And so I want to offer a brief reflection on the baptisms of Jesus. Yes, plural. You see, different traditions focus on different aspects of Jesus’ baptism. In fact there are three main ways of thinking of baptism in general.
If the missional church in North America is to thrive it needs all three.
1) Confessing = Water
The first main view understand baptism as a confessional act expressing salvation. This is seen in Romans 6 as baptismal identification with Jesus from death to life (and most of the options described below are read through this lens, negating their specific contributions).
Unfortunately this is pretty much all we ever get from Evangelicals concerning baptism. The exception of course are the sacramentally leaning Evangelicals of Reformed and Anglican streams who see God at work in baptism to cleanse and seal through the faith of the community. But this is still essentially connected with salvation.
2) Filling = Fire
The second main view focuses on the Holy Spirit, that we must also be baptized/filled by the Holy Spirit for a fullness of sanctification and for empowerment for ministry. This is seen in Luke’s writing primarily, that Jesus comes to baptize by Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16), and does this very thing on the day of Pentecost when the disciples are “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4).
This is the Holiness and/or Charismatic understanding of the baptism of the Spirit. A closer reading of Luke-Acts and an openness to charismatic ministry is essential in order for the missional church in North America to move from grand ideas of “joining the Missio Dei” to being fully empowered and open to just such a ministry (and yeah, I’m talking about supernatural types of stuff). If Jesus’ participation in the Missio Dei was solely predicated on his reliance on the Holy Spirit, why not us?
3) Witnessing = Blood
When James and John ask if they can sit at the right and left hand of Jesus when he enters his kingdom, Jesus respondes by asking if they will drink from the cup that he will drink from and be baptized with the baptism that he endure (Mark 10:36-40). Of course this cup and baptism, at this point in the Gospel, refers to the suffering of death that Jesus will endure as a “randsom for many” (Mark 10:45).
This is the more Anabaptist baptism in which our confession of Christ (by water) and our filling in the Spirit (by fire) makes us into such a people who witness through everything we are and through everything we do. With utter disregard for what it might cost, we proclaim that “Christ is Lord”. This is the “witnessing” that turns into martyrdom (by blodd) if necessary.
Is the missional church ready for such radical commitment? Does it view witnessing as totally comprehensive with every act and word, even unto death?
Water, Fire, Blood
In many ways “water”, “fire”, and “blood” are primal elements necessary for life. And because of this let us not merely spiritualize them. And indeed, they are the very life from which the misison of God flows in the world.
Have you entered into the fullness of Christ’s baptism?
What might it mean for your community to enter into the fullness of Christ’s baptism?