Rituals of the Church: Baptism
Baptism is a rite of initiation. We apply significance to the act in our church rituals and liturgy.
It traces back to events prior to the Christian Church:
- John baptized in or near the Jordan River
- Jesus was baptized by John
- Jesus’ disciples were baptizing in some accounts
Baptism became a mark of the early church. It was associated with:
Confession of faith in Jesus as Risen Lord
- An application or presence of the Holy Spirit
- The confession and forgiveness of sins
- The onset of a New Life
- The time of a new beginning
Our video lecturer, Dr. Johnson, points out that rituals were not unique to early Christianity. The language of ritual, belief, and conversion were common in mystery religions. Citizens were often members of more than one cultic following or religion. Often, there were levels of advanced social or group standing with each level of accomplishment in the religion or cult.
So, it could be that early Gentile converts were practicing their non-Christian religion while learning or developing their understanding of their newly found Christian faith.
Greco-Roman culture supported the pursuit of perfection. There were multiple levels of understanding in the mystery religions
- Did the Gentile converts bring these expectations into Christianity?
- Is this the source of heretical forms of Christianity, such as Gnosticism?
Paul spent a lot of time and energy trying to overcome another form of initiation: Circumcision was practiced by Judaism, and required of all converts in order to join Judaism. Can we draw comparisons to baptism as a religious ritual, or as an outward and visible sign of initiation?
Paul countered with moral and cognitive deliberations. Soon, multiple forms of initiation would follow. His scathing criticism of the churches in Galatia and Corinth seem to reflect this debate of true worship and true faith for the early church.
As we close on these thoughts, perhaps you can reflect on or recall the events of their own baptism as an adult or as an infant, as in the Presbyterian and most Reformed denominations. I you were baptised as an infant, can you recall significant moments tha affected your Christian faith formation in your adult years?
What is the significance of your baptism or confirmation for your faith today?
InternPrinceton Theological Seminary