Inspired by last month’s Theology Book Club, I want to spend some time on the blog reflecting on baptism. Today, I want to tell you the story of how I changed my views on baptism to be in favor of baptizing babies.
I was raised a good Bible Belt Southern Baptist. I was so immersed in this language and perspective on the Bible, that even now that I totally buy into the reasoning and Scripture behind infant baptism, it still “feels” more natural to read the Bible with my Southern Baptist eyes. I get why people would absolutely disagree with infant baptism.
Having come from the Baptist perspective (called “Believer’s Baptism”) gives me some added insight (I hope) into this discussion. It also has helped me see how people can get so insulated in the way they are raised that they can get really wrong impressions of the “other side”. I remember all the beliefs I had about those that baptized infants and now, on the other side, I see how wrong I was.
The Fateful Turn
I got all the way through college and entered a Presbyterian seminary, all while still holding to my theological roots. These Presbyterians spoke as if it was soooo obvious that infants should be baptized, and thought any other way of thinking was pretty silly and naive. I couldn’t have disagreed more.
But then one day I read these verses from Mark and they started a series of wanderings that led me into the ancient Christian tradition of baptizing infants:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now, you’re going to have to forgive me. The logic I pulled out of these verses may seem strained, I know. And you may have to follow me down the rabbit hole in my brain a bit. But these words started firing pistons in my mind that no other arguments had.
The burning question: why was Jesus baptized before he went into the wilderness?
Why is that question such a big deal? Because of what the wilderness represents. The wilderness is, in a sense, Jesus “resetting” history and humanity. It is where he establishes himself as the “Second Adam”, or the alternative way of being human.
You see, Adam was placed in a garden and sinned, leading humanity into exile from God. Jesus goes into the resulting Wilderness, acting as a substitute and accomplishes a “re-do”, so that he obeys where Adam disobeyed.
Up until this point in the story, we could say that Jesus was tracking with the rest of humanity in their story, in their well-worn path of living. But in the desert, the fork splits and Jesus charts a new path of renewal for all humanity. To be a Christian is to leave the well-worn path to join Jesus on the new path he is blazing. It’s in the Wilderness that Jesus started actively un-doing Adam’s folly.
In a sense, you could say that the Wilderness is where Humanity (embodied in Jesus) experiences it’s “conversion”. All of our subsequent individual conversions throughout history, then, are really us taking part in this original re-birth of humanity.
Baptism, Creation, & Story
What does this have to do with Baptism? Jesus was baptized before this “new birth” happened. The Baptism was God proclaiming Jesus’ identity over him that equipped him and strengthened him to afterwards live a different way than Adam.
To put it another way: most scholars would agree that there is Genesis Creation language and imagery happening at Jesus’ baptism (the Spirit hovering over the waters). And so, these verses are literally trying to tell us that Creation is “starting over”. Or, more precisely, a “New Creation” is starting with Jesus.
To summarize: Jesus’ Baptism scene retells Genesis 1-2; the Wilderness retells Genesis 3. It’s establishing an alternative storyline for God’s people.
The new story begins with Baptism. Baptism is not a “public display” of the story after it’s already accomplished or even begun.
At Jesus’ Baptism, God spoke his promise, mission, and identity over his child. AT our baptism, he does the same thing. Baptism is about marking people with God’s promise and decision for us, not displaying and proclaiming our promise and decision for God. This was true for Jesus, it’s true for us.
Yes, I’m Crazy. But So are You.
I understand this logic is a little convoluted. I didn’t immediately make the connection between infant baptism and Jesus retelling the story of the world in his own baptism and wilderness temptations. It just started the thought process. (Also, this wouldn’t be the first time a major theological belief of mine took a circuitous route.)
And this certainly isn’t a knock-out argument. Hat’s not what I’m appealing to here. Because honestly, it wasn’t really Bible verses or arguments that changed my mind. And I suspect that if you’re pretty confident in your beliefs, it’s not what would change yours.
Instead, it was an entire framework that I found; a new way of seeing the whole sweep of Scripture and history that made infant baptism make sense to me. Because let’s face it: no matter your views on baptism, we’re looking at the same facts of history, tradition, and Bible verses. The facts are not in question. We’re really trying to understand the whole that encompasses the parts.
This is hard. Because it’s not a matter of intellect, but resonance and beauty. What “feels” more right when we all look at the same things.
So in the future posts to come, I’ll try and offer some perspectives, some ideas, and some thoughts. And we’ll see what happens from there.
[photo credit: Tim Snell on Flickr]