Spiritual Fullness in Christ
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross
Today we are beginning a new series, which will take us right up to Lent. We are going to do a seven-part series from the Schleitheim Confession based on the seven articles of this, the first confession of faith by the Anabaptists, our spiritual ancestors.
Before we get to article one, I want to give some background that may help us to better understand this confession of faith and the individual articles that make it up.
First we need to look at the beginning of Anabaptism. Anabaptist literally means “Re-baptizer” ana being the Greek prefix that means “again” or “a second time.” And that’s just what these people were, they were re-baptizing one another.
It was during the height of the Protestant revolution that a number of young leaders in the movement began criticizing some of the leaders of the revolution for not taking it far enough. One particular issue that concerned them was infant baptism. These young leaders felt that infant baptism was not biblical and that baptism should be a sign of one’s decision to follow Jesus. So after debating with leaders like Ulrich Zwingli to no avail, on January 21st, 1525, Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock (I believe in Blaurock’s home in Switzerland). Blaurock then baptized the others that wished to be baptized and thus began the Anabaptist movement. We will return to adult baptism shortly.
Anabaptism spread, but it was a religious movement without clear leadership and without an articulation of what they really believed. It was hard to have strong leadership when other religious groups and government leaders were killing off anyone found to have been re-baptized. In 1527, just over two years after the first adult baptisms of the age, a group of Anabaptists gathered in Switzerland at a place called Schleitheim. There a former monk by the name Michael Sattler penned a document that would help unify the Anabaptist movement in Europe. Remember, at this time most people did not know how to read or write. So they relied on their ability to memorize and recall information to pass it on. So a brief confession of faith like the one written at Schleitheim would be extremely helpful to those seeking to share their faith with others. So the seven articles of the Schleitheim Confession were written and unanimously agreed upon by the group on February 24, 1527. On May 20, 1527, less than one month after writing the Schleitheim Confession, Michael Sattler was put to death after King Ferdinand stated that “drowning was the best antidote to Anabaptism.”
Adult baptism is something that our spiritual ancestors believed in so strongly that they were willing to die for it. I want us to keep that in mind as we work through this series over the next two months. There will be times that I disagree with what the early Anabaptists had to say and there will probably be times when you disagree with what they had to say as well. There might even be a chance that you could disagree with what I say. But we must respect the fact that the first Anabaptists believed so strongly in what they believed that they were willing to die for it. So with that introduction, let’s move to article 1:
- Observe concerning baptism: Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with Him in death, so that they may be resurrected with Him and to all those who with this significance request it (baptism) of us and demand it for themselves. This excludes all infant baptism, the highest and chief abomination of the Pope. In this you have the foundation and testimony of the apostles. Matt. 28, Mark 16, Acts 2, 8, 16, 19. This we wish to hold simply, yet firmly and with assurance.
Verse 12 of our scripture from Colossians seems to be the source of some of the language that Sattler uses here, “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Paul and the early Anabaptists seem to believe that baptism marks the end of one way of life and the beginning of another. They use the metaphor of death, the end of your life before Jesus, and raising up out of the waters marks the beginning of a new life. This reminds us of the conversation that Jesus had with a man named Nicodemus when Jesus told him that in order to see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus had to be born again.
Baptism was not something new to the people of Switzerland. It was done on a regular basis, like every time a child was born. A kid is born, you take them to the church to be baptized, and you did it as soon as you could. I don’t know what the average age was for baptism, but I don’t think it would have been more than a couple of weeks, and likely only a couple of days old.
There seems to be a hurry to get these children baptized, and I believe it comes from some bad theology. One of the reasons for the hurried baptism of all infants is because it was believed that baptism was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. And if your child were to die in infancy, as many children did in those days, the church taught that all unbaptized children would go to hell. What sin has the child committed? The church taught that all children are born sinners as a result of the sin of Adam, something that is often called “Original Sin” and without baptism, an infant that died would be sent to hell for eternity because of this inherited sin.
A scene comes to mind from the 1990 movie “The Radicals,” which was based on Myron Augsburger’s novel on the life of Michael Sattler. In one scene, Sattler has just finished preaching a message in an Anabaptist congregation and he invites the people to come forward to receive baptism. One woman comes forward carrying an infant and she refuses baptism for herself and requests baptism for her child, whom she says is dying. Sattler refuses because he believes that baptism is to be the choice of the individual, not the parent, and the mother goes away weeping, fearing her infant child was heading for eternal punishment. That’s just bad theology.
But there was another reason for the hurried baptism of all children: it was required by law. Perhaps there were some that would say that this law was intended to protect the child by requiring baptism, that this would protect the child from The Radicals from eternal punishment. But the reason most often referred to has nothing to do with the child’s well-being. Many people claim that the law requiring infant baptism was so that the child could be recorded as a citizen of a particular region for later tax purposes. When you submitted your child for infant baptism, their name and birthdate were recorded and turned in to the appropriate authority and when they reached a particular age, the city, nation, and the church could tax them. The church tithe was mandatory, and if you did not pay, the church came to collect their 10%. Baptism was a way to make sure that the state and the church were getting their share.
So we can begin to get a better feel for why the Anabaptists struggled with infant baptism. They didn’t think that baptism “saved” a baby from their sins and we begin to see something that had not been a part of the church for 1200 years: the separation of church and state.
So the Anabaptists were protesting what they believed to be unbiblical. Yet there are still many denominations that practice infant baptism even today. So obviously, not everyone has been convinced by the arguments made by the Anabaptists. So let’s take a few minutes to look at the arguments for infant baptism and perhaps where I believe those arguments break down.
The first argument that is usually made for infant baptism is the household baptisms found in the New Testament. We find multiple times in the New Testament, especially the book of Acts (chapters 10, 16), where Lydia and Cornelius make the decision to become a Christian and the text tells us that their entire households were baptized. The pedobaptists (infant-baptizers) would say that these households surely had children in them, so this is a justification of infant baptism. I think that is a bit of a stretch as we don’t know if there were any children in the households, and we would have no idea of knowing how old these children might have been. Furthermore, I have heard it said that when censuses were taken of a household in the first century, children were often not counted. Only the adults, including servants, were counted in the number in a household. So my understanding is that when the New Testament says that entire households were baptized, it meant that all adults including servants were baptized.
Another popular passage of scripture used to defend infant baptism comes from Matthew 19:14, which says, “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Infant baptism adherents claim that this passage means that children should be baptized, but it never says that. Jesus says for the children to come to him, but says nothing of baptism.
The final defense of infant baptism that I want to address this morning refers to covenantal signs. We read in the book of Genesis that God gave Abraham a sign of the covenant that he was making with Abraham that God would give him a son and bless all the world through Abraham’s descendants. That sign was circumcision. Any male that became a part of Abraham’s family was circumcised. A male child was to be circumcised on the 8th day.
In the New Testament we find a widening of God’s people. Now, through Jesus, Gentiles, Samaritans, all people can come to God. But this provides a bit of a dilemma: Are these new followers of Jesus required to follow all of the Torah? There is much debate on this issue and it leads to what is commonly called the Jerusalem Council, which we can read about in Acts 15. At the Jerusalem Council it is decided that the new followers of Jesus did not have to be circumcised. What was required of them is listed in verse 29, “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”
This is often referenced as a justification for infant baptism because, it is argued, baptism takes the place of circumcision under the new covenant. And since circumcision was done on the eighth day, infants should be baptized as a sign of their participation in the new covenant.
I understand this argument, but I disagree with where it ends up. I believe that under the new covenant that baptism does replace circumcision as a sign of the promise made to Abraham, but the reason I don’t believe that this applies to infant baptism is because the mode of entrance into the people of Abraham changes with Jesus and the change from circumcision to baptism is symbolic of that change.
Under the Abrahamic Covenant, how did most people become a part of the Kingdom of God? They were born into it. That’s one reason why lineage is so important to the Jews of the New Testament. We know that Paul traces his lineage back to the Tribe of Benjamin. Jesus was of the Line of Judah. And this all began with Abraham and his son.
Have you ever wondered why God chose circumcision as a sign of this covenant? Abraham was told to circumcise all male children as a reminder. Whenever they reproduced and created the next generation, they remembered that this was only made possible through God. I believe that is why the reproductive organ is involved in this symbol.
It has often been said that God has no grandchildren, only children. This is a change from the Old Testament paradigm. The Old Testament paradigm was that you were born into a particular religious group. The New Testament paradigm is that you are born again into a particular religious group. You are not a Christian by virtue of being born to Christian parents. Surely the decision to follow Jesus might be made easier for you when it has been modeled well for you by your parents, but the decision to follow Jesus is your own. And I believe it is a decision that you must make every day.
So since we are not Christians by virtue of birth, the symbol of circumcision does not have the same meaning for us. The publicly identifying act of baptism takes its place. Baptism shows anyone with eyes to see that you are choosing to identify with the church of the last 2,000 years as a follower of Jesus. And as a sign of the new life that we have been given when we chose to follow Christ, we submit to a ritualistic cleansing known as baptism. While an infant might be circumcised as a sign that they are a part of the Abrahamic Covenant without their consent, an adult is baptized as a symbol of their desire to be a part of Jesus’ kingdom here and now and into eternity.
So what does this mean for us today? How does this play out practically in the 21st century? I want to say that I disagree with those denominations that believe that infant baptism takes away the sins of a baby or an adult for that matter. Verses like 1 Peter 3:21 can be interpreted as saying that the waters of baptism washes away sin, but if that was all we needed, then Christ died for nothing. I don’t think baptism is salvific; it is a sign.
But there are other denominations that practice infant baptism and see it in the same way I do, as a sign of entering into a committed relationship with God. The difference is that the parents are making the commitment, where I believe it should be the child making the decision when they are old enough to make the decision for themselves. What I think is important is that infant baptism in these denominations is followed up with confirmation. Confirmation is when the child, usually in early adolescence, goes through instruction class and makes a public profession of faith. I view these denominations, such as the Methodists and Presbyterians, to be flip-flopping what we in the Mennonite church do. We commonly have child dedications, which is the parent(s) saying that they promise to raise the child in the ways of Jesus so that they can chose for themselves when they get older and then allow for baptism when they reach their early adolescent years. So the way I see it, we just do the water part of it at a different time.
If you were baptized as a baby, I don’t think you are going to hell. But I do think that it is important for you to make some kind of public statement of faith as an adult. Baptism is our way of identifying with Jesus, dying to the old ways and being raised to new life with him.