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.


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