The trouble with Jesus’ baptism

The Baptism of Christ #2 by Daniel Bonnell

I have a love/hate relationship with the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.  I love it because I love that Jesus, though he knew no sin, insisted on being baptized anyway.  I love that it was for him, like for all of us, a moment of communion with God and the reception of the Holy Spirit.  I hate that it is so unlike a baptism that anyone other than Jesus could ever have.  I hate that we have to preach it every year, on top of hearing the story of John the Baptist three, or even four, times in a year.

My real trouble with Jesus baptism is how unlike ours it is, but the reality is that this has less to do with Jesus and a whole lot to do with us and our ancestors in the Church.  It is the direct result of more than a thousand years of bad theology that has created a cultural norm of infant baptism.  Infant baptism is good, both of my girls were baptized at a young age.  It can even be pedagogical, as my friend and colleague Evan Garner noted yesterday, but the fact of the matter is that it should not be the norm.  The norm, as it was in the early Church and as it is now at least given lip-service to be in The Episcopal Church’s 1979 Prayer Book, is for older children or adults who are ready, willing, and able to take the vows of baptism for themselves.  The need to “get the baby done” as Louis Weil so eloquently puts it, in order to save them from the stain of original sin lest they die and end up in limbo, purgatory, or worse yet, hell, has robbed most Christians of the opportunity to be an actual part of their own baptisms, other than looking cute and cooing at the appropriate points, of course.

Very few Christians have had the opportunity to come up from the water, literally in the case of immersion (again the historic norm) or figuratively in the case of ye olde sprinkling (the prevailing cultural model in Episcopal Churches) to see the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending like a dove.  We’ve had the chance to remember God calling us “beloved” stolen from us by Augustine’s inability to keep it in his pants, and that’s a real shame.  As I’ve said before, I don’t believe baptism to be a salvific event, but I do think that an ontological change can occur in baptism through the gift of the Holy Spirit, if we’d only give neophytes the opportunity by getting over our own anxiety and bad theology and return to the norms of the Christian Church from the very beginning.

The whole sale revision of our baptismal theology that came with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is older than I am (by at least a few months), but I don’t see even the beginning states of a real trend away from infant baptism now 35 years later.  I hope it’ll change in my lifetime.  I hope others will have the chance to experience baptism like Jesus did. I hope that in due time, the Church can get over the trouble with Jesus’ baptism.


5 thoughts on “The trouble with Jesus’ baptism

  1. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. I have always been grateful that coming to Christ as a young adult gave me the opportunity to make my own decision to experience full-immersion baptism. Peace and every blessing to you.

  2. I keep losing my comments before I can send them. Please forgive me I hope I don’t offend anyone or commit heresy. I love Baptism! I wish we could be Baptized as soon as we are born. Is age the important thing about Baptism? Baptism-“an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” We’re made children of GOD; members of the church and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. Our lives have a purpose-God has a plan for us. Our sponsors promise to prepare us for our Ch

    • Christian journey. But there is something even more unique about Jesus’ Baptism. God reveals who Jesus is-His Beloved Son and God is pleased with him. It is only in Jesus’ Baptism that we can be made children of God-only then do the heavens open. Jesus baptism is the one baptism (Ephesians 4:5) that really matters because only in Jesus do “live, move and have our being.” Is age the important thing about baptism or is Jesus baptism the only baptism in which we really ” die to sin and are made alive to God’?


    How many examples of infant baptism are found in the Bible? Answer: NONE. Infant baptism is a man-made doctrine.

    An example given to support infant baptism is the conversion of the jailer. (Acts 16:23-34.) The reasoning being that the jailer’s whole household was baptized.

    1. Acts 16:31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”(NASB)

    The whole household was required to believe. The jailer could not believe for his household. Infants are not capable of believing the gospel of Christ.

    2. Acts 16:32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.(NASB)

    The word was spoken to all in the house. Babies have no capacity to understand the word of the Lord. No infant responded to the gospel that night.

    3. Acts 16:33-34……and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believe in God with his whole household. (NASB)

    Who was baptized that night? Answer: The Jailer and all his household. What preceded their baptism in water? They all believed in God. No, infants were baptized that night. Infants cannot believe in God. Infants cannot believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    There is no example in Scripture of infants being baptized. You can only find infant baptism in man-made creed books and other writings of men.

    The is no example in the Bible of unbelieving adults nor of unbelieving infants being forced to be baptized in water. There is no Scripture of any non-believers being baptized in water, period.

    Jesus said in Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved…(NASB)

    Men say “Baptize unbelieving infants for forgiveness from original sin and then teach them to believe and they shall be saved.”(Note: The doctrine of original sin is also a man-made teaching.)

    If you can baptize unbelieving infants then you can baptize unbelieving adults as well.

    Galatians 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s