Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the historic one-year lectionary.
Romans 6:1-11 always caused me problems before I was a Lutheran. It’s one of the passages that Lutheran theology brought into focus for me. Here’s why. With a non-sacramental view of baptism, thinking that the water can’t actually do anything, and thinking that baptism is our declaration of grace God has previously given us, the idea of baptism as death and resurrection doesn’t make much sense. If it’s our work, then we are saying that we are able to rise from the dead, presumably without God’s help.
Sorry, but that which is dead never brings itself back to life. It’s rare enough for someone to die and another person’s work to bring life again. But if you die you are not capable of bringing yourself back to life. If baptism is a symbol of death and resurrection, we can’t possibly be the ones accomplishing it. It must be done by someone else.
In Romans 6 the Christian is the passive recipient of God’s work of baptism.
I remember well belonging to a Baptist community in which people would speak of “following the Lord in baptism.” This makes baptism into an act of my obedience. Yet the idea of following the Lord is right. The hope of our baptism has a lot to do with the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead. This gives us the hope that we will also be raised from the dead. But again, we don’t raise ourselves from the dead. Jesus is raised by the power of the Holy Spirit. So are we. We follow Jesus as passive recipients.
Does baptism need to be by immersion? After all, it signifies burial. However, there are examples in Scripture of large numbers of people being baptised in areas where water might not be superabundant. There is also that one troublesome variant reading that speaks of Jews baptising their dining couches.
If, however, baptism is a consecration, similar to the anointing with oil or the sprinkling of blood received by the priests in the Old Testament, it makes perfect sense to sprinkle or pour some water onto the person. It doesn’t completely ruin the symbolism of death and resurrection, though it makes sense to dip the person under water if possible.
What’s critical here, though, is that in baptism we are united (passive) with God in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It certainly appears that something is being accomplished. Not to seem too scholarly, but that would seem to be the natural point of the verb type used. It seems to be a coinage around the time of the New Testament, and it’s what we call an “inceptive” verb. The “ize” in it (in the Greek also) is used normally to indicate an action which starts a different process or way of life. The word isn’t used for dipping a cookie in a cup of tea. It is used for putting someone in water to start that person’s Christian life.
Does God change us through baptism? Romans 6:1-11 certainly indicates that. We can know, then, as baptized children of God, that we have been placed under God’s protective hand and are partakers of his promises. It is not of ourselves. It is done by God.
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