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Community. Baptism is a fundamental part of the shared Christian heritage. Denominations may differ on when to baptize and how to baptize (although I believe the Bible to be explicit in regards to the latter matter, but I digress), and even the function of baptizing, but the command is clear and universal. Now, the evangelical tradition may do the best job in representing the two first issues with biblical clarity, but because of our blatant individualism, we have robbed the act itself of meaning. We treat it much like we do the Lord's Supper - to be regarded as a command of Jesus to the Church and as a symbol, and little else. Yet consider these words from the Message paraphrase of Romans chapter 6:
So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we've left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn't you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace - a new life in a new land!
That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country.
I have a couple of friends who were baptized as infants in the Catholic Church. Since joining our church, they have been asked to be baptized again. Once. As a prerequisite for membership. They are members now; but have not undergone baptism as adults. Although I strongly disagree with them on this matter, it is really the evangelical movement that I have an issue with. For, if the precious act of baptism is presented merely as a proclamation of faith (I want to do this because I want to show my family I believe in Jesus.) or as a command of Jesus (I want to do this because the church / Jesus said I should.) then there is little urgency in the act, and no understanding of the act. Therefore, why do it?
I will argue that the act of baptism is not just a proclamation of faith, it is an internalization through bodily action of our understanding of a Truth, the most important Truth that has happened to us believers - the bodily and spiritual death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord. It is also - a la John the Baptist - a renunciation, or turning point, from the dirty, staunchy, smelly ways of the world and it's death traps. It's also a reminder of desperately clinging to life, a need for light and air, an expectancy of the embrace of life, in concordance with the action of going down into the waters and coming back up again after being consumed by the water. And, most importantly for the effects of this essay, it's the entering into the legacy of those who have passed before us and the commonality of those who travel with us. Baptism is to the new covenant what circumcision is to the old covenant: a mark of the delivered, a seal of the collective children of the covenant.