Sunday, September 22, 2013


22 September 2011
Mitchell Christian Fellowship

In my background we call baptism and communion the two basic ordinances (i.e., commands) of the church. Contrast ordinance (“Low Churches”) with sacrament (“High Churches”):

Sacrament = A means by which God’s grace is active in our lives. Ordinance = A symbol: “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”
            We baptize because baptism is basic to the command to make disciples (Mt 28:18-20). In the churches around us there are different forms that we use for this baptism. You will be immersed, lain backwards into the water, symbolizing being laid into a coffin with Christ’s death. Rising from the water symbolizes your new life. Other forms: Pouring (e.g., at SMC); Immersion (three times forward in the BIC). In each case the symbolism remains.
Baptism is an “initiation rite”: Baptism marks the movement from one role and status in life to a new role and status. You are going to be baptized into the death of Christ—which means that you die to your old life outside of Christ. You are baptized also into the resurrection of Christ—which means that you have a new life, the resurrection life of Christ.

Initiation Rites
Victor Turner’s work among the Ndembu people in Zambia concerning initiation rites. From a source (Acadia University) found via Google:
“Separation: The boys have a night of feasting…. Then they receive a last meal from their mothers before being marched off to another camp. Liminality: The initiation camp is called ‘the place of dying’….  The boys remain in seclusion under the supervision of a group of male guardians. Here they are circumcised, hazed, harangued and lectured on manhood for a period of four months or so. Reintegration: Finally, daubed with white clay that signifies rebirth, the initiates are taken back to their families. After the novices are washed and given new clothes, each performs the dance of war to signify his new status as an adult.”

We have various initiation rites in our culture, although not nearly as involved as the Ndembu: high school grad; first car; marriage; and so on. In each case the person being “initiated” moves from one stage of life to a new stage—as Paul puts it, “the old has gone; the new has come!”

That’s what is happening here today. Your old identity is a Canadian. Your new identity is a child of God. You have chosen to change your orientation to life. Most people in our country live by one set of standards. We call it “the Canadian way”, or “I am Joe, and I am Canadian!” But you have chosen to live by a different set of standards. Paul describes these as “walking in the resurrection”. That is the phrase in Romans 6:4 (“live a new life) more literally. They are the standards that go with following Christ, imitating Christ, becoming Christ in the way you live: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives within me.”

Getting Baptized
I remember my baptism. I was baptized in 1964 in the Mpopoma BIC, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The whole event was called a "Love Feast". There was a Friday evening testimony and examination of the 30 some candidates (including me). On Saturday afternoon we were baptized. Sunday morning we held feetwashing and communion.

On Thursday my father (the officiating minister) and I practised, since I am deathly afraid of water, and we baptize by immersion—three times forward. On Saturday we entered the water, and I went under three times without any problem. It was the most wonderful moment of my life! We came out of the water and walked down the church past a long line of the members, who each shook our hand and welcomed us into church membership. The next morning we washed feet and took communion together, and I knew that I had entered a new life as a child of God. Conversion is basic, the fundamental step from death into life; and baptism is the way we symbolize our new life in Christ. That’s what we are here for today.

Some Added Meaning
One other fact: In baptism you join a new family. You are joining the church, not just this body that has gathered at the lake and meets normally in Mitchell. You are becoming a part of the family of God, that “great cloud of witnesses” that the writer of Hebrews refers to. Hebrews 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

We think that the church is a relatively weak entity in our world. Certainly in Canadian society it is so; the church has become marginalized, a voluntary club that a few people find helpful. But the church itself, the real church of God throughout the world—that’s a different story!

Brian Stewart
Brian Stewart was a journalist from 1964 to 2009 and foreign correspondent for the CBC. In 2004 he gave the convocation address at Knox College (part of the TST in the University of Toronto). There he spoke to his amazed discovery of the strength and influence of the church around the world. He simply did not expect to find much of significance about the church in his work, and instead discovered Christians everywhere, doing work that most people never see.
You can read an interview based on this theme here: or Google "Brian Stewart On The Front Lines" and read the full text in a PDF file from

Do You See?
You see what is happening today? This is the church you are joining. You may feel like nothing in yourself. You’re right! But you are embarking on an incredible adventure. You are being baptized into the body of Christ, living the life of Christ on behalf of the world. I don’t know what you think you were doing; but I am telling you that you are now becoming one of Christ’s ambassadors to represent God in the world today. It’s bigger than you can ever imagine.

Conclude by reading Romans 6: 1-14
6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

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