Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 28 Baptism

Good morning. We haven’t made much progress through Bonhoeffer lately. I am still in chapter 28 or The Cost of Discipleship, a chapter entitled “Baptism”, and I haven’t actually talked about baptism yet. I would like to remedy that this morning.

How do you think about baptism? What analogies spring to your mind when you consider baptism? I must confess, that whether it is my optimistic nature or simply a lack of study, I have not had the Biblical metaphor for baptism placed firmly in my mind. I tend to think of baptism as new life, a new beginning, the first step of commitment to a life of discipleship. All of this, however, is putting the cart before the horse.

What is the pre-eminent Biblical metaphor for baptism? Death. Baptism is a breach between us and the world, between our new man and the old man.

Rom 6:3-7

3 Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been joined together in the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection; 6 knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin.7 For he who died has been justified from sin.

What does baptism accomplish? Bonhoeffer says that “baptism betokens … a breach. Christ invades the realm of Satan, lays hands on his own, and creates for himself his church.” Through baptism we become new men, it is true, but first the old man must die. Now this death is not something we can do. We cannot kill the old man through sheer willpower. We cannot break the bonds of sin of our own free will. Killing the old man, breaking the bonds of sin, these have all been accomplished and completed in the work of the only one who could do them: Jesus Christ. Our baptism identifies us with Christ’s death and symbolizes and confirms his work in us.

The good news is that things do not end there. We are dead, but we do not stay that way. Col 2:10-13

Col 2:10-13

10 And you are complete in Him, who is the Head of all principality and power, 11 in whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in whom also you were raised through the faith of the working of God, raising Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses

Finally we are to my favorite part, new life and a resurrection as a new man whose trespasses are forgiven. But one more thing is a part of baptism. Scripture clearly ties the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives with the event of baptism. Jesus’ own baptism, with the spirit descending as a dove, prefigures our own. Paul says that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free--and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 1 Cor 12:13 The pattern experienced in the early church links baptism and the Holy Spirit: Acts 19 has a typical passage:

Acts 19:4-6

4 And Paul said, John truly baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe into Him coming after him, that is, into Jesus Christ. 5 And hearing, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And as Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

Not only are we identified with Christ’s death by baptism, we are identified with his life as well. And not only are we identified with the new life, we are also filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Having said all this about baptism I want to clarify a couple of errors I feel we may fall into when thinking about it. In addition I want to relate to what we have talked about for the previous 8 months. After all, what does all this have to do with discipleship anyways?

First I want to state clearly while I have presented the typical New Testament picture of baptism, I refuse to to attempt to put God in a box. The Romans 6 passage, for example, uses the word “justified” For he who died has been justified from sin. I do not believe, however, that it is accurate to say that baptism saves us, that without baptism salvation is impossible or that baptism (the act itself) has any intrinsic power. The KJV chooses to use the word “freed” here, and one of my commentators notes that the thought appears to be that sin has no hold over someone who is dead – not that Paul is saying that Justification comes by baptism. Peter is quick to quash such a notion in 1st Peter when he compares the waters of baptism to the Ark which saved Noah. Immediately he clarifies that it is not baptism as the physical act but it is, in the favorite phrase of the Brethren when referring to baptism, the answer of a good conscience towards God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Parenthetically, this is why infant baptism is not baptism at all: the New Testament would have baptism as a result of our faith, not baptism as a ritual done to someone with no participation on their part.

It is also clear from the scripture that, while the Holy Spirit typically indwells in a special way after baptism, God is by no means bound by our conditions. Acts 10, for instance, contains the story of those whose filling by the Holy Spirit Peter used as an argument for their baptism.

So if all this is true, if baptism doesn’t save us, if God can give us the Holy Spirit without any need for our being baptized, what good is baptism at all? Baptism, Bonhoeffer argues, is our own call to discipleship. Just as Jesus called the disciples to a visible act of obedience as a first step to becoming disciples (Follow Me), Jesus calls us to a visible act of obedience as we are grafted into the discipleship community of the Church. Baptism represents our visible commitment to follow Jesus. In the next few weeks as we finish Bonhoeffer we will examine the nature of the new community we are a part of and explore how we should experience discipleship as part of the body of Christ.