Actions make sense in relation to a story. Sports are that way. When you watch your kid play a sport, every movement is meaningful. Why? It isn’t necessarily because kids’ athletics are such high quality entertainment in and of themselves, it is because it is part of the story of their lives. You see them facing their fears, expressing themselves; all a continuation of their story, which you know so well.
The same is even true of professional sports. To really enjoy a game you almost need to know some of the back story of the teams, the players, the coaches and the decisions and expectations leading up to the match. Then the drama of every effort is so much more than just watching athleticism; it is watching people live life in an encapsulated environment.
Religious stuff is that way too. Sometimes the mechanics of religious acts are thought to be significant directly, but they shouldn’t be. Their significance is relative to the story of which they are a part. The Passover is an obvious example. Eating the Passover meal is a way of remembering a past story and connecting one’s current life, and even future, to that story. The same is true of Christian baptism and the Lord’s supper.
The basic Story is God created and put man in charge of His creation. Creation lured man away from loyalty to the Creator and now things are out of order. Man is under creation instead of under God and over creation.
GOD/man/creation is seemingly replaced with God/CREATION/man
Humanity no longer relates to God directly, nor do we have healthy dominion over creation. Instead, creation stands between humanity and God. Now creation and man are fallen from their proper order and are deeply dysfunctional as a result. Everything is broken. Suffering, separation, sin, and death are all a result of a loyalty shift. Humanity became enslaved to the Satanic (adversarial) by being disloyal (untrusting) to God.
Experientially our slavery is self validating. We see a tragic world but we do not see God clearly. He is there, but we have allowed creation to stand in our way of Him. Now our created desires to worship our Creator don’t make it past the creation. Humanity typically worships the creation instead of the Creator because that is what we experience.
The promise of God is that he would bring blessings to fallen humanity culminating in our liberation from captivity and restoration of the original order: CREATOR/humanity/creation. By faith (trust, loyalty), we accept his provision for our need. Abel trusted, as did Noah, as did Abram and so on. Our expressions of that trust are part of the story. Sacrifice shows the horror of our betrayal and its consequences, but that is not unique in human religion. Everyone seems to get the idea of portraying the horror of life as it now is via sacrifice. The difference is in loyalty. Sacrifice which God accepts is contrition, a heart that realizes the error is idolatry and that only the Creator can undo humanities sin which has led to enslavement to the creation (including the spiritual rebels who actively seduce humanity to direct idolatrous worship towards themselves).
What does this have to do with ‘baptism’? Everything. Baptism is the act of declaring loyalty to the Creator and his redemption from rebellion. John the baptizer called people out East of the land to reject their acts of rebellion and declare their loyalty to God’s rule.
Matthew 3:1-3 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (2) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (3) For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'”
The way of the LORD = the return to rightful acknowledgment of YHWH, the I AM, the uncreated Creator. The crookedness, the perversion of our ways of thinking and acting, have obscured the reality that the creation is not the Creator. Our sin is always idolatry; refusing the honor and glory due the Creator for anything else (an image, a person, and idea, a spirit, ourselves… anything created).
John warned that God’s wrath is coming against rebellion and the evil and suffering it has brought. He called people to actively decide against rebellion and for loyalty to God. Baptism was a declaration against idolatry/sin/rebellion and a declaration for worship the trust and obedience.
Jesus arrived and there was tension. Should Jesus be baptized? If baptism was zoomed in and perceived in the short story, it would seem inappropriate.
Sinful rebellious guy believes John’s message, is sorry, wants to be loyal to God, gets baptized. Then another, then another… then Jesus. ???
But, if the bigger picture is kept in mind: rejection of idolatrous thinking and behaving is displayed in person after person, then Jesus’ actions make more sense. The common action is declaration of what one is against and what one is for. Jesus numbers himself with the transgressors in declaring the need to reject rebellion and affirm loyalty not because he was rebellious but because rebellion was the human problem. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by fully identifying with the cause: rejection of rebellion for fidelity to God.
When Jesus did get baptized, there was a temporary unveiling of the True reality = God/humanity/creation in the right order.
Matthew 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; (17) and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Then Jesus was put to the test like the first Adam had been. The difference? Adam and Eve gave into temptation, seeing that what was offered to eat was good, that they would not surely die and that they could become like God. Jesus rejected the food that was offered, did not test God to see if he would die and refused the enticement to worship the creation (e.g. Satan) in exchange for godlike privilege and pleasure.
Having endured the temptation, Jesus preached the same message John had preached:
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The gospel of Matthew then reveals Jesus confronting distorted ways of talking about and serving God that ultimately are still part of idolatrous control outside of God. He is faithful unto death and in doing so reverses the curse of humanity. He shows his resurrected life to his disciples showing them that sin, Satan and death have been defeated in Christ. He then tells them to make apprentices of this way of thinking and living, by immersing them in The NAME, the Triune Creator, and teaching them how to live with a Creator/humanity/creation pattern of life, like Jesus did. He reassures them that He is with them through it all.
When we preach the gospel, we are calling people away from the deceptive idolatry of turning to the creation for our hope and instead trusting the Creator for our hope. We only enjoy the creation by means of and for our Creator, we are not to indulge in what creation offers without reference to the Creator. We are to be loyal, grateful and trusting. We die to our old way (working the system to get what we want) and are raised to walk in a new life, the life of God/humanity/creation.
The epistles show doctrinal explanation of how we were enslaved but now have been freed and raised to our proper position, without condemnation, so we can serve the purposes of God like we were created to do. Subsequently we are to actively put off our old self, the idolatrous, rebellious, sensual self, and put on the proper way of living wisely from the Creator in all things.
Simply put: Baptism is the rejection of rebellious idolatry and the acceptance of God as our rescuing Lord.
So what is the Lord ‘s Supper? It is the remembrance of how God brought us from slavery to rebellious creation to the freedom of our proper place as his royal representatives over creation.
How does that work out practically?
One hears the proclamation that they are living in an enslaving rebellious creation and they must renounce that rebellion and receive forgiveness and acceptance into the True order. The Story of God and humanity, focusing on Jesus and the rescuer, brings them to a decision. Will the break loyalty to their old ways and have loyalty from the heart, mind, soul and strength to the new way? If so, they get in water, confess their own rebellion and their rejection of that rebellion, their trust in Jesus as the loyal one who paid the price for their rebellion and their faith in his victory. They then show that by going under the water and back up from the water. They are visibly showing a new life that is loyal to Christ as Lord.
But what happens when old ways of thinking and acting sneak in? We have to choose. IF we confess that the Christ way is right: Creator/humanity/creation and we were wrong to be unfaithful, we are forgiven and accepted:
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we avoid dealing with our sin, there is a problem that must be faced. Those who are around us seeking to be loyal to God over creation try to help us. Starting as privately as possible, but adding clarity with more people as necessary, the choice to be loyal or rebellious is made more and more clear.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
The goal is always restoration to the side of loyalty, by means of forgiveness when rebellion is confessed and renounced. However, if someone insists on rebellion, treat them like a rebel:
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
When those who have been immersed in The NAME unify around loyalty to God as King, the distinction of loyalty and rebellion is made clear. Paul has to deal with this very situation with the church in Corinth. A man claimed to be part of the church, the loyal to God, but he was rebelling against God’s ways in a perverted sexual relationship. The church was told to practice what Jesus had taught. They were to call the guy to be clear as to whether his behavior was a failure to live up to his beliefs (confession and repentance) or if in fact the guy was committed to his rebellion (insisted on justifying or persisting in rebellious pursuit of his own desires).
1 Corinthians 5:4-8 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, (5) you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (6) Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (7) Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (8) Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
The church is supposed to be a place of loyalty to God. The issue is not perfection, it is direction. When one fails are they willing to renounce it and seek what is healthy and right? If so, they partake in the celebration of the rescue done by Christ. If they are still trying to get the pleasure found in the old system, rebellion of getting desires met in creation without God, they should be treated accordingly: handed over to their own declaration of loyalty. The goal is to have defiance acknowledged and dealt with.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– (10) not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (11) But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. (12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (13) God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
The problem is not a fear of ‘naughtiness’. It is fine to associate with all sorts of sinful people; in fact it is our vocation! The issue is one of not ignoring someone’s declaration of disloyalty to God.
Likewise, this does not mean investigation into people. The parable of the wheat and the tares should help us with that:
Matthew 13:24-30 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,
but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.
So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.
And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’
He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’
But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.
Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
The mixed nature of our effective loyalty to God makes it nearly impossible for us to sort out who is struggling versus who is committed to rebellion. The issue of church discipline is related to explicitly rebellious people. Blatant rebellion can’t be ignored.
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. (12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (13) God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
The implication is that church fellowship, ultimately expressed in the Lord’s Supper, is not to be made available to those who will not renounce their rebellion. What happens if the confrontation cause the person to become adamant they do not want to be rebellious? What then?
2 Corinthians 2:5-11 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure–not to put it too severely–to all of you. (6) For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, (7) so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. (8) So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. (9) For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. (10) Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, (11) so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
The battle is between those who celebrate God as sovereign over creation according to His own ways vs. those who defy the Creator for alternative ways live. Our will, the ability to choose one action over another, was given by God to spiritual beings, including humanity. The redemption of our will, from slavery, is the stunning good news. It should be amazing to us, it certainly is to spirits:
1 Peter 1:8-25 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, (9) obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (10) Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, (11) inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (12) It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (13) Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (14) As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, (15) but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (17) And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, (18) knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, (19) but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (20) He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you (21) who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (22) Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (23) since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (24) for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, (25) but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.