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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Must every Christian be baptised?

It is Biblically clear that baptism is a rite of purification that Jesus desires for all, but should it matter how and when it is done? Dennis D. Muhumuza writes 

In the early days, a cry of desperation rang through the wilderness and reverberated throughout Judea: “Turn away from your sins and be baptized!” Judeans and the inhabitants of Jerusalem attended to the cry of John the Baptist and were baptized in the Jordan River by him, confessing their sins (Mark 1:3-5).

a pastor prays for a convert before baptising her by immersion
It would be a point of no return! The converts as with the way John challenged the Pharisees and the Sadducees had to live in consonance with their repentance. He then assured them that One mightier was coming to baptize them with “the Holy Spirit and with fire!” (Mathew 3:11) 

Something extraordinary happened shortly after when Jesus Himself arrived from Galilee, and got baptized in the Jordan as well. It was the perfect endorsement of baptism as something sanctified by Heaven and pleasing to God (Mathew 3: 13, 16-17)

Over 2000 years today, baptism remains a sacred rite in the Church but the different Christian denominations have failed to agree on proper procedure. Mainstream churches baptize infants by sprinkling of water on the brow. This ritual, according to Encarta Encyclopedia, was introduced by Saint Augustine in late 4th and 5th centuries, his argument being that people are born with an affinity for sin and, as descendants of Adam and Eve, share in the guilt of original sin. Sprinkling the child’s head with water, he emphasized, would cleanse its soul and prepare it for a life in Christ.

baptism by immersion
But Pentecostals and Baptists insist on baptism by total immersion, and reject the baptism of infants, saying the act should be carried out when an individual is mature enough to comprehend the finished work of Christ and make a commitment to God.  

More controversial is the view that baptism should not be a one-time thing. In The Power of God in the Two Sacraments (Baptism and Communion), the author argues that since baptism represents the washing away of sins, it should be an everyday experience seeing we sin daily. 

“Many, many mornings when I get in the shower, I thank Abba Father that the water is washing my sin, failure, fear, guilt, and everything else negative from me.” she writes. “I get out of the shower 'baptised' in His love, grace, peace, joy, etc…” 

But Pastor of Bashan Zziwa of Makerere Full Gospel Church confutes this by quoting Jeremiah 2: 22: “For though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, yet your iniquity and guilt are still [upon you; you are] spotted, dirty, and stained before Me, says the Lord” (Amplified Bible). 

It implies no amount of washing and scrubbing can expunge man’s impurities except through the blood and name of Jesus. As Ananias tells Paul: “…arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)

Pr. Zziwa faults mainstream churches for ignoring the clarity of Jesus’ demonstration of how baptism is done. “If Jesus Christ is our master, we should emulate His example of baptism by immersion,” he says. “There’s no excuse as technology has made it possible to have baptismal pools even at the alters as we do have at Full Gospel Church.”

Once, Peter and the apostles preached to multitudes who got convicted of their sins and asked, what shall we do? Whereupon they were told to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins, and the receiving of the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 37-38).

“This makes baptism is a conscious act that comes after confession, signifying the turning away from sin to live a transformed life by following Jesus Christ,” says Pr. Ziwa. “Since infants are unconscious of their sins, they should not be baptized, however they should be dedicated to Jesus by letting a minister pray to God’s blessing on these young lives as Jesus did in Mark 10: 16.”

Anita Asiedu of Promise Church of Christ, in Accra, Ghana is an example of one who got dedicated to the Lord as a baby.

“The pastor prayed for me and it was after I turned 18 that I finally got baptized by submersion,” she emailed Sunday Life. “I was supposed to be baptized at 16 because I knew everything by then. But I fell in love and started living in filth. Later I gave up the world for the work of God, and put my old self to death in baptism. The devil would be very happy if you would stay the whole of your life in church without what God wants you to do to attain total liberty. That’s why adults should actually put pressure on their pastors to baptize them.”

Rev. Canon Dr. Johnson Ebong, Chaplain St. Francis Chapel Makerere, says the baptism of infants by sprinkling and the baptism of adults by immersion are all right, water being the indispensable ingredient. 

He’s backed by Fr. Lawrence Kanyike, Chaplain of St. Augustine Chapel who says: “How baptism is done does not matter; it’s either by pouring [of water on the forehead] or by immersion, but the essential thing must be water.”

It’s the church’s responsibility, he adds, to welcome parents who feel the obligation to share their faith with their offspring through baptism. The baptized infants are after they have become adults then fully initiated into the community of believers through the sacrament of confirmation. The priest lays hands on them, anointing them with consecrated oil. This nullifies the need for a second baptism popularized by Pentecostal churches to those who become born-again.   

Some rush to baptize their children fearing that dying unbaptized would send their souls into what the Catholic Church calls “Limbo” –where they won’t suffer the torment of hell but are denied the everlasting bliss of Heaven. To this, Fr. Kanyike says: “What happens after death is not for us to judge.”

It is Biblically clear, overall, that baptism is a rite of purification that Jesus desires for all: “He that believeth and is baptized shall have saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).

--Sunday Monitor (Sunday Life Magazine, page 4-5), March 20, 2011