In light of recent posts on baptism, I wonder if it’s fruitful to look at the work of John the Baptist as a helpful framework for understanding baptism. John preached repentance, contentment, and sharing with the poor, rather than a commitment to a defined mode of discipleship. Moreover, if sinless Jesus was baptized, then the repentance of John’s baptism may not have been tied so much to forgiveness of sin – which would render Jesus’ baptism irrelevant from the perspective of his sinless humanity – as it was tied to a posture of radical, fundamental openness and submission to God. In this light the descent of the Holy Spirit to Jesus after his baptism makes some sense as a commissioning event, marking a new stage in Jesus’ submission to God in the form of public ministry. The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry after his baptism began a chain of events that led to the supreme event of Jesus’ life, his death and resurrection, by which death was defeated and sin was absolved.
What’s interesting about this mode of baptism is that it is a commitment to submission. This is doctrinally and practically simple (though not necessarily easy). The idea of submission is a simple one, comprehensible to children and adults who do not understand all the doctrinal and ethical ramifications of committing to the Christian faith. Since those consequences exceed the grasp of everyone, baptism-as-submission offers an easing of the problem of knowledge as a precondition for baptism that plagues the credobaptist traditions. It appears to reduce the knowledge required for baptism to some notion of where God’s authoritative instruction and direction may be found, so that the baptized one can find out how to submit to God.