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Christine on Baptism


Quakers do not practice any sacraments, and neither do the Jesus Christians. The following article comes from a letter that one of the Jesus Christians wrote to a person enquiring about the Jesus Christian attitude toward water baptism. It defends their position, on the basis of New Testament writings.

I'm pleased that you appear to very much want unity on the topic of water baptism rather than using it as an excuse to reject the rest of what we teach (as some people do). That's a very good sign.

First of all, you should try to understand that we DO believe in baptism and we DO believe that Jesus commanded us to baptise. Because of that we DO take baptism seriously. But we do not believe in it as a ritual.

Before I go further I would like to give an example of something. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 it says that if a person does not work, neither should they eat. People quote this verse to us all the time, somehow thinking that it says that what we are doing (i.e. living by faith) is wrong. And yet we believe the verse as much as (if not more than) anyone.

The problem has to do with the word "work". People have been so indoctrinated by the church and the system, that every time they read the word "work", in their minds they add the words "for a living" or "in a paid job".

People in the churches constantly use that verse to say that everyone must get paid jobs; and so it is hard for them to read the verse as it really is. We agree that we should work; but, in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, we believe that our boss should be God and not money (Luke 16:13).

A similar thing happens with the word baptism. People hear the word "baptism" and immediately they add the word "water" in their minds. "Baptism" in today's world has become synonymous with "water baptism". And in Jewish society people would have thought the same thing, since water baptism originated as a Jewish custom.

However, John the Baptist who was in the Old Testament (see Luke 16:16), knew that Jesus was coming to bring a different understanding of baptism, just as he was going to do with so many of the old traditions and laws. Jesus' baptism was going to maintain the spirit of the old baptism, but without the outward religious ritual.

This is what John the Baptist said of Jesus:

"There comes one mightier than I am, after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." (Mark 1:7-8, Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16)

Here is the man who was most famous for baptising people with water, saying that Jesus' baptism would be a different baptism. And we know that Jesus did not baptise with water himself. (See John 4:2.) So Jesus lived up to what John the Baptist had said of him, in that Jesus' baptism was a spiritual one, and not a physical one.

I think that what you need to do is go back over the baptism verses, and in your mind, instead of adding "with water" add "with the Holy Spirit" and then you will begin to understand baptism more in the way that we do.

Here is an example.

"Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them [with the Holy Spirit] in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20).

Does that make better sense? It's interesting in this verse that the command to baptize [with the Holy Spirit] is sandwiched in between the command to teach and the instruction about what to teach.

The churchy understanding of baptism (with water) makes this sentence sound rather awkward, like he's putting in a completely new command (and a religious ritual at that) before he's completed the command about teaching and what to teach. Certainly water baptism does not feature heavily (if at all) anywhere else in what Jesus taught.

But when you understand that the baptism Jesus was referring to was a baptism of the Holy Spirit, then the sentence makes much more sense... especially when you understand, as we do, that the teachings of Jesus are God's Spirit. (See John 6:63.)

The instruction to teach people to observe what Jesus commanded, is not only clarifying what to teach, but it is also clarifying how to baptise people!

When we present people with the teachings of Jesus, we are in effect presenting them (or 'covering' them) with the Holy Spirit. If they choose to accept (or 'drink in' which is what 'believe' means) the truth in His teachings, then they are being filled with the Holy Spirit. John 6:63 says that Jesus' words are Spirit and life. That is how we understand this command and that is what we take seriously.

We understand that Jesus allowed his followers to baptise with water even though he himself didn't. (John 4:2) In itself there is nothing wrong with the practice (of baptising people with water). It is a symbolic thing that hopefully represents something that is happening spiritually within a person.

But there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that water baptism is essential for Christians. Baptism, on the other hand, is essential; but remember which baptism is Jesus' baptism (the one with the Holy Spirit).

So yes, it is essential to have the Holy Spirit (i.e. to be 'baptised' or 'covered' with the Holy Spirit) to be a Christian, but it is not essential to be water baptised. (Romans 8:9)

Later on, after Jesus ascended into heaven, there arose some tensions with regard to water baptism. Paul seemed to be the first one to understand that Jewish rituals like circumcision were no longer essential for Christians, and that they were actually becoming a stumbling block to people who were holding onto outward signs of spirituality instead of inward realities. And true to form, Paul was the first one to see that the same problem was happening with regard to water baptism.

He wrote: "Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel." (I Corinthians 1:17 See also 1 Corinthians 1:10-16 for background to this comment.)

In this case I think all theologians would agree that Paul is referring to water baptism when he says that he was not sent to baptize. It doesn't make sense for him to say that he was not sent to baptise with the Holy Spirit (and it would be a contradiction of Jesus' own command for his followers to baptise people). But notice that Paul understood that he had been sent to preach. As I explained above, preaching, and covering people with the teachings of Jesus (i.e. his "Spirit") are practically synonymous.

I just wanted to point out one more reference from Paul which was written near the end of his ministry. He said:

"Endeavour.. to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Ephesians 4:3-6).

We would like to have unity in the Spirit with you on this. I think you would agree that we have unity over the need for at least one baptism, i.e. the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Is that right? That's the most important thing for us. With regard to water baptism however, we leave it up to the personal conscience of the individual.

We hope that you will see the wisdom in what we are saying and how it fits in with an overall picture of what it was that Jesus came to bring (a way of life, and not a religion), but if you feel differently about it, we can agree to disagree with you on it. Jesus obviously gave his followers some flexibility with regard to the practice of water baptism as well, and so we have no problem with doing the same.

Love, Christine, for Jesus Christians

P.S. John 3:5 is sometimes quoted to say that the Bible teaches that we must be baptised twice, once in water and once in the Holy Spirit. This is not a case where people have added the word "water" to a verse about baptism; but it is a case where people have added the word "baptism" to a verse about water.

If you read the next verse, you will see that there are two births being discussed. One is spiritual and one is physical. So obviously the reference to "water" in the first verse is the physical birth mentioned in the next verse, and, as such, has no connection to water baptism, which is always equated with a spiritual birth.

(See also The Word of God.)

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