Thursday, September 28, 2006

Physical and Spiritual Unity in Baptism

A recent post on the ex-CoC board prompted a scriptural explanation of the necessity of physical baptism.

First, we can see a foreshadowing of baptism mentioned in the Old Testament...

There's Noah's ark, where they were saved through the use of water, the Israelites who walked through the Red Sea, Naaman who was cleansed by water...many prefigurations of salvation by some use of water. Also, Ezekiel 36:25–26: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you."

God made us physical AND spiritual creatures. It makes sense, then, that baptism is physical AND spritual. Remember that combination, water and spirit, physical and spiritual, as we look at other verses...

In John 3 verse 3, it says "Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 2 verses down, in verse 5, we get an explanation of what being "born anew" means. "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." There's that necessary combination of water and spirit!

There's also Titus 3:5, "He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit." Again, washing (physical) and renewal in the Spirit (spiritual).

Also, in the often-used Acts 2:38, we see this combination: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." We see baptism (physical) and the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit (spiritual.)

Now, are there times in scripture where only the physical or only the spiritual aspect is mentioned? Absolutely! But affirming one aspect of baptism doesn't indicate that the other aspect is unnecessary. It is clear from writings of early Church fathers that at the beginning of Christianity, both the physical and spiritual aspects of baptism were seen as equally important and completely intertwined, they were seen as united. It wasn't until relatively recently that the idea of symbolic baptism even gained popularity.

The bottom line is, when ALL scripture concerning baptism is considered and taken as a whole, we can easily see that water and the spirit are two aspects of one act, which are often mentioned together, and often mentioned seperately. Talking about the different aspects of baptism seperately, though, does not negate their necessary unity. We certainly could not have the physical without the spiritual and call it baptism - that would just be getting wet. Under normal circumstances*, we could not have the spiritual without the physical because, being physical creatures, God knew we would need the physical part of baptism to know that we have, in fact, received something spiritual since it is invisible. This is exactly why Christ gave us the sacraments, which are by definition outward signs of inward grace - the physical and spiritual united. This is what we're told to do over and over in the scriptures, and there's no reason to think they don't mean what they say.

Personally, I tend to take 1 Pet. 3:21 at face value when it says "Baptism now saves you."

*Certainly, extraordinary circumstances exist, such as baptism by blood and baptism by desire, where the physical aspect, water, is not used. But the existence of exceptions because of God's mercy does not change the normative way which Christ gave us to be added to His Church.

7 comments:

Tiber Jumper said...

Dear Stephanie!
What a great story of conversion! on line evangelism nets a catholic and a spouse!!

I have written a lot on my blog about sacramentality of Catholicism and the very nature of Protestantism prevents them from seeing the truth regarding baptism, Eucharist , etc. Now when I read the scriptures, John 3:3-5 and John 6, the only way to not get it right is to have a predetermined idea in your mind before you read that Christianity is just symbolic. Catholicism is from Judaism and it is very physical, the stuff of earth, foreskins, oil, incense, water etc.
conveying the grace of God. I love it because it makes so much sense. We live in the physical realm so why pray tell would our God not convey his Truths to us via materila means? I struggled for 30 years as an evangelcial to get closer to Him and never realized that I cannot get any closer to Christ until Heaven than when I take him onto my tongue in Mass.
Wow!
God bless and thanks for your post

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie! My name is Cyndi Baker - it's nice to meet you. I read your reply to my recent post @ Crossed the Tiber on 9-29-06. Well guess what - we don't live that far away from each other! Listen -- my second cousin, who's an ex-Catholic is the Pastor of the Church of Christ, which is located somewhere in Austin. His name is Adrienne Siller. Do you know him? **Welcome Home!!!**
God bless you!

Stephanie said...

Great comments, tiber jumper, I whole heartedly agree =) Thanks for stopping by!

Stephanie said...

How interesting, Cyndi! The name doesn't ring a bell personally, but I bet there's much less than six degrees of separation between me and your cousin, I'm bound to know someone who knows him!

Thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

The flood did not save the unrighteous but Faith of Noah and his family saved them from the flood waters. Water in itself does not save but rather it's faith. Do you agree with this or not?

Left Rome for Home

Stephanie said...

Faith is necessary, absolutely. I do not, however, believe that ONLY faith is necessary.

Why don't you take a look at these links, maybe they will help you understand:

http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2003/0303sbs.asp

http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1997/9710chap.asp

jdavidb said...

Anonymous, my KJV Bible says regarding the flood that, "eight souls were saved by water." (I Peter 3:20) So maybe your point is a little off.