Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Baptism II: Baptism and Testimony

When you hear the words “baptism” and “testimony” what do you think of? Most modern Christians immediately think of the testimonies that people give shortly before or after they are baptized. But few think of the only testimony in all of scripture that accompanied a baptism.

Before I proceed I would like to make it clear that I am “pro-testimony.” I have often been edified by hearing the accounts of God’s grace to others, and the strange, ordinary and wonderful providences that brought those people to faith in Jesus Christ. However, having said that, I have reservations about the sort of testimonies that are given at baptisms that either obscure or replace altogether the only baptismal testimony for which there is biblical warrant/precedent. I am of course referring to the divine testimony that was given at Jesus’ baptism.

Directly following Jesus’ baptism a voice boomed from heaven, bearing testimony regarding Jesus’ relation to God. The essence of the Father’s testimony concerning His Son was this: “I love you and you belong to me.” Matthew and Mark have slightly differing accounts of this testimony, and the difference is both exceedingly profound and eminently helpful.

And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)

And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Mark 1:11)

Matthew highlights the testimony given by God to the people, “This is my beloved Son…” While Mark highlights the testimony given by God to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son…” But note that in either case, God’s (not Jesus’) testimony was the central focus and therefore indicates the central meaning/import of baptism which is simply this: God’s sacramental declaration to the recipient of the water, “I love you and you belong to me.” And note that this declaration was given for the benefit of the one being baptized and for those who bore witness to the baptism. The testimony of baptism is vitally important for the recipient and for the community of faith.

Martin Luther was once asked what benefit a baptized believer had that an un-baptized believer did not. Luther replied, “Well, his baptism.” By which Luther meant the abiding testimony of God’s love and favor objectively and irrevocably applied to the body of the believer in the water of baptism.

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