As is usually the case we had baptisms on Pentecost Sunday. I love the way the baptismal liturgy preserves scriptural truths. It was particularly visible this year because one of the candidates for baptism was the grandchild of our deacon, so the deacon performed the baptism. But our Priest completed the rite with Chrismation–marking the forehead of the newly baptized with oil in the form of the cross and declaring they are sealed by the Holy Spirit. This is allowed…that a deacon baptize but only the bishop or priest can perform Chrismation…because we see in Acts that a deacon, Philip, baptized many at Samaria but the apostles were sent to lay hands on the people that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8)
I grew up Pentecostal, so the idea of connected but distinct “events” (that a person Baptized into Christ needed to receive the Spirit by the laying on of hands) was not new to me when I came into the Anglican church. I am indebted to my Pentecostal roots…and thankful for the Pentecostal emphasis on the laying on of hands which is superior to the typical reductionistic approach of the modern fundamentalists and evangelicals which frequently neglects such prayer and the laying on of hands altogether.
Arguably the neglect of something so clearly biblical is problematic…possibly detrimental in many cases. After all Jesus tells us when talking about good fruit coming from a pure heart and the wicked state of the generation to whom he preached–a generation who risked that unpardonable speaking “against the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 12:32):
43″When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12)
His statement would seem to point to a generation and people who experienced the Baptism of John but resisted the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet it was the very purpose of Baptism, to prepare one for the indwelling Holy Spirit. As John said, Jesus came to Baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Quite simply that word Baptize means immerse. It was immersion in the Spirit that the immersion in Water was to prepare the way for. That is the clear message of the New Testament. Christ came and did the work which Ezekiel prophesied:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
If we have eyes to see, this is the truth we cannot deny. It is a clear theme running through the New Testament starting from the beginning of the Gospels:
John said, 11″I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3) (Also Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16)
AND 3 Jesus answered [Nicodemus], “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3)
The water and the Spirit, God calls us to baptism in both. This is the normal Christian life…which is why I find the Baptismal liturgy so beautiful. Whereas my Pentecostal heritage–to which I am indebted–focused too much on the distinctiveness of experiences, our Anglican liturgy holds the water and Spirit together so beautifully.
Consider the exhortation and prayers:
Scripture teaches that we were all dead in our sins and trespasses. Our Savior Jesus Christ said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” and he commissioned the Church to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore we will ask our heavenly Father that these candidates, being baptized with water, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, born again, and received as living members of Christ’s holy Church.
We are reminded in our thanksgiving to God, “for the gift of water [that] Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation…In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
Also, we cannot forget the Chrism with which we started this meditation. The prayer book describes the oil:
The bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon an individual for their empowerment for ministry within the Church was the foundational reason for the Oil of Chrism. The bishop blessed this oil for those who had been baptized to represent that God now bestowed upon them the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
After Baptism the newly baptized is anointed with this oil by the laying on of hands and told:
you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
and then this prayer follows:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, received them as your own children by adoption, made them members of your Church, and raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit, that they may enjoy everlasting salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The liturgy in no wise neglects Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; at every point we are reminded of God present to us now by His Spirit. It is not merely a symbol of the washing away of sins. At every point in it we ask God to give us the Spirit that we may live out the life of Christ.
[All Liturgy quotes from http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/texts_for_common_prayer%5D