[ theologia ]
Theologia Cross Logo
Apologetics Bible Church History Miscellaneous Sacraments Soteriology Sermons Worship

JOINED TO THE BODY:First Corinthians 12.12-14

July 27, 2003

A baptism sermon by Mark Horne

copyright © 2003

We just witnessed the baptism of baby Andrew. Once, when we were only participating in the Lord’s Supper on a monthly basis, I would preach a sermon on Communion at those times. Now that we do it weekly I have dropped that practice. But baptisms are still irregular and I think it is important to not miss this opportunity to remind you of what God has done for and to us, and to remind you of how we should respond in gratitude and trust in God.

After all, even though there are many denominations, we live in what is still describable as “Baptist culture” in North America generally and especially in the Midwest and South. That is not all bad. It is vastly preferable to pagan culture that is rapidly engulfing us. But it is a cultural milieu that makes certain aspects of Christian theology and practice, at least as Presbyterians understand it, to be rather hard to comprehend. Baptism, and especially infant baptism, is near or at the top of that list

Notice that I didn’t say that it is difficult to get people to agree with Presbyterians regarding infant baptism. Agreement would be wonderful but I’m usually more concerned to simply get to the point where we can understand each other. In fact, I’m often more concerned that we Presbyterians understand ourselves–our own traditional understanding of God’s Word. We are all participants in a common culture that shapes us often more than we affect it. I don’t mean simply that our choices about what to believe are affected–though that is the result. I’m saying that we aren’t even capable of realizing there are certain options available to us in understanding baptism.

Mere Water?
So let’s begin at the root. Let’s talk about water. I realize that there are many modern exegetes who would question whether water is even implied in this passage, but I will deal with that in a moment. Let’s deal with the issue of what happened to Andrew today. It would be easy to find that many would claim nothing happened because that was only water that got him wet.

Perhaps you’re not saying such a thing yourself (though maybe some of you are), but you have heard others, I don’t doubt, and can easily imagine that it would be the natural reaction of many. What difference can water make? What does it matter that Andrew got wet in Church by the hands of a minister who said a few words from Matthew 28 while he did it?

So let me ask you. If we were at a campout together and we needed some fuel for the fire, what if I was to go to my car and bring out the American Flag and use that? Would you accept that behavior–even if I pointed out to you that the flag was “just cloth” with some red, white, and blue colors in it? Would that hold any weight with you?

I don’t think so! I suspect that you would all know with a firm conviction that the American Flag is not just a piece of cloth. You would think that even claiming that is was a mere piece of cloth was some sort of disrespectful mockery. No. The American Flag represents the Republic and by burning one a person is inherently making a statement about the nation.

I remember some years ago that a pop star on Saturday Night Live tore in two a picture of the Pope because of something he did or said that she didn’t like. There was a lot of debate about the appropriateness of what she did. But no one on either side of the argument ever considered saying that what she did didn’t matter because it was only a picture. No! Everyone took sides based on how they felt the Pope should be treated. Everyone agreed that somehow the way the picture was treated was the way the Pope was treated.

It’s not just water. Of course, in a trivial sense, it is “just water.” There’s no additional substance that was added to the water today by which Andrew was baptized. There’s no mystical element or power that somehow flows through the water. The water conducted no divine electrical current. That is just as true as for a nation’s flag. The way we regard the flag is not due to some additional substance besides the cloth, the shape, and the color pattern. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that the cloth with that particular shape and pattern of color is intended to represent something else. And likewise, the Spirit of God intends the water in baptism to mean something. Saying it is “just water” completely misses the point.

Not a Picture but a Dramatic Act
Of course, the analogy between baptism and the flag is somewhat incomplete because a flag just sits there looking pretty and baptism is something that happens to a person. It is more like what happens to a women when she is dressed all in white in the front of a church in front of many witnesses and a man dressed up nice puts a gold circle on a finger of her left hand and says the words “With this ring, I thee wed.” Is the woman changed? Is she transformed? Is that not possible because the gold ring is “mere metal”?

Think about it. When a man and woman come to be married they come as single people. When they go through that mere ceremony their status is changed. They now have a relationship with one another. They now have new privileges to one another and new responsibilities to one another. For the wife, even her name typically changes. And how is such a great thing accomplished? By mere gestures and words! If a mere human ceremony can effect such amazing things, how much more should we expect from the Spirit-inspired rite that is established in the inspired Word of God?

A “Dry” Baptism
Of course, as I’ve mentioned, there are some who would claim that our text this morning does not mention water because the baptism that Paul is writing about is a dry “spirit baptism” as opposed to the sacrament of water baptism.

But the only time we find “Spirit baptism” opposed to “water baptism” is in the Gospels and Acts where we are told that John’s baptism will be superceded by Jesus sending the Spirit. But after Pentecost we are not told that water and Spirit are somehow now opposed to one another. On the contrary, Peter preaches,

“Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

So after Pentecost, Peter assumes that water baptism continues and that it does so by the power of the Spirit. Saying “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” doesn’t sound too far removed from saying “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Peter was talking about the normal sacrament of baptism that uses water, so why would Paul be referring to something else?

And that is why our Presbyterian doctrinal statement, the Westminster Confession of Faith, tells us that what just happened to Andrew, among other things, was that he was “solemnly admitted into the visible church” [28.1] and proves that statement by referring to our passage this morning, First Corinthians 12.13. Our protestant Reformed forefathers did not have a problem with Paul’s words here as elaborating on the sacrament of holy baptism.

Paul’s Doctrine of Baptism
To properly understand Paul’s doctrine of baptism we need to understand several things. First, that the institutional Church is the body of Christ. Second, that this is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit who unites us to Christ and one another. Third, that the Spirit uses his tangible rituals to bind us into that society with Jesus and each other. And Fourth that we are to receive all this, and continue in this, by a living faith.

To repeat: First you must understand that the institutional Church is the body of Christ. Paul here dares to call the visible church by the very name of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Paul is talking about a Church you can see. Not an invisible abstraction but a visible reality made up of visible people like prophets (v. 10, 28) and apostles and teachers (v. 28). That’s why some of the worst debates among Presbyterians have been over the polity and powers of the Church. All debates are embarrassing but at least this one shows that Presbyterians by and large think the visible Church is important! We are dealing with “the pillar and buttress of the truth”, according to First Timothy 3.15. That’s why, in our church constitution, the Book of Church Order, it is listed as a “great” and “preliminary principle” that the visible Church is the body of Christ–“Our blessed Saviour, for the edification of the visible Church, which is His body, has appointed officers not only to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, but also to exercise discipline for the preservation both of truth and duty” (emphasis added). It is our principle because it is Paul’s principle.

To repeat my second point, the only way the church can be the body of Christ is that the Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, is sent through Jesus to us and unites us into one body with Christ as our head. In this chapter Paul is greatly concerned that the Corinthians value all the Christians and not think that some are more spiritual than others because they have greater gifts. So he begins this chapter claiming that all members of the Church have the Spirit, and not just some of them. He does this by taking the basic profession of faith, the lowest common denominator among all verbal Christians and says that merely that profession of faith demonstrates the Spirit is at work in one’s life. “…no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (v. 3).

(Of course, we must distinguish this work of the Spirit from our Confessional formulaton of “effectual calling.” Paul knows that some are not going to persevere in faith. But that does not change the fact that all who claim that Jesus is Lord can only do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. That does not change our status as professing believers now as members of the visible Church and, thus, of the Body of Christ.)

Third, the Spirit uses a ritual to bind us into one community in Christ. Precisely because the Church is a visible society it needs tangible ceremonies. The gathering together in the Lord’s presence on the Lord’s Day to partake the Lord’s Supper and receive his pardon, teaching, and benediction is the major group of ceremonies that God uses to bind us together as believers of the Gospel. But the initiation rite is baptism. And because God’s city is no less real than man’s, baptism is no less effective in joining believers to that society than a civil adoption is effective in joining a child to new parents, or a swearing-in ceremony is to making immigrants citizens of a new country.

And this is, in the case of the Church, not merely natural or man-made. The Church is the dwelling place of the Spirit, writes the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians in chapter 3. Baptism was laid down for us in the Spirit-inspired Word of God. It is the sovereign and powerful Spirit who moves us to believe the Gospel so that we want to be joined to the Church and to join our children as well. It is never “just a ritual” any more than kissing your children good night is “just a ritual.” It is a gesture of love from the Spirit that receives us into the family of God.

Finally, my fourth point: The Apostle Paul will write another letter to the Corinthians in which he admonishes them to continue in the grace they have received: “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (6.1). To benefit finally from God’s promises we must trust him that he will fulfill his promises. We must follow Jesus.

Salvation is by faith, and whether or not one will follow the true God or false gods is always presented in the Bible as a matter of faith–do you trust the Lord or in idols? Thus we read in Leviticus 18.1-5:

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes, and walk in them; I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules, by which a person shall live if he does them; I am the LORD.”

Do you see the assumption there? If the Israelites decide to disobey God and walk in different ways it is because they are not trusting in him but are trusting in other gods, the gods of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. The job of Israelite parents was to not only teach their children God’s ways, but also to continually remind them of what God had promised them, how he had mightily fulfilled his promises to them in the past, and therefore to convince them of how trustworthy he was. God will bring us into all that he has promised us if we will trust him.

Live By God’s Promise!
So now Andrew, like all our children, can be raised as a member of the church–one who belongs to God’s people. He can be told of what Jesus has done for him and how he has made all sorts of great covenant promises to him. And what we pray for, is not only that we do our job in the Church faithfully, but also that Andrew respond always with a true and living faith all his days so that he never remembers a day without Jesus Christ, and so that he inherits the great glory that Christ has gained for him.

Andrew, like each one of us, has been marked out as one of God’s people who belong to Christ. He needs to be taught how to follow God. This will begin by saturation so that he will take it for granted. As he gets older and sees that there are others who go their own way and who don’t belong to or depart from Christ, he will need more direct teaching. We have all vowed to provide him with instruction and example.

Andrew will need to be taught to love God’s house and to be glad that God has appointed a time for him to gather with the Church and be renewed in God’s grace. He will need to be taught to appreciate the marks of God’s kingdom just as many appreciate the marks of the American nation. He will need to be reminded over and over again of what God has done for us and what he has promised us and how he can be trusted to deliver on all his promises. He will need to be raised in the Church.

Of course, I can’t possibly be expected to now list before you all the aspects of Christian discipleship. What will need to be reiterated to Andrew will depend on his age and character and other circumstances. My older daughter has grown to the point where she think about marriage and babies and tells me she’s going to get married when she grows up. So I get to tell her now, so she is thinking this way from the very beginning, from the age of four, “Honey, if God calls you to marriage, he will only call you to marry another Christian. It is very important that you only consider only believers when you look for a possible husband.”

With all the children of the church we have to look for every opportunity to remind them of who they are and to whom they belong. They will be tempted to sin and sometimes to even throw off the yoke of Christ. We need to remind them of their baptism and what it means. Basically, to use that nationalistic analogy, we need to tell them, “Don’t spit on the flag! Don’t burn the flag.”

Don’t disregard your baptism! Don’t think lightly of the promises God has made to you therein because that is unbelief. Live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you. God has placed his name on you; don’t bear his name in vain.

We must not disregard our own calling in baptism, and we must not disregard the commission given to our children either. We must raise God’s children as God’s children. They are members of Christ just as much as we are. All of us must be thankful for the fact that God has placed us in his Church and must walk accordingly.

copyright © 2003

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment