On The Sacrament Of Baptism: Part Three

On The Sacrament Of Baptism: Part Three May 15, 2017

This is the third post from a series on the sacrament of baptism.

Click Here For Part One

Click Here For Part Two

Baptism of Rus by Viktor Vasnetsov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Baptism of Rus by Viktor Vasnetsov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Those who have come to be included into the body of Christ, those who have put on Christ, that is, those who have found themselves washed and regenerated by baptism are called to share that grace with others. They are expected to act in the world as members of the body of Christ by bringing the fruit of the resurrection to all who would welcome them. This is because, like Christ, they are to follow the path of love, to love others in and through their love for God. For they see them as those whom God loves. Anyone God loves, they will also love for the sake of God, for the sake of their beloved, and so they will love others as themselves because God loves them like God loves them.

Christ handed over to the church, those incorporated into his body and participate in and through him with the holy things of God, his ongoing mission to spread the grace and love of God throughout the world. Christians are expected to go out into the world, to be vehicles of God’s grace, not to distance and hide themselves from the world as if it were something to be abhorred. Thus, the church offers the grace of baptism to all, so that anyone who seeks spiritual healing can find the means by which they can be made anew by the work of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ has given the church a commission, the means by which the church knows for herself as the normal means by which she offers the regenerative grace which he has handed over to her:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt. 28:19-20 RSV).

The grace of regeneration comes in baptism, and so is known as baptism. This is what the church knows as the name given to the grace which comes from above to enable those who receive it to be born again. Thus, when speaking of baptism, it can refer to the act of baptizing someone, or the essence of the sacrament, the grace which is offered by its practice.  Christ told us that to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must be born again; Christ, in his death and resurrection, has opened the way for that grace to come into the world. He has told the church the means by which those called to him in the new covenant relationship, those who have come to know and follow him in the church, can work with him in spreading that grace to others. It is in baptism, and that baptism is to be done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.[1]

It is baptism when someone is put under water, whether if it is a little as if being sprinkled by water, or as much as being covered by a body of water while given the invocation of the words of baptism established by Jesus (baptism in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit), with the express intent of baptism and no express desire to hinder the grace of baptism by the recipient. Thus, it is not merely the touching of water which makes baptism valid, nor the words as if they work by magic, but there is the need for the Holy Spirit to bring the grace in baptism, and that must not be stifled by anyone involved with the baptism itself. Merely saying the words, and putting someone under water, is not baptism, for baptism has to be done with full intentionality. This is why there is possibility of an accidental baptism ever taking place, such as would happen if intention was not necessary, for then those who play-acted a baptism would find themselves actually engaging the sacrament itself.  Only when one person baptizes another, with intention of baptism, using water and invoking the proper words of baptism over someone who is not opposed to the baptism itself, does the Holy Spirit come in place and render the grace of the sacrament.

If either the one baptizing does not intend to follow Christ in baptizing someone else (they do not need to know Christ’s intention for baptism, as long as they believe they should do it out of obedience to Christ with the intention to grant whatever Christ grants with baptism), or the one being baptized intentionally rejects baptism, then it is of no avail. This explains why infants, who give no intentional rejection of the sacrament, are able to be baptized and be received into the body of Christ, which should not be surprising, for in pre-Christian times, infants were able to be received into a covenantal relationship with God through other means, like circumcision for the children of Israel.

Baptism regenerates and makes one born again, born with the grace of the Spirit of Life. Nonetheless, after we are baptized, we remain free after to reject God, to reject the grace given to us, to turn away from God and sin again, cutting ourselves off from the grace which God has offered in baptism. We can risk losing our proper relationship with God, and end up among the damned. This is why Jesus warned us that those who do not believe can perish even as those who believe and are baptized can be saved:[2] those who believe will hear the whole gospel do all that Christ said should be done. Believers will cooperate with the grace given to them, allowing it to perfect them, so that there can come a time, either in their temporal life are sometime thereafter, when they can cast off all that remains of sin and death from their person and fully embrace eternal life with the barrier sin places upon them which keeps them from the beatitude they desire.

There is, then, the baptism given in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which regenerates those not closed to its grace. Its grace gives them a new life, they are born, and if they allow it to work in themselves, if they do not stifle it with sin, it will bring them into spiritual maturity as they enter into eternity. Through it, they are united in the body of Christ; they discover, in Christ, they have the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, working in them with its grace, so that through their unity with Christ and the grace activated by the Spirit, they are turned toward the loving Father who welcomes them.  The Father, in his love, sent the Son and the Spirit into the world so that we can become adopted children of the Father. Once they realize their place in the divine life, they will be able to see the Father as all in all, and so the son will be said to render the whole creation to the Father. It is with faith we open ourselves up to the path of love, the path established by Christ, unite ourselves to him, and become partakers of the divinity, co-heirs of Christ.  There is one faith, one hope, one love, and so one baptism which lead us to realize our proper relationship with the Father and the awareness that relationship gives us as being able to see the Father in all things, as Paul declared: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6 RSV). [3]

We are free to receive the regenerative baptism once; once we have had it, we do not need it again, and indeed, we will not receive it again. If we sin, if we turn away after its reception, God has other ways to work in and with us, to help restore us to our baptismal purity. We are not expected to constantly go over to God in baptism, acting as if it did not take when we find ourselves weak and sinning again; the grace has worked, the infusion of the new life is working in us, but the remnants of the past, of the sin and its contamination, is still with us in our concupiscence. We will have temptations to sin, we will have habits in our body and spirit which will lead us to sin; we will see within ourselves the fight between the old fallen self and its habits and the new person emerging which seeks to continue its unity with Christ.  If we give up and let sin win, we turn once again unbelief and risk perdition, but if we fight on, however weak, then the love which is in us, the love given to us by the Spirit of Life, will be enough to work in and through is, to slowly shape and mold us so that we can become the person God intends us to be in our new creation.  It is up to us to continue to follow in faith, hope and love to the very end of our temporal lives, so that we can detach ourselves from transitory being and truly be open to the way of eternity. Through baptism we have been born from above. The birth can lead to a stillbirth if we cling to sin while in this side of the womb to eternity. Nonetheless, we have hope. As long as we are on this side of the eschaton, the divine physician will offer whatever operation is necessary to restore us to health. We must accept it and not fight against him as he seeks to heal us; but if we do, then we can have hope that we shall truly grow into the person he intends us to be so that we become ready for eternal life.


 

[1] Note, Jesus did not sane in the names of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit because the grace of baptism is given over by God, by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each working in their own way to render that grace to the one being baptized. Here we should realize how the form of baptism tells us it is three persons, three relational entities, who are together one God, for the baptism refers to them as one by saying it is done in their name, not their names. Yet, all three are important, because they work together in our creation in a way which parallels how they worked together in our creation. Each has their unique role, their proper place in the act of creation and so in our recreation; without the recognize of the three together, it can be said that such baptism becomes invalid for it cuts off the full work of God in our soul.

[2]And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk.16:15-16 RSV).

[3] That one baptism, as we will see, can be received in many ways, each nonetheless can be properly characterized by baptism because it offers the grace which is had in baptism, even when they are not all given out by the sacramental ritual itself.

 

 

 

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