Jesus, Paul, and Baptism

Jesus, Paul, and Baptism September 3, 2015

In his recent book on Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision, Paul House notes that Bonhoeffer insists (in Cost of Discipleship) that we cannot pit Jesus against Paul. One of the key continuities between the two is baptism. Bonhoeffer writes, “Where the Synoptic Gospels speak of Christ calling men and their following him, St. Paul speaks of Baptism” (quoted by House, 80-81).

House elaborates: “Baptism is god’s gift to believers. They receive baptism in an essentially passive manner; they surrender to Jesus and are baptized . . . . Baptism creates a breach between the believer and the world, and this breach is complete, for the ‘baptized Christian has ceased to belong to the world and is no longer its slave. He belongs to Christ alone, and his relationship to the world is mediated through him’” (81).

According to Bonhoeffer, “Baptism also indicates ‘justification from sin. the sinner must die that he may be delivered from his sin.’ . . . This death, forgiveness and justification occur because ‘the gift of baptism is the Holy Spirit’” (81). Though baptism is “passively received” it gives the Spirit which will not allow the believer to live passively. 

Just as Jesus’ call brought disciples out into the open as Jesus disciples, so baptism “provides a visible response to Christ’s call.” Like Jesus’ call, baptism summons the disciple to leave “the world, his work and his family, taking his stand visible in the fellowship of Jesus Christ” (81, Bonhoeffer’s words). But those who lose the world through baptism also gain it; the disciple “recovers what he has surrendered – brothers, sisters, houses, and fields. Those who have been baptized live in the visible community of Christ” (81, again Bonhoeffer).


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