Monday, December 5, 2011

Pondering John's Baptism

This weekend my daily Bible reading took me further in to the Book of Acts, which I've read many times before.  But I was really struck by this story about Paul, and some disciples, in a way that I had never been struck before.  Maybe it is because I am reading it in The Message paraphrase or maybe I just never paid close enough attention!  Anyway, here it is, from Chapter 19:
"Now it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus and happened on some disciples there.  The first thing he said was 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?  Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart:  Did he get inside you?' 'We've never even heard of that-a Holy Spirit:  God within us?' 'How were you baptized, then?' asked Paul.  'In John's baptism.'  'That explains it,' said Paul.  'John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus.  If you've been baptized in John's baptism, you're ready now for the real thing, for Jesus."
I want to point out a few things here-first Paul did not question the fact that they were disciples.  Second, he didn't question the fact that they were baptised.  By asking them if they had received the Holy Spirit, he was in essence asking them what type of baptism they had received.  When the disciples replied "John's baptism", you see Paul saying "That explains it!" 

A modern day reader might look at that exchange and conclude that the disciples were not really baptised because it's assumed that it is a given that we are baptised by the Holy Spirit.  I think Paul would disagree with that assertion.  So, here's what I am pondering.  Those who are in the church are baptised, but how many in the church are stuck in John's baptism?  Weird question?  Let me explain.

Paul describes John's baptism as "radical life change so people would be ready to receive the One coming after him" or in other words  taking "God into your mind only."  They received the Holy Spirit but they had not yet "embraced" the Holy Spirit. 

I may be splitting hairs here but I do wonder how many people are sitting in our churches longing for something more and yet getting the impression that this is as good as it gets in their spiritual life.  Faith, to them, is an intellectual exercise that you try to apply in a practical way in your daily life.  I believe taking faith beyond the church doors and using it in your daily life matters!  But I also get the sense that people are longing for something deeper, something more and they're not sure how to find it!  They sense, that there is something more, that there should be something more but how do you find that something more?

Apollos taught what he knew.  He taught it faithfully and well and the disciples followed.   Paul came along and showed them the next step.   They were not aware that there was something more.  Modern day Christians don't have the same exact problem but there is a similar issue-who will teach them how to take the next step?  Who will help point the way to something more? 

This may seem like a weird thing to bring up during Advent but think about it-when a woman experiences pregnancy she knows that the baby and her body will go through change.  There is a process that happens.  There is something more than simply being pregnant.  The first flutter, the first strong kick, the first bout of 3 a.m. false labor.  All of it leads up to the big event, the actual birth!  But there is even more after that-there is raising, to the best of our God given ability, the little helpless squirming bundle that is now in our arms!  There is always a next step, there is something more.  If you apply that analogy to the church-are we as a congregation teaching that something more?  Or are we just letting our members rest in a baptism that is similar to the baptism of John? 

It's a question that I think we should consider pondering.

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