(Part 1)

Click here to listen to this sermon.

There’s a story about these two ministers who were great friends. One was a Baptist and the other a Methodist. They used to spar back and forth about who was more correct in their understanding of spiritual things. Now one of their favorite arguments concerned the form of baptism. The Methodist minister favored baptism by pouring water on the head and the Baptist minister insisted on full immersion. ... (The earliest and best version of this story that I have found comes from Grady Nutt.)

Did you hear about the church bulletin that announced ... “Baptismal ceremonies will be held today at the end of early service and at the end of late service. Children will be baptized at both ends.”

The humor just shows that there has been a lot of debate about baptism, especially when it comes to the form of baptism. But what can we say about the meaning of baptism? What can we say about its significance? On both form and meaning, I think the best place to start is with the baptism of Jesus.

The early church believed that baptism was a participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That perspective is important to answering some questions that I believe are critical to our current understandings (and misunderstandings) about baptism ...

  1. Is baptism entrance into the kingdom or a ticket out of hell?
    1. Baptisms after hours. Getting people to share their baptism stories. They speak more about getting out of hell or not wanting to go to hell – and that’s all? (I mean of course no one wants to go to hell – but is there more to it than that? Do we ever think about what the option to hell is?)
    2. Most of us are willing to be saved from hell, but are we willing to be saved from this evil age, a crooked and depraved generation now. (Acts 2:40) We may not be so willing; we want to sample the pleasures of this world before we die. We want to live in the empire.
    3. Lunnenberg Letter. -- It is the image of Christ the Christian looks for and loves; and this does not consist in being exact in a few items, but in general devotion to the whole truth as far as known. (A. Campbell) – Baptism connects us to Christ. At Christ’s baptism, the heavens were opened, the spirit descended and the voice of God proclaimed Jesus as his son. God spoke his favor over Christ at his baptism. Can we not imagine how our baptism is also the entry into the kingdom of heaven and God shouts his favor into our hearts? We rise up from the water with more than fire insurance – we rise with a new life under the rule of our Heavenly Father.

  2. Is baptism the final step or the first step?
    1. We have come to understand baptism as the final step of a five step process. (Critique of the five-step exercise.) Final step thinking leaves us without a connection between baptism and discipleship. Baptism is the First step in a new life.
    2. Final step causes us to ask questions like: What do you have to know? How old do you have to be? – These are the sort of questions that we have concerned ourselves with. They are good questions. But finding answers to these questions doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about baptism. On the other hand, understanding more about baptism can help us answer those questions.
      • For instance, how might we answer questions like these if we stop and think about baptism as “total submission to God” rather than just checking off something God told us to do? Sort of makes the implications of baptism much deeper, eh?
    3. Final Step thinking can lead us to think that as long as I got baptized, I am good -- right? But there’s so much more to it than that.
    4. Baptism is the first step into a life in Christ. It is a birth.
    5. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
    6. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. – Romans 6:1-4

  3. Is baptism a work of righteousness?
    1. If we are saved by grace, then why does baptism matter? How can we say baptism is necessary and essential to salvation if we are saved by grace?
    2. Some have accused us of being “water regenerationists.”
      1. I don’t know of anyone who makes that claim. I mean really, is there someone who actually claims that water is more important than Christ?
      2. I don’t know too many who can pronounce water regenerationist and when I searched it I found information about water purification systems!
      3. I think that this is a charge that comes out of debates and it is meant to be our “Achilles' Heel.” If we want salvation by grace then we can’t have necessity of baptism. We have to transcend the question – not just to win a debate, but so that we really understand what baptism and grace and righteousness is all about ...
    3. Is baptism a work we do or a work God does to us?
      1. Colossians 1:6-15 – Paul connects grace, submission, righteousness, and baptism.
      2. In vv. 6-10, he’s speaking all about grace. He’s slammed anyone who asserts or believes that righteousness is about checking off a list of requirements or manipulating the system.
      3. So, if baptism were a “work of righteousness” (i.e., something on a checklist) then how could he describe baptism as he does in vv. 11-15? Because Paul sees baptism as the work of God. God is really present and active in our baptism, just as we believe he is present and active in the Communion and in the Word.
      4. So, don’t accept it when someone claims that baptism is a work of righteousness – but more importantly, let’s not reduce it to that ourselves! Think about what God did when you were baptized. Think about how he operated on you! What changes he made in you!
        • Heart Surgery ... How arrogant it would be to claim we had any part in repairing our heart except to show up.
      5. So, wait! At what point are we saved? Are we already saved and baptism just confirms it? Are we saved right at the end of the baptism? What if you die right when you are placed in the water? How do you call that one? Maybe we are missing the point ...
        • Wedding Ceremony ... At what point are the couple married? "I do"? "I pronounce you ..."? Signing the marriage license? Registering it at the court house? Let’s get rid of all the useless stuff and just process marriages, okay?
        • We can peel away all the layers of the artichoke and find out that the layers are the meat! Those ceremonies mean something ...

Learning to Live in a world of meaningful symbols – Meeting Christ in the water ...

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 16 August 2009

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin