Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Baptism I: How Many Baptisms?

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, (Ephesians 4:4-5)

“One baptism, This does not mean that Christian baptism is not to be administered more than once, but that one baptism is common to all; so that, by means of it, we begin to form one body and one soul.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians 4:4)

According to Paul, there is only one baptism. And as John Calvin noted, when Paul wrote this, he was not declaring that people should only be baptized once, rather he was reminding us that there is but one baptism in which all believers are joined and united.

So where do we find this “one baptism common to all”? The answer, as with every good and perfect gift, is, in Christ! As the author of Hebrews reminds us, Jesus is our “forerunner” (Hebrews 6:20), the one who in all things goes before us. In other words, every blessing that God bestows upon His children is first given to Christ. We obtain every divine blessing in Christ, and nowhere do we obtain a single blessing outside of Christ. Every blessing, including baptism, comes to us by virtue of our union with Christ. Simply put, baptism is a blessing to us, because it was first a blessing to Jesus.

This being true, to properly understand the meaning and import of Christian baptism we need to begin with the baptism of Jesus, the “one baptism” into which all who receive Christian baptism are baptized by virtue of their baptism into Christ.

“But”, some will argue, “Jesus was baptized by John, and John’s baptism signified something altogether different than Christian baptism.” On this point I agree with John Calvin that the difference between John’s baptism and our baptism was not a difference of kind, but rather of degree. Viz:

“And even by this also are we taught that the baptism of John was a token of repentance and remission of sins and that our baptism at this day doth not differ any thing from it, save only that Christ is already revealed, and in his death and resurrection our salvation is made perfect: and so baptism was brought unto his [its] effect; because out of that fountain of Christ’s death and resurrection whereof I have spoken, floweth repentance, and thither is faith referred again that it may thence fet [seek] free righteousness. In sum, Paul showeth plainly that that was the baptism of regeneration and renovation as is ours.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Acts 19:4)

Although this may not seem all that important, this understanding of our relation to Christ and his baptism actually sets the stage for glorious revelations of God’s love and mercy.

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