Saturday, May 17, 2008

Baptism for Repentance: Unauthorized Worship, Part 2

You won't find anything about baptism commanded in the Old Covenant.

Yes, there is Numbers 19, much of which is devoted to the description of sprinkling with waters of cleansing in connection with sacrifice and the priest bathing after the sacrifice of the red heifer. There's a description of the Sea or Laver in 2 Chronicles 4 in which the priests were to wash, and basins for the washing of the sacrifices. And I gladly concede that these could foreshadow baptism as we read of it in the New Testament - just as Peter saw the water which floated Noah's ark as symbolic of it (1 Peter 3:20-22) and as Paul saw the parted Red Sea as its precursor (1 Corinthians 10:2).

You'll even find Naaman performing a seven-fold dipping in order to be cleansed of leprosy (2 Kings 5), but it's just not the same. Its origins are doubtless within Jewish tradition; connection with the Essene communities such as Qumran during the intertestamental period are possible.

In the New Testament, it appears first as a practice of John, Jesus' cousin - to which He accedes, though He must persuade him (Matthew 3, Mark 1:9-12, Luke 3:1-22). As Jesus and His followers adopted the practice, John quelled any rivalry by supporting it (John 3:22-36). In fact, he had earlier testified that the reason he cam to baptize was to reveal Jesus as the Son of God to Israel (John 1:29-32). And whether the relationship between belief and baptism was cause-and-effect is debatable, but there undeniably was a relationship (Luke 7:29-30).

After Jesus had been crucified, restored to life, and was about to depart again to be with the Father, He instructed His followers to go, teach and baptize (Matthew 28:19) and attached a promise to belief and baptism (Mark 16:16); and Peter was faithful to preach it come Pentecost and a powerful inSpiration (Acts 2:38). As John the Baptizer had prophesied (John 1:33) and Jesus reminded them before returning to the Father (Acts 1:5), so Peter preached that baptism and the Holy Spirit would be linked as gift with gift: the complete giving of a person's self to God; the complete giving of God's Self to that person.

Baptism into Christ is present in every story of people giving themselves to God through Christ in the book of Acts of the Apostles (2:41; 8:12-13; 8:36-40; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15; 16:33; 18:8). It is contrasted with John's baptism, with which the gift of the Spirit did not seem to accrue (Acts 19:1-7). In seven letters to churches in the New Testament, it is taught and preached and exemplified and enriched as the way in which God has chosen to connect us with a new life (Romans 6:4), a washed-clean life (1 Peter 3:21; Acts 22:16), a life of modeling His Son (Galatians 3:27), a life that does not end (Colossians 2:12).

None of this is commanded, exemplified, necessarily inferred, nor even directly prophesied from the text of the Old Covenant. Baptism may have been adapted from obscure Jewish tradition, but it does not immediately descend from practices God requires in His Law. And baptism into Christ - into His death, burial and resurrection - comes with gifts that do not come with the baptism of anticipatory repentance practiced by John. Jesus' disciples instituted the practice, but at His command and description (Matthew 28:16-20).

Jesus asked His followers to observe an entirely new way for people to give glory to God in gratitude for the sacrifice of His Son, by demonstrating their faith in His death, burial and resurrection in a very tangible way, and by putting into practice a life of worship beginning with this washing of body and soul; this filling of joy and purpose and Spirit.

In short, Jesus innovated.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

You've offered many good thoughts on this POWERFUL subject. The only portion missing was the connection to blood. Without receiving the blood of Christ in baptism, there is no Salvation.
Dave

dell kimberly said...

Thanks for the post. I certainly agree with your direction. Jesus had the right to innovate or project something new. After all Jesus was God in flesh. I am not sure that baptism is the vehicle to use in order to teach this point. Jesus and his followers were baptizing as early as John 3:26. In verse 25 an argument had developed between some of Johns disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. This perhaps could have involved comparisons this Jew made between old testament washings and John's baptisms. I do however agree that Jesus was an innovator and as such brought many innovations! Keep up the good work, preach Jesus!

Patrick Mead said...

When I want to be fed and challenged, this is where I come. Thanks, Keith!

Keith Brenton said...

Dave - Please don't misunderstand this. I would be more than pleased to discuss how the penitent contact the blood of Christ in baptism ... but scripture does not describe it, as nearly as I can tell.

David U said...

What Patrick said.......duh. And his blog too! :)

Keep em coming, bro.

DU

laymond said...

Keith, it is "washed by the blood" not "washed in the blood" and baptism has nothing to do with it,
(except, acceptance) but you are bucking tradition, and tradition is what it is all about.

Adam Gonnerman said...

The mitvah bath was far from obscure, and is still practiced today by some sects of Judaism. Neither it nor the synagogue are authorized under the Old Covenant (and the latter has been the basis for many non-instrumental arguments), but God didn't smite them for either. The principles that would make a rainbow certainly existed before the flood, and (assuming that is literal history) I doubt God created new physical laws just in honor of the end of the flood. He took something that existed and gave it special meaning. Jesus and John the Baptist did the same thing with mitvah, as Jesus did with the Passover (wrong day?) and the Lord's Supper.

preacherman said...

Keith,
Love this blog brother.
You posts keep making us think about our theology, relationship with God and faith. Thank you brother.
In Him,
Kinney Mabry

johnmarkhicks said...

Keith,

I think you seriously underestimate two points.

First, the role of the immersion ritual in Israel was of tremendous significance (as per Leviticus 15) as well as its role on the Day of Atonement (the high priest's immersions). Synagogue's were always built near water or dug miqva'ot for their use in the ritual (100s have been discovered in Palestine and most around the temple mount). It was not obscure and was deeply meaningful for Jewish believers.

Second, I believe Jesus' baptism is the first Christian baptism. It anticipates his death and resurrection, participates in a ritual desinged for sinners, he receives the Holy Spirit, is declared the Son of God and is ushered by the Spirit from the water into the wilderness and subsequently his ministry. His baptism is the model for our baptism. We follow Jesus into the water.

There clearly is a difference between Jewish immersion rituals and John's immersion. But these differences are highlighted by the baptism of Jesus himself, I beleive.

Blessings, my friend,

John Mark Hicks

Keith Brenton said...

John Mark, you must know that your works have been highly formative in the lives of many folks, and especially mine.

I think we're saying much the same thing, though you may well be saying it more clearly than I have.

There were plenty of things in the Old Covenant that foreshadowed baptism into Christ. But none of them was baptism into Christ, nor could they have been.

His baptism was something entirely new, innovated from old forms and into which He (literally) breathed new life. All of what He did was ordained by God; it was not in His nature to do otherwise. Much of it had deep roots in the existing covenant. And quite a good deal of it was as new as the covenant He lived and died and lived again to establish.

I didn't go into it, but there is something wonderfully symbolic about a ritual in which only priests were to participate being opened to all who would follow God, whether Levite or not.

Adam Gonnerman said...

See? This is why I need to keep blogging in Portuguese. If not, one of these days John Mark Hicks is going to stumble across my blog and take me to task!

:-D

Was "miqva'ot" the "mitvah" I referred to, or was I completely off?

Keith Brenton said...

Ah, the risks of blogging: To be discovered as an amateur Bibliophile at best, and a pretentious one at worst!

I'm guilty on both charges, I'm afraid.

Adam, as nearly as I can tell, you're both talking about the same thing; just variations in English spelling. mikvah.

I will certainly concede that the practice of ritual washing was not an "obscure" Jewish tradition, and I've struck through the word in the text of my post. I was thinking about the Essenes when I included it, and they were - I think; future correction and retraction possible! - a fairly obscure sect.

It certainly ain't the first time I've misused a word.

johnmarkhicks said...

Keith,

I did not intend my post to sound so harsh. My apologies.

I suppose the point I wanted to emphasize is that there is strong continuity (which you recognize with priestly immersions) but that it finds fulfillment in Christ. I would rather think in terms of type-fulfillment than in terms of innovation (much as Paul does with the "baptism into Moses" in 1 Cor. 10).

Blessings, and I am a reader of your posts, my friend. I appreciate your kind words.

Adam, you got it fine...I used the plural and you used the singular. :-) And...one never knows where I will appear...I don't even know myself. It is a daily adventure. :-)