14 April 2011

Baptism: Death by Qualification?

And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 3:21)

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. (Rom 6:3–4)

A baptism at the Church of Debre
Sina Maryam in Ethiopia 
Yet I must maintain that it's a non-saving and loseable identification. When one is baptized, she shares in Christ's verdict pronounced over her by the Father at the resurrection. But this may be lost. I think this rightly emphasizes the promises to which baptism points, and, in a certain sense, confers, though not indissolubly. Luther states it plainly enough:
We are not found in a state of perfection as soon as we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and his death. Having been baptized into his death, we merely strive to obtain (the blessings of) this death and to reach our goal of glory. Just so, when we are baptized into everlasting life and the kingdom of heaven, we do not at once fully possess its full wealth (of blessings). We have merely taken the first steps to seek after eternal life. Baptism has been instituted that it should lead usto the blessings (of his death) and through such death to eternal life. Therefore it is necessary that we should be baptized into Jesus Christ and his death. (Commentary on Romans, p. 101, Kregel 1976)
So, Baptism identifies its recipient with the dead and resurrected Messiah and therefore all the promises of God in Christ are pointed to therein. Ridderbos sharpens the focus a bit:
. . . baptism accomplishes in its own way what already obtained in another way [predestinarian, redemptive-historical incorporation into Christ], and thus occupies its own place in the whole of the divine communication of redemption. What that mode and that place are can only be viewed in the proper light when one does full justice to the various aspects of the divine appropriation of salvation. It is just as incorrect to say that the comprehension of the church in Christ take place only by baptism, as it is that baptism merely symbolizes or confirms a posteriori what is already an accomplished fact. (Paul, pp. 409–10)
But what, then, of an individual's faith? Is "coming to Jesus" entirely irrelevant? Hardly. "That which the believer appropriates to himself on the proclamation of the gospel God promises and bestows on him in baptism. It is salvation by the washing of regeneration for everyone who with his mouth confesses Jesus as Lord and in his heart believes that God has raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9; Tit. 3:5)" (p. 412).

2 comments:

Steve said...

I see Baptism as, 'The Visible Word.' Just as one may reject the preached or written Word, one may also reject the visble word. I say this at the start to make clear that I don't believe that everyone who is baptised is converted, however for some people, this means of grace may actually be a means of salvation. As scripture says, 'baptism saves.'

Chris Donato said...

Sounds good to me, Steve. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

 
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