Thursday, February 24, 2011

The end of baptism

Here's another quote from Children of Promise (Geoffrey W. Bromiley) pp. 89-90

Whether we be baptized in infancy or on profession of faith, there is in fact no time when we can say that baptism refers simply to some past or present experience in our own life and that it has meaning and value solely or primarily as a witness to that experience. As a sign of the regenerating, renewing, and resurrecting work of the Holy Spirit it always has a wider as well as a narrower time reference. It begins with Christ's first coming before our present life and it ends with his coming again after our present life. Thus we begin with Christ's death and resurrection for us and we end with our own death and resurrection with him at the last day. Our attainment of this end is the creative work of the Holy Spirit which is declared to us in baptism and which has its initial outworking in conversion and the ongoing movement of renewal. Only when the end has been attained can we say that by the work of the Spirit we have fully entered into the baptism of Christ. But then the thing signified will be present in its totality and the sign and its testimony will no longer be needed.

Bromiley bases the above on passages taken from (among others) Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Peter 4. This eschatalogical dimension to baptism is not something we're used to considering (or at least I'm not). Typically we think of baptism as something that witnesses merely to an event in the present or past, but the New Testament writers (Paul especially) see baptism as having a future dimension as well. That's one reason why we can say that the efficacy of baptism isn't tied to the moment in time that it happens. There's nothing magical in the water or in the pastor/priest that administers it. The validity of our baptism is demonstrated in a lifetime of being conformed to the image of Christ, and consummated in the final resurrection described in 1 Cor. 15 and elsewhere. How this past/present/future scope of baptism might inform the question of infant baptism I'll leave for you to ponder.

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