Tuesday 31 July 2018

Is baptism necessary or desirable for Christians? If so, what kind?

I have brooded on the matter of baptism ever since I was a Christian. These are my conclusions - which have been stable for about five years, so far.

Baptism is not necessary to salvation. When considering that God is the creator, and loves us all as his children; it is to me inconceivable that he would have made it necessary to undergo baptism as a condition of salvation.

When it happens, it seems to me that baptism ought to be done as it is described in the New Testament - by total immersion, and as soon as a person has decided to become a Christian.

That is, baptism should ideally (but not necessarily) be the first thing in a person's Christian life; baptism without delay; baptism as soon as a person wants to pledge that Jesus is the Son of God and his Saviour.

Other forms of baptism I regard as having been co-opted into the specific, and contingent, needs of a specific church or denomination (as can be seen from the changing history of baptism, both between- and within-denominations).

Such extended and elaborated forms of baptism may (in a particular time and place and situation) be a good thing, may indeed be a very good thing - may strongly promote theosis (i.e. the spiritual development of the individual towards divinity as a Son of God); but, in my understanding, there is no direct link with either salvation or theosis.

Note: Most importantly to me, I have sought confirmation of the above by meditation, prayer and revelation. I am confident that this is valid for me - but that fact does not imply universal validity for  all persons in all times and circumstances: some specific people may need to be baptised. My own baptismal status is having been Christened as an infant in the Church of England, by application of water to the forehead... this strikes me as, overall, one of the least valid of all forms of baptism. 

1 comment:

Chiu ChunLing said...

The Mormon answer is that baptism is necessary but need not occur in this life.

My own feeling is that baptism is intended as an initial acceptance of the priesthood authority by which the baptism is performed. Without such acceptance, the baptism can have no saving effect. The degree of validity of the priesthood accepted is also of importance, but is not strictly determinative, many priesthoods make false as well as true claims of authority along with inherently contradictory claims, thus the practical result is a complex of accepting some aspects of the claim of authority and rejecting others.

On meeting Christ, John the Baptist said, "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" This although one must presume he had already been baptized by valid priesthood authority given his parentage and upbringing.

At the same time, it is not clear what Jesus did about this. Whether He later baptized John, or validated his existing baptism (possibly by baptism with the Holy Ghost). Jesus says that a man must be born again of water and of the Spirit.

The baptism with water is an outward symbol of the baptism with the Spirit, by the power of Christ. I think that there is probably a flavor to the experience of total immersion which teaches us by analogy the feeling of baptism with the Spirit (perhaps especially for people living in hotter climates). There is a feeling of cleansing, of separation from the ordinary senses, an awareness of the breath we hold in our body for that moment. Well, it is not and could not be an exactly similar experience. But to be immersed by the hand of one who we recognize as having valid authority to act in the name of God should be something that teaches us to recognize immersion in the Spirit of God.

Well, something like that. It is an initial lesson as well as an ordinance. But in the immortal words of Bruce Lee, don't look at my finger, look where my finger is pointing.