Summary: An explanation of the sacrament of baptism.
At the beginning of this series, I noted that from time to time we will stop at a text and consider the particular that is brought up. Paul has raised the practice of baptism in his discussion on church unity. Baptism is not the primary issue, but we would do well to stop this morning and consider its place in the church. I do this because, though we are a Presbyterian church and our baptism tradition is well established, it nevertheless is not well understood. This is true, not only in regard to our Baptist brethren who have sneaked into the church, but even life-long Presbyterians. This is a traditional practice many of us accept as our heritage, but without really understanding why.
Let’s start with our text and consider what Paul has to say about baptism. Two comments stress, first, its significance, and second, its limitation.
In disavowing his and other church leaders’ right to even be considered in the same breath as Jesus Christ, Paul points that baptism takes place in Christ’s name and no one else’s, i.e. no other creature. Paul is not discussing whether one is to be baptized only in Jesus’ name as opposed to the full Trinity. The contrast is between the divine Redeemer and his redeemed people. It is ludicrous and blasphemous to be baptized in the name of a fellow sinner.
This thought leads us to a significant feature of baptism. One of the benefits that baptism signifies is our “ingrafting into Christ,” as our Westminster Confession phrases it. The outer sign of baptism represents the inner grace of union with God the Son. Here are a couple of other scriptures denoting this union.
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…(1 Corinthians 12:13).
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ…for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Note the phrases: “baptized by one Spirit into one body,” and “baptized into Christ.” Baptism signifies the inner baptism of the Holy Spirit that unites us with Christ, or ingrafts us into him.
How does baptism signify this reality? Through the word spoken: “John Smith, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We get that formula, of course, from Jesus’ command: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The preposition “in” is the same Greek preposition, eis, which is translated “into” from the above verses. It is the same Greek preposition in our text for “baptized in the name of Paul.” When I baptize an individual, I do not simply do it on behalf of the Trinity, but into the Trinity, i.e., into communion with the triune God.
This is what it means to be named with the name of Christ. We belong to him. Edmund Clowney refers to baptism as a naming ceremony:
The baptized person is given a name, not the name on a baptismal certificate, but the name of the triune God…The name that he gives her is the name of the triune God. Baptism gives Christians their family name, the name they bear as those called the children of God.
He quotes Isaiah 43:6,7 to illustrate this point:
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring wmy sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
Baptism is a statement that the recipient is in the family. The disciple of Christ has been brought into Christ, and because he has been brought into Christ, he abides in the Father and Spirit as well. Regarding the Father, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me…My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). Regarding the Holy Spirit he promises to send the Counselor who “lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).
This is the concept expressed by the term “christening.” Oftentimes we hear people speak of a child being “christened” instead of baptized. To be christened is simply another name for baptism, which stresses the idea of being dedicated to Christ, viz. being identified with his name. In the early centuries when pagans became Christians, they would often take a “Christian” name to demonstrate their change of identity from paganism to Christianity.
What then does identifying with Christ mean? There are three things: union with Christ, being under his protection, and committing allegiance to him. I already brought up the idea of union with Christ with the phrase, “ingrafted into Christ.” This union with him means that we share in the work he has done to redeem us. Thus the Bible speaks of our dying with him, being buried with him, and rising to life with him. In Christ we have died to sin and have risen to new life. There is mystery here, to be sure. But then, we are dealing with the almighty God whose ways are beyond us.