We’ve tried to learn what we can from John’s baptism, as well as John’s baptism of Jesus. Today I’d like to look at one more baptism story – the baptism of the first Christians at Pentecost, a day that many consider the Church’s birthday.
“‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
“Peter replied, ‘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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:37-39).’”
If you’ve read the previous posts about baptism, you’ll recognize some familiar elements in this Acts account – repentance, forgiveness, the emphasis on Jesus, receiving the Holy Spirit, the focus on mission (i.e.“for all who are far off”). But there are a couple of new aspects as well. First, there is the fact that baptism and the Holy Spirit are offered not only to adult believers but to their children. (At other points in the book of Acts we read about whole households being baptized.) I’m not going to attempt to defend infant baptism to those who hold exclusively to what’s often called “believers’ baptism.” No matter how we understand the appropriate timing of baptism, all of us have to ask ourselves where children fit into the life of God’s people, his church, the covenant community.
It’s actually this community aspect of baptism that I’d like to zero in on in this last post on Christian baptism. God in his sovereignty made sure that when these first Christians were baptized, they were baptized into a community (three thousand strong). To put it boldly, to be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into the body of Christ. In the very next paragraph we read, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship…. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts….”
It’s primarily within the context of Christian community that all the aspects of baptism continue to manifest and take root – repentance, forgiveness, encountering Jesus, being guided by the Holy Spirit, and sharing in his mission. I’m not saying we can’t experience these when we’re alone. But it’s hard to sustain this Jesus life without the reminding, modeling, prodding, instructing, encouraging presence of our sisters and brothers. As far as our children are concerned, learning how to follow Jesus is caught even more than it’s taught. That’s why we need “quality time” together. The early church clearly made that a priority.
Thursday night I met with a few folks to talk about the ministry of Jacob’s Well, our future coffeehouse at our new ministry site. I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a meeting at BRC so jazzed. Part of that had to do with how God has been at work in the lives of each person that was there. So they brought that spiritual energy and vitality to our listening and dreaming together. And guess what was the focus of our vision for the coffeehouse? Community. Community between church members and neighbors. Community between neighbors and neighbors. We talked about being a place where other community groups could gather, being a gathering place for youth, developing a community for artists, becoming a spiritual community (where people of different spiritual backgrounds and opinions can safely talk with one another), and finally we talked about a specifically Christian community growing out of these other groups and gatherings. (Don’t worry, we talked about all sorts of practical things as well – it was a long meeting.)
Here’s the point I really want to make. Community is at the heart, at the very center, of God’s strategy to transform people and the planet. So when we are baptized into Christ and into his mission, we’re also baptized into the community that’s at the center of that mission. I realize that the church of Jesus Christ doesn’t always ‘live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received.’ (Ephesians 4:1). And that frustrates, discourages, and makes me want to throw up my hands more often than I’m usually willing to admit. But it’s not our prerogative to rewrite the strategy. It’s our job to line our lives up with how God has designed this mission to be carried out.
But lest we think that the church is merely a temporary means to some missional end, I want to throw out a verse for you to think about in closing: “And God placed all things under his [Jesus’] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22-23). I wonder if the church may not be temporary after all, or just a means to some other end. I wonder if “church” is where everything is headed. That when Christ fills everything, everything will become church, become fellowship, become communion, become joined together in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).
So when the Smith’s little one is baptized tomorrow, she will be baptized into Jesus, into the community of Jesus and into the mission of Jesus. I’m looking forward to it.