One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
Hope Moravian 8-5-12
On the occasion of the baptism of my grandson Jacob Crawford Wooten
Opening: A man died and went to heaven. When he arrived St. Peter took him on a tour of the heavenly kingdom. Just as Jesus had said, there was indeed a room for everyone, but to the man’s surprise, they were not private suites. In fact, there was a room for every denomination. One room was filled with the scent of incense and the sounds of millions of people chanting. The man figured these were the Catholics. Next to it was a very small room filled with people drinking coffee and singing German hymns. Of course, these were the Moravians. Yet another room had decent and orderly people discussing theology. Obviously Presbyterians. Finally they came to a room that had the windows covered and the door locked. St. Peter motioned to be quiet. Carefully the man peered through the peep hole and saw a bunch of men and women arguing about when the Second Coming would be. When the tour was over, the man asked Peter about the mysterious room. The good saint sadly shook his head and said, “Those are the fundamentalists. They think they are the only ones up here.”
Baptism Controversies Over the centuries the Christian Church has been divided into many different churches. In the United States alone there are about 400 different denominations. There are more kinds of Baptists than there are books in the Bible. Churches disagree about many things and divide for different reasons, but some of the biggest arguments in the history of Christianity have centered around the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Churches disagree over the meaning of these rituals and how they should be observed. Do you immerse people in running water the way John the Baptist did? Do you pour water over their heads or sprinkle them? Do you baptize people when they are infants or wait until they are able to make vows for themselves?
Historically Moravians have not liked to get involved in these kinds of arguments. We tend to have a live and let live attitude toward other churches. If they want to baptize in a certain way, we are not going to criticize them. We have tended to believe that if Jesus and Paul had really wanted Christians to baptize people in a particular way or at a particular age or with particular words, then there would have been more explicit instructions in the New Testament. Baptism is mentioned several times, but the closest thing we get to a specific instruction is that we should baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Moravians, like many churches, apply water three times for the Father, Son, and Spirit, but that is not required. It is just a nice way of symbolizing that people are baptized in the name of the whole Trinity.
Some people like to point out that every baptism in the New Testament involves the baptism of an adult, but sometimes we are told that a whole household was baptized at the same time. Presumably the household included children, but we do not know for sure. What we do know is that most of the people baptized in the early church were converting to Christianity from another religion. Most of them were adults who were making a dramatic change in their lives. Baptism marked a significant transition from paganism to Christianity. It was only after the church was established that children were born into the faith and baptized as infants. No one knows for sure when the church started baptizing infants, but for many centuries this was the normal practice throughout the Christian world. It was only about 500 years ago that some Christians objected to infant baptism and started new churches that only baptized adults. We happen to live in one of the few regions in the world where believer’s baptism is common. Moravians baptize children born into the church, but we do not criticize churches that only baptize adults.
One Lord, One Baptism One of the key Scripture passages about baptism in the New Testament is found in the Letter to the Ephesians that I read a few minutes ago. “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” This little passage tells us several very important things about baptism. Baptism is an act of faith in the Lord. We do not baptize people to make them Moravian or Baptist or Lutheran or Catholic. We baptize them so they will know that they belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is a public action that marks someone as a Christian. Moravians have always emphasized that it is actually the Holy Spirit who baptizes; the minister is just God’s human agent. Our ministers wear the white robe as a reminder that it is not Craig Atwood or David Merritt who baptizes; it is the Holy Spirit. So long as a baptism is performed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit with the intention of marking a person as a Christian, the baptism is valid no matter who does it. There is one Lord and one Baptism.
Even though churches do baptism in different ways, every baptism is valid if the goal of the baptism is to dedicate a person’s life to the one Lord. This is why Moravians do not require you to get rebaptized if you join our church from another church. This is also why we do not rebaptize adults who were baptized as children. There is one Lord and one baptism, not many baptisms. All who have been baptized in the Christian faith belong to the same Lord even though different churches may disagree and fight. Some of you come from large families, and you know that you belong to your family even when you disagree with your brothers and sisters. Baptism is the sign that we belong to the family of Christ even if we disagree about things like baptism and holy communion. This morning we received Jacob Wooten as a member of this congregation, but morning importantly we received him as a member of the Christian Church. He became part of the household of faith that extends throughout the world. He is now in the covenant of grace. The waters of baptism did not make him a Moravian, they made him a Christian. When he grows older he will need to claim that identity for himself and confirm his faith, but he should never doubt that he belongs in Christ’s church and that his soul has been purchased with the blood of the Savior.
Moravian Baptism Each time we baptize someone in a congregation, it is a good time to reflect on what we are doing and why. I hope you take the time to think about the words we say in our baptismal rite; there is a lot there to ponder. Moravians believe that baptism makes a public statement that a person is in the covenant of grace. This is why we baptize children instead of waiting. As you probably know, Jews circumcise boys when they are eight days old as a way to mark them as Jewish. Circumcision is a sign that a child has become part of the covenant made with Abraham. The parents take on the obligation of teaching the boy all of the laws of Judaism and to respect God. There is a lot about circumcision in the Old Testament, but Christians did not circumcise their children. Paul in the New Testament argued that circumcision was part of the Old Covenant of the law; baptism is the sign of the new covenant in Christ. Women as well as men are part of this covenant. Children as well as adults are part of the covenant.
Grace means gift. According to the New Testament we are not saved by our own efforts. We are not saved because we do heroic things or because we have the kind of faith that can move mountains. We are not saved because we are saints. We are saved because we are sinners. We are saved because of what Jesus did for us. We are saved not because we deserve it, but because God loves us with an infinite love. We are saved because our Lord sacrificed himself for us; because he defeated the powers of sin, death, and the devil. Salvation is a gift from God and all we need to do is accept God’s gift in faith. This is why Moravians baptize babies. We know that some things are hidden from the wise and prudent, but are revealed to babes. Each time a pastor takes a child and pours the waters of baptism on his or her head, each of us is reminded that we should come to God in childlike faith. No matter how old you were when you were baptized, you came into the church like a newborn babe. You had to be lifted up by the Holy Spirit and held in the loving arms of God.
Conclusion We baptize infants because we believe that parents have an obligation to raise their children into the faith – to teach them that the world is God’s good creation; to teach them that they have a Savior who loves them; and to teach them to rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit. We baptize infants because we trust this congregation to live up to its promise to care for children and show them week after week that they are beloved children of God. We baptize infants because we believe that it takes a church to raise a child. We baptize infants because we expect every person to continue to grow as a follower of Jesus. Baptism is not the climax of the spiritual journey; it is the first step toward heaven. The day will come when Jacob will stand on his own and proclaim that he believes in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; when he will proclaim that he chooses to live according to the teachings of Christ; and that he will be a living representative of Christ in the world. Until that day, it our responsible to protect him from harm, to teach him the meaning of right and wrong, to show him what it means to be a Christian, to hold him in loving arms, and to let him know that he is belongs in the household of God.