An Elegant (and Innovative) Baptism?!?

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer
and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire
before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.
And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them,
and they died before the LORD.”

(Leviticus 10:1–2 (ESV)

Something’s got my dander up.  I had a friend post something on Facebook, a little video clip from a show called “Big Rich Texas,” in which someone is describing a “stylish, at-home, baptism.”  While not really wanting to promote the video or the show, I’ve embedded a link below – but be prepared, it might make you want to throw up.  Once you’ve watched it, read on.

There are so many things wrong here that I cannot cover them all, but I thought it would be helpful to give a brief list of some of the more egregious errors, and if there’s time, touch on some of the underlying problems. Here goes…

  • Elegant/stylish adult Baptism – I’m all for beautiful expressions of worship, but is elegance and style what a baptism is all about?  Does opulence add to or detract from the glory of God?
  • “It is appropriate to have a Baptism anywhere” – Is it?  If that’s the case, would it be appropriate to have a baptism in the commode at the nearest international airport?  Anywhere?  I would think that a baptism should be held wherever the body of Christ can gather as witness and to hear the witness of the one being baptized, but certainly some discretion should be given to the appropriateness of location.
  • “You could actually have it in a church, sometimes that’s more traditional” – Sometimes?  Thanks for reminding us that if the Moose Lodge is booked, the church is still an option.
  • “I prefer a beautiful swimming pool; it’s more controlled and its cleaner.”  Ah, nothing washes away my sins like the chlorinated waters of baptism.  I think we get here what’s at the heart of the problem in this video – control.  While there’s a shot of a robed woman “performing” the baptism, I wonder if the robe was only there to hide the brace she must be wearing to make up for her missing back-bone.  I’m sure the decision process for this “baptism” went something along the lines of… “Money, Television time, and an Open Bar – where do I sign?”
  • The Baptee wears white to signify purity, but you also need an after outfit, because you don’t want to drip.  First off, what the heck is a “Baptee.”  And while the pictured baptismal dress and after dress may signify purity, what they scream is $$$$.
  • As the Godmother, wear something classy, classic and tasteful.  Well that’s the only sound piece of advice given so far; but again, as stated at the very beginning, it’s all about appearances, isn’t it?  She goes on, “this is not a time to be ‘boobalicious’.”  (Okay, I just slammed my hands in the desk drawer, because I had hoped I’d never have to write anything as ridiculous as that.) Kudus, Godmother, for realizing that a Baptism is a time for, shall we say, modesty.  But let me ask you this; as a Godmother, when would it be appropriate to be “boobalicious?” (Again with the hands in the drawer.)
  • The Cake is the Centerpiece of the Baptism – of course it is – we wouldn’t want anything like that bloody Cross, nor the one who was on it, showing up at something so elegant.
  • A stylish ending – doves.  Nothing says style quite like doves.  (Unless its big giant dancing puppets in worship, or rainbow stoles and tablecloths.  Put them all together – death by style.)  Releasing doves signifies the purity and commitment to live a better life.  You mean it gets better than a mansion, swimming pool, and mimosas?  At least there’s no talk about dying to sin and living with Christ.  Rock on, party girl – what a stylish baptismal affair.

What’s really at stake here is the very understanding of what baptism means and signifies.  There is no mention of the preaching of the word, of the significance of being united with Christ by dying and rising with him.  This baptism was merely an opportunity to flout excessiveness and style.  Baptism is always a response to the grace of God that has awakened us to our sinfulness, and drawn us to salvation in Christ through the power of the Holy  Spirit – how was that signified in this service?

I don’t pretend to know the sincerity of the faith of the one being baptized, but by all outward appearances, this is vanity in its highest form; an empty ritual devoid of all health, life, and spirit.  Where is the church, the pastor, the elder, teaching and leading in this baptism about the true meaning and form of worship?  Where is the shepherd to guide the sheep through the dangerous waters of relativism, individualism, and success?  After getting really mad at the idiocy of the video, I’m even angrier at the impotence of whatever church/pastor let this atrocity happen.

Normally some obscure video from a show very few actually watch would not get under my skin like this, but I just heard at a Presbytery meeting that one of the reasons why the church is losing members today is because we have not had any innovations in the past 50 years.  Really?  I thought the progressive/liberal leadership of the church had brought a whole new world of innovation in theology and church life, but apparently it hasn’t been enough.  Is this kind of baptism the next innovation for the church?

Calvin once wrote, “Men can do nothing but err when they are guided by their own opinion; and those who introduce newly invented methods of worshipping God really worship and adore the creature of the own distempered imaginations.”  Amen, brother John.  Would you like some Baptismal Cake?

The Real Presence of Christ

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had numerous conversations about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and the Presence of Christ in communion.  It’s not like I’ve had a flashing neon sign saying, “Hey, ask me about this…”, so obviously something has sparked people’s curiosity. 

This Thursday at our Maundy Thursday worship service I will be preaching on this before we receive communion, but I thought today I’d post some of my initial thoughts in a brief outline list:

  • He is present when the Word is proclaimed
    • The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord Supper are an enactment of the Word of God, a visible demonstration of the Gospel.
    • As the Word of God is proclaimed, we also see the Word demonstrated for us in the sacraments.  Christ Jesus, being the living Word of God, is fully present whenever and wherever the Word of God is faithfully and prayerfully proclaimed and heard.
    • Jesus said in John 14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  There is a “sacramental” connection between the proclamation of the Word and the very real presence of Christ.
      • This is one reason why, as Calvin put it, when the congregation does not celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the worship service is like a “dry run.”  Everything is the same, just the material of the supper are missing.  Christ is fully present when the word is faithfully preached, with or without the celebration of communion.  On those days, however, when the Lord’s Supper is received, the Word is accompanied by such a powerful demonstration of grace, to aid and strengthen our faith.
  • He is present spiritually in the hearts and minds of the faithful
    • One of the hindrances we moderns face is the trivialization of the Spiritual.  We have little to no concept of what a spiritual presence means.  We hear “spirit” and immediately think of some floating apparition from the movies.  Spiritual is no less real than physical.  The Spiritual presence of Christ is very real and powerful.
    • Those who are in Christ are in Christ because His Spirit dwells in us.  The Spirit of Christ “guides us into all truth” (John 16:13), produces in us the essential characteristics of the life of Christ (Galatians 5:22), and quickens us for new life in Christ (Rom 8:11) 
  • He is present in the congregation – the church is the body of Christ.
    • Jesus taught us that, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20).  Too often we are quick to point out that Christ is present in the hearts and minds of all believers who receive him in faith, but Christ is present in the congregation as well.  The church is the body of Christ, and when the body of Christ is gathered, especially for sharing of a meal of communion (with one another and with Christ), Christ is truly present.
  • Christ is in heaven, interceding before the throne of God for us.
    • The Second Helvetic Confession teaches that “The body of Christ is in heaven at the right hand of the Father; and therefore our hearts are to be lifted up on high, and not to be fixed on the bread, neither is the Lord to be worshiped in the bread.”
    • The logic is this, Spiritually, Christ is really present with us here, in the preaching of the Word, in the hearts and minds of the faithful, and in the corporate body as it is gathered.  But physically, Christ has ascended on high and now intercedes before the throne of God for His church, He rules and reigns over His people, and is bringing all things under his authority.  Are we, in the celebration of the sacrament, to drag the physical existence of Christ out of heaven?
    • No, instead, we are mystically transported in the Lord’s Supper to His table.  In the Supper, we have a foretaste, a momentary glimpse, of the Heavenly Banquet that  awaits us in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).
    • In this line of thinking, Calvin penned this as the Sursum Corda, the liturgy of the Genevan Supper: With this in mind, let us raise our hearts and minds on high, where Jesus Christ is, in the glory of his Father, and from whence we look for him at our redemption. Let us not be bemused by these earthly and corruptible elements which we see with the eye, and touch with the hand, in order to seek him there, as if he were enclosed in the bread or wine. Our souls will only then be disposed to be nourished and vivified by his substance, when they are thus raised above all earthly things, and carried as high as heaven, to enter the kingdom of God where he dwells. Let us therefore be content to have the bread and the wine as signs and evidences, spiritually seeking the reality where the word of God promises that we shall find it.

Well, I hope this helps, and I hope it gets cleaned up before I preach it on Thursday.