Are We Saved Through Our Consciousness?

Standard

Let’s talk about consciousness and infant Baptism, shall we?

My entire life, as a child of Anabaptism, I was taught a doctrine called “Believer’s baptism” (or credobaptism) which a) tied Baptism to church membership and b) teachings that Baptism requires a conscious or adult decision.  The irony of that is that many Mennonites are Baptized as children, as a result of indoctrination, and not after an exhaustive search for truth that ends with Christ.

It makes sense, at one level, that a believer in Christ must be able to “count the cost” (Luke 14) of discipleship, right?

And yet, if we look at the Apostles themselves, were any of them actually ready when they were picked by Jesus?

No, if Peter had counted the cost, if he truly understood what it meant to enter the kingdom, he would never have denied Christ.  The doubts of Thomas, and the betrayal of Judas, all point to a group of men who did not fully comprehend the words of Jesus prior to their Baptism.

#1) We don’t choose, we’re chosen and drawn to Christ:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.  It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. […] The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them. 

(John 6:44-45,63-65 NIV)

#2) We did not decide the hour of our first birth nor do we decide the second birth:

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. you should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 

(John 3:2-8 NIV)

#3) We were dead, dead people aren’t conscious to make adult decisions:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

(Ephesians 2:1-10 NIV)

By adding the requirement of adult comprehension, the teachers of credobaptism turn Baptism into a work and base salvation on our consciousness of the need.  That’s rational, yet humanistic and not the process we see outlined in Scripture.  Lazarus, dead for four days, did not have the mental capacity to listen to the command of Jesus, “Lazarus, come out!”  No, we understand that this would be impossible.  And, likewise, when the Rich Young Ruler (asks “what must I do to be saved,” the final answer is not “sell all and give to the poor,” as some Anabaptists believeit is “with man this is impossible, with God all things are possible.”

The real problem with this idea that Baptism requires a certain level of consciousness (and the invented concept of an “age of accountability”) is that it is totally arbitrary and would exclude those not fully capable of making an adult choice.  I mean, truly, will we refuse to Baptize the mentally disabled because they can’t count the cost of discipleship?  Should we have an IQ test?  Maybe make applicants provide proof of their faith?  At the very least, if this notion of Believer’s baptism is correct, and adult consciousness necessary to appreciate Christ, then should we cut this silliness of a baby leaping in the womb (Luke 1:41) out of the Gospel narrative?

There is evidence, in Scripture, of whole households being Baptized.  But there is little to support this idea that one must reach a certain level of consciousness to be Baptized.  It is really like some people think they’ve saved themselves and this misunderstanding of the significance of Baptism, starting five centuries ago, got turned into theological hubris.  If Baptism is about being born again or spiritual rebirthand our first physical birth was not a willful choicewhy would we ever conclude that Baptism must be a choice, a matter of age or adult comprehension?

What is Baptism truly about?

Baptism is the start of a journey of faith, like birth, and something to accompany repentance.

But wait, there’s more…

Baptism and the Nuptial Bath

Up until very recently, being unfamiliar with Jewish wedding traditions, I would never have made the connection between Baptism and a Jewish bride’s nuptial bath.  A friend of mine shared a podcast that dove into that topic (listen here) and the parallels seem to be very real.  Upon further research, this ‘other” meaning is also something understood historically by the church and quite clearly implied in this passage:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 

(Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV)

Baptism, in effect, is a symbolic representation of the start of this ritual cleansing that doesn’t end with the act.  The Christian life is a life of repentance, of continually turning towards Christ.  Our spiritual cleansing doesn’t end with the water of our physical Baptism either.

After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.  They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.  That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” 

(John 3:22-30 NIV)

It was directly prior to this that we have the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus where we get the phrase “born again” and where Jesus tells the perplexed Jewish religious leader about this rebirth “of water and the Spirit” like the wind that goes wherever it pleases.  That is an indication of the mysterious origin of Baptism, that it is not something that comes about through our own rational thought processes.  

So what is this “ceremonial washing” about? 

And how does Baptism relate to brides and bridegrooms?

A few months back I worked on a truss layout for a religious building project, a Mikvah bath, and learned more about the Jewish ritual cleaning process and something observant women of that religion must do on a regular basis.

Mikvah bath

However, most significantly, it is something they do prior to marriage, which seems to be the connection between the quarrel about everyone getting this ceremonial washing and the response of John the Baptist. 

The point and purpose of John’s ministry, like the pre-marital ritual washing of a bride when her groom arrived, Baptism was to make people ready for the marriage to Christ. It was not symbolic of the commitment itselfrather it was only a part of the process leading up to the commitment.  So, sure, Baptism is the start of an important transitionary moment and yet our salvation comes through a life-long Theosis, through our being washed, sanctified, and justified by the Spirit of God until the time we depart this world.

One last point, and related to this nuptial bath tradition and the parallels to Baptism.  Jewish brides did choose their partners nor the time of their wedding like we do.  No, they practiced arranged marriage and the arrival of the groom was at the appointed time of his father once the preparations were complete.  So again, where does this idea come from that the bride must choose the time or place of this meeting and bath?  Wouldn’t responsible Christian parents want to prepare even infant children for their groom? 

The expanded consciousness that comes through our prearranged nuptials with Christ can come after the ritual washing of Baptismas it did for the disciples who didn’t know what they were being signed up for when they began their journey of faith.

And, yes, apparently Jewish infants are immersed as a part of their religious conversion process.

Oh, and also, the groom (Jesus) gets washed too prior to the wedding ceremony…

12 thoughts on “Are We Saved Through Our Consciousness?

  1. Hi Joel, a couple of questions:
    The three points you make in the beginning are points that Calvinists make to argue that we don’t have free will–they use that interpretation of those Scriptures to say that God decides who will be saved; we do not. I don’t suppose you are a Calvinist. I’m curious; how do you escape the conclusion that they draw from those premises?
    At one point, you said that “Baptism, in effect, is a symbolic representation of the start of this ritual cleansing that doesn’t end with the act.” It almost seems like you’re downplaying the significance of baptism, although I’m sure you don’t intend to. Most Anabaptists would agree that baptism is a mere symbol (I don’t). But as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, don’t you believe that baptism is actually salvific? That babies can be saved through baptism into the EOC, while that babies who are not baptized into the EOC are outside of the ark of salvation? The question of whether or not baptism is salvific, and what community of faith one should be baptized into, would seem to be relevant to this discussion.
    Also, I would point out that you didn’t represent our beliefs about baptism as we would. Anabaptists believe that God saves those who follow the apostolic call to “repent and be baptized” (i.e., turn from other allegiances to put our full faith and loyalty in Jesus Christ). Anabaptists don’t believe that salvation has to do with age or adult comprehension, but with a commitment to serving Jesus. We don’t typically baptize young children, because we want their commitment to be real rather than the whim of a moment. I hope that, as a former Anabaptist, that makes sense to you, even if you disagree.

    Like

    • I posted three Scriptural references.  I don’t believe the Calvinist own them nor do I see this in terms of either/or.  But I will simply take what is written at face value.  Is there a reason why I should question what Jesus said and St Paul expounds upon?

      The Orthodox have a different understanding of symbolism.  It isn’t mere symbolism, as would be the typical Anabaptist perspective, but part of a process, something mystical like Confession, Communion, Marriage or Unction.  The Orthodox have no issue with statements like “saved and being saved” and can also accept that there are multiple perspectives on Baptism.  In other words, it is not a contradiction or wrong to say that the ceremonial washing prior to a Jewish wedding both is and is not part of the nuptials.

      As far as Anabaptists, I’ve observed younger and younger children, teenagers who were homeschooled and pushed this direction their entire lives.  Either way, the emphasis remains on this extra-Biblical premise that Baptism must always and only be a matter of conscious decision.  The Orthodox, by contrast, will Baptize both infants and adults.  They also do not question the salvation of the thief on the cross beside Jesus who may or may not have been Baptized prior to conversion.

      Anyhow, as the Mikvah washing has multiple applications, applies to both infants and adults, so there’s no need to create a false dichotomy between different perspectives of Baptism.  That said, there is nowhere in the Gospel where it says that someone must have a certain level of competency prior to Baptism and the Jewish practice of this kind of washing seems very similar to the Orthodox application.

      Lastly, if you have questions about the Orthodox perspective, I would suggest you talk to a priest or theologian.  I’m merely a blogger sharing the things I’ve stumbled upon….

      Like

      • Thanks for responding. Of course, I too affirm what our Lord and the apostle Paul said. I just don’t think the text necessitates the interpretation you offered. (And I thought the EOC had ruled against Calvinism, so I found your interpretation surprising.)

        I wasn’t trying to argue that Jewish baptisms aren’t typical of Christian baptism in some way–I don’t know enough about the subject to say one way or another. It just seemed to me that your readers might want to know what you meant by “symbolic.” Just curious; did I describe your beliefs about baptism accurately?

        It’s true that Anabaptists haven’t always done baptism as they should. I suppose no church is without its mistakes. You speak of the belief that “Baptism must always and only be a matter of conscious decision.” I think our position is, more accurately, that the baptisms recorded in the New Testament and the ecclesiology we find in the NT together provide the type for how we baptize today. We believe the NT evidence is on the side of believer’s baptism, but I recognize that not everyone agrees with us.

        It’s true that I’m interested in the Orthodox perspective, but I’m also interested in your perspective, so I figured I’d ask.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The problem with me trying to explain the Orthodox perspective is that I’m as much of a loose cannon in Orthodoxy (or more) than I was as a Mennonite. I mean, yes, I’ve had to adjust my thinking, but a blog like this represents my own observations and thoughts. I actually cite a Roman Catholic source as far as the pre-nuptial cleansing ritual and do because it seems well founded.

        Also, my perspective is that it is far more dangerous for anyone to take credit for their own salvation, whether through their good works or a choice to be Baptized, than it is to give God all of the glory. I mean, let’s say that you really did decide independently, without the heavy influence of culture or Christian home, to be Baptized. Would it ever be appropriate for you to claim that your salvation came down to a personal decision to accept Jesus?

        No, I should hope not! We’re saved, not through our own work or effort, but because we are clothed in the righteousness of our Lord and Savior, who is the author and finisher of our faith. To Him is due all of the credit and this delusion of our rationality is just the ‘flesh’ of our age. In this context, it would not be offensive to say that our Baptism came prior to our being fully conscious of the significance. I would rather have been Baptized as an infant than as a self-righteous prick full of themselves and I think you would probably agree.

        Like

      • The reality is, the notion of Believer’s baptism is something that you’ve inherited from a radical sect of Europeans. It is not something explicitly stated in Scripture, it risks being a complete misunderstanding of the significance and meaning of Baptism. Our Baptism only ever marks the beginning of the process, I could pour the oceans over your head and it would not save you unless it contained that component of mystery or things beyond you own comprehending or control. If it is rebirth, then you didn’t choose the hour of your first birth and there’s no choosing what we were drawn to either. If it it is some kind of nuptial cleaning ritual, like was common to the Jews, that to was an arranged marriage and the bath happened simply because the groom showed up. I think that accepting this is a far safer and correct position than thinking we were saved as a result of our adult consciousness.

        Like

      • Thanks, your response helps to clarify what I found confusing.

        I think you could present the options more charitably. Neither paedobaptism nor credobaptism has anything to do with pride. The question is which is true.

        Since I believe the essence of Christianity is a life-defining commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, credobaptism fits much better with what I believe to be true. If you have a different view of Christianity, I can certainly understand why you would come to a different view of baptism. I appreciate many Christians who have only had an infant baptism; I just think there’s a better way.

        I don’t mind if you stay a paedobaptist, but I mainly wanted to reply because credobaptists would hardly recognize your description of our beliefs. We don’t believe that it’s all about our decision. We don’t believe that we are “saved as a result of our adult consciousness.”

        God is the one who saves, and he chooses to save those who respond in acceptance to his offer of salvation. Can a drowning man brag about his choice to grab the rope that the rescuer threw to him? Yet if he had refused the rope, he would have died. In the same way, we can’t brag about our decision for Christ, but it was absolutely necessary.

        If you say we had no choice in accepting Christ, you may want to consider that this also entails that those who rejected Christ have no choice either, and that God decrees all the evil that they do, as the Calvinists believe. I think that’s a more dangerous perspective. Augustine is the one who brought determinism into Christianity; before him (and for many centuries after him) all Christian writers rightly rejected it. The way you present it seems closely tied to Reformation theology.

        A note on the name–Since I don’t believe that all that the Orthodox teach as essential to Christianity is truly orthodox (venerating icons and going to war were both added to the faith in the fourth century or later), I hope you understand why I would prefer not to use the term “Orthodox” without ever defining what type of Christianity I refer to. After all, if my church called itself the “Doctrinally Correct Church,” I don’t suppose you would call me a Doctrinally Correct Christian without any further clarifications. I don’t mind using the term “Orthodox” as shorthand, but the longer term is more useful for clarification.

        Like

      • I do, actually, think that it is pride that turns our salvation into an adult choice. Jesus, by contrast, said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” No, I’m not saying that this was not a sincere mistake nor am I making a judgment of the individuals. But I am saying that the THEOLOGY is inherently centered on self-confidence and an individual’s own ability to believe. I’m sorry if that offends, it is simply the truth. Making people the author and finisher of their own salvation—turning into something rational and human decision—is very dangerous. It is the posture is bothersome.

        Anyhow, you seem to have a very poor comprehension of actual Orthodoxy and make the same mistake of those who paint Mennonites as a cult of sexual abusers because some churches have had a problem with enabling that sort of thing. Sure, the Orthodox don’t turn away soldiers and police like conservative Anabaptists do, but there is certainly no allowance for the shedding of blood. And, as far as icons, do you have pictures of your grandparents? Do you have a problem with my wanting to have Communion with and having respect for those who are alive in Christ? Is it possible you got a biased and unfair explanation of these practices?

        I mean, what do you actually know about Orthodoxy?

        Like

      • I’m sorry if I offended you, Joel. That wasn’t my intent. I don’t hear you condemning Anabaptists; you just don’t belief our beliefs are orthodox. In the same way, I don’t condemn the Orthodox; I just don’t believe your beliefs are orthodox.

        Most of what I know about Orthodox belief and practice comes from Orthodox priests and lay people, whom I appreciate. I only think the evidence shows that the Eastern Orthodox Church has added to the faith of the apostles; thus, it is not entirely orthodox.

        The two things I mentioned weren’t criticisms; merely examples of why I personally don’t believe the Orthodox are perfectly “orthodox.” Unlike the first c. 300 years of the Christian church, Eastern Orthodoxy allows war, and branches of it have supported wars, even wars of aggression (such as the Russian Orthodox patriarch’s support for the aggression in Ukraine). As far as icons, I’m sure you find them meaningful, and I know you don’t worship them. I was only pointing out that for more than the first three centuries, the Christian church did not venerate icons.

        And I just want to reiterate that Anabaptists do not believe in “Making people the author and finisher of their own salvation—turning into something rational and human decision.” I would be glad if you would describe our beliefs in such a way that we would recognize your description as our actual belief. Perhaps both of our traditions could put forth effort to understand the reasons behind each other’s beliefs.

        Like

    • Btw, there’s only one Orthodox. It’s an adjective, not a pronoun. It is a pursuit, in the tradition of the Apostles, and not a denomination. I am Western, baptized by a Mennonite Bishop, my Chrismation co-officiated by an Antiochian priest, my parish is Orthodox Church of America or OCA. So EOC really isn’t good description of me and, at very least, isn’t the label that I prefer.

      Like

      • Just curious, what’s the label you’d prefer? So far as I’ve seen, “Eastern Orthodox Church” is what the denomination has been called in the West, though I’ve understood that its official name for itself is “Orthodox Christian Church.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Orthodox Christian is what I prefer. The organization itself is pre-denominatinal and not a denomination. There is no name that encompasses all of the Orthodox world, and there are schisms and differences within this sphere. But officially I’m OCA and will be so long as I’m in North America or there is an OCA parish near me. If I would move to Syria or Greece or Russia, then I would transfer to the local Orthodox Patriarchate.

        Like

    • I thought I should correct something I said. Although no Christian write before Augustine believed in theological determinism, once he brought the doctrine into the church, I understand that there were a number of writers throughout the centuries who held to that belief, though the church as a whole did not accept it. I made it sound like there weren’t any. As far as I know, there was no widespread acceptance of theological determinism until Luther and Calvin. But the point is that there was none at all before Augustine.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s