Goodrick, E.W. and Kohlenberger, J.R. III. (181). The NIV Complete Concordance. Grand Rapids; Zondervan Publishing House.


Baptism, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 001


http//encarta.msn.com � 17-000 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.





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