The History of Christianity #70
Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Luke 3:16 which reads: “John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from Vance Havner. He said: “We may never be martyrs but we can die to self, to sin, to the world, to our plans and ambitions. That is the significance of baptism; we died with Christ and rose to new life.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Christian Life” (Part 7) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Christian Worship (Part 5)
Baptism was, besides communion, the other great event of Christian worship. As has already been said, in order to partake of communion one had to be baptized. In Acts we are told that people were baptized as soon as they were converted. This was feasible in the early Christian community, where most converts came from Judaism or had been influenced by it, and thus had a basic understanding of the meaning of Christian life and proclamation. But, as the church became increasingly Gentile, it was necessary to require a period of preparation, trial, and instruction prior to baptism. This was the “catechumenate,” which by the beginning of the third century lasted up to three years. During that time, catechumens received instruction on Christian doctrine, and were to give signs in their daily lives of the depth of their conviction. As the date approached for their baptism, they were taught the meaning of the creed or baptismal formula that they would be asked to affirm at their baptism. Finally, shortly before being baptized, they were examined and added to the list of those to be baptized.
Baptism was usually administered once a year, on Easter Sunday. Early in the third century it was customary for those about to be baptized to fast on Friday and Saturday, and to be baptized very early Sunday morning, which was the time of the resurrection of Jesus. The candidates were completely naked, the men separate from the women. On emerging from the waters, the neophytes were given white robes, as a sign of their new life in Christ. Then they were anointed, thus making them part of the royal priesthood.
After all the candidates were baptized, they went in procession to the meeting place, where the neophytes joined the rest of the congregation and partook of communion for the first time. The newly baptized were then given water to drink, as a sign that they were thoroughly cleansed, both outside and inside. And they were also given milk and honey, as a sign of the Promised Land into which they were now entering.
Baptism was normally performed by immersion or with the neophyte kneeling in the water, and then having water poured over the head. The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a document of uncertain date, prefers that it be done in “living” — that is, running — water. But where water was scarce it could be administered by pouring water three times over the head, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
To this day, scholars are not in agreement as to whether the early church baptized infants. By the late second or early third century, there are texts indicating that at least sometimes the children of Christian parents were baptized as infants. But all earlier documents, and many later ones, provide such scant information that is is impossible to decide one way or the other.
Next time, we will look at The Organization of the Church in Christian Life.