Alright, so that post was a little risky. Christians throughout the age have stood on this profession: “We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the Life of the age to come. Amen.” That’s the Nicene creed. If you’re in a liturgical tradition, you’re very familiar with it as a standard of faith. If you’re from a reformed background, you know that it’s given the nod of approval by the reformation fathers as a helpful summary of Scripture’s teaching. If you’re from a baptistic or pentecostal background, there’s no telling what you’ve heard. Maybe you heard creeds are evil. Maybe you heard they’re nice if you’re into that sort of thing. Maybe you haven’t heard a thing about ’em. Pentecostal orthodoxy and baptist orthodoxy affirm the historic creeds, though…and that statement about “one Baptism” is very serious.
It was serious enough that people who were re-baptized were excommunicated. Our initiation into the Kingdom of God is serious. Getting baptized a second time is questioning the grace of God. It’s making light of the work of the Holy Spirit. And it’s not just the creeds. The creeds get this from Scripture. In Ephesians 4:4-6, the apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This is the Gospel Shema. Just as Israel was told to proclaim in a world that was worshipping everything around it, the Church is given this declaration about things too: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. They’re all one. Augustine said “He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his mother.” Our salvation is accomplished by Jesus, applied by the Spirit to fulfill the mission of God the Father and this great God gives us so many evidences of this salvation: the presence of the Spirit, our participation in the one Body of Christ, our hope for Jesus’ return, our embracing Him as our Lord and King, this gift of faith that gives us the confidence to know these things are true, this baptism proclamation that tells the world and the devil just Who we belong to, and the amazing privilege and confidence we have to call God Father. These are all evidences. And so the one baptism is critical. It’s more than enough. Anything more would just be cheapening this gift from God.
But the fact remains I was still writing about being the “twice-baptized.” That doesn’t seem to line up with the Bible. What do I have to say for myself, right? Here’s the deal….folks debate what baptism Paul is talking about. Is it the baptism of the Spirit? Is it water baptism? Does it refer to our baptism or to Jesus’ baptism? There’s exegetical debates that could make for a decent-sized library and make any number of us look very intelligent to own it. But when I read about Jesus’ baptism, I’m struck again with the fact that these things aren’t all that distant. Jesus is baptized in water and receives the Spirit. At the same time. If it’s Jesus’ baptism we’re seeking to model and imitate, our definition of baptism should be based on Him.
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin in his work, The Holy Spirit and the Church wrote:
When Jesus was baptised in water, he was also baptised in the Spirit. The sign and the thing which it signified came together. John had said ‘I baptise in water – the sign; he who comes after me will baptise in the Spirit – the reality.’ Jesus humbly accepted the sign, and the reality which it signified was given to him. Because of what happened then, these two things are no more to be separated. Entrance into God’s rule is to be by sharing in the baptism of Jesus – which is baptism in water and the Spirit. What God has thus joined together is not again to be put asunder. Those who try to separate them again, to put Spirit-baptism against water-baptism, are trying to go back behind the baptism of Jesus to the baptism of John, as we shall see later.
I was talking with a friend last night who suggested calling it a “twofold baptism.” It definitely gets at what’s going on, but I wonder whether that’s not just creating a neat theological term that we can be content with and move on to other stuff. Because really, people used to struggle over baptism. They fasted, they prayed, they sat through three years of coursework and serious character development. They took it seriously. So maybe we should leave it at this: there’s one baptism. The Scriptures are clear enough, and the creeds summarize it neatly enough for us to not question it. When we look at Jesus, the gifts of water baptism and Spirit baptism are united, perfectly. So maybe we should be left to acknowledge that reality and then wrestle with it. What does it mean that in Jesus, water baptism and Spirit baptism are united? My own experience doesn’t show that kind of unity (Spirit baptism came before water baptism in my case). But I want to be like Jesus.
Maybe the way I can see that unity happen in my Christian life isn’t connected with timing at all. Maybe it’s not debates about theological significance and precision. Maybe it isn’t longing for “good old days” in Church history, when we are closer now to Jesus’ return. Maybe it’s the gift of wholeness. Maybe it’s the way God’s saving power is taking this very broken person that I have been – body, soul, and spirit – and through this one baptism, He is declaring that the divided self I have been is dead. That I’m one. One person. One with Jesus. One who is loved by the Father. One who is filled with the Spirit. Maybe, just maybe, my baptism, by water and Spirit, isn’t only my proclamation to the world, the devil, and the Church that I belong with Jesus. Maybe it’s God’s proclamation to me that He’s healed me, saved me, and restored me so that I can be His.