The Divine Mystery of Baptism: A Theological Reflection

Death, burial, resurrection! This is what baptism at its core is to those who are partaking of the holy waters of rebirth. Baptism is for the remission for sins (Nicene Creed), entrance into the Church, and the transcendental unification with the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by crucifixation, death, and burial with Him, so to rise to newness of life in Jesus Christ establishing a new covenant by the gifting of the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox Study Bible describes holy baptism as “a rite of passage, given by Christ to the Church as an entrance into the Kingdom of God and eternal life.” The divine mystery of holy baptism is a sacrament instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ who Himself was baptized into the precious waters of the Jordan River.

Article 27 of the “Articles of Religion” states about baptism:

“Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.”

The Mode: How One is Baptized?

The word Baptizo, transliterated from the Greek word βάπτειν or baptivzw, means to “dip, plunge, or immerse”. There is much debate about the modes of baptism. The most historically, theologically, ecclesiastically, and grammatically correct view of baptism is by immersion. This position is held by the Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, those in the Restoration Movement, and even some Anglicans. I do not get that up in arms about the mode that is practiced. I do not find that the mode itself is what is essential. The mystery of baptism is so much more than just the mere mode of how one is baptized.

I do not think those who are sprinkled, dipped, or christened have to be re-baptized as adults later in life. My personal preference for practice of the mode is immersion in the +Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. As someone who accepts paedo-baptism I will practice the mode of immersion three times into the water one time for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Spirit as our Orthodox brothers and sisters do too.

It is important to note, however, that this act is a lot more than a mere symbolic gesture of death, burial, and resurrection.

The Subject: Who is Baptized?

Jesus Christ, in Matthew 19:14, said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Paedo-baptism is the preferred way, but credo-baptism is acceptable. I think both sides have valid concerns and opinions. Carson Clark writes about Credo-Baptist and how they offer passionate criticism about how:

1. “Being baptized doesn’t mean a person is saved.
2. The parents’ faith cannot count for their children.
3. It’s inappropriate to think one is part of the covenant community until he or she makes a personal profession of faith.”

And the Paedo-Baptist offer passionate criticism of about how:

1. “Faith shouldn’t be seen as too cerebral.
2. The vital role parents play instilling their faith in their children shouldn’t be minimized.
3. The individual is emphasized to the negligence of the community.”

As stated I think Paedo-baptism is the preferred historical way of baptism, but Credo-baptism is allowable and fine. It is not an issue worth splitting hairs over in my opinion. I adhere to the practice of doing what all Christians, in all places, and at times have done and that is paedo-baptism. The theological understanding of baptism, in part, being a new covenant is key in the paedo-baptism view. Paedo-baptism cleans the infant of ancestral sin, clothes them in Christ and establishes them into the Family of God, the Church. It is in the Divine Mystery of Confirmation/Chrismation that one accepts their baptismal vow and covenant and continues in their faith. Carson Clark goes on to write:

“It thus becomes evident that their mutual criticism almost perfectly mirrors one another. That is, credobaptists think paedobaptists presume too much about the salvific impact of the community while paedobaptists think credobaptists have gone way too far with the individualistic nature of salvation. All things considered that’s pretty darn close. And if that weren’t enough, have you ever noticed how early many credobaptists baptize their kids and how passionate many paedobaptists are about confirmation? C’mon, is there really much difference between baptizing an infant and baptizing a 6-year-old in terms of a real grasp of the faith? Be honest, is there really much difference between formally confirming a teenage and baptizing a teenager in making sure they’ve embraced the faith they were taught?
Those silly credobaptists and paedobaptists. They’re spitting images of one another!”

I rest my case on this issue: paedo-baptism is preferred, but credo-baptism is perfectly allowable in my humble opinion.

The Purpose: Why is One to be Baptized?

Well, today there is much argument around whether or not baptism is essential. To this debate I like to respond by saying, “If Jesus Christ was baptized, instructed us to be baptized then who the heck are we to not be baptized?” Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the +Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience that should be practiced and is essential to salvation. This notion of Holy Baptism not being essential and a huge part of the Christian’s life is a huge problem for those of us who have a high view of Holy Baptism.

One is to be baptized is for the remission for sins (Nicene Creed), entrance into the Church, and the transcendental unification with the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by crucifixation, death, and burial with Him, so to rise to newness of life in Jesus Christ establishing a new covenant by the gifting of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism centers around two deaths: the death of self with Christ on the Cross (Galatians 2:19-20) and the continual dying to sin. Saint Paul writes, in Romans 6:3-11:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Baptism is the resurrection of righteousness. Jesus states in John 3:3, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” As Saint Paul wrote in Romans it is the “walk in newness of life”. We join Christ in His glorified humanity and He comes to dwell in us (John 14:23). The Eastern Orthodox Study comments on this by saying, “Our relationship with God is not something static, a legal fiction given to us by a Divine Judge. Rather this is a dynamic and real life in Christ, holding the promise of everlasting life. Our resurrection to new life now forms a prelude to the resurrection of our body at Christ’s second coming.”

Baptism is the beginning of eternal life thus its ontological classification of being a divine mystery. Saint Peter writes, “Baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism opens the floodgates of upon us to have an intimate and continual communion with God. The preacher writes in Hebrews:
“Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

With the new covenant of Christ baptism is the vehicle in which we are allowed to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5), we can have transcendental unification with Christ (Rom 6:3), and receive pardon of our sins and are sealed with the gift of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

The Consuelo

In conclusion, we know that the Divine Mystery of Holy Baptism is for the remission for sins (Nicene Creed), entrance into the Church, and the transcendental unification with the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by crucifixation, death, and burial with Him, so to rise to newness of life in Jesus Christ establishing a new covenant by the gifting of the Holy Spirit.

We have been washed clean. Glorious illumination has brightened our darkness. Healing has been brought to us through Christ. Grace has been bestowed.
Let us not forget the day of our own Baptism. Let us not forget that God’s countenance was shown upon us that day in the Jordan when Christ Himself received the rite of Holy Baptism. Let us not forget that He came, was baptized, and revealed Himself. Let us not forget that He showed us Light through His baptism and called us to be Baptized in the +++ Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let us not forget that our Baptism sparked new life in us, giving us the Spirit. Let us not forget that we are to be made clean daily. We are to become more like Christ every day. Our baptism started the process that the Holy Spirit now continues.

I am aiming to say that by Christ’s Baptism Heaven opened up and the Spirit descended upon Him and His Father was pleased. We see Christ’s divinity revealed. So perhaps in our own Baptism we see our divinity revealed because the Spirit comes and allows us to take on the nature of the Divine (His energies, not His essence), Jesus Christ. Saint Peter did not say what he did for no reason (II Peter 1:3-9). In our baptism we become participants in the Divine Nature becoming united and clothed with Christ through the Spirit.

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan didst proclaim him thy beloved Son and anoint him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

NOTES TAKEN FROM DR. TOMMY SMITH’S RESOURCE:

PURPOSE (Why is one to be baptized?): For the remission (forgiveness) of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (to be united with Christ).

A. The purpose of the baptism of John: repentance, forgiveness of sins, and a testimony to Jesus:

(1) Matt. 3:1-2, 6, 8; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3; John 1:31-34

(2) See also Acts 18:25-26; 19:1-7 (Christian baptism is distinctively different from the baptism of John; note that when baptismal practice was erroneous, it was promptly corrected).

B. The purpose of baptism in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ:

(1) Matthew 3:15, 17 (to fulfill all righteousness; the descent of the Holy Spirit; to please God)

(2) Matthew 4:11; Luke 3:16 (the Holy Spirit)

(3) Matthew 28:18 (commanded for all disciples)

(4) Mark 16:16 (to be saved; if not, condemned)

(5) John 3:5 (to enter the Kingdom of God) Note: if Jesus considered it essential to be baptized, then we should want to follow His example.

C. The purpose of baptism for Jesus’ disciples during His ministry: John 3:22, 26, 36

(1) purification

(2) a pledge of obedienced.

D. The purpose of baptism in the New Testament Church:

1) In the book of Acts:–2:38 remission of sins; gift of the Holy Spirit–8:15-17 connection with the Holy Spirit–9:17-19 filled with the Holy Spirit–10:47-48 connection with the Holy Spirit–19:2-5 connection with the Holy Spirit–22:16 wash away your sins

(2) In the writings of Paul:–Romans 6:3-11 united with Christ; newness of life–I Corinthians 6:11 washed; sanctified, justified–I Corinthians 12:13 “by one Spirit”; “drink one Spirit”–Galatians 3:27 “clothed with Christ”–Colossians 2:11-13 united with Christ; put off the flesh; forgiven of trespasses–Titus 3:5 “washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit”

(3) In the General Epistles:–Hebrews 10:22-23 “hearts sprinkled clean”; washed with pure water–I Peter 3:21 “baptism now saves you”; clear conscience

MODE (How is one to be baptized?): Immersion in the name of [the Trinity].

A. Arguments for immersion over other forms of baptism such as sprinkling or pouring (affusion):

(1) The argument from language: the Greek word translated “baptism” is baptizo, which means “to dip, to plunge, to completely immerse.” There are specific Greek words that mean “to sprinkle,” “to pour,” or to use water in any general way. The New Testament writers specifically used the word baptizo, “to immerse.”

(2) The argument from history: the testimony of scholars from all ages of the church agrees that baptism in the New Testament church was by immersion.

(3) The argument from precedent (example): there are descriptions of baptism in the New Testament that could only apply to immersion.–Mark 1:10; Matt. 3:16 (“came up out of the water”)–Acts 8:38-39 (“went down into…came up out of”)

(4) The argument from analogy: the “word-pictures” used to describe baptism could only apply to immersion.–Romans 6:3-5 (“death, burial, resurrection”; “buried, raised”)–Colossians 2:12 (“buried, raised”)–Galatians 3:27 (“clothed”; “put on Christ”)

B. Formula: baptism is done either in the name of Jesus or in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

(1) “In the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5) 22:16; I Cor. 1:13)

(2) “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)

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About Joel

Joel is a 32 year old currently residing in the southeastern United States. His interests lay in philosophy and theology. He is a writer for The Christian Watershed.

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