I am not sure about the rest of you, but I am a visualist. To be honest, I don’t think that is even a real word, but what I mean by it is that I try to visualize things in my head all the time; especially, I want to visualize the bible story. I love the image in my head when I see little David facing off against the giant Goliath after he called him a little dog; I picture the army of chariots on fire as Elisha tells the young soldier that God’s army is greater; and I can even see tiny Zacchaeus scampering up that tree to get a better view of Jesus. The fact is, I believe that the better I can envision scripture, the better I can understand it. For this reason, one of the biggest reasons I am passionate about the topic of baptism, my dissertation research, is because I see this grand story played out through the bible story. Please allow me to explain:
There John is, his coat of camel’s hair thrown over a rock and his robe tucked into his leather belt as he stands waist deep in the Jordan river. The heavy smell of wilderness combined with the sweet smell of honey drips off of him as one by one the locals file into the water to be baptized by him. Then one day everything changes; the very “Christ” that John has been telling the people about shows up to the river. Ironically, no one even recognizes the celebrity in their midst…no one except John that is. You can almost see John’s trembling hands as he starts for rocky shore, only to be stopped by Jesus, who says, “John, baptize me.” Even through protest, Jesus then says, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Though he still lacks some understanding, John willingly follows Christ back into the water and baptizes him…for ehem…forgiveness of sins? Then things get really fascinating. The Holy Spirit in the form of some sort of bright shining dove (my vision) lands upon Jesus shoulder; then there is a rumble in the heavens as sun shines down in splendor upon the crystal blue flowing river as the voice of God echoes across the countryside; “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The locals do not know if they should run for cover or drop to their faces in submission. You can see a smile cross John’s face, knowing that this truly is the One that his own life was waiting for. It is not in the bible, but I imagine Jesus leaning over and hugging John, whispering the words, “Thank You,” in his ear as He walks out of the water.
Can you see it? One of the portions of this week’s reading addressed Percy’s discussion on the topic of baptism and how it is viewed in regard to sacraments and in regard to personal perceptions. The reading uses a format to make that their point; one that we have all become very adept with over the past two years…visual ethnography. They use a few fancy terms that I would like to put in my own perspective here:
- “Studium – is the photograph’s overt agenda, which might include a view, the person, and event or a drama. This will be the reason why the photograph was taken: to catch an event and preserve it for others to see.”
- “Punctum – may include things in the detail that the photographer never intended to capture in the final image. Quite often, something strange or unfamiliar will slip in, disturbing the Studium.”
There it is…the challenge of studying baptism with two words I have never heard of before. On one hand we have the image that God wanted us to see, filled with a lesson and instruction intended to be followed. On the other hand though, we have our interpretations through 2,000 years of doctrines, divisions, and denominational indoctrinations. But why did God give us this picture?
As a preacher’s kid, I was raised to be part of the “church of Christ.” As a minister, I have realized the problem with only preaching lessons to make your church happy…I will not do that! I was confronted in class the other day by one of my members who stated, “Shawn…you are a church of Christ preacher;” to which I replied, “NO! I preach at a church of Christ; I am a gospel preacher! They are not the same thing.” I was raised being taught how to preach in a way that people will find me acceptable; but that is not good enough for me. I want to be pleasing to God; it is only His approval that I seek. So what does that have to do with baptism?
The reality of my own path to faith has been that I have had to accept that some of my teachers were wrong; some of my friends were mis-taught; and yes, as amazing as it may sound, even parents make mistakes. So I restudied EVERYTHING!! Baptism however was one that I just could not get away from; here was this beautiful picture painted all through the bible of cleansing, washing, and purification, and yet, the churches were divided as to its meaning. So, I will ask for one more indulgence, and without going into my entire dissertation, tell you why I am so passionate about the need for all of us to study this topic more emphatically.
- Jesus did it! Paul said, “imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” Have you ever tried to see if you had the faith enough to walk on water? I did. Not happy to report my lack of faith, but I failed. Many of Jesus’ examples were very difficult to imitate…baptism is not.
- Jesus practiced baptism in John 3:22.
- Jesus commanded baptism in Matthew 28:18-20.
- Covenants were formed by those entering a covenant with God in the Old Testament by being covered with the blood of the sacrifice. The same principle seems to be taught in the New Testament.
- The amount of times baptisms, washings, cleansings, purifications, and rebirth are mentioned in the New Testament is astounding; in fact, there are far too many to merely dismiss the issue.
The picture in Scripture is just so amazing to me; I believe God put it there not just to amaze us, but rather to teach us. So what was His “studium” meant to be?
Daniel, Ian S. Markham & Joshua. Reasonable Radical? Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2018.
 Matthew 3:15.
 Matthew 3:17.
 Daniel, Ian S. Markham & Joshua. Reasonable Radical? Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2018. Kindle.
 1 Corinthians 11:1.