72 Q. Does this outward washing with water
itself wash away sins?
A. No, ^1 only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit|
cleanse us from all sins.^2
^1 Matt. 3:11; 1 Pet. 3:21; Eph. 5:26
^2 1 John 1:7; 1 Cor. 6:11
73 Q. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism
the water of rebirth and
the washing away of sins?
A. God has good reason for these words.
To begin with, God wants to teach us that
the blood and Spirit of Christ take away our sins
just as water removes dirt from the body.^1
But more important,
God wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign,
that we are as truly washed of our sins spiritually
as our bodies are washed with water physically.^2
^1 Rev. 1:5; 7:14; 1 Cor. 6:11
^2 Mark 16:16; Gal. 3:7
74 Q. Should infants also be baptized?
Infants as well as adults
are included in God’s covenant and people,^1
and they, no less than adults, are promised
deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood^2
and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.^3
Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant,
they too should be incorporated into the Christian church
and distinguished from the children
This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision,^5
which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.^6
^1 Gen. 17:7
^2 Matt. 19:14
^3 Luke 1:15, 4; Ps. 22:[9-]11; Isa. 46:1-5; Acts 2:39
^4 Acts 10:47
^5 Gen. 17:[9-]14
^6 Col. 2:11-13
LORD’S DAY 27 (Q/A 72-74)
“The Matter of Baptism and Why it Matters”
The South African idea of Ubuntu (meaning “human-ness” or denoting our bond as human beings) is summarized with the principle, “I am because we are.” A distinctly Christian way of expressing that is, “I am, because we are, because God is.”
Individualism, personal freedoms, and privacy are ingrained in our sense of being American, so much so that our nation’s charter documents – the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution – enshrine the principles; the former declares the “inalienable rights” we have to “live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” while the latter’s first ten amendments are a “Bill of Rights.”
Certainly, governmental intrusion – whether a pure democracy (as with ancient Athens), a democratic republic (as is the United States), a monarchy, or whatever might be the case—upon individuals is to be limited, and, in its oppressive forms, is to be prevented.
Baptism matters because God as Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit desires that we belong to community: the community of God’s people in all times and in all places, and, more importantly, the community of the triunity of God. The community of believers, whom the Apostles’ Creed in the third article on the Holy Spirit describes as “the communion of saints,” comes into fruition and is strengthened because of the community of the triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We in the Reformed tradition hold to the notion that baptism is not merely an ordinance – something to be done because Christ said so; although that is reason enough to do anything! (If the Lord says to do something, or not to do something, faithfulness requires obedience and allegiance to our Lord’s direction, no matter how uncomfortable, inconvenient, or incomprehensive such instruction may be).
We in the Reformed tradition do baptism first and foremost because Jesus Himself was baptized. He submitted Himself to the waters of the Jordan – being baptized into death, and baptized into the righteousness of new life, receiving the declaration from all eternity that He was and is God’s beloved Son; His baptism initiates all other subsequent baptisms – giving our baptisms their power, meaningfulness, and purposefulness because He is the very meaning and purpose of baptism. Jesus Christ is baptized into the vocation, the holy calling of living out the triune God’s commitment that He be the anointed Savior, Jesus Christ is, in Karl Barth’s description, the elected One, in whom all His followers are elected in Him.
I have officiated many baptisms – mostly infants, several young adults, and a few adults; I have also received several anonymous phone calls from adults who request: “Would you do my baby?” Upon further inquiry, this is code language for: we and our family will pay you to splash water on our baby, say the baptismal formula (“N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”), smile, give the baptismal certificate, and be done in 5 minutes, never to see us again.
In the words of worship scholar Lawrence Stookey in a book he authored by the same name, “Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church.”
That’s what baptism does. God uses the element that covers more than 80% of the earth, and constitutes most of our body. What for a chemist is merely two hydrogen atoms connected to one oxygen atom by a covalent bond, God uses water to impart His promise: the Good News that in Jesus Christ, we are daughters and sons of God – not by our will, nor by our might or plans or merit – but by God’s sheer and certain love. You and I belong to each other, because, in the words of the ancient covenantal formula, “I am the Lord your God, and you will be My people.”
We need baptism. We need God. The Holy Spirit binds us and bonds us with Jesus Christ, with the triune God, and with all of God’s people. And when we are tied to God, united to God, God’s goodness, God’s righteousness covers us, sets us free, frees us to take on our Christ-given vocation: to be disciples of Jesus Christ and witnesses of God’s promise in Christ. We need baptism as it calls us into community – as both gift and as call.
For all of the pride we have to secure our individualism, baptism critiques that individualism and says, it’s not possible, nor faithful, nor tenable to live as an individual; baptism is the sacramental crowbar that loosens your grip on your precious individualism.
As 21st century Christians, the significance of water as binding and bonding us together becomes all the more important and urgent. Renewing and re-receiving our baptismal calling to God and to one another, on a planet of 7 billion people. Half of my congregation is from Cameroon, and we have shared many congregational prayers about their families back home who have suffered and died from a cholera epidemic. The still unresolved rupture of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that has poisoned the soil and from which millions of gallons of radioactive water has spilled into the Pacific Ocean.
Water, which brought death to Pharaoh’s armies when the Red Sea was parted, also brought life in allowing the fleeing Israelites to flee Pharaoh.
Baptized people of God – you have died with Christ, as you now live with and in Christ.