“Baptism–Is It Really Necessary?” (January 12, 2014: The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord; Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama)

“…Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”—Matthew 3.15[1]

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen!

For quite some time, there has been a debate within Anglican and other Protestant Christian Churches concerning the topic of “Communion without Baptism”—a practice that allows individuals who are not baptized Christians to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist.[2]  Those who support this practice do so from a place of good intentions, believing it to be an extension of Christ’s hospitality at the table and that it is not our place to state who may and may not partake of the principle Sacrament of the Church.  Those of the opposing view believe, as Anglican liturgist Ruth Meyers puts it, that “together, Baptism and Eucharist encode and enact different aspects of Christian faith and life—God’s gift of grace, conversion, and transformation, the building up of community, a call to radical discipleship.”[3]  From this debate, the Church finds itself in the position of reevaluating the nature of Baptism and the connection it has to the benefits one receives in the partaking of the Eucharist.

I mention the Communion without Baptism debate simply as an example that helps point to the overall conversation regarding Baptism and of a certain perception that some associate with it in light of today’s modern theological diversity.  The Church defines a sacrament as the “outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as [a] sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.”[4]  With that viewpoint, the Church views Baptism as “the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God,” with the outward and visible sign being “water, in which the person is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and the inward and spiritual grace being “union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.”[5]  But the certain perception held by some regarding Baptism that the Communion without Baptism debate alerts us of is the sense that it has become a legalistic barrier to the offering of hospitality.  It is this perception that brings us to an important question: “Is Baptism really necessary?”  With today being the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, we are being given an opportunity to reflect on this question, thinking about why Baptism is done and why, I believe, it is still necessary.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes to John the Baptist to be baptized.  The account of Jesus’ baptism that we hear today from Matthew has two significant differences from the one found in the Gospel of Mark.  The first significance difference is the notation of a dialog that occurs between Jesus and John the Baptist.  John feels that Jesus’ submission to his baptism is not right: “…I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus tells John that what is happening needs to happen and gives him the reason why: “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  It was crucial that Jesus submit Himself to John’s baptism, for by doing so, He showed to others the importance of Baptism being a sign of identification with God’s kingdom.  It manifested Jesus as being God’s chosen One and marked the official beginning of His public ministry.

The second significant difference is of the wording of the voice from Heaven.  In Mark, the wording is, “…Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.”[6]  With Mark’s wording being addressed to Jesus only, it infers that His baptism was a uniquely personal experience, God’s call to officially begin the work in which He was sent to fulfill.  To the reader, Mark’s wording is adequate enough in explaining to him/her who Jesus is.  Matthew’s wording—“…This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”—goes to great lengths to make sure that the reader knows that Jesus’ baptism was a manifestation of who He really was—the fulfillment of Isaiah 42, of whom it is said, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.”[7]

So, again, we come back to the question regarding Baptism: Is it really necessary?  There are two points that I submit to you in coming to an answer.  The first has to do with the fact that our Lord, Himself, was baptized.  When John baptized Jesus, Jesus instantly became identified with God’s kingdom.  In the process, Jesus also identified Himself with us, becoming one with us in God’s plan of salvation that He, in due time, would accomplish.  By His taking on of our humanity, Jesus’ baptism pointed to His mission to be “the expiation for our sins,[8] serving as a proper beginning to His public ministry.  Just as Jesus identified Himself with God the Father and was radically committed to us for the purpose of our salvation, we, who profess to believe in Christ, are called to commit ourselves to Him in a radical way, to walk with Him who is the Light of the world and the Light of life.[9]  The most radical commitment that one can make to Christ comes through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  It is through Baptism in which one is “sealed by the Holy Spirit…and marked as Christ’s own forever.”[10]  This means that you are linked to God and that God is linked to you, forever and ever and ever.  And just as Jesus’ baptism was the manifestation of a new stage in His earthly life, Holy Baptism, for us, marks the beginning of a new life in Christ, for Paul says, “…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.”[11]  To be baptized is to be identified with Jesus, through whom the Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God and fellow heirs with Christ.[12]

The second point is that not only was our Lord, Himself, baptized, but that Baptism is a command from Him.  In Matthew 28, Jesus commands us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”[13]  Jesus’ command to baptize and teach is our call to proclaim the heart and soul of the Christian faith—that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes all who believe in Him, in faith, one with Him.  “There is one body and one Spirit,” Paul says, “just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all…”[14]  Therefore, Baptism should not be viewed as a legalistic measure, but, rather, an invitation to the experience of hospitality from and relationship with Jesus in a most profound, deeply-rooted way.  In the words of another Anglican liturgist, the late Leonel L. Mitchell, Jesus’ invitation of relationship with Him through Baptism brings us into

“…the hope of the resurrection.  The promise of our burial with Christ is in the water of our baptism.  Christian initiation is not really an act, it is a process—the process of conversion by which we are brought out of error, darkness and death into light and life with Christ, passing over with him from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.”[15] 

So in answering the question of whether or not Baptism is still necessary, I confess to you my view as being in the affirmative.  But this does not mean, in any way, form, or fashion, that God loves the unbaptized less than He does the baptized, for such sentiment is simply untrue.  As we heard today from the Apostle Peter: “…God shows no partiality…in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”[16]  I encourage those who are unbaptized that find solace in the Person of Jesus Christ to seriously consider the notion of Baptism being Christ’s invitation into a more deeply-rooted, grace-filled, indissoluble relationship with Him.  Jesus has given us a solemn promise: “…I am with you always, to the close of the age.”[17]  What this means is that Jesus is radically committed to you and gives you His word that never will you ever be left or forsaken by Him.  He came to Earth to be with you; He was baptized by John to be in solidarity with you; He died on a cross as a ransom for your sins; and He rose from the grave on the third day to achieve for you the gift of everlasting life.  I encourage you to, at least, think about making that leap of faith in being baptized, being fully identified with Christ in the assurances of the Good News and radically marked as His own forever.

The Lord hath manifested forth His glory: O come, let us adore Him.  Amen!


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952; New Testament Section, First Edition, Copyright 1946; Second Edition © 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Among many within the Church, this practice is also known as “Open Communion,” which, by its actual definition, is the wrong terminology.  Open Communion is the practice of allowing baptized Christians who are not members of a specific Christian Church to partake in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  In the 2012 Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, it is stated in Canon I.17.1(a) that “all persons who have received the Sacrament of Holy Baptism with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, whether in this Church or in another Christian Church, and whose Baptisms have been duly recorded in this Church, are members thereof” and in Canon I.17.7 that “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”  Therefore, as it specifically pertains to The Episcopal Church (and for the purposes of this particular sermon), “Communion without Baptism” is the more appropriate terminology, describing the practice of allowing individuals who are not baptized Christians of any Christian Church to partake in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  In regards to my own personal view, I am in support of the requirement to be baptized before reception of the Eucharist, being that through Baptism, one has made an official, public profession of belief in the Christian faith and that the Eucharist serves as a source for the weekly renewal of that original public profession.

[3] Meyers, Ruth A.  “Who May Be Invited to the Table?”  The Anglican Theological Review (Volume 94, Issue 2), 242.

[4] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), 857.

[5] Ibid., 858.

[6] Mark 1.11

[7] Isaiah 42.1

[8] I John 2.2

[9] John 8.12

[10] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 308.

[11] II Corinthians 5.17

[12] Romans 8.16-17

[13] Matthew 28.19-20

[14] Ephesians 4.4-6

[15] Mitchell, Leonel L.  The Way We Pray: An Introduction to the Book of Common Prayer (Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, 1984), 21.

[16] Acts 10.34-35

[17] Matthew 28.20

One Response to ““Baptism–Is It Really Necessary?” (January 12, 2014: The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord; Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama)”

  1. tcrichards Says:

    Reblogged this on My Side of God's Holy Mountain and commented:
    A sermon from a friend of mine.

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