Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What value does baptism have to the believer? A Catholic might describe its effects as "graces" that are bestowed by God, but this is a question that seems to not have a strong consensus throughout the Protestant churches.

We are commanded to baptize, but does it have any type of spiritual value beyond "we're doing a good thing that God told us we should do"? Because if that's all it is, then it is the equivalent of obeying parents, loving your neighbor, going to communion, etc (ie I mean to describe here general actions that we should do, but that aren't normally ascribed with any spiritual power in a Protestant context).

But yet, people often want to look at the action of baptism as being something "more". Why? Perhaps it has something to do Jesus being baptized (although he did many other good things as well that we don't ascribe with that power). Perhaps it has something to do with God's reaction to Jesus's being baptized (although a similarly powerful experience occurred at the mount during the transfiguration, but yet we don't ascribe spiritual significance to climbing mountains...I think it had more to do with Jesus and less to do with the baptism). Perhaps it has something to do with the way people "feel" once they've been baptized (since people's "feelings" are quite subjective, I don't believe that this is sufficient reason to believe that there is some higher level of significance in this one particular area).

Inevitably, I find myself wondering about the institution. We all agree that events like baptism and communion have a symbolic role, but there seems to be lingering confusion concerning possible other roles they might have (and a definitive lack of specification about what that role may be). Many people "just believe" it, not realizing that very little of their "own understanding" is not very biblical in extent (depending on how much you'd like to read in to any one passage).

Now, none of this is to look down on the institution of baptism as an institution. We were told to do it by Jesus. We should do it. It's important (even if we don't know why). Can't we leave it at that (to impute anything more would be both anachronistic and quite wrong).

A better question to leave you all (one that is much further beyond my own understanding or ability): So, is baptism the "new" circumcision?

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