Well, here it is the 21st of April and a wet heavy snow lies on the ground. The temperature this morning was about 27F and tomorrow morning promises to be a bit colder than that. Friends of mine just returned from Florida this week – bet they wish they’d stayed a few days longer! The Killdeer nesting by the crab apple trees in the church parking lot was hunkered down surrounded by a rim of snow. The local peach crop just got whacked and the apple crop at least diminished. If April showers bring May flowers then what does April snow bring? Woe and Lamentations! That’s what!
OK, it probably isn’t as bad as all that. It’s not like this is the first April snow we’ve ever seen. There have even been some May snows. In 1956, in Central Indiana, there were at least a few snowflakes in the air early in June! The Kildeer will still hatch her brood. Peaches have not perished from the face of the earth. And by the weekend the weather is forecasted to be fine.
But somehow, a couple inches of snow and sub-freezing temperatures seem less troubling in January than April. In part it’s a matter of expectations – it’s supposed to be cold and snowy in January! But it’s also a matter of risk. Cold and snow in January doesn’t cost us much. In April, every April, someone gets the itch too early and gets plants (other than spinach, beets, and other cold resistant stuff) out and – a lot of work comes to nothing. Peach trees in Northeast Ohio are a built in risk and if heroic measures are not taken in weather like this, there is a cost. Of course, the heroic measures cost something too. You have to weigh it all up and make a decision. My decision would be not to plant peach trees in Northeast Ohio!
So, expectations and risk - but then, the risk was based in part on the expectations. If mother nature was a real person she would no doubt laugh when she hears us – It’s so warm! I bet there won’t be another frost!
For what it’s worth, in 1999, 2000, and 2001, here in the East Canton area, there was either a frost or an outright freeze on the last night of May/first morning of June. And though there was no frost, I remember a youth group camp out in early July when everyone was sorry they didn’t bring more blankets.
Expectations, risk and the inappropriate presence of cold and snow: hmmmm.
There are some things and kinds of things that can be taken for granted in the world but are catastrophic when present in the church. Like snow in April, worldly values are out of place and very costly in the household of faith.
One of -if not THE – hallmarks of the Restoration Movement/Christian Churches/Churches of Christ is our doctrine of baptism. Like all things among the independent congregations of the movement, there is no official written stance and congregations will vary somewhat. I myself have been regarded as ‘lax’ and even heretical by some of my fellow ministers who hold ‘stricter’ views on the matter. And yet, I am on the spectrum with the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in differing with almost all mainline evangelical denominations about –
*The mode of baptism * The purpose of baptism * The efficacy of baptism
As to the mode – I believe it to be immersion. The New Testament Greek word ‘baptizo’ means ‘immersion’. In one of the great ‘chicken out’ instances in the history of Bible translation, translators have generally decided not to translate the word into English. Instead, they transliterate – simply change the Greek letters to equivalent English letters and so we inherit the Greek word wholesale as the now familiar English – ‘baptize’. If this same practice were adopted with every word in the New Testament you would not be able to read it at all. An example – here’s a familiar verse concerning baptism in which I transliterate the whole thing. Hay agnoeite hoti osoi ebaptisthamen eis Kristos Iasoun eis ton thanaton autou ebaptisthamen. You can probably (now that you know what to look for) pick out the past participial form of ‘baptizo’ and maybe recognize the words – ‘Christ Jesus’. After that – good luck. The translation is – Don’t you know – all those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into His death?
So, why translate everything else but transliterate ‘baptizo’? Precisely because of the denominational disagreements! If the word is translated – ‘immerse’ – the version of the Bible in which it is so translated just lost millions of readers/customers who practice sprinkling, pouring, etc. So runs the calculation. Transliterating allows for ducking the argument and (more or less) pleasing everyone.
Grow a spine! I think everyone ought to be immersed. It’s what the word means. It better suits the context of the New Testament accounts – seeking out places where there was much water, wading out into the water, etc. It better suits the ‘burial’ motif (keep reading in Romans 6 past verse 3 which I both transliterated and translated above). It better fits the Old Testament antecedents. But what about all those people who have been sprinkled? Hold on to that one for a moment.
As to the purpose of baptism. This one is a little harder. Baptism is sometimes reckoned to be a statement of congregational affiliation or larger church membership. Others say that baptism is necessary for salvation. Still others, that baptism is a way of saying thanks for salvation already granted – or a public expression/testimony of salvation already granted. The question is complex and proof-texting is not the answer.
It is quite true that Acts 2:38 attaches baptism to the remission of sins. It is also true that I Peter 3:21, in the ‘flood of Noah’ themed discussion, says ‘corresponding to that – baptism now saves you’. But it is also true that Peter quickly adds – ‘not the removal of dirt from the flesh’ i.e. the washing with water ‘but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ And in Acts 2:38 the exhortation to baptism is ‘in the name of Jesus’. In New Testament thought there is more to a name – especially the name of Jesus – than just phonics. The point is, in both passages (and others) the real power is not in the ritual dunking but in the blood/death/burial/resurrection/name/power of Jesus Christ. Given this, we can readily understand Paul’s rather dismissive attitude towards those who were in fact baptized but did not believe in the resurrection of Christ (I Corinthians 15).
The point is that ritual immersion in water is not a magic/silver bullet means of salvation. Back, then to Romans 6 where baptism is understood as being united with Christ in the ‘likeness’ of His death, burial, and resurrection (verse 5). I, at least, put it together this way – baptism is a ritual designed to express and move us toward unity with Christ – who saves us. Baptism is an appeal not an automated salvation process. God is in no way magically or legally constrained to grant the appeal just because you or I got dunked. There has to be a real desire/pledge for unity with Jesus Christ. Lacking that – we probably just got wet rather than saved.
But what about all those people who were sprinkled? Hold on a little longer.
If the purpose of Baptism is to help us move into unity with Christ, then the efficacy of baptism is measured by the degree to which that unity actually occurs. Let’s just say it – lots of baptized people are toast! Which begs the question -if baptized individuals who did not move into unity with Christ are not saved – are non-baptized (immersed) people who have moved into unity with Christ saved despite not having been baptized or having been baptized by a mode other than immersion? Now we’re really treading thin ice!
I have long been a ‘hat person’. I like hats and generally wear one. I have had many hats over the years. Some were just for style. When I was, perhaps, eight years old my mother bought me a little felt skimmer for Easter Sunday. I have no recollection of what happened to that hat. I’m sure it suffered the same fate as many things belonging to young children. I’ve owned – and still own fedoras (including a blue plaid model), cowboy hats, and an endless parade of ball caps and toboggans. I have the ‘dink’ I was forced to wear during Freshman Week at College. I’ve had a couple of those umbrella hats. Straw hats, fishing caps, a Russian’ Trapper’s cap (synthetic – not real fur) that was really good for staying warm in the winter, a cheesy fake Racoon Skin cap (ala Daniel Boone) bought at some tourists stop gift store: and many others. I still have a truly dorky hay mound hat (if you remember John Astin’s appearance on Gunsmoke as Festus Hagen’s cousin) I bought from a now defunct general store in my teen years. I love that hat. My wife wishes not to be seen with me on any occasion I wear it. I once had a derby that I let a member of my youth group keep after using it in a play.
A few of my hats have been more specifically functional. (These days they’re all functional because they keep me from sunburning the bare skin where my hair used to be! But leave that aside.) For instance, I had a hat for the Marching Band in high school. As part of a ‘uniform’ it served the purpose of making me look as much like all the other kids in the band as possible. As a college student and Seminarian in Tennessee I got into spelunking. After painfully bumping my head enough times, I got a hard hat – and a cool carbide lamp to mount on it. When I lived in Indianapolis, I came across a broad brimmed Australian Stockman’s hat that I liked a lot! I rode a bicycle around quite a bit in those days and was amazed how that brim could keep you almost entirely dry when riding in the rain. My children, in their very young years and for reasons that eluded me, thought it was extremely entertaining to stomp that poor thing flat.
Many professions employ recognizable headwear; police caps, firemen’s helmets, various head covers for different types of sailors and non-military seamen. Back in the day there were banker’s visors and nurses’ hats. Even diner employees used to wear those jaunty little paper caps!
And in the field of religion the Catholic Church has several specialized hats designating various officials right up to the pope. Judaism has skull caps. Eastern Orthodox clerics have their own versions. Islam probably wins the prize.
If there is a prescribed head gear for non-denominational Christian preachers, I missed the memo. But, as a Christian, I can only say that I hope one day to have a crown – only for the purpose of casting it at the feet of Jesus Christ.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church