January 9

Mark 1:4-8

“I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” vs. 8

There seems to have been some controversy in the early church about water and spirit baptism. Water baptism was of course linked with John the Baptist, but Jesus didn’t baptize anyone with water–though according to John’s gospel, his disciples did baptize. Jesus simply interacted with hurting people, laid hands on some, and invited others to become his followers. He didn’t have a ritual of initiation. There weren’t rules about who was in and who was out–he loved them all. But after his death and resurrection, his disciples adopted the practice of water baptism to celebrate the presence of faith in new believers. It didn’t take long at all for water baptism to become ritualized–in fact, the earliest creeds were developed in connection with those rituals. Congregations believed that new members should confess a common faith as a mark of inclusion in the body. We can understand why this was done–there’s amazing symbolic value in the washing ritual–baptism can easily be connected to the cleansing from sin and a resurrection to new life. Even today baptism is a big deal in the Church, both as a mark of faith and as a reminder of God’s grace. But however we practice the ritual, whether it’s for infants or believers, we can’t afford to forget that Jesus was interested in the Spirit’s work in our lives. Whether people were baptized or not wasn’t an issue–he knew that without the Spirit, all our rituals are empty and pointless.

Thought for the Day: Is water baptism necessary for new life in Christ?

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