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Beyond Baptism

Now that I am all done with the book I was reading, let’s talk sacraments. In particular, let’s talk baptism. I am honestly inclined to combine baptism and the Lord’s Supper into a single post, as they have so much in common. I will make this more clear when I discuss the Lord’s supper, which should be my next post.

It is difficult to talk about baptism without starting with Jewish circumcision. I have written extensively on the subject and I just want to keep it short and simple. I am not trying to make an exhaustive, doctrinal case for my position. Rather, I am just going over the highlights that are easily digestible.

Circumcision was the cutting away of the foreskin of every Jewish male at the tender age of eight days old. For reasons difficult to quantify, it is still practiced today by Jews and Gentiles alike. Few Jews and almost no Gentiles believe they are cut off from God’s grace if they are not circumcised. Yet, the practice continues. It was once a requirement for salvation. At the time, salvation would not have been the term they used. Rather, it was a necessary part of the covenant relationship. No matter how you break down the definition of covenant in religious terms, it still comes down to a quid pro quo. I will do something for you if you do something for me. That is the relationship God had with the Jews, and it hasn’t much changed for the Gentiles, regardless of rhetoric.

At the time, no one would have asked if circumcision was necessary for salvation, or a covenant relationship with god. The answer was obvious. Of course it was. No one debated the efficacy of circumcision. Anyone who didn’t do it would be cut off from the kingdom, and would probably die.

Enter baptism.

Honestly, I’m not sure where it entered. There is some evidence that it entered into Jewish life with one of the many captivities. In any event, by the time Jesus came onto the scene, baptism was in full swing. It is important to note that baptism was being practiced before the inception of the church, yet was never a part of the Hebrew scriptures. Like so many New Testament practices, it just seemed to spring up from nowhere.

What did seem to be borrowed from the Jewish tradition was the fact of baptism’s necessity. It is an interesting mental exercise to pretend that the New Testament did not require baptism in the same way circumcision was required, but I have little patience for such mental gymnastics. In the same way that circumcision was the pathway to the covenant, baptism was the pathway to the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, there is a blood and death ritual associated with baptism. In order to be washed of our sins, we must bathe in the blood of Jesus. Regardless if one considers this ceremonial or literal makes little difference. The only way for our sin-stained souls to be cleansed as white as snow is to be washed, immersed in the blood of the perfect human.

It is a death ritual in two ways. First, we reenact the circumstances of the death of Jesus by being buried in the watery grave of baptism, a few seconds later, to rise in the newness of life. Second, we act out the passion play of dying to ourselves, and becoming the willing vessel of the Holy Spirit’s control.

Consider the implications of this ceremony, even to the point of saying the details out loud. Baptism is a blood and death ritual whereby we pretend to die and be buried like our master, and where we consider our fully human selves dead vessels for possession of an other-worldly entity.

Even respect of a great man like Gandhi would not compel anyone to reenact his death and burial out of respect for his accomplishments for humanity. We would and do find appropriate ways to honor such people. But a ritual reenactment of their death is beyond macabre.

For those who believed Jesus to be a great teacher and enlightened example to the world, I suggest we find appropriate ways of honoring his life and teachings. Following his teachings might be a good start. He showed little interest in being worshiped during his lifetime. I can’t imagine what he would think if he saw his followers wearing miniature replicas of his instruments of his torment and murder about our necks and adorning our homes and temples. Would Gandhi want to be remembered by seeing his followers wearing guns and bullets as jewelry? I think not.

Of course, it you believe that you are an entity from another reality who happens to be trapped in this universe, an must die to your humanity in order to make your way back home, then perhaps baptism is right for you. I believe that number is dwindling fast. For those of us who have grown beyond that tradition, it is past time we go beyond baptism.

David Johnson

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