Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Importance of Being Baptized in the Name of Jesus

Baptism is a significant religious rite in Christianity. The meanings and methods of baptism given by the various Christian denominations differ in many ways. Oddly, one of the most controversial things about baptism is whether we should do it in the name of Jesus or use the "Trinitarian" formula given in Matthew 28:19. Oneness Pentecostals go with the former.

Baptism began in ancient Judaism and is was most widely used in order to bring new converts into the Jewish religion. Those who were baptized were viewed as new individuals. Baptisms among the Jewish people were usually done in body of water that had a naturally flowing current ("living water") or in a specially designed mikveh pool. It was also a method of ritual cleansing. Before entering the temple to pray, devout Jews would wash themselves in the mikveh pool. Baptism was also used when you became a follower of a certain rabbi or prophet, and it identified you with them, their mission, and symbolized your submission to them.

The earliest recorded baptism I can think of in the Scriptures would probably be when the Israelites passed through the parted Red Sea in Exodus 14. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:1-4, "Moreover, brethren, I want you to know, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized by Moses, both in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." The phrase "baptized by Moses" can also be translated as "baptized into Moses".

John the Baptist used baptism in order to wash away the sins of the people. Mark 1:4 says that John's baptism was for the forgiveness of sins. This baptism was part of repentance from sin. John the Baptist himself, however, said that the Messiah, who was coming after him and was superior to him, would not baptize the people with only water, but also with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). Jesus Himself submitted to baptism in order to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15) and to give an example to those who would follow Him.

After Jesus the Messiah was crucified and risen from the dead, He commanded His disciples to go and preach the Gospel to all creation, and also to baptize the converts (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16). The disciples went forward and did just that. After Peter preaches to the people after being baptized with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the people respond. Acts 2:37-39 says, "When they heard these things, their hearts were touched and they said to Simon and the rest of the apostles, Our brethren, what shall we do? Then Simon said to them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of the LORD Jesus for the remission of sins, so that you may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise was made to you and to your children, and for all of those who are far off, even as many as the very God shall call."

Many people see a contradiction between Peter's command of the people to be baptized in the name of Jesus instead of the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no contradiction here. Jason Dulle, an Apostolic theologian and Christian apologetic gave a very good explanation to this perplexing issue. 'Why did they baptize in the name of Jesus, rather than in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What clued them in to the fact that Jesus did not mean for them to literally repeat His exact words, if it wasn't His use of the singular "name"? I would suggest that it was what Jesus said immediately before. He prefaced His command concerning baptism by saying, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore…” (28:18). And after Jesus issued His command concerning baptism, He continued to speak exclusively of Himself: “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always” (28:20). The emphasis throughout the Great Commission was on Christ alone. Together with the disciples' recognition that Jesus encapsulates our experience of God, they understood His words to mean that they were to baptize in His name. The name (authority) into which we are baptized is the same name who had just claimed all authority in heaven and earth: Jesus Christ. Because Jesus possesses all authority, we are to be baptized in His name.'

Based on Peter's statement, it is clear that baptism is a part of the conversion process. I can't really say that if you aren't baptized that you aren't saved, but it does seem very clear that baptism is a commandment. Acts 10:48 says that Peter "commanded" Cornelius and the other new Gentile converts to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. But why is it so important to be baptized in the name of Jesus?

Read here what Paul says about baptism in Romans 6:1-6. "What shall we then say? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Far be it. How shall we who are dead to sin, continue to live in it? Do you not know, that those of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ have been baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death: so that as Jesus Christ arose from the dead by the glory of his Father, even so we also shall walk in a new life. For if we have been planted together with him in the likeness of his death, so shall we be also in the likeness of his resurrection: for we know, that our old selves are crucified with him, so that the sinful body might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin."

Baptism is not something we do, per say. Baptism is all about identifying the believer with the work of Christ on the cross and with His resurrection. As stated earlier in the article, baptism also signified to the Jews that you were a follower of a specific prophet or rabbi. By being baptized in the name of Jesus, you are being specified as a follower of Jesus the Messiah and you are showing your submission to Him. When you are being baptized, you are, by the grace of God, submitting to Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life.

The "name" of Jesus is not a magic trick. The "name" of a person in Semitic cultures represents the character and authority of the person bearing that name. Jesus Christ is holy and righteous in character, being the only sinless human being. Jesus is also the one who bears the name above all names, meaning that He is the highest authority in the universe (Philippians 2:9). By being baptized in the name of Jesus, you are "putting on" Christ and taking on His character. Being baptized in the "name" of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit does not accomplish this. Satan himself could ever claim to be a father (because he is the father of all lies as Christ said in John 8:44), a son (because he is an angel and angels are referred to as "sons of God" in Job 1:6) and he could pretend to be a holy spirit (he disguises himself as an angel of light as Paul said in II Corinthians 11:14). My point is that there are many fathers, many sons, and many spirits that claim holiness, but there is one Lord Jesus Christ who is Yahweh, who is Himself the Father, Son and the true Holy Spirit.

All Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible From the Ancient Eastern Text by Dr. George M. Lamsa