Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Equalsharing Classic

The following was written about 18 months ago connection with a special day that some Christians observe as "The Baptism of Our Lord."  It's an important piece that impacts our journey as Crossroads Community Church.  Please let me know what you think.  Share your doubts and questions please.  Comment below, email me or call/text 763-291-3499. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fuzzy on Baptism, Focused on the Word

I love these words of Paul -- I think they speak in the spirit of Christ:
"I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power" First Corinthians 1:14-17
As a Lutheran pastor, I do baptize. I baptize according to what I understand and believe about baptism. (See a summary in the baptism section of Luther's Small Catechism.) I baptize people of all ages, including children whose parents bring them for baptism. I don't argue with people about this. When parents bring their children for baptism, or when someone older inquires about it, I teach what I believe is closest to God's Word, and let them make up their own minds about what to do.

One thing I try to make sure to say every time, which might get me in trouble, because it's not standard Lutheran doctrine, is that I don't see anywhere in scripture where baptism is "required" for salvation. I believe it is one way that God's grace comes to us, but that's only because it is a way God's Word is proclaimed. But this has never been a main emphasis in my personal or pastoral work. Some of my colleagues would probably consider this a significant failing in my work. For me, however, it's a matter of principle.

I believe an over-emphasis on baptism--and any emphasis at all on the emcees who "perform" it--does what First Corinthians 11:17 warns against, "empty the cross of its power." I'm aware that the phrase "empty the cross of its power" applies more directly to "eloquent" preaching--but anything at all that puts the emphasis on the performance of a pastor or church organization can indeed spoil the gospel. We do need preachers and baptizers, but every preacher and every baptizer needs to get out of the way and let Christ do his work.

God does his most important work through his Word. This coming Sunday (known as the Baptism of Our Lord) begins with a reading from Genesis 1 with the phrase And God Said.... When God "spoke" the universe was created. The Psalm for the day, Psalm 29, celebrating the surpassing power of God's Word that "sustains all things" (Hebrews 1:3). The reading from the book of Acts includes 19:5, where, upon hearing the Word of God, "about 12" disciples were "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." And in the Gospel reading (Mark 1:4-11), "John the baptizer" preaches and God speaks from heaven.

Even on this festival dedicated to "baptism," the strongest emphasis is on the action of God through his Word. That's how it should be. The emphasis is on God's action, not ours. If baptism is understood as something God does, then we can celebrate it. But if there is any sense that it's something we do to gain God's favor, or to tell others about something a human being has done, then the focus falls away from the Word, and the power, is diluted and confused. It can still do it's work--God does not need perfect messengers--but it can lead to strife and dissension.

So, every time, whether it's in preaching or teaching, baptizing or presiding at the Lord's Supper, the focus needs to be on the Word of God, even if we're fuzzy on everything else.

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