St Aubyn’s 17th January 2018
Reading – Luke 3:15-22
How many different Christian denominations do you think there are in the world today? The best guess is that there are approximately 33,000. Of these some 22,000 are independent, 9,000 are Protestant, 1600 are cults and sects, 781 are Orthodox, 242 are Roman Catholic and 168 are Anglican. But that’s a rough estimate. The precise figure may in fact never be known. Churches come together, split or start up afresh at a dizzying pace. It only takes a charismatic leader, some willing followers and a title no-one else has used and hey presto! a new denomination is born. As the week of prayer for Christian Unity begins tomorrow, we might want to pause and consider what the Lord makes of all this.
Because it seems to me that we have gone a long, long way from Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4:5 there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Now if each denomination was simply a slightly different local expression of the same faith, that would be OK. I don’t think God ever called us to worship in exactly the same way no matter what our culture or background or language. But the divisions run much deeper than that. Even on the fundamentals Christians seem so often unable to agree, and then we wonder why we are not making the impact we all hope and pray for.
Take, for example, the question of baptism. Most, but not all, denominations practice baptism and recognise it’s important. But what that baptism represents – well, that’s quite a different issue. Some see baptism as about expressing a personal faith. Some see baptism as a means of joining the church. Some see baptism as a commitment to raise children within the promises of God. With all these different understandings, it’s little wonder folk who enquire about baptism appear to have such a little grasp of what they are asking for. If we ourselves are unsure about baptism and what it represents, we can hardly blame others if they seem to have missed the point.
So today I want to go back to the life of Jesus to remind us what baptism is really all about, and why it should make a difference to our lives, and there are three questions I am going to try and answer:
First of all, who came up with the idea of baptism and why?
Secondly, why was Jesus baptised?
Thirdly, why are we baptised today? Read the rest of this entry »