Monday, May 07, 2007

Is Baptism Important?

How important is being baptized? Is it just a symbolic jester of a persons new life in Christ, or is there more to it? I overheard some say that we are baptized so that our sins are washed away. The word does say, that we are to 'repent and be baptized'. Also, who can baptize? Can any born again believer baptize someone? Or, does it have to be someone official (a priest or a pastor)? -Gordon

In order to understand baptism, we have to understand its history.

John the Baptist was the first to baptize, and we can understand much about why he baptized if we look at his message and where he was baptizing. His message was that God was coming soon and was going to destroy most of Israel because they were sinful and unrepentant. In kingdom lingo, that means that God was establishing his kingdom on earth, but most of Judea-- most Jews-- weren't citizens and so they couldn't go in. So John established a "baptism of repentance"-- a baptism which was a statement that the person was repenting of their sins and trying to make it right with God so they could be a part-- be a citizen-- of God's kingdom.

But why did John baptize at the Jordan? It was to remind those being baptized of another "baptism"-- the crossing of the Jordan river, and it's predecessor, the crossing of the Red Sea. Baptism, ultimately, is a re-enactment of the crossing of those two bodies of water, as indicated in I Corinthians 10:2. The crossing of a body of water by God's hand was the indication to the people that they were entering God's kingdom by His power, His grace.

There is one other important symbol in baptism-- the water itself. It isn't just a pool or a sprinkling, but it is a body of water with a spirit-- a spirit that might choose to attack you or kill you, as the ancient Hebrews thought of seas or wide rivers-- they were dangerous gods of death. So to cross the Red Sea, to cross the Jordan, or to cross the flood waters, as Noah did (see I Peter 3:20-21) is to die to your old self, your old life, your old society, and to be a part of God's kingdom exclusively, never to return.

So what is baptism? It is a display of your commitment, the sign of your citizenship in the kingdom of God through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the same as new citizens of the U.S. raising their right hands and making a pledge to the U.S. Can one become a citizen of the U.S. without raising their hands and pledging? Maybe, but everyone does it. It is the way it is done. So is baptism necessary for salvation? Well, let's just say that the NT doesn't say anything about "praying to Jesus as your savior", but it does talk about baptism. Anyone who becomes a citizen of God's kingdom repents and is baptized.

So who can baptize? Really, anyone who is already a citizen. Jesus commanded his disciples-- all of them-- to baptize (Matthew 28:19-20). But who can be baptized? Those who are ready to declare that Jesus is their king and Lord, that they commit themselves to him for all of their lives, that they will obey him in all that they know and that they will commit themselves to God's people. If they declare this pledge, they are ready to be baptized.

Does baptism have to be done? Well, the first ancient manual to talk about this says that it should be done in a river or stream, but if it can't be done that way, water should be poured. Sprinkling didn't start until babies were baptized, of which the Bible says less than nothing-- baptism is for those ready to commit to the pledge. Immersion is good, but it is really based on a misunderstanding of the word "baptidzo", which means "to completely soak". Pouring is good enough, as long as the person really gets good and wet. I don't recommend sprinkling.

In Anawim, the mode of baptism is to step in a tub of water, representing the river of death, and pouring the water over them, representing the Holy Spirit. We do this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then they step out of the water on the other side, representing the new life they are in. At that point, we lay hands on and pray for the new believer and cast out any Satanic spirits.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Universal Morality?

I think that, just like "happy", "funny" and "boring", the words "good" and "evil" have no meaning outside the mind of a human subject. -Unterkind

Yet these words do have meaning to my wife and my friends when we use them to each other. We are in agreement to the meaning because the meanings are in community, not just personal.

It seems to me that all concepts of "good" and "evil" have to do with the community that one is a part of -- even religious points of view have this. There is no "good" or "evil" that an individual has not in relation to other beings. Some subjects might have only to do with ourselves-- masturbation, use of drugs, suicide-- but ultimatly the arguments either for or against each issue, no matter how "personal" they are will have to do with our relations to others-- e.g. maturbation in relation to adultery, drug use in relation to careless harm of others, suicide in relation to how we grieve others.

If we did not live in community, there would BE no good or evil. If we didn't have species and a human society and nature then there would be no reason for good or evil. But the fact is, there is, and so every human being has to deal with it.

And good and evil-- whether religious or otherwise-- is never universal, but are basic principles of not doing harm within a context. The concept "do not kill" is an excellent example. For most people, that principle has many exceptions. We kill microscopic organisms every time we breathe, thus we kill and think nothing of it. Most of us eat meat and most of us feel that it is okay to kill another human if they are attacking us. A few of us feel that killing innocent people in war is okay as long as the objective is worth it. On the other hand, there are vegetarians who do not want to kill any animal. There are some who belong to religious communities who are commanded by God not to kill another human being, no matter what the cause. Others, in their communities, hold to opposing any killing of an innocent. Others, such as the jainists, attempt to stop any killing of any life, so much so that they wear masks so as to not accidently swallow an insect. The basic concept of limitation of harming another life is always there, but the application of this principle is based on the community.

We get confused nowadays about morality because we are at a conflux of all societies-- and thus, all moralities-- in a way that humanity has never been before. It seems so individual when every person you approach has a different point of view on morality. But this is just the conflict that comes in any cross-cultural situation. The cross-cultural is becoming a part of our life now as we are no longer one society, but many, all joined together, forced to understand each other and to believe new things in our new context.

Ultimately, the war in Iraq-- and all modern wars-- are culture wars, morality wars. Survival will not be the strongest, but will be the moral point of view that will be most inclusive, the least harming to others. This is why both the American and the jihadist points of view will be torn down, eventually. An old morality will succeed, that will allow both Muslims and Americans to live in peace together, that does not require killing another for disagreeing with them will be more successful than the points of view that causes our current wars.

Now, those of you who are Christians reading this blog might be saying, "Is Steve a situational ethicist? How can that be Christian?" No, I do not believe in situational ethics. I believe that we are all a part of a society, and that our morality should reflect the society we are a part of. If you are a Muslim, then you have a very strict morality to live by: hospitality, care for fellow Muslims, commitment in marriage, no alcohol, etc. If the edges of Muslim morality is wearing down, it is because of the influence of other societies that are trying to join it (For instance, Osama Bin Ladin is actually a mix between Islam and Marxism, in complete defiance to orthodox Islam). If one is a strict "American" then there is a moral point of view one holds, including patriotism and a certain amount of pluralism.

If you are a Christian, then the society you are supposed to belong to is the kingdom of God-- the kingdom of Jesus. This is different than the kingdom of Moses (ruled by the Law) or the kingdom of David or the kingdom of the ancient Hebrew priests. Jesus determines our morality, our "good" and "evil". In that we sin against Him, we are showing that we are still creatures of this world, of our societies that we have not fully renounced.

It is Jesus' morality, however, that is most successful and will ultimately win over the world. "Love your enemies" -- do good to everyone, no matter what they do to you
"Forgive the repentant"-- always welcome to your group those who repent of their sin
"Love God"-- The community of God always does what is right before God, worshipping and honoring Him
"Love your neighbor"-- the community of God always supports those in the community, not allowing them to come to harm

And more. Jesus will win, perhaps only when he returns, but His is the morality that will succeed.

Steve K

Disciplining Children

I caused a controversy in the staunchly conservative Anabaptist Seeker's yahoo email group by suggesting that striking children is not an appropriate form of discipline for believers in nonviolence, and I was quoted Proverbs which counsels not sparing the rod.I countered that that was an Old Testament scripture that was no more binding on Christians than Jewish dietary laws, and was told that since Proverbs is wisdom literature and not the law it is eternally authoritative, like the New Testament. Anyone have any thoughts on this? I feel certain that beating up children is not the appropraite way for pacifists to treat their children. -Jerry C

It seems to me that this is a place where the "non-violence" label as a virtue gets us in trouble. If non-violence is a Jesus-promoted virtue (which I deny) then certainly spanking would be wrong. But so would surgery, an inherently violent, and often life-threatening action.
I agree that pulling verses out of Proverbs willy-nilly is a bad idea, especially when it speaks of punishment. After all, it also says that the rod is appropriate for "fools" (e.g. Prov. 26:3). I can just see "corporal punishment advocates for Jesus" going down the street, hitting the developmentally disabled with a stick in "literal fulfillment" of this verse....

However, in the NT it does command fathers to "bring up children in the discipline and righteousness of the Lord." And such discipline that fathers give, as referred to in Hebrews 12 is "scourging". Obviously, this is symbolic, but I think that we can take Heb 12 to be a type of the discipline parents should give children.

First of all, if a child does something evil, they should be taught what is good. Secondly, if they continue to do that evil, they should be punished and it should be unpleasant. Thirdly, they should be assured that even if it doesn't feel like it, the discipline is done out of love for the child, not because of anger or a lack of control on the part of the parent.

I have had to apologize to my children for punishing them out of anger, and so doing it inappropriately. There are occasions, however rare, that I do spank my children-- never to harm them, but to communicate to them the seriousness of the offense. I communicate my desire to love them and I always restore relationship as soon as they are ready.

If a parent choses not to spank their child, I think that's great to have those ideals. But what I find is most significant for disciplining my children is to have a variety of diciplining techniques (time outs, lecturing, warning, light pat on the wrist, spanking, etc) so the measure of discipline can equal the action done. One punishment for every action communicates that every wrong we do is equal, no matter what our intent or knowledge or how much it harms another.

Steve K.