The Dead Sea, displayed before us to the east, was quite still. We had finished our suppers and everyone was sitting quietly on the veranda, watching the show nature was providing. The puffy cumulus clouds had already stretched out into long thin bands. The Sun, setting in the west, colored the wispy strands of clouds pink and orange, giving them the appearance of cotton candy. The easternmost clouds began to wither into shades of gray. Stars began to twinkle. Remembering last night, we expected the Moon to rise soon. A soft breeze wafted over the veranda bringing a bit of cool relief to the heat.
Jim lifted up his glass of lemonade. When he spoke, some winced, as if he had tarnished a sacred place. “Lemonade must be one of the most incredible things God has provided. An ice cold beer does seem to cool as one drinks it, but the alcohol brings the internal heat to the skin and you begin to feel warmer. Lemonade brings the coolness to your gut and your skin still feels cool. Ice water doesn’t seem to last as long. Lemonade makes the coolness last.”
Amos barked a quick laugh and said, “So, Jim, lemonade is the answer?”
Nicholas smiled and said, “I always thought ‘Jesus’ was the answer.”
Jim grinned and said, with a bit of caution, “Well, it depends on the question.”
There were murmurs and rustlings as people shifted their positions in their chairs. Amos gestured toward the lake and said, “Well, Jim, I guess you think we should just dive in?”
Jason stood up, waving a piece of paper. He coughed and then said, “No, let’s wade in carefully. I’ve made a list of the points we’ve covered.” He looked around to see the group’s reaction.
Jim said, “Okay. Let’s hear your list.”
“Well…” As Jason looked around the room, he felt sort of like a grand announcement was to be made and he was to make it. A shiver ran down his back. He knew he had to go on, so the took a deep breath and said, “There’s three main things: ‘What happens when you’re baptized?’ That is one question. ‘Is baptism a membership ritual?’ is the second, the answer to it depends on the answer to the first question and, thirdly, ‘What’s the difference between modern church baptism, Holy Spirit baptism and also the baptism of John the Baptist. Included in all this is the question of whether baptism washes away your sins and why any Christian can baptize any convert. There’s others, but those are the ones I think we need to answer first.”
No one spoke. All seemed deep in thought. With a big grin on his face Amos said, “Maybe you should consider the seminary, after all, you managed to take a number of points and claim that you had three.” Jason began to turn red but everyone laughed.
Amos continued, “Sorry, Jason, but we needed a joke. Thanks for providing…” He waited a moment and then said, “I think we agreed that baptism was a membership ritual. But we also seemed to agree that it was much more than that. I, for one, think that we’re a bit off the trail. We started at the overlook pondering The Priesthood of All Believers. But we seem to have been distracted when we saw the baptisms in the Jordan. That’s what I thought this excursion was about, the priesthood thing. Each denomination says what it says about baptism. You’re not going to change that.”
Thus the can of worms was opened. A nice breeze blew across the veranda. One of the waiters began walking around with a pitcher of lemonade in one hand and iced tea in the other. These little distractions seemed to help the group. But the worms began to wiggle around.
“What’s that? We all agree on baptism?” Ralph spoke up, sounding a bit on edge. “We can’t even agree on how it is done. In my church baptism is total immersion. The preacher says that you’re not really baptized if you were sprinkled. He insists on another baptism ceremony if you were sprinkled. We all agree that you need to be baptized. Question is, what’s the proper way?” He paused for a moment, then said, “I guess some of us are more baptized than others.” He meant to say it as a joke. But no one saw it as funny.
“But, Ralph, if it’s just a membership ritual, what difference does it make?” Lucy asked. Water is water. Why is the method important when the Bible doesn’t provide a format?
Ralph stared at her a moment. He started to say something, then changed his mind. No one else spoke and finally, after he made a couple of false starts, he said, “The Bible says ‘baptism’ and we know the definition.” He paused, shook his head, and then continued, “…My pastor says you have to be totally immersed because you have to die with Jesus. But don’t you do that when you repent? And Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. What does that mean? I really am confused.”
Like Amos, I wanted to explore the Priesthood of All Believers. This seemed to be a distraction. The Holy Spirit, however, seemed to me to be quite happy with us examining baptism. For me the subject of baptism was worn out. Each denomination had their beliefs. It was as Amos had pointed out. No one is going to change anything. Still, because I felt the Holy Spirit approving this discussion, I sat and listened.
“Your pastor has made a common mistake. He has failed to interpret the New Testament with the Old one.” Everyone turned to look at Gladys. She continued, “We will never know everything about how Jesus’ baptism fulfilled all righteousness. However, based on what we do know, what the Holy Scriptures tell us, we can get some idea. Now, in Leviticus, when Aaron is ordained as priest, they stood in the doorway to the tabernacle and Moses washes Aaron first. Aaron was not immersed. He was washed. Ralph, your pastor has his heart in the right place. My husband preached that for years. And then, after a study of Hebrews he read the Torah. It was in that study that he began to understand baptism.”
Everyone sat quietly, so Gladys continued, “As for the definition of ‘baptism’ does it not mean to take a bath, to wash? When you take a bath is submersion in a tub the only way you can get clean? Don’t you get equally clean taking a shower? Now, I’m not saying that your pastor is wrong for practicing total submersion in water, but I do think he is confused when he says that pouring or sprinkling water on a person cannot be valid.
Ralph just shook his head, mumbling, “…this is so confusing.”
Gladys looked around the room and then back at Ralph. She said, “Well, Ralph, the Bible is not confusing. What’s confusing is the mess we humans make of the Truth of the Bible. Don’t let it get to you. Each of us thinks we know something about the Bible that turns out to be incorrect. And when we read what it actually says, we are surprised, sometimes confused. My brilliant pastor husband did it. I have done it. We all put our human understanding first. We make the same mistake the Pharisees made in that we mistake the Law for the Truth. Jesus did not lay down a procedural law detailing how baptism should be done. He just said to do it, and to do it in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
“Some of us here were not believers when they were baptized. They have testified that Baptism did not save them from their sins. And we know that baptism is not necessary for salvation: the thief on the Cross proves that. So, it’s not the way, that is, the procedure, by which one is baptized; it is the condition of one’s heart when one is baptized.
“I came on this adventure to find out about The Priesthood of All Believers. We have figured out that baptism is a membership ritual which has brought on this discussion about sprinkling and total immersion. I don’t think we’re going to come to a consensus about that. More important, we now know that baptism is vital to that priesthood. I don’t understand why, but I am certain that we were guided by the Holy Spirit to visit the place where Jesus was baptized. And I am sure He wants us to examine baptism. So there is a connection between baptism and the priesthood of all believers.”
Ralph looked around. He could see that some of the group were just as confused and uncomfortable as he was. Others looked like they had finally understood something. Phillip spoke up, quietly, and said, “I need to pray about this. The Bible uses the Greek word for immersion. So, could we take about five or ten minutes to pray about all this?”
The consensus was that it was a great idea.
Phillip said, “Well, I’m going to go outside to pray. I’ll be back shortly.” And he got up and walked through the building so he could look to the northeast. As he looked up, he could see only stars. But they seemed to him to be very close.
About half of the group went outside. If someone had driven up at this point, they would have seen what looked like sentries standing around the building, looking at the sky. Some of the group went to their rooms or other quiet places. Only four of us stayed on the veranda. It was as if a muffler had been placed on the building. The only noise was a slight tinkle from the kitchen. Even the waiters were silent.
As I sat, praying, I could hear the quiet lapping of the lake’s waves as they broke on the shore. As I looked at the lake I could see a vision of people being baptized. All were standing in water about knee deep. The sun was sparkling on the water. I could see a few, farther out, where it was a little deeper. They were immersed into the lake by the person standing next to them. Others stood in the shallow lake and water was poured over their heads. Some were holding little babies and sprinkling lake water on them. And suddenly I could hear, quietly but very distinctly, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” This was repeated numerous times, over and over, apparently, I think, once for each person being baptized. I noticed that the lake in my vision stretched on as if forever. All along the shore people were being baptized. And then I heard a voice from the sky saying distinctly, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.” At which the vision faded.
With the vision fading, I wondered if it was this God speaking over Jesus or was it God speaking over all those being baptized? I had no answer. As I sat thinking about my vision the others drifted in one and two at a time. No one spoke. But I began to feel that the answer to my question was, “Both.” And suddenly it dawned on me that the Church, baptized believers, were, in truth, the Body of Christ.
After everyone had returned to their seats we waited in silence for someone to begin the discussion of our prayer time with God.
We sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Amos spoke, “Gladys, you wanted to know why the Holy Spirit took us to the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized? Well, He wanted us to see what baptism actually is. Remember what this hike is all about? We started at 1st Peter 2:1-10, and at Exodus 19:6. We’re on an adventure to find out what the Priesthood of All Believers is. Well, that’s what baptism does: it ordains us into the Priesthood of All Believers. We are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Why? Because that’s the ordination. We become members of the Body of Christ, we confirm to the world that we have repented and Jesus has saved us. And we are ordained into the Priesthood of All Believers.”
Phillip had jumped up and, as soon as Amos had stopped speaking, said, “When I was praying I had, I guess, a vision that made me see that it’s not the water, but the condition of my heart. It’s the act of submission. Holy Water is not a requirement. Neither is water from the Jordan River. What’s important, what’s required, is that anyone who has repented and accepted Jesus should, as soon as possible, get baptized.” Then he very quickly sat down.
“So,” Nicholas was thinking out loud, “when we repent, we die to the self and take up eternal life. Baptism confirms that and makes us members of Christ’s Body. So,” he pondered, not actually realizing that others could hear him, “then baptism is a sort of membership ritual. And when we become members of Christ’s body, we take on His qualities, including His priesthood. So we have access to God just as Aaron did.” A look of surprise bloomed on his face, he stood up and asked, “The next question is, ‘What does the Priesthood of All Believers mean?’ How is it different from being a pastor? Wow!” As he sat down he said, “We got a ways to go before we get back to the trailhead.”
“Hold on…I don’t quite understand this.” Josephine voiced her confusion, asking, “The Church teaches that baptism is a cleansing sacrament. Grace is bestowed on us. Are you saying that the Church is wrong?”
Uncertainty began to spread through the group. Lucy voiced what many were thinking, “This is making my brain hurt. We get it sorted and now we’re back to square one. No wonder there’s so many denominations. This stuff is really confusing.” There were several murmurs of agreement with her.
Nicholas seemed to interrupt her by asking, “Josephine, you’re an experienced hiker. Tell me something. What hiking equipment is absolutely essential?” Nicholas’ question was totally unexpected. She stared at him, quite unsure of how she should answer him. But Nicholas did not wait for her to respond. He continued, “Let’s consider just hiking boots. Are they essential? Some people don’t think so. They wear trail shoes or sneakers. I know a guy who hikes barefooted. So, what’s essential?” He paused for a moment. Everyone seemed puzzled by this.
“Well…” Nicholas was actually enjoying teasing the group. Still, he knew he’d better give the answer quickly. “What’s essential? That you go hiking. The equipment depends on you and where you are going. The guy who hikes barefooted does not do that in minus forty degree weather. Hiking a slot canyon might be better in sneakers, since you’re feet will be soaked and sneakers dry faster than hiking boots. So, it depends on where you are and what you need. Same thing with baptism and the way the Church represents it. No one is suggesting that baptism is not a cleansing sacrament. A cleansing sacrament is exactly what baptism is. But, apparently, it is also an ordination.
“Let’s not get confused. We don’t want to get too deep into theology. At some point your sins are ‘washed away’. Let’s just accept that you’re saved when you accept Jesus. Baptism is a public declaration of that fact. And, as such, it is a membership ritual. But it’s much more. There’s a special Grace from God that is imparted on the person who is baptized. You can structure words to explain it in all sorts of ways. It can symbolize your death and resurrection in Jesus. It can represent that your sins have been washed away. Plus, according to St. Peter, all believers are priests. Just as God ordained all of Israel to be priests—not Levitical, mind you—but still priests, so all who are baptized are priests. That makes baptism an ordination.
“The Church has never actually said much about it. That’s why you think that maybe the Church might be wrong. But it is not wrong. It does teach about the Priesthood of All Believers.
“Look at it this way: Moses told the Israelites that they were a nation of priests. Their response was to point to the tribe of Levi. They were the actual priests. So the other eleven tribes assumed that they were relieved of their priesthood duties. Some say that, because we are priests, we don’t need an ordained priest for an intermediary. Others say that the husband is the priest in his home. Some of us practice these things. And we assume that’s what God wants us to do. I think there’s more to this than being a priest in your own home. And that’s why I joined this adventure. That we have discovered baptism to be the ordination into the Priesthood of All Believers is just the first step. Now we have to find out what it actually means.” He gave a long sigh, took a long drink of water and stood up. Looking around he said, “Well, I’m done. I’m going to bed. See All Y’All in the morning.”
As we departed to our rooms, I could detect some grumbling and some excitement. I wondered what the morning would bring.
This is not intended to be an in-depth discussion of baptism. The idea that baptism is an ‘ordination’ into the ‘Priesthood of all Believers’ is an idea I derived from Fr. Afanasiev’s book as detailed earlier.
If you really want to know more about what the first Christians believed about baptism, one place to start is a website devoted to “The Early Church”. This is the LINK to the Early Church Website. And this LINK will take you to the post/essay on Baptism in the Early Church. I am recommending this site because it provides a place to start research. That is, it lists a good number of early Christian writers and quotes some of their writing. Some of the posts/essays provide explanations of certain practices that, while you may not agree with the thinking, will certainly assist you in understanding other viewpoints. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library is a wonderful resource for the English translations of the writings of the early Church.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard/read/found anyone say that the other eleven tribes left the priesthood described in Exodus 19:6 to the tribe of Levi or that God ever charged them with this error/sin. If you know of someone else saying this, or if it is in the Bible somewhere, please let me know. I do want to give proper credit…nor do I want to be heretical in any way.
Aaron and his sons are ordained as priests in chapter 8 of Leviticus.
On the question of why and how Jesus was baptized: https://carm.org/jesus-baptized-sprinkling-or-immersion The ideas here concern the sprinkling/immersion question. Melchizedek is mentioned at the end of the post, so the author is aware that Jesus was not ordained in the method of a Levitical priest. The CARM site has a statement of faith which appears, to me, to be “orthodox” in that it conforms to the Nicene Creed. It is a much more detailed statement, but typical of many Protestant statements of faith.
See also, for a different look at some of these same ideas: http://www.wildolive.co.uk/baptism.htm This site is, apparently, produced by lay people, just as my site is. In this blog page the author makes the claim that John the Baptist was the true high priest and that the baptism of Jesus was an ordination. But he does not mention Melchizedek. I saw nothing that ‘alarmed’ me. But I did not scrutinize that site. The ideas here are interesting, but, I think, faulty because the Psalms and Hebrews discuss Jesus in terms of Melchizedek. I mention this simply to let my readers know that there are a variety of viewpoints; don’t take any site, including mine, to be “infallible”.
Please leave a comment to let me know if you find this interesting or useful. And now we go to Part Four.
The Holy Spirit is truly leading this adventure. He had me rewrite Parts Three, Four and Five. As stated in the Introduction, this is, for me, an ongoing effort. I really do not know where it will end. I have a glimpse of the end, but nothing is certain. As you read this, please understand that the “fictional” part of this is actually happening as it is written (or rewritten). That means you, the reader, should feel the confusion and frustration that the characters feel. That is part of this adventure. I truly believe the Holy Spirit is leading this.