Grace and Peace from Our Lord Jesus Christ!
In our survey of the order of worship over these last several months we now come to the first of the two sacraments of the Christian faith – the sacrament of baptism. This is not a sacrament that we observe every Sunday, by any means, but on those special occasions when we do it is not something for the congregation just to watch as mere spectators to be entertained either. Baptism, a visible word of God, clearly shapes your desires, develops your imagination, molds your habits, and sets you apart for your calling from God. This sacrament, like the litany of confession, is a microcosm of the whole worship service. Thus in both of these elements of worship we hear the entire gospel story.1 This is a story that clashes with the popular religion practiced by many today where church is a helpful hobby sometimes and good people go to heaven when they die.
Traditionally at a baptism there is a call for the members present to remember their own baptisms, which is meant in a liturgical and not an intellectual sense since many were baptized too young to literally recollect it. Therefore, I encourage each member of the congregation to renew their own baptismal vows – not just to say the Apostles’ Creed. These oaths include the “renunciations,” as well as promises be active in the church’s worship and work. We are only baptized once, but by renewing our vows we relive the experience for ourselves in some sense.
The first set of vows are practice in dying to self, which James K.A. Smith calls an exercise in “counterformation.”2 Remembering that everything we see is shaping or forming us in some way – including television, popular music, and the like – these vows are bending us back toward God. The latter vows regarding the worship and work of the church are important because they are opportunities to push back against ever thinking of church attendance as a hobby. And while I am focusing on what we do at a baptism, let us never forget that it is God who is showering us with grace.
Furthermore, when the pastor applies the water to the candidate, the whole congregation sees a death to self and the creation of a new brother or sister in Christ. Baptism is an adoption ceremony for a new child of God, which means that the sacrament is the creation of a new family.3 Thus with the baptism of infants the whole church promises to help raise the children of others. No doubt the reason that there are sacraments in the first place (rather than only the hearing of the word) is that the other senses, like sight, aid in building Christian character and imagination. We are to imagine ourselves as one family, ever dying to sin and self, and consecrated for God’s service and for His glory. Thanks be to God for our baptisms!
1 James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, p.182.
2 Ibid., p.187.
3 Ibid., p.182.
[Update 7/22/17: The ancient Israelites all spoke as if the Passover and the Exodus Event happened to them even though these things happened before their own lifetimes. The Exodus Event was a baptism for the nation of Israel. It would be a fruitful line of inquiry to think about how for Christians the baptismal liturgy is how we are united to Christ on the cross and united to Christ on the third day when He rose from the dead. In other words, even though these things took place centuries ago, baptism is one way to participate in these events today. Similar observations can be made about the Lord’s Supper, which is a memorial of Christ’s death until He comes. None of these thoughts are meant to diminish how these sacraments are means of God’s grace for those who believe.]