Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What is baptism?

Here are a few questions and answers that come from Martin Luther, from whom the Lutheran church gets its name.  He was a 16th century monk and priest and professor.  Here's how he described baptism in his "Small Catechism":

Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is not simply plain water.  Instead, it is water used according to God's command and connected with God's word.

Q: What then is this word of God?
A: Where our Lord Christ says in Matthew 28, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Q: What gifts or benefits does baptism grant?
A: It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare.

Q: What are these words and promise of God?
A: Where our Lord Christ says in Mark 16, "The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned."

Q: How can water do such great things?
A: Clearly the water does not do it, but the word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water.  For without the word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a "bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit," as St. Paul says to Titus in chapter 3, "through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  The saying is sure."

Q: What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?
A: It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Q: Where is this written?
A: St. Paul says in Romans 6, "We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

So... what are your questions about baptism that are not being answered here?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why be baptized?

So... why would you bother to be baptized?  For those who believe in Jesus, this is not an option.  All through the book of Acts there are stories of people who first come to believe in Jesus, and their first response is always to be baptized.  It is a sign of cleansing and forgiveness of sins.  It is a sign of belonging to God through Jesus Christ.

However, this presumes that you believe in Jesus.  Let's say that you're not yet there.  Where does faith in Jesus even begin?  Ultimately, it is a gift of God.  However, that might not help you when you're still trying to sort things out.  So let's try going back to the beginning.

Biblically speaking, the story begins with God, who creates the heavens and the earth.  While God created all things good, there is a problem.  Human beings, having been given the freedom to make choices, decided that they wanted themselves to be in charge rather than God.  They became self-centred rather than God-centred, and soon things were no longer as God intended them to be.  Rather than living in love for God and for one another (the original plan), people turned in on themselves and became incapable of real love.  Because of this turning away from God, death entered the picture and became the ending that we could expect.

However, God was not content with this ending for us, and acted in order to enable us to live in love once again.  God's solution came in the form of Jesus, who lived the life that we would never be able to, and died the death that we would never want to.  Because of Jesus' perfect life of love, he broke the power that sin has over us (self-centred lives).  Because of Jesus' death and subsequent resurrection, he broke the power that death has over us.  Now, all those who are united with Jesus through baptism share in his perfect life and his death and resurrection.  Sometimes it is called the "great exchange." God takes our sinfulness and places it on Jesus, and then takes Jesus' perfect life and places it on us.  As well, because of Jesus, death is no longer the end of the story, but has become a gateway into the life to come, where love reigns in all its perfection.

Because we are still human, we don't manage to live in perfect love for God and for one another while we're still on this earth.  However, because Jesus sent his Spirit after he physically left this earth, we are able to at least start to grow into the life that God intended for us -- through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And then, in the future, we will live in the presence of God and in the perfect love that God always intended for us.

So... what questions does all of this raise for you?  What is holding you back from being baptized?  What does or does not make sense to you?  Your comments are welcome!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to begin?

More and more adults have never been baptized, and many of these same people lead hectic lives and would never be able to come to classes (at least not all at the same time....).  This is my attempt to begin a conversation, and to invite those who have not been baptized to ask questions and to do some serious thinking about it.  The most important question that I would ask anybody who is contemplating Christian baptism is this:  Do you believe in Jesus Christ? (Saviour and Son of God)

However, for many people this question also requires backing up and asking, do you know enough about Jesus to be able to answer this question?  And so, my next post will probably be something along the lines of "the basic message about Jesus" -- unless, of course, I discover that all of you are past that....