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Summary: John the Baptiser preached repentance and Jesus who had no sin was baptised by John, and the first Christians were baptised. The church should be united with regard to this Sacrament or Ordinance but is sadly divided over belief and practice.

Text: Luke 3: 21 and 22 ‘After all the people had been baptised, Jesus also was baptised

and a voice came down from heaven,

“You are my own dear Son, I am pleased with you”.’

Baptism sadly divides but it should unite God's people

Within Christianity there are few topics more debated or argued about

than the sacraments of the church.

Each major church group has its own view,

and recognizes only those sacraments that support their beliefs.

Today there are four different types of baptism:

pouring water on a baby’s head;

making the sign of the cross on a baby’s head with water;

immersing a baby in water three times, as the Orthodox do;

and immersing an adult after they have professed their faith.

All four can find support for what they do in both the Bible

and in church history and tradition,

and no one can say for sure which of the methods is definitely the most correct,

or the most wrong.

At the end of the day, whatever mode of baptism is carried out is effective,

providing it is done sincerely,

and the ancient Trinitarian formula:

‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ is said,

and ordinary water is used.

If and when this is done, then grace is imparted to the person being baptised,

or taking the bread and the wine,

which is why ‘sacraments’ are described as ‘means of grace’.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The English word ‘Sacrament’ comes from the Latin word ‘sacramentum’

which roughly means ‘promise’ in Latin.

This word was used to refer to an initiation rite for Roman soldiers

when they promised their fidelity and loyalty to their Legionary commanders.

When the early church started teaching and baptising Gentiles

they used this word to explain the rite of Christian initiation.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Saint Augustine referred to a ‘sacramentum’

as anything that was “a sign of sacred reality”.

Another term often used to define a ‘sacrament’ by the early church

was the Greek word ‘Mysterium’,

which means ‘Mystery’ or ‘Wonder’.

Thus the sacraments of baptism and holy communion

are both viewed as holy mysteries or wonders of the church.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

A common definition of a ‘Sacrament’

is ‘an outward and visible sign

of inward and invisible spiritual grace’

given to us by Jesus so that we may be sanctified in him,

and so that, with God’s help, we may become more like Him.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………

We know from archaeology and ancient historical documents

that ritual water purification rites were practiced by the Hebrews for proselyte conversions, and by Pagans in many mystery regions throughout the Mediterranean.

Cleansing rites were practiced by many ancient peoples

such as the Egyptians and the Greeks,

and Jews were required to undergo a ritual washing before they were allowed to enter the temple in Jerusalem;

but the sacrament of baptism as we practice it today

is based on the historical fact that Jesus was baptised,

as we read in today’s Gospel reading,

and also on Jesus’ words in Matthew 28,

where Jesus instructed his disciples

and those who would follow them through the generations:

to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,

baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

Tertullian, an early Church Father and eminent Christian theologian,

wrote of the many examples of symbolism of water in the bible.

He pointed to scriptural references of God’s spirit moving over the waters

even before the earth was formed,

and of Moses’ deliverance of the tribe of Israel through the parted Red Sea,

of Jesus being baptized by water,

of Jesus blessing people by miraculously turning water into wine,

of Jesus walking on water,

and of Pontius Pilate washing his hands in water.

Tertullian concluded that water is an important symbol of people being set free through it.

Jesus’ own words in John 4:14 confirm this,

“whoever drinks the water that I give him will never thirst.

Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Following Jesus’ commandment to His disciples to go and baptise all nations,

recorded in Matthew 28:19,

the disciples engaged in baptismal rites,

partly in remembrance of the historical fact that Jesus himself was baptised.

In the early church baptism came to symbolise the union with Jesus’,

His death and resurrection

through the candidate’s immersion in water,

as we read in today’s epistle text: Romans 6, verses 3 and 4.

Baptism is also a sign of cleansing and washing away of our sin (Acts 22:16).

Since Martin Luther and the 16th Century Reformation most Protestants recognize only two major sacraments, Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, and view these sacraments as outward and visible signs involving water or bread and wine, by which inward and spiritual grace is bestowed by God on those who faithfully take part in the particular activity.

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