One of the problems the church has faced since it first appeared on the scene in Israel is the place and purpose of baptism.
And, since the days of Corinth, one of the primary reasons for the confusion is that we always start our conversations about baptism with a conversation about baptism – and not a conversation about the Covenant from which baptism gets its meaning.
This was the case in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11-17). People were causing division. How? By holding a discussion about baptism and the pre-eminence of the person who administered it.
We find ourselves caught up in similar church wars when we give pre-eminence to the mode of baptism instead of the meaning.
And so, before we say anything else about baptism, our conversation about baptism should always be grounded in the Covenant in which it occurs.
Paul put it this way in Galatians 3:27,
For as many of you as were baptised into Christ, have put on Christ.
Baptism is an arrow, not pointing in, but pointing up to Christ. Baptism does not speak of the internal condition of the person, but of Christ. If you are forgiven, Christ is your forgiveness. If you are redeemed, it’s because Christ is your redemption.
Baptism is simply declaring on earth what God has already declared in heaven, namely, that only the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can bring you into the Kingdom. Those who receive it are receiving the sign of the New Covenant. A promise from God dipped and sealed in blood.
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself. (Act 2:39)
Baptism is not about getting wet.
The Israelites and their children were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2), as was Noah and his family in the days of the flood (1 Peter 3:20-21) and yet, nobody got wet – which was the whole point.
Baptism is not about getting dipped, plunged, sprinkled or splashed. To be baptised is to be grafted into Christ the vine. It is to publicly enter a Covenant with Christ.
Once this is understood, it becomes clear that when talking about baptism we are not just talking about water. We are also talking about olive trees, covenant-keeping parents, families, Gentiles, Jews, grapes, circumcision, coats, death and resurrection.
In other words, we are talking about something which is much bigger than ourselves, and much bigger than it looks.
We are talking about God’s power to save made visible, and not our profession or desire to be saved. We are talking about promises made by God to our children.
And that is where our hope lies. Not in our profession, not in our relative humidity, not in the depth or direction of the water. Our hope lies in promises made by God and made visible for all the world to see through baptism.