Tag Archives: baptism

Christianity Before the baggage

We’re creatures of habit and tradition and may believe that Christianity today in America is like the original Church started by Jesus and perpetuated by the apostles. Actually, our Christianity and the Church Jesus began are miles apart. The Church was, at first, one organization made up of different personalities, gifts, and talents. The diversity ensured spiritual growth and success in ministry. Today, there are thousands of Christian denominations, cults, organizations, and fractures, and each attracts people who think, believe, and act alike (for the most part). The single, diverse Church rich in shared spiritual gifts, skills, and talents is gone. There are other differences too.

In the first couple of centuries, Christianity was a costly religion (and, therefore, valuable to its members) because of persecution and difficulty in buying or selling in the marketplace. Every member of the community was required to contribute to its welfare and worship. Everyone sang and prayed aloud. Everyone was expected to put their spiritual gifts to work (e.g., teaching, preaching, overseeing . . .). Church discipline for spiritual growth (not punishment!) was necessary and expected.

Today? We live in a world of free or cheap grace without much discipleship or accountability (write to me via the editor if you’d like to see the statistics!). Few are required to participate, and, therefore, about 85% of Christians are freeloaders who don’t contribute or engage in spiritual formation or discipleship. Oh – and discipline within the Christian community? Forget about it! Anyone who doesn’t like the message or accountability can just go to another church down the road. What about things like baptism and Communion?

Initially, Communion (the Lord’s Supper) was a simple, intimate, worshipful dinner between believers. No pomp or circumstance. Today, it’s practiced in many ways, from a simple, quick ceremony as part of a Sunday service to a deeply mystical encounter. Baptism is another practice that differs significantly today from its early Christian counterpart.

For the first several generations from Jesus, baptism was a simple ceremony that confirmed the convert’s devotion to God and entry into the universal Church. Interestingly, according to early accounts, the water could be cold or warm, running or still, or even spit (as a last resort). The point wasn’t the water but devotion. After a few generations from Jesus, heresies and false teachings abounded, as did weak faith that people left under persecution. To ensure that converts truly understood the covenant they were about to enter, the Church began intense training and observation—sometimes for as much as three years—before baptism. That’s not the case today—baptism requires nothing more than a verbal affirmation of faith, no demonstration.

You may be wondering about one more big difference: giving. I’ll need to write a separate article for that one! What about next week? We’ll compare and contrast individualism in American churches to Star Trek’s Borg.

The Value of Worship

Last week, we explored the history behind our fractured Christianity. This week, we’ll take a brief look at the ‘Big-T’ non-negotiable practices of shared faith and contrast them against ‘little-t’ subjective truths of how we engage in religion, how we worship. But first, let’s define the term.

It is a 16th-century compound word that combines ‘worth’ and ‘ship.’ Basically, the word is action-oriented and represents how we assign worth to what we value. In the Bible, worship was actionable: bowing down, singing, praying, giving, sexual purity, kindness, etc. Jesus’ related point was that we tend to put our resources (worth) into what we value (Matthew 6:21). Let’s go back to the first century to contrast Christian mandates with today’s religious practices.

Two thousand years ago, Christians were charged with honoring their heavenly Father with all they were and had and to treat each other with the love of Christ (Matthew 22:34-40). They were to make disciples and baptize new converts into the faith (e.g., Matthew 28:18-21); those faithful newbies received the Spirit of God in return for regeneration (e.g., Acts 5:32 & Titus 3:5). Simple devotion, baptism, charity, and disciple-making while walking by the Spirit of God in the Christian community were essential Christian activities. Being a community, Christ-followers enjoyed table fellowship that brought the remembrance of what Jesus did for humankind and why, initially on Saturday evenings during corporate worship (prayer, teaching, singing, etc. (see Colossians 3:16 for a foundation)). No mystery or magic; no strict religious focus or a one-to-many format – well, not yet anyway.

By the fourth century, candles, chants, and rituals turned baptism into a solemn religious experience, although the primary intent remained: devote to God and renounce sin. Similarly, simple table fellowship and a communal remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the covenant it enabled became a formalized and mystical experience that not everyone could administer or enjoy. Corporate prayer where members in a Christian assembly participated has ceased to be a shared, communal experience. Collaborative teaching and the sharing of spiritual gifts have given way to preaching and a strict format that leaves little if any room for in-depth and applicable biblical teaching or movements by the Spirit of God.

“But, Ron – does how we sing, teach, pray, baptize, or take Communion in a worship service matter?” The answer depends on whether biblical teaching in disciple-making, heartfelt prayer, faith-fueled baptism, intimate sharing in covenantal remembrance or corporate singing and exercising spiritual gifts occur in true worship while involved in religious activities. We may practice our faith differently depending on religious culture. But, we must never forsake Communion’s intimate sharing, the devotion of baptism, communal prayer and singing, or the maturity found in discipleship.

Oh – I mentioned the phrase “Christian love.” Please join me next week to look at the different ways we do, and should, love!

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Dunkin’ Do-Nots

I found the Sacrament (or Ordinance) of Baptism fascinating, and it reminds me of so many questions and internal friction spawned by this simple and yet critical Christian function! Dip or dunk? Necessary for salvation? Public or private? Prescriptive or Descriptive?

Baptism was prescribed from the beginning and had a presence in ancient Israel and pagan rituals, but what purpose does it serve for contemporary Christianity? Humanmade doctrine varies, and you’ll find it an act that imparts grace on the newly-born and old alike for the sacramental-minded. And there, a sprinkle is likely to be just as effective as a complete dunking as long as an individual ordained in the particular sect or denomination performs the rite. On the other hand, you’d be more likely to find baptism an ordinance of immersion and more of a symbolic act of burial and resurrection than an impartation of Godly grace if you’re of a Protestant persuasion. Which is correct, and does the function impact the salvation of those being doused or dunked?

What the Bible makes clear: Baptism in our New Testament context is meant to represent the forgiveness of sin and symbolize rebirth in Christ. It provided accountability, at least in the beginning, through the public profession of faith – often in the face of possible martyrdom. But that the ritual is necessary for salvation is unlikely; that idea may be part of a misunderstanding of salvation and a focus on praxis as opposed to the heart.

First of all, and contrary to our contemporary desire, the Bible teaches us that salvation – a rescuing by definition – will be a stay from God’s future wrath (e.g. 1Peter 1:3-5). Second, Jesus had a lot to say about our heart (intent) and the idea of choosing and following. And, Paul seems to corroborate the concept of persevering in our covenant with God. Finally, the Bible and this week’s lectures confirm that our confession of choice is synonymous with a ‘dying to self,’ and dying is indeed necessary before burial and resurrection baptism symbolizes. So, while it may not be directly related to salvation itself, baptism is meant to be a visible sign (not unlike circumcision in God’s covenant with Israel) that someone has ‘counted the cost’ and chosen to covenant with God. In other words, the ‘washing’ implies an educated commitment.

A common practice in the early church (still done in some Christian circles today) was to spend perhaps many months training a new ‘believer’ before baptism to ensure they understood what they were about to do. Contrast the practice with our Western tendency to get someone to say a ‘sinner’s prayer’ and seek baptism with little or no knowledge of the God with whom they’re supposed to covenant!

So, dunk, dip, or sprinkle as long as the recipient ends up as more than just wet!

Blessings,

Rb

Keep an eye out for “Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss!” scheduled for a mid-20167publication. There, you’ll find roughly 60 topics related to daily life (such as sex, religion, finances, tattooing, and everything in between!) along with practical application of God’s guidance for navigating those difficult waters!

And, for a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come and being rescued from it, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!