Monday, October 11, 2010

Living the Mission Part 3

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always , even to the end of the age."

Baptism is perhaps the most misunderstood concept in Christianity. We cannot depend on tradition and ritual to form our perspective on this essential element of our faith. Two extremes exist: you must be water baptized to be saved on one hand, and the extreme Quaker view of banning the practice of water baptism. Both come from a good intention to do things right, but both perspectives miss the point. Immersion in water is an ancient practice that comes before Christianity. It is a Jewish ritual known as Mikvah, or washing. It was essentially an invitation for the divine to fully surround and invade a person's life. But even in that practice, the true test of the practice was not the performing of a ritual, but the heart of the individual.

I say that baptism is misunderstood, because we are so accustomed to the ritual of water baptism, that when we see the word baptize we see only a picture of the ritual we are familiar with. In order to truly understand baptism, we must set aside our thoughts on the ritual and look instead at the actual words of Jesus in this verse.

He says, "Go and make disciples, baptizing them..." The word that Jesus uses here is baptizo defined by The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon as follows.

Baptizo: to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk at sea) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe to overwhelm

Not to be confused with bapto. The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making picklesand is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped'(bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g.Mark 16:16. 'He that believes and is baptised shall be saved'.Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle!
Bible Study Magazine, James Montgomery Boice, May 1989.

Jesus says to "baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." The word name is the Greek word onoma and is defined by The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon as follows.

Onoma: name: universal of proper names the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e. for one's rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds etc.

Further investigation of this concept revealed that "in Jewish thought, a name is not merely an arbitrary designation, a random combination of sounds. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the being named."

In Matthew 28, I believe Jesus is saying something new and different. He is not merely prescribing a ritual immersion in water, but rather an immersion of oneself in the very essence of God. It is the inward washing of the soul, and literally pickling of the person in the substance of God. It implies transformation in the very identity of the person involved. Like the cucumber that goes into the solution and comes out a pickle. This transformation is not done with water, but by immersing oneself in the person of God.

This soaking in God, according to the early Friends, is something that can happen with or without the ritual of water baptism. In their view, if the Holy Spirit is at work in a person's life bringing about transformation then water is not necessary. If however the Spirit is not at work in a person's life to bring about transformation then no amount of water is sufficient.

We participate in this process in ourselves by remaining in Christ, abiding in him. As we remain in him, his power is at work within us changing us from the inside out. We can invite others to soak up Christ by living changed lives in front of them and by sharing with them what we have experienced of who God is, what he is like, what we have seen him do in our own lives.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, pickling them in the very essence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

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