Faith & Encouragement

What’s Your Reason

May 15, 2011

“If Christian baptism comes out of the tevilah tradition, how often do Jews that have converted to Christianity tevilah?  Is it a one time affair, done in the name of Christ, like in most Christian churches, or is it an ongoing rite?”

In my experience, Res tends to ask some great questions and this one provided a good bit of brain food.  On a weekend when we’ve had guests both nights and a complete absence of many extra brain cells… Thanks, Res.

In my other post, Mikveh, I listed the reasons for the immersion ritual.  I said the following:

There are several commonly recognized purposes for a mikveh:.

  • Conversion & Repentance
  • Sanctification & Purification
  • Ministry

It seems an obvious answer to me, but I will write it out anyway as a point of discussion.

Down through time we, the Body, have simplified many things which are intentionally complex and in the absence of their complexity have lost parts of the intended beautiful intricacy of our faith.   In all fairness, we have also complicated many things which were intended to be simple.

Faith.  Salvation.  Baptism. Gifts. Fruit of the Spirit.  Free will… You get my drift?

As a child, all dressed up in a yellow Gunne Sax dress, I  gave my glasses to my mom and joined  my brother, Billy, and my Dad in the shallow end of the YMCA pool in Billings, MT.

I was going to be baptized.  And the angels rejoiced, I’m sure.

But it wasn’t a conscious decision to identify with Christ, to announce my conversion, to publicly declare repentance or to step into any kind of ministry.

Everyone I knew was being baptized.  It was my turn.  All the cool kids are were doing it. And it made my Dad smile.

As a 19 year old I stumbled on the shore of  the Santiam River and into the hands of a man I’d known since I was 11.  As I was submerged into those cold waters, I rejoiced in the knowledge that I was identifying with the sweet Lord who saved me from certain personal destruction. The God who gave me hope in a hopeless state.

At 34 my husband and I held hands on a bright, sunny day in July and picked our way through a rocky riverbed in Tumalo, Oregon.  As we prayed together in front of our friends and church family, we immersed ourselves in water, in tears and in service as we stepped into a leadership role in our small fellowship.

Was there ever an ultimate moment when I no longer needed to publicly declare my allegiance to Christ, to be purified or to make myself ready to step into responsibility within the Body?

Has my behavior after the decisions and the declarations I made at 19 or 34 made every moment from then devoid of any reason for repentance, re-dedication or re-proclamation of my hope and trust in Jesus?

What if there was something I could do? Perhaps an ancient, thoughtful ritual simple enough that a child can understand and yet meaningful enough that I could look back to a moment when I openly confessed, declared, and submitted?

God built us to need touchstones.  We are drawn to remind ourselves of those significant moments in our lives.  In ancient Israel they built altars to remember.  Piles of stones and the names of wells.  We remember birth, death, triumph, even failure by those mental touchstones in the dim recesses of our heart and mind.  We celebrate anniversaries of all kinds. We buy benches and name stars, put plaques on walls and hold memorial services.

How many people have that day when they dunked as a date worth remembering as their life cycles year after year?

How many people will remember a child’s declaration and yet balk at the thought of renewing that public declaration as an adult. These same people think nothing of renewing wedding vows or stepping forward at a religious event to “re-dedicate” their lives when they’ve gone off track. But to re-baptize?  Surely not.

Is there something mystical about being baptized or is the personal obedience to a biblical command to stand up and be set apart in identity, in purity and in ministry the true baptism.  Is that the true immersion into sanctification?

Is it that decision that makes a distinction and a differentiation between what has been and what is to come.  Between who we were and where we go. Where we’ve been and who we want to become.

Is the moment sacred, the action holy or is it the heart to obey and declare from the rooftops our fidelity and faith that which truly sets us apart?

In a church environment the mention of sin has been marginalized into the gray and intangible difference between good and bad choices.  Poor life skills.  Ignorance.  But not sin. Never sin. Rarely is there ownership of sin and therefore the moments of true repentance are also diminished.  And marginalized. And even eliminated from our dialogue.

A Jew who observes Torah lives in a constant realization and reminder that God is holy and that we have a responsibility to honor Him in our actions.  He is righteous and we are not.  We need to approach Him carefully, with reverence and with purpose.

Now, as a part of the Body of Christ, I have access to strength and purpose, anointing and vision that the Jew who studies Torah alone does not.  I have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Who teaches, guides, comforts and is my companion.  I am not bound by the demands of the Law but freed and empowered to follow the leading of the Spirit and obey the Living Word as I am growing in my understanding of the wisdom and virtue of His commandments.  I am free to celebrate biblical holidays, participate in Biblical ceremonies and rites.

Or not.

The only thing that guarantees my eternal standing with Christ is His gift of salvation, His sacrifice and victory over death.  Baptism, mitzvot (good deeds/commandments), public declarations…  All good things which, within the appropriate context, have merit.

Outside of their proper context?

They become the complexities that hide the simplicity of the Gospel instead of the intricacies which add depth and dimension to our onward and upward race.

  • Doom

    Actually, I think a modern bath, with hot clean water, would very much fill in for the traditional pools. Which if my history is correct were replaced by man-made pools due to the numbers of people needing to be cleansed near the temple, for a small fee. And, bathing which was ritual then is now quite often a ritual now. More so for women. I rarely bath, preferring to shower. But for big events or special circumstances even I prefer a bath. Just some thoughts. The direct religious aspect might not be there, but I am guessing even back then, in spite of the ritual nature involved, just getting to bath itself was quite the thing.

    About complexities… I think they are there whether we see them or not. In not seeing them, perhaps we can approach God as children. A thing which should bring us no shame. And yet, in seeing them, we might live a richer life. So long as we don’t get knotted up in them and drown to the truths and richness they can offer?

  • Actually, you would bathe before using the mikveh as the physical cleansing is of secondary importance to the spiritual cleansing.

    Complex v. complicated is the root of the issue. All of life is complex with layers and depth. Complicated is what happens when we put stumbling blocks and prerequisites to faith in the way and prevent ourselves from even seeking to understand or grow in our present understanding.

  • cruft

    Is there a question(s) here that desires an answer? Or is this just wool gathering? Ack, I hate question marks but look what I’ve written.

  • Res asked, in a previous post’s comments, a question which I have presumed to attempt to bring more clarity to for him.

    I may very well have only over-thought the original intent of the question, but this is the thought process prompted by his initial inquiry.

    Does that help?

  • Hedi,

    Thank you so much. You are correct my intent was clarification. I know what I have been taught about the topic of baptism and what conclusions I have reached as an adult. I’m prone to going back and rethinking topics/issues of faith from time to time. Which is what I’m doing with this.

    Basically I’m taking advantage of your Jewishness to try to understand the faith history behind what we practice today. I don’t care about the whole Catholic/Protestant and faith only type debates I want to understand what mikveh meant to those who had it as a religious rite and then had baptism into Christ.

    Your post has helped me gain insight and I am grateful to you for taking the time to answer my questions

    You’ve also given me another concept to ponder for awhile. The whole touchstone moments idea is very common in the NT but not so much in my personal experience, for example laying on of hands and anointing with oil etc. Baptism as a touchstone connecting us to God is an exciting concept. There is a lot more wisdom to be gained from this topic and I look forward to studying it more.

  • “It seems an obvious answer to me, but I will write it out anyway as a point of discussion.”

    You see thats the whole point, its not obvious. At least not anymore. We have a religious paradigm today that is based on what I’ve come to term “reactionary religion”. The Lutherans are a reaction to the Catholics, same for the Anglicans, etc. In the US we have over 3,000 denominations all professing to have the correct version of the truth. They can’t all be right.

    My focus has been becoming one of “what did they do in the Bible” NOT what does Christian brand “X” claim about it.

    On the topic of baptism, I believe that Jesus can save a person without it. I believe that not because of Calvin’s theology, but because on one occasion He made a lame man walk to prove He had the authority to forgive sins. The thief on the cross doesn’t bother me in the slightest theologically speaking. I don’t think it “proves” anything at all about baptism. Jesus said the guy was forgiven. The Son of God does not lie.

    As for those who teach that the writings of Paul some how counter the plan teaching of Jesus and Peter on the requirement to be baptized; I’m beginning to change my mind about how I see that. Knowing what I now know about the central nature of the mikveh to the Jew, I think Paul assumed that a “believer” was someone who had been baptized. I’m starting to see that he may have taken that fact for granted when writing about faith and salvation. In other words his writings are not a contradiction or a different teaching at all. If Paul assumed that everyone who was saved, was also baptized, he would have no need to write about the dunking and could focus more on the faith and inward spiritual condition of the believer.

    The more I understand the mikveh, the more I understand how much modern Christians have missed the boat on baptism. We want to debate where we have been asked to submit.

  • Res, my brother, Michael, is a minister of a medium sized fellowship in Idaho Falls. Having been raised, educated and ordained in a particular denomination which requires strict adherence to their own version of full immersion/baptism, using very specific verbage to make the point, he was startled a few years ago by the very point you brought up. What about the thief?!

    He had been doing youth prison ministry and there was no way to baptize those who were professing faith in Jesus. Yet, it was obvious that they were being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

    His entire paradigm shifted. It’s been an interesting thing to watch.

    I know that these are not simple questions that you are asking and I pray that the Lord will bless you with answers in due time, perseverance now and the eyesight to see the treasures you are seeking out.

    And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share on subjects that are near and dear to my own heart.