Baptism as a Prayer

Last week we examined the New Testament’s teaching about baptism “before controversies, speculations, and hypotheticals.” I endeavored to compile the texts that speak about baptism and examine them in their context without detail theological analysis and application. Today I want to present a rather modest theology of baptism in view of the questions and concerns that have arisen in the history of the church. Before I do this, let’s summarize the NT statements on baptism:

  • Jesus was baptized (Mark 1:9-11).
  • Jesus commanded his apostles to baptize (Matthew 28:18-20.
  • Baptism was the universal practice of the church (Ephesians 4:5; 1 Cor 12:13).
  • Baptism is associated with the working of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 12:13).
  • We are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27).
  • Baptism brings “forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).
  • Baptism (with the Spirit) brings new birth (John 3:5-6).
  • Baptism is a washing that removes sin and makes holy (Ephesians 4:25-27; Acts 22:16).
  • Baptism is a burial and resurrection with Christ (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:3-4).
  • Baptism “saves us” (1 Peter 3:21).

 

Baptism in the Creeds and Confessions of Faith

Given the NT teaching and practice summarized above, it should not be surprising that nearly all the creeds and confessions of faith mention baptism. Below I list representative creedal statements on baptism:

The Niceneo-Constantinopolitan Creed (Ecumenical, 381)

“…and I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.”

The Council of Trent (Roman Catholic, 1563)

“If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation: let him be anathema”

Longer Catechism of the Eastern Church (Moscow, 1839)

Baptism is a Sacrament, in which…[the baptized person] dies to the carnal life of sin, and is born again of the Holy Ghost to a life spiritual and holy.”

The Augsburg Confession of Faith (Lutheran, 1530)

“Of Baptism they [Lutherans] teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that by Baptism the grace of God is offered….”

The Heidelberg Catechism (Reformed, 1563)

Question 69: “How is it signified and sealed unto thee in holy Baptism that thou hast part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?

Thus: that Christ has appointed this outward washing with water and has joined therewith this promise, that I am washed with his blood and Spirit from… [sin].”

The Scotch Confession of faith (Church of Scotland, [Presbyterian], 1560)

The sacraments are “Baptisme and the Supper or the Table of the Lord Jesus, called the Communion of his Body and Blude….And this we utterlie damne the vanitie of thay that affirme Sacramentes to be nathing ellis bot naked and baire signes. No, wee assuredlie beleeve that be Baptisme we ar ingrafted in Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his justice, be quhilk our sinnes ar covered and remitted.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith (English Puritan, 1647)

Baptism is “a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his engrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God….Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect the ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated….The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really conferred by the Holy Ghost….”

The Baptist Confession of 1688; also known as the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (Calvinist Baptists)

”Baptism is an ordinance…to be unto the party baptized a sign of his fellowship with Christ…of being engrafted into him; of the remission of sins….”

Confession of Free Will-Baptists (1834, 1868)

“This is the immersion of believers in water…in which are represented the burial and resurrection of Christ, the death of Christian to the world, the washing of their souls from the pollution of sin…”

A Modest Theology of Baptism

I might as well acknowledge that there have been debates and disagreement among believers in Christ about the mode of baptism, its purpose or effect, its proper candidates, who is qualified to administer it, and other aspects of baptismal practice. Today, I shall ignore all of these debates except one: does baptism, properly performed—whatever that means—really effect the gifts and promises to which the New Testament connects it? In answering this question, we need first to be reminded of how strong and realistic the New Testament language about the effect of baptism is. On the face of it, it asserts that God, the Spirit and Christ really act in and through baptism to bestow the gifts associated with it. The Nicene Creed and all Roman Catholic and Orthodox creeds maintain this same realism of divine action through baptism. Among Protestants, Lutherans also continue the realism. But the Reformed side of the Protestant Reformation weakened and eventually dropped the realistic language and began to use the language of metaphor, symbol, sign, representation, and seal to describe the connection between the “external” rite of baptism and the “spiritual” promises associated with it.

The reasons why Reformed Protestants and those churches that derive from this tradition shifted from realism to symbolism in their understanding of baptism are more complicated than I can explain in this post. But two reasons stand out as relevant to today. (1) The Roman Catholic Church seemed to Protestants of that era to claim in its view of the sacraments to control where and when God acted for human salvation. And this idea is an offense to the freedom and sovereignty of God. (2) To some Reformed theologians—Zwingli, for example—the realistic view of divine action in the sacraments seemed superstitious and magical. The Reformed solution to these two problems was to shift from a realistic to a symbolic understanding of baptism and the other sacraments. God cannot be manipulated to act simply by our performance of a rite such as baptism. So, the human act of performing and receiving the rite of baptism is dissociated from God’s act of forgiving, giving the Spirit, the new birth, union with Christ, washing away sins, saving, etc. And this view is very popular among contemporary evangelical Christians.

Must we simply choose one side or the other, the purely symbolic or the manipulative and magical view of baptism? I don’t think so. The realistic tone of the New Testament drives me to seek another way to preserve the freedom and sovereignty of God and the realistic connection between the human performance of the rite and God’s action of grace.

Baptism as a Prayer

What if we considered baptism a prayer? Protestants usually believe that Jesus’ commanded us to pray and gave us a model prayer, that we are to pray always, that we are to petition the Father in Jesus’ name, that we are to pray according to the will of God, and that prayer is effective. Perhaps some people treat prayer as manipulative and magical. But most Protestants understand that God invites us to pray and sometimes wishes to give his gifts in response to prayer. I don’t know of a theology of prayer that completely dissociates our prayers from God’s hearing and acting to answer our prayers the way some theologies of baptism dissociate the human act of baptism from God’s action. Not many people refuse to pray for fear of offending divine sovereignty. Few view the connection between a sincere prayer and God’s act in answer to that prayer as “metaphor, symbol, sign, representation, or seal.” Instead, we view prayer as a precious gift God gives to his children that enables us to partner with God in this world.

Why not view baptism in the same way? The church, in performing the rite of baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the candidate for baptism, by asking for baptism and submitting to it, offer this act to God as a prayer to God requesting the gifts he has promised to give when we ask. Sincere prayer is not manipulative or magical. It is not a work meriting anything from God. It is an obedient act that appeals to the gracious God for blessings that he has promised to give those who love him. In the same way, baptism is a beautiful prayer embodied in a physical action in response to a divine command and invitation. It seeks the blessings God has promised to those who trust in Jesus Christ. And we know that the prayer of baptism will receive a positive answer because God is faithful to his promises!

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Baptism as a Prayer

  1. Sara Hope

    “God cannot be manipulated to act simply by our performance of a rite such as baptism. So, the human act of performing and receiving the rite of baptism is dissociated from God’s act of forgiving, giving the Spirit, the new birth, union with Christ, washing away sins, saving, etc. And this view is very popular among contemporary evangelical Christians.”

    It’s very interesting to me that the Reformed Protestants took this view and that is is still popular today. It seems to me that such a perspective also calls evangelism into question, as evangelism makes God’s saving work dependent upon human action in spreading the gospel. And yet, Jesus says “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19). If this too is offending the sovereignty of God, why evangelize? How would a Reformed Protestant answer this?

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  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    In answer to your question: There were some who took predestination and the complete independence of divine action to that extreme, even lacking the rationale to send missionaries to Africa. In America, some Reformed churches required more than a profession of faith and baptism for acceptance as “saved” members. They also required some sort of experience or sign of being one of the elect, usually some sort of emotional manifestation. Others understood the sacraments and evangelism as means to salvation under sovereign control. God does not need them but uses them as he wills. The latter view is the view of Calvin and his most theologically astute followers.

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  3. mmccay1982

    “Must we simply choose one side or the other, the purely symbolic or the manipulative and magical view of baptism? I don’t think so. The realistic tone of the New Testament drives me to seek another way to preserve the freedom and sovereignty of God and the realistic connection between the human performance of the rite and God’s action of grace.” ~Highfield

    I would say that if the New Testament implied in any way that God might be unwilling to accept baptism then there might be an issue of manipulation or magic. If there were some being baptized who were in some way unworthy, and were forcing their way into God’s kingdom then we may need to more deeply examine based on scriptural precedent the idea that “God, the Spirit and Christ really act in and through baptism to bestow the gifts associated with it”

    I am however unaware of such a danger, but am willing to be taught about one if it exists. God call’s the unrighteous and sick to repentance, profession of Christ and baptism. In as much as God has chosen to go into the highways and byways and invite the least worthy, has he not already executed his majesty and sovereignty in that act? I don’t know about magic, but I would find it hard to find the idea of manipulation in someone being baptized. How can a decision of God be manipulated when the result of the decision has already been freely given through his grace and majesty?

    My intuition on baptism, informed by my faith, is that it is much closer to a “really and through” sacrament than a metaphor or symbol.

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  4. Matt Stinson

    I think relating baptism to prayer is very interesting and helps balance differing views on the subject. I wonder, then, how much the baptism recipient’s doctrine of plays into the effect of their baptism? Prayer seems to require some conscious state and level faith to be effective (which I think would cause trouble for infant baptism or an unbeliever undergoing a baptism). If it is the case that baptism in an essential part of salvation, would it require the person to conceive of it as such to be saved? If someone is baptised and consciously regards it only as a symbolic display of prior received conversion, would that impede the effect of baptism?
    Also if salvation is not contingent on baptism, then is there any clue as to what the gift of it would be beyond a positive or heartening experience for a believer?

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  5. Joel Foster

    Very neat way to view the beauty of baptism! It is very much a physical prayer, and one about which I am interested to dive into more.

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  6. Doug Roberts

    I have a good friend to whom I forwarded your concept. She is an excellent Bible student. In my mind it could be a prayer, but only after we realized the significance of the primary Biblical meaning and as an adjunct to our continued growing faith.
    Here is her comment that I feel holds much validity:

    Hi, Doug —

    Thought I might get wordy, so replying via email.

    Why would this even be a thought given the scriptures he cited? Baptism by immersion is a command. We are lead to obedience by our faith in Jesus as Lord. He deemed it necessary to be baptized himself. Christians desire to want to emulate Jesus, i.e. to look like Jesus. Why would I want to substitute a prayer (my conversation with God) for this simple act that portrays the death, burial and resurrection of my Savior? “Oh, by the way God, I (thinking myself above your wisdom) consider this conversation to be equal to the act of baptism.” And my gift of the Holy Spirit upon rising from the waters of baptism is unavailable.

    And what does he mean — “What if baptism is the New Testament form of the “sinner’s prayer” (a man-made petition)? That’s an incredulous statement.

    A different way of looking at baptism — I think that’s a real stretch and again, why?

    Love in Christ,
    Carolyn

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      I don’t know what to say to your friend’s critique. I suspect that I had a very different audience in mind. We are also commanded to pray. And of course baptism is not only a prayer, and I do not think baptism can be replaced by a prayer. It was only an analogy. Got to go to class.

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  7. nokareon

    I think it is an interesting and thought-provoking analogy! In prayer, we align ourselves to the Father’s will and the Spirit’s sanctifying work. In baptism, we align ourselves with the Son’s death and resurrection. Both are acts of re-orientation—that is why they change us, and are so remarkably efficacious in doing so. “Repent and be baptized,” cries John the Baptist, always placing the two together. So too, I think, could baptism be analogized to sacrifice, enacting our commitment to and prioritization of the Father’s will for our lives.

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  8. falonopsahl

    This seems to be not only a more scripturally aligned view of baptism and more helpful for Christians to better understand the action and choice of baptism, but it also seems to be a much more practical way of communicating baptism to nonbelievers or those considering Christianity. To say that the water tangibly changes something would sound superstitious to them, as some other theologians have said as you mentioned, but to say i’s symbolic minimizes its importance. Prayer is something that people of all faiths can understand to help shed light on its significance and effects.

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  9. mac

    Really cool piece on baptism. I wonder what the catholic catechism makes of the robber on the cross. Although it would seem that they have a rather strict view of baptism and the importance as an external rite, I wonder if they are still a little bit flexible on the issue given Jesus’s words in Luke 23:43.

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  10. rich

    Sorry bout the caps…
    PROGRESSIVELY WE LEARN TO “ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION”, IN LOVE, FOR OUR FRIENDS… through the “SPIRIT OF CHRIST” THAT IS WITH US…
    ” NOT TO PROVE (SUPPORT) OUR ANTHROPOLOGICAL ONTOLOGY “WHICH KEEPS US MYOPTIC, OR YOU COULD SAY like Penal Substitution” , ALTHOUGH WHAT DO I SEE is a loving intimate, personal, relational substitutional, SACRIFICE OF LOVE,
    MORE MEANINGFUL TO THE FATHER,
    {(the father has been separated from his family because of the deceiver) Jh 16:11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned}
    for his family’s salvation.for the very reasons below. john 15:24-26 / 16:8-11
    ROMAN’S
    16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”
    and
    following the command of jesus now that we have received the Spirit. ACTS 10 we gladly receive the confirmation that the Spirit of the Christ informs of just what blessings we have had given to us through the love of our big BROTHER through HIS LOVING FAITHFULNESS TO OUR DAD AND HIS LOVING FAITHFULNESS TO US IN THE CLEANSING OF GOD’S VERY GOOD “THE NEW CREATION” “WHICH THE BAPTISM OF THE MESSIAH ACCOMPLISHES
    BECAUSE the massah loves us and knew we would need the HELP…CORRECTING our instinctive predisposition to take ourselves too seriously and so become ineffectual in loving
    our brother’s because of an anthropological ontological theology.
    A myopic 5 steps to salvation rooted in a regulatory principle which are both predicated on Francis Bacon’s,
    “Bacon took up Aristotelian ideas, arguing for an empirical, inductive approach, known as the scientific method, which is the foundation of modern scientific inquiry”.

    now we see
    john 15
    12 My commandment is this—to love one another just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends…

    and In sunday school last week I learned this from john.
    what are the two greatest commands? and JOHN told us the two are joined together by the bond of god’s love.

    so i asked a question and got these answers
    as we see the father’s will for the son is to exercise that love,for their FAMILY…IF
    the son loves the father
    john 14
    31 but I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Get up, let us go from here.

    the only perfect “anything” this creation has ever experienced as a MAN. ROLOL. yes!
    SO DOING WILL GET US BACK ON THE JOURNEY HOME, INSTEAD OF “a journey WALKING DOWN A STREET THAT IS NOTHING MORE THAN A CUL DE SAC, OF semantic ontology”
    and calling that theology… IN SO DOING WILL LEAD TO ANSWER THROUGH LOVE.
    SO instead of looking at what baptism does…?
    let’s turn that phrase around and see the progressive awareness of asking the “Spirit of Jesus THE Christ” that “we received when we believed the Gospel of the Father’s Love about the
    ONLY BEGOTTEN, as the Spirit of the Christ was speaking to FAITHFUL MEN OF THE coming Emanuel through their prophecy.
    ACTS2
    just to funny to me
    in acts two they knew exactly what they (jews) had done and stood guilty before God’s Spirit of the gospel fulfilled. peter saying through the Spirit UP CLOSE and personal….”YOU
    1st
    Acts2
    .23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God,
    YOU
    1. you executed
    by nailing him to a cross
    2. at the hands of Gentiles.
    24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power.

    36 Therefore let
    3. all the house of Israel know
    beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus
    4. whom you crucified
    both Lord and Christ.”

    37
    1A Now when they heard this,
    they
    1B. were acutely distressed
    and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles,
    “What should we do, brothers?”

    36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”

    The Response to Peter’s Address

    37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?” know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”

    37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?”
    16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”
    and
    following the command of jesus now that we have received the Spirit. ACTS 10 we gladly receive the confirmation that the Spirit of the Christ informs of just what blessings we have had given to us through the love of our big BROTHER through HIS LOVING FAITHFULNESS TO OUR DAD AND HIS LOVING FAITHFULNESS TO US IN THE CLEANSING OF GODS VERY GOOD “THE NEW CREATION” 2ED COR.25 15 And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised. 16 So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view. Even though we have known Christ from such a human point of view, now we do not know him in that way any longer. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! 18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. GODS CREA
    ePHESIANS 1:3-14
    ACTS 10
    44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were greatly astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God

    John 14
    25 “I have spoken these things while staying with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you…

    john 15
    12 My commandment is this—to love one another just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends…

    john 15
    24 If I had not performed among them the miraculous deeds that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen the deeds and have hated both me and my Father. 25 Now this happened to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without reason.’ 26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father

    —the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me, 27 and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

    JOHN 16
    8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment— 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

    JOHN 16
    12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 16 In a little while you will see me no longer; again after a little while, you will see me.”

    16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”

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  11. rich

    I guess I would call the Cross of Jesus, in defeating Satan The Deceiver.
    The Trinity’s Art of War!
    God gave the deceiver the power over death. And HE is now on the brink of Destruction because of life. God being faithful do his words given by the prophets of the resurrection of THE Faithful Promised Seed. through the Power OF The LIFE GIVING SPIRIT,
    Who cleanses the temple of God of all evil. so doing through his life’s blood. We see a New Covenant of righteous faithfulness, through the faithfulness of the trinity, in doing so reconciling all that believe the words of THE FATHER given to the prophets and those that are faithful and attempt to do good, by loving God and loving their neighbors.
    Who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their life.
    ( and because of this Deliverance Through Blood and faithfulness)
    The trinity is now able to show or expose through the words their righteousness by passing over the send previously committed.
    And being the just and the justifier of the one who is the faith of the Messiah.
    Thus ushering in the restoration of all creation Covenant of Love through faithfulness the trinity’s work of salvation.

    So what is this Art of War,
    THIS
    Asymmetrical Counterintuitive Art of War!
    The perfect law of Liberty?
    Love!
    1st Corinthians 1:17-31

    The Art of God’s of War
    Hebrews 2:14-15

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  12. rich

    Ron;
    This is a little more pointed, concerning baptism. A shortcut so to Speak.
    Subjectively that is, playing in my ballpark.
    ya know I would not even read a book by a woman, for the very reason that a woman had no business speaking in or about church!
    THANKS to my hermeneutic that I grew up with.
    by the time I was 45 years old I lived in what I would call a water tight theological BOX… with what I would call a family of believers that were wrapped so Tight That I couldn’t even live with my belief system.
    just exactly LORD HOW do you spell enlightenment. I was in a perpetual STATE OF DICOTOMANY.
    BEING a 4th generation C of C anti everything like my family (as a compared to what?)
    I
    I TRY NOT TO forget to use humor in my presentation.
    What’s on Paul’s mind when he’s talking about baptism,
    that God’s SPIRT is giving him and the other’s through inspiration, if not ECHOING in every aspect or facet that we FIND IN OUR BIG BROTHER (The Father’s 1st. son).Which PERTAINS TO THE Relationship or Salvation WE SHARE WITH IN the body of faith to glorifyTHE SON, through Faithfulness to the Father”s gospel.
    jOHn. 16:14 He will glorify me because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.
    ya know if Jesus THE RISEN CHRIST said This I WOULD DO IT…
    BUT then again give me a cube a block of wood and show me a piece of wood with a circle cut in the wood. well, I will most likely look for a big hammer and not notice the other piece of wood with the square hole cut in it.
    16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, having them WALK ACROSS THE STREET THREE TIMES in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
    What do We get in an anthropological Viewpoint of baptism?
    Baptism becomes objectively cold and distant Also, A deviated baptism Becomes something other than a marker of being saved because of believing
    The Father’s gospel of THE Christ’s LIFE’S work OF WEAKNESS UNTO (for the purpose of) Death even death on a CROSS.Believing that puts us IN the reconciled body of faith.The trinity’s Family, we become grateful, because of the love expressed by the Trinity of their work of the new construction of the tabernacle the new creation of the Spirit. So as a result turn away from my old so-called life.” subjective ontology” MY SELF PERCIEVED WORLD ACTUALIZED!
    How do you spell baconism?
    induction / deduction / scientific method…
    What is anthropological ontological theological hermeneutic mean?
    based in exclusion and not faith based in the father’s love.
    or the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…
    it is Called bad religion
    NOW THATS JUST A COMPARED TO WHAT,
    AND THAT WOULD BE THE LAST
    1800 YEARS OF TRADITIONAL RELIGION
    MAY THE LORD HELP US ALL A LITTLE MORE
    PUT THE HAMMER DOWN
    BLESSINGS

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  13. McKayla Rosen

    “…baptism is a beautiful prayer embodied in a physical action in response to a divine command and invitation.” Baptism as a prayer! Yes! I love this!

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