Baptism: Biblical Waterboarding

Posted on August 19, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Spiritual Growth, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , |


As a person with swimming skills a step above the doggie paddle, I always had a mild heart attack anytime a friend dunked me in the pool. Even if it was 3 feet of water, panic always briefly gripped my heart. So, a few weeks ago when our church was baptizing people, I realized it’s a bit ironic I look forward to watching others get ‘dunked.’ And when you think about it, whether it’s a little sprinkle on the forehead for an infant or complete immersion, baptism is kind of a weird ritual. Why do we do it? Where did it come from?

I always assumed baptism was invented by a rugged bug-eating-camel hair-wearing Hebrew (i.e. John the Baptist) shortly before Christ’s ministry began. But you know what they say when you assume…Turns out the practice went back a bit farther than that.

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a gas station bathroom? That’s the feeling the Jews had about Gentiles (anyone that isn’t Hebrew). As such, when a Gentile coverts to Judaism, they have to be made clean in a ceremony called ‘proselyte baptism.’

Enter John the Baptist. The controversial thing about John was that he wasn’t just baptizing Gentiles – he was calling out the Jews too. He claimed the Messiah was coming and that even the Jews were unworthy to receive him  (Matthew 3:1-12).  To be made clean, they needed to repent and turn to God. Think about it as reverse water-boarding: you confess the Truth and then get the water treatment.

This of course raises the question – why would Jesus, a man without sin, need to be baptized? You could write a book on that topic, but in short, Christ had to submit the Law perfectly. By being baptized he was obeying a command from God’s prophet (John the Baptist) and setting an example for us to follow.

After Jesus rose, he told his followers to go make more disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).  Where as the baptisms John administered were in preparation for the Messiah, the baptism Christ commands us to do marks the beginning of a life following him. In him we are made clean and made new, not by water, but by Spirit (Matthew 3:11).Christians recognize, though we are not worthy to receive him, Christ bore our sins so that we could be made new, clean, and righteous before God which is signified through baptism.

You might be saying, “I get that baptism is important (after all it is commanded by a locust-eating man of the wilderness and God incarnate), but why do some churches dunk babies and others dunk adults? Can you go to heaven if you don’t get baptized?” In the next post, I will explain some of these differences and why my kids haven’t been baptized …yet.

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2 Responses to “Baptism: Biblical Waterboarding”

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Well said, Rachel! Looking forward to the next post.

Your Waterboarder,
-Danny

Thanks for the encouragement, Danny!


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