VIEWS: 13 PAGES: 3 POSTED ON: 10/15/2011
SERMON “Are You Really Baptized?” Rev. John Carl Swanson Union Congregational Church, Wollaston, MA January 13, 2008 Text – Matthew 3:13-17 Are you really baptized? My two best friends, both Baptist ministers, Rob Killeffer and John Odams, would say no, unless you have been baptized as an adult by full immersion. I would say no, if you haven’t, in your heart, consciously and deliberately affirmed the baptismal vows you made if you were baptized as an adult or were made for you if you were baptized as a child. One can only affirm these vows if they fully and consciously accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. There are three views of baptism in church. ONE is the view that baptism is in and of itself salvific. That is the act of the priest pouring water on ones head, either an infant or adult in and of itself guarantees salvation. This is the traditional teaching of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and some Anglican/Episcopal churches. If you ever go to a Catholic Funeral Mass (and some Episcopal Funeral Services), the priest will greet the casket at the door of the church, sprinkle the casket with water and say, “By his/her baptism, so and so put on Jesus and was baptized into eternal life.” I remember as a college chaplain pulling the body of a young man who had been murdered out of the harbor and my colleague, a Catholic priest, anointing the forehead of the boy and saying the same words. The young man had gone AWOL, gotten drunk and had gotten involved in a barroom brawl. He was chased, beaten and thrown into the harbor. I remember staring at his lifeless form as the priest said “By his baptism he put on Jesus Christ and was born to eternal life.” I remember being wet, shivering in the cold, and thinking, “I sure hope so.” THE SECOND VIEW OF BAPTISM is baptism as a sign of one’s conscious commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Baptism is a reenactment of Jesus’ baptism by John by full immersion. Rev. Odams and Rev. Killeffer are Baptist ministers because they baptize, not sprinkle but baptize by full immersion, adults. THE THIRD VIEW OR PRACTICE OF BAPTISM is the Reformed Protestant view. Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans are Reformed churches. We trace our history from the Reformation, hence the name reformed. The Reformation was when the primacy of the Bible was recovered. Like Catholic and Orthodox Christians, we view baptism as a sacrament which is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes and accepts as equal and valid our baptisms. However, unlike the Roman Catholics, we do not view baptism as salvific. In other words, it has no validity without a confession of faith. In this we are closely aligned with the Baptists. So why do we baptize infants? Good question. And this is where Reformed churches can appear murky in doctrine and ministers can get into trouble. No infant should be baptized in a Reformed church if the parents (at least one, anyway), are not members of the church. A little family story here. Back in 1976 my niece was refused baptism in our family church because my sister was not a member. As you can imagine, we were all quite upset. How could the minister refuse to baptize a cute little baby girl? Well, if he had taken the time to explain and had shown a modicum of pastoral skill he could have. First of all, he was correct, absolutely correct, in theory. It makes absolutely no sense to baptize an infant whose parent or guardian is not a professing Christian, that is, a part of the faith community. And, it makes no sense whatsoever, for a congregation to affirm the baptismal promises made for the child by the parent or guardian if the congregation does not know the people and will never see them again. In fact, the baptism of infants of people who are not part of the Christian community can lead to a false and dangerous sense of spiritual security and an attitude that the baby has somehow received some sort of spiritual blessing. FOR CATHOLICS baptism is a sacrament that is necessary and is salvific in and of itself. You can baptize anybody and you should baptize everybody. For Protestants, baptism is not salvific and is only a SIGN of salvation, not a means of salvation. Back to my childhood pastor. Roger was correct in theory and practice. But he could have shown a modicum of pastoral sense. My sister was not off the street. She had gone there for years and had been married there. She was at worship weekly and simply had never formally joined the church. She would have if she had been asked, but the pastor, in his abrupt refusal to baptize hers daughter, came across as having thrown down a spiritual gauntlet and my sister didn’t feel like a fight. Beth was baptized at another church, Quincy Point Cong and a few years later by sister joined First Presbyterian. In a similar situation, I would have baptized Beth. HOWEVER, I would have baptized her only because of her mother’s attendance at worship, her faith in Jesus Christ and her stated commitment to raise the child in the church of Jesus Christ. We live today in a post-Christian age. I will baptize most infants, but only after an in depth meeting with the parents. I make it very clear, “If I baptize your baby and you don’t bring him/her up in the church, all I’ve done is get the baby’s head wet.” Reformed churches are COVENANT CHURCHES. We baptize babies because we want to invite them at the earliest possible age to be part of the covenant. THE COVENANT is our faith based relationship and way of life as a community of Jesus Christ. That is why in the baptisms that we do here, there is always a part where the members of the church rise and affirm the faith of the church and make a vow to support the family of the infant in raising the child to be a Christian. The Reformed view of baptism as a covenant with the parents and child is the only biblically based reason for the baptism of infants. What about adults? It’s interesting that in the 1957 Pilgrim Hymnal, (the one we use here), there is no service order for the baptism of adults. There is one for infants but not one for adults. This is not the case with the previous addition of the hymnal in use in this church, the 1937, 1917, and 1900. All of these editions have such a service order. The 1957 does not. (Interestingly, the New Century Hymnal, which came out several years ago, much the derision of conservatives like me, does nave a service for adults). In the late 1950’s, churches like this were packed out and there wasn’t a perceived need for evangelism. Today, there is. In today’s post Christian age, the need for evangelism and outreach to the unchurched, always an issue to be addressed, is even more apparent. Today’s Gospel text is the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. It is the model text for all Christian baptism and all Christian baptism, whether infants or adults, in some sense reenacts it. John’s baptism was a baptism for the remission of sis. Jesus did not sin, yet He bore the penalty for our sin on the cross. Jesus’ baptism was His great self-identification with us. Are we identified with Him? Are we really baptized? By that I mean, are we living out our baptism vows, either made by us or made for us? The symbolism of the water in baptism is that water cleanses. By the blood of Christ and only by the blood of Christ can our sins be cleansed from us. Water is the symbol of this. Have your sins been washed away by the blood of the Lamb? The Lamb of God Jesus sacrificed for our sin. Whether one was sprinkled as a child or immersed as an adult, the plain reality is that we are all sinners whose only hope of salvation is Jesus Christ. f you truly baptized, you will be in a relationship with Him. His Holy Spirit will dwell in you and you will have a peace that passes understanding, a purpose for living and a final, a glorious destination at the end of their life. Are you really baptized? Amen.