The three witnesses

Water and baptism

For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

1 John 5:7-8

I was 16 years old, and I had just wrenched myself firmly out of my old life and into a new one as a believer. I had just come through a big spiritual struggle over how I could be sure that I was saved. I wrote about this in my previous blog post on communion. During the following years, I was working through what I thought about baptism.

I had been christened as a baby in the Lutheran Church. At that time, my parents were not active members of the church, but nor on the other hand were they opposed to faith in any way. I had to decide whether that infant baptism was enough for me or whether I should be baptised again now that I myself had made a clear decision to follow Christ. I began to think and pray about this and to study the matter more deeply. I needed to take time for this, because I wanted to make my decision after having considered the matter thoroughly.

I concluded that if a church would believe that the faith of a person being baptised is of no consequence, but that every baptised person nevertheless becomes a child of God as a result and therefore goes to heaven, it would be logical to get a helicopter and a fire hose and then take to the air to make sure that everyone goes to heaven regardless of their individual will and belief. Forgive me if this seems like a rather crude suggestion, I do not mean to speak lightly of sacred matters, but rather I am exaggerating things in order to make my point clear: surely no church would actually believe such a thing.

Nevertheless, it is very difficult within the Lutheran Church in Scandinavia, for example, to draw any clear line as to when a baptism is valid. If neither the priest carrying out the baptism, the parents, the godparents, nor anyone else present at the baptism even believe that God exists, how does the situation differ from my crude fire hose example? If this is how the matter is, it would seem natural that a baby that has received this kind of baptism would be baptised again as an adult. Also, it is difficult for me to see how any Christian could in principle oppose such a second baptism, even if they support infant baptism.

But what if the situation during the christening was different? What if the parents are Christians who are active in their faith and they, as a family, have christened their child into a living faith in God and Jesus, with the godparents also committed to supporting the parents in this important task?  What if the person carrying out the christening has a living faith and knows the family and is involved in the whole process together with them? Of course, there would also be many scenarios in between these two extremes, scenarios in which some of the conditions above apply and some do not. Is the child doing something wrong if, when reaching adulthood, they want to make the choice themselves to be baptised?

In chapter 19 of the book of Acts we find an interesting situation in which Paul meets people who had not been baptised correctly:

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

Acts 19:1-7

So here 12 men had been baptised. This Apollos who had baptised them is described a little earlier on in the same book:

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.

Acts 18:24-25

So we see that those 12 men had already been baptised, but they nevertheless wanted Paul to baptise them again. It should also be noted that this first person who baptised them believed in Jesus and even spoke accurately about Him. Their experience of baptism was nevertheless incomplete because the baptism had not been done in Jesus’s name but was rather only a baptism of repentance – and those 12 men wanted to experience baptism in all its fullness.

I believe that God wants to lead all Christians into experiencing His presence and the presence of Jesus in three different ways: Through the Holy Spirit, through the waters of baptism, and through the blood of Jesus in communion, as the apostle John writes:

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

1 John 5:6-8

Baptism is a profound spiritual experience in which a person is baptised in Jesus’s name and thus identifies with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The apostle Paul describes it thus:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:3-11

When they are baptised, therefore, a person identifies with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and begins to live their own new life in His resurrection power. One day, in heaven, we will have the same kinds of resurrected body that Jesus had after his resurrection, but already through baptism our destiny is joined to His. I believe that every Christian has the right to experience this themselves in all its fullness, with all their body, soul, and spirit.

So what happened to me? In the end, an older friend of mine pressured me so much on this matter that I agreed to go with him to the basement of a house where there was a swimming pool. At that point, I was 19 years old, and a little too susceptible to the influence of others. My emotions were very unstable, which is probably mostly due to having just come through my teenage years and to the fact that I was so intensely involved in everything that I did. So he baptised me there in that swimming pool. I believe that this baptism was valid and it fulfilled its purpose.

Nevertheless, I didn’t feel very good in the end about the whole experience. It would have been better if I had been given the space and time to make my own decision. I would probably have wanted some kind of special occasion to mark my baptism, though nothing particularly formal or official. I would have also wanted to prepare myself, to pray, and then be ready to savour all the spiritual joy that a person can experience when taking this big step in their life. I believe that God and the angels jump for joy when a person is baptised, and I would hope that the person being baptised would get to do this as well.

May your day be filled with joy
Frank Hill