Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Law? Or just a good idea?

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives his commission:

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. (Matt 28:19-20,)

It is significant, I think, that we are commanded to make disciples, not converts, but that is a theme for another day. 

Here I want to discuss the instruction: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I would never, ever, advocate baptizing any other way other than in the name of the Triune God. But the question is interesting: is this descriptive or prescriptive? Are we being told that this was a good practice, especially for the context in which it was given, or are we being told that this is the one and only correct way to baptize?

The majority view is the latter, sometimes to extreme--at which point we arrive at an incantation rather than a practice. However this majority view is not without legitimate challenge. For we find these verses describing early baptisms:

And Peter said to them, “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. (Acts 2:38) 

And he [Peter] commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10:48) 

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:5)

Those insisting that the only acceptable baptismal creed is "
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" must answer why these early-church baptisms, which appear to be acceptable, were in the name of Jesus only. One argument is: just because only the name of Jesus was recorded it it doesn't mean the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit were not included. I find that to be weak. If there is one and only one baptismal creed, I would have (perhaps unreasonably) expected the Holy Spirit to inspire Luke to give the fullest expression.

An alternative viewpoint is historical and practical. The earliest converts were Jews and Godfearers (roughly speaking, those gentiles who partially converted to Judaism.) They already understood about monotheism. They had some concept of the Spirit. The new element for them was the Son, and so to be explicit and for emphasis they were baptized in His name. However the Great Commission was for all nations. Pagans were further behind than Jews. The creed for them, this argument suggests, was meant to teach them even more--to have them affirm all three persons of the Godhead, all of whom were, perhaps, equally new and mysterious.

Having said all that-- I completely support the common baptismal creed invoking the full Godhead. I just can't go so far as to say it is the only acceptable practice.

No comments:

Post a Comment