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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Visualizing Baptism!

Written by: on June 6, 2019

      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[1].” 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[2].” 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[3]:

  1. “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.”
  2. “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.

  1. Jesus did it! Paul said, “imitate me, just as I imitate Christ[4].” 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.
  2. Jesus practiced baptism in John 3:22.
  3. Jesus commanded baptism in Matthew 28:18-20.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

 

Bibliography

Daniel, Ian S. Markham & Joshua. Reasonable Radical? Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2018.

 

[1] Matthew 3:15.

[2] Matthew 3:17.

[3] Daniel, Ian S. Markham & Joshua. Reasonable Radical? Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2018. Kindle.

[4] 1 Corinthians 11:1.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

10 responses to “Visualizing Baptism!”

  1. mm Mike says:

    Shawn,
    I like to see you “doing baptism.” Full immersion is the best I think, unless there are no other options like I’ve seen in dessert contexts, which I believe can always get a spiritual do-over from a good dunking in a proper body of water when it becomes available.
    Thanks for the personal reflection of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. I’ve been to the Jordan River and apparently stood in the same area where John baptized Christ. Wow! As a time-harnessed being I was in awe, but even more so knowing that God somehow sees me and Christ in the same place without any time constraints. Amazing!
    Thanks for the passion for your dissertation topic on baptism. I love to see the water boil…
    Stand firm,
    Mike

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Mike, two Holy Land tours has afforded me the chance to baptize in the Jordan twice now. Even doing the baptisms were such a surreal experience of oneness with Christ. I cannot put into words how awesome it was to experience that.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Shawn!

    I think I am a “visualist” too. I usually think in pictures. That is why parables often helped me. Not just words on a page, but a story that brought up pictures.

    I often joke, I would love to see a DVD of the Bible stories. The DVD of Jesus’ baptism would be amazing! And you did a great job of helping me visualize.

    Thank you!

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I hear ya Jay. I think that is why “The Passion of the Christ” movie was so hard to watch; I still see the Roman soldier circling his finger as he called for them to turn Jesus over during the whipping scene. However, those images in my head drive me most of the time.

  3. I think you’re in good company, Shawn. I’m sure that all of us would concur that we step inside the story and visualize potential outcomes, ministry goals, and scripture.

    What was the biggest visual that you took away from this week’s text?

  4. This is a great post, Shawn. Thanks for helping me see your passion about baptism. My baptism is a critical piece of my personal testimony, but I wasn’t forced to think on its theological and eccessiological implications until I became a church-planter.

    I wonder what the “difference” or “error” is that you are seeking to correct. Can you help me there?

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I believe that the idea of baptism has been oversimplified in the effort to evangelize quickly. Massive churches making easy teaching of something that was profound and structured in the entire bible story. I just want to offer a refresher courses on just how baptism ties into everything; I believe it is fascinating.

  5. Excellent post, Shawn, and a great window into your topic.

    In your example, the studium was the story of Jesus’ baptism, and I think the punctum would be the comment you imagine Jesus made to John, along with a hug. It’s those unexpected moments in the story that must be there, but are never described. We have to use our glorified imaginations.

    This is also the practice of Ignatian spirituality. Holy imaginings of the gospels. It’s a beautiful way to enter into the Story and be changed by it.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Thanks Mark. I must admit, I have been blessed to get to do all the traveling I have done; but especially to bible-based locations. This personal view of places and people really fills in the blanks of a story. I remember vividly my first trip to the garden on the Mount of Olives; it was so tiny compared to what I expected. I visualized Christ sobbing on His face in the dirt, and wondering where the disciples were that they missed His grief. The shocking reality was that they were right there! I had always imagined them a football field away…but they were right there. All of a sudden I realized His frustration.

  6. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    great words. its take me back to the crurical question of biblical interpretation, “who controls meaning?”. For art and other writing, the reader pretty much can determine meaning. but for scripture, it is the author who determines meaning.

    So it looks like you got some good work in front of you to unearth the layers of tradition and assumption to find out more about baptism

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