In the Name of…

Posted: March 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 Before he ascended back to his heavenly throne, Jesus commanded his disciples “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20).

Baptism is central to the Christian faith.  Some traditions will baptize a child at birth and then ask them to recall their baptism as adults.  Others, like the Stone-Campbell tradition in which I was raised and educated, emphasizes baptism’s role in salvation.  These churches point to Acts 2 where Peter preaches to the gathered Jewish crowd that Jesus is Lord to which they respond, “What shall we do?” and Peter answers, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

I will not attempt to weigh the pros and cons of various approaches to baptism.  I personally believe in adult baptism by immersion but I want to focus on another aspect of baptism, which is, what does it mean to be baptized “in the name” of the Trinity or of Jesus Christ as both passages emphasize?

We view names very differently than those who inhabited the ancient near east.  For an ancient Israelite, a name was inextricably tied up with the very essence of the person who carried the name.  For example, Adam simply means “man” and Eve translates “mother of all the living.”  It is no accident that Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name” Joshua” for the latter was the one chosen to lead the people of God into the Promised Land as well as execute God’s judgment on the Canaanites for their evil practices including child sacrifice. 

So, to be baptized “in the name” is to wholly identify with the essence of the Father, Son and Spirit.  Thus, to understand baptism, one must understand the character and mission of the Trinity. 

A person undergoing baptism certainly makes a public affirmation of faith and symbolically dies to their old life of rebellion against the one true king of all creation and rises to a new life of service to God.  Yet, the church has done a poor job of what this means.  We often lead the candidate for baptism into believing that the new life waiting on the other side of the sacrament is all about belief and refraining from certain activities.  Being baptized into the character and mission of God is much more than just intellectual affirmation of certain doctrines (although this is important) and not getting drunk or fornicating (although that too is important).   The candidate for baptism must be clearly informed that he or she is publically committing (and baptism in the Bible is nearly always public) to the mission of God.  He or she is making an oath (and the sacredness of oaths in the Bible are a topic for another post) to worship God alone (say goodbye to idols), to learn the ways of God, to evangelize (a duty not taken nearly as seriously in most churches) and to serve the least among us all to the honor and glory of God.

If a person is not willing to make such a commitment then he or she should not be baptized.  We have watered down the sacrament (if you will forgive the hokey play on words) by treating it as anything less than a very serious commitment to which the person will be held eternally accountable. 

Jesus did not waste words.  Baptism “in the name of…” is not a holy version of abracadabra.  Jesus was explaining what kind of commitment the candidate for discipleship was making.  Consider his words recorded in Luke 14:25-32,

  25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

To be baptized “in the name of Jesus” is no small thing.

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