Wednesday, June 17, 2009

6/18- The Purpose in Baptism

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

6/18- The Purpose in Baptism

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:14-16)
Calvin: Baptism is the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children. Now baptism was given to us by God for these ends (which I have taught to be common to all sacraments): first, to serve our faith before him; secondly, to serve our confession before men. We shall treat in order the reasons for each aspect of its institution. Baptism brings three things to our faith which we must deal with individually. The first thing that the Lord sets out for us is that baptism should be a token and proof of our cleansing; or (the better to explain what I mean) it is like a sealed document to confirm to us that all our sins are so abolished, remitted, and effaced that they can never come to his sight, be recalled, or charged against us. For he wills that all who believe be baptized for the remission of sins [Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38]. Accordingly, they who regarded baptism as nothing but a token and mark by which we confess our religion before men, as soldiers bear the insignia of their commander as a mark of their profession, have not weighed what was the chief point of baptism. It is to receive baptism with this promise: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” [Mark 16:16].[IV.15.1]

On 3/22’s blog I wrote a summary of Calvin’s basic view on baptism- that it is very similar to the Old Testament rite of circumcision. Calvin agreed with Luther that there are only two sacraments (though the Catholics had 7) because Jesus only commanded these two for all people- [“Go and baptize” and “Do this in remembrance of me.” ].
Zwingli said that the Lord’s Supper and baptism were just ordinances- or commands that are part of our sign (or profession) to the world of our belief. Calvin points to this belief above when he says “as soldiers bear the insignia of their commanders.” Certainly baptism is in part a witness to the world. But Calvin believes it is more. As the Holy Spirit is present in a special way in the Lord’s Supper, so the Holy Spirit is present in a special way in baptism. Calvin comes close to saying that baptism is a requirement of salvation (Luther comes even closer). But Calvin backs away just a bit and says baptism is like a seal on a document- that reminds us of the authenticity of that document. Baptism reminds us that we really are cleansed of our sins. Baptism is not just a sign, but it is not quite a requirement of salvation. The thief on the cross went to paradise without being baptized. In Europe today- where church attendance is dismal, many treat baptism as a kind of insurance to make sure the Christian base is covered, but most do not live in accordance to their baptism vows. In America, many just don’t see the need to be baptized at all. But baptism is a command, a sign, and a seal. We are called to not only be baptized, but to remember our baptism.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of baptism that reminds us we are yours. Help us to live in accordance to our faith.

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