Thursday, July 18, 2013

Baptism as a Political Act

In my last post I stated that baptism must be viewed as an eschatological event.  Now I want to look at it as a POLITICAL event.

The Apostle Paul compares baptism to the crossing of the Red Sea, when Jews escaped the political tyranny under Pharaoh and began afresh as a free people ( 1 Cor 10:1-2). The crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land is picture of baptism and connotes entering a new kingdom, one that operates under the rule of God. 

Likewise, baptism has political significance. It speaks of the believer being delivered out from under an evil empire and into a new political reality, the kingdom of God. 

In his Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commands his followers “make disciples of all nations,” i.e. members of nations subject to Rome. He prefaces his statement with the claim “all authority has been given to me in heaven and earth,” which implies his power surpasses Caesar’s. Few statements can be more subversive than this. For the Apostles to carry out their mission and call upon multi-national subjects of Rome to transfer their allegiance from Caesar to Christ as Lord was a traitorous and seditious activity.  It resulted in some being arrested, tried, and put to death as adversaries of the established government. Remember, Rome did not execute Peter and Paul for preaching about heaven or exile John to Patmos for preaching about forgiveness of individual sins.

“Baptizing them” and “teaching them to obey” Christ’s commandments was the means of making disciples.

If baptism is our pledge of allegiance to Jesus and not to a Caesar or a collaborating Jewish High Priest, the entire project is politically-focused. With his concluding words, “I am with you always even to the end of the world” Jesus additionally implies that his kingdom will outlive all others, including the Roman Empire.

For believers to be baptized and declare Jesus as Lord in the very waters that Caesar, as “Master of the Sea,” owns and controls was an audacious and politically seditious act. It was the vehicle of renunciation of Caesar as Lord. The believer’s submersion in water vividly depicted death to the old life, effectively ending lifelong loyalty to Caesar. Rising from the watery grave represented a new life with new commitments to a different Lord and King. 

When Paul writes, “There is . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5) he is of necessity denying that Caesar has any claims to a believer’s loyalty. The believer’s allegiance is now pledged to a new Lord through baptism.

Baptism, therefore, is the act of conversion through which the candidate for citizenship publically renounces all other allegiances (repentance) and pledges his future allegiance (faith) to a new kingdom, i.e. the empire of God.  

Unfortunately, we have stripped baptism of its eschatological and political significance by turning it into a church ordinance only rather than a kingdom mandate.

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