Wednesday, August 4, 2010

#179-Full Body Baptism (Complete with Marxist Analysis)

Editor's note: Posts to come - Johnny Lang, North American Youth Congress 2009, Bible Colleges, Apostolic Identity...

AKA, it's about to get real fun around these parts...

The joys of Apostolic baptism... in other words: The joys of putting a man/woman fully under water as he/she is immersed in water as the symbolic representation of the death and burial of the Lord Jesus Christ and our dying with Him...

In other words, we don't take part in that willy-nilly, non-consensual "water being poured over your head" when you are 8 days old sacramental stuff that I once heard an evangelist refer to as "baptism rape."

We don't Mickey Mouseify our baptisms, we go for the whole thing - Which includes risk of drowning...

Because like the Greek word which baptism comes from ("baptizo") implies baptism as "fully wet" we hold back nothing....We even make our baptisms feel like they were in the days of Jesus by giving you a giant parachute aka a Mumuu which we think everyone wore in Jesus' time.

Toe out of Water!

I think we have heard that story (whether myth or true it matters not), wherein someone goes to get baptized but when the head is brought low to be baptized, the feet spring up out of the water... and this continual teeter-totter process happens several times, until someone comes along to hold the legs down to ensure the whole body becomes immersed at once... It's a comical story told by all pastors this side of Babylon.

But dear reader, I have met one person whose name I would never disclose, who recalls that one time he observed a baptism whereupon, on the descent of the head in the water, a couple toes sprang up out of the water ever so subtly so as the whole body was immersed but that of the two toes. The person thought about saying something but then decided against. When asked why he didn't speak up, his answer "When I get to heaven and see the person who was baptized (without the two toes) in heaven, I will look to my church members and say "Ha! that person was not fully immersed, and I saw it with my two eyes and yet God's mercy isn't restricted to the absence of two toes out of water." I then added the real horror will be when he looks down at the feet of the person who was baptized, and finds that she is missing two toes in heaven!

And should this not be the case, we are looking at this conversation between Peter on Judgement Day and the person who was baptized with her two toes out of water:

Peter: Hey Sally, you've been a great Christian. You always tried to give what you could in your life and died many times to your own wishes. You prayed much and read your Bible daily. You fed the homeless. You even went to prayer meeting for a record 28 straight weeks, which has never been done before!

Sally: Thank you, by God's grace alone though. So I got into heaven?

Peter: Well... uggh... this is kinda awkward... you


you see...

wellll...the problem is...well when you were

Sally: I was supposed to get baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost?!?

Peter: No, no no... you did that part right. What I am trying to say is that we can't let you into heaven... When you were baptized, the pastor did a shoddy job of making sure you were fully immersed and your toes sprang up out of the water when you were being baptized...

Sally: Then cut off my toes!

Peter: It's not that easy... Christianity is not some partial allegiance Praise God club where doing your best gets you in. It's all or nothing. And although most of your body was baptized, it wasn't all your body. Sorry Sally but you're going to have to take the elevator going down. If it helps I can send you down with an icepack which will make the heat not as intense upon initial entry...

Retreat for the Hills

Warning: Please feel free to leave at this point... I am about to rant. Much of it probably won't make sense. I don't even know what I am going to write. But it is one of the biggest evils in my heart and I don't know if there is a resolution... writing it down may help but I doubt it. Know that Marxist theory will be used... This is all confessional, and I am putting myself out there as an example. If you must judge, do so. But I am not writing to you. The problem described is not just mine though, and if not addressed will be a cancer in our movement growing bigger by the day... (click the read more if you must read on).

One last note: I believe baptism is necessary for salvation. Romans 6 and its definition of the importance of baptism literally changed my life. Baptism is a wonderful thing. So what I comment below is in no way a rant against the truth of baptism nor its essentialness. If it's a rant against anything it's a rant against myself...

I don't know the last time I really cared about a baptism.

Call it a lack of faith.

Call it a poor foundation.

Label it however you want to make yourself sleep better at night.

But the bottom line is baptism in terms of an impacting event, has lost meaning in my life. I have seen hundreds of baptisms. Waves of faces going down in that water. I see them come up and I see everyone cheer and I cheer out of respect and also so people don't think I am an atheist. But I don't feel excited in my heart. I don't even know the person. And probability says that this person who was baptized will never come back (because someone wrongly told them all you need to do is Acts 2:38 to be saved), or just stops coming in a few weeks after the initial fun of being important wears off.

I have tried to search high and low in my heart and through some analysis about what baptism is in our culture...

Here is what I think is going on...

If you are in graduate school or took any class on Marx: The term is "Commodity Fetishism."

I won't try to get into the intricacies of the theory, but I will outline what we need to know for our use here.

Commodity fetishism in short basically says in culture (mostly capitalist cultures), objects become the thing worshiped and valued completely detached from the human element which created the object. Example: When you give a man a piece of wood and pay him to make him a table, you are not just paying for the table but you are paying him for the hours of labor he put into the table. The man and his table go hand in hand.

However, when I go to the store and see a table for sale. I do not think about the man who created the table. I see the table and I see a price. The table is what I desire. The man who built that table was just a tool used to make the object which I desire. Humans lose relevance. The object (e.g. the table) becomes what matters.

One step further, when we have Church and forget about the price Jesus paid for this occasion, we are in a sense practicing such fetishism because we have separated the church service itself (and all the good we will feel in feeling the Holy Ghost and having "church") with the how we are able to even feel the Holy Ghost (the cross).

Now in terms of baptism... Baptism is the object we seek in Apostolic circles (same with tongues). Whether baptisms mean "our church is getting bigger and that revival we have been waiting for may finally be happening" or "thank God, another brother or sister added to the body of believers" it is not the person we value at such a moment of baptism, but rather it is the fact that a baptism is happening is what matters.

We celebrate the act of the baptism taking place instead of the person who is getting baptized (and dying to himself).

When I see a baptism, I see the person about to be baptized, but it would be just as easy to substitute the face I see and whatever past they have with any other person and face from "out there." I don't care about the person... Give me the act of the baptism. It is not the person that matters to me, it is the fact that there is one more added to the kingdom.

It's just as easy for me to imagine at the announcement of a baptism from the preacher: "Come one, come all, come little children and see the objects which we value in our religious beliefs. It's a plastic baptism!"

The baptized person becomes the object used in order for us to celebrate the thing that really has meaning to us: baptism.

You may say I am greatly distorting and oversimplifying everything. Right well! I acknowledge the oversimplification and distortion of the meaning of baptism. But I am not arguing its biblical importance, I am arguing how we as a people are perceiving baptisms when they happen.

I am a result of growing up in an Apostolic church my whole life, and I can attest only for myself (though others have admitted as much), that in our description of Acts 2:38 being preached over and over again and seeing its execution happen, that the people themselves will come and go, but the moment of baptism and infilling of the Holy Ghost (triple points if they happen at the same moment!) is what really matters.

How many preachers have to ask the name of the one to be baptized the seconds leading up to the baptism?

Think yet again about the children who are raised in church. As soon as one of the kids gets baptized, the competition is on! They see that if they want widespread fame and recognition and shouts of praise in their honor, they should repent as quickly as possible, cry some tears if possible, and ascend to the heights of the baptismal tank to receive their honor. Sure Jesus is the reason for the season, but we cannot act like the "social context" in which baptism is found is not important.

Of course, when I do sit there and reflect on Romans 6 and all its power and its awesome vehicle to guiding the disciple to salvation on his journey, I can get pretty worked up.

But my analysis of what's going on when I take a step back is not what is happening in my heart at the moment of worship of the act of baptism within the church. The human identity gets lost, and the moment gets glorified as the vehicle to salvation becomes that which is worshiped. And with this understanding in mind, my heart has hardened and meaning has been loss to me.

So dear saints, how do I gain back meaning in baptism? And further, and I say this humbly, what can we do as a movement to stop this perception which honestly seems inevitable with how we currently present baptism (the person as the object to which baptism itself is glorified).


  1. perhaps a sort of catechism could be revived, where people are taught, and may be known before they are absorbed by the borg-i mean body of christ. i believe that at one time you were baptized only after going through a catechism? if this was never so perhaps it should be?

    im not sure about the 'mystical' sort of things people tell me about baptism, but baptizing someone the first time they darken a churches door seems like an uniformed policy.

  2. Yeah, as I was thinking about it more, I thought a "waiting period" could be introduced for new converts....

    Wherein not only learning is getting involved, but an interaction with the saints in small quantities occurs as to develop the mentality of unity in the body. This way, the decision for baptism (not just an action, but also a death) is well meditated on and not a spur of the moment thing and also the body of believers can put more value and interest in such a baptism because they are familiar with this individual and it's not just "another face."

    Of course this goes against the immediacy of the need for baptism for salvation that is so prevelant within our churches....

    the learning process in actuality goes something to the effect:

    Pastor: Do you understand that baptism in the name of Jesus Christ represents a remission of sins (whatever that means), and is essential as part of Acts 2:38 as a means to salvation?

    Guest: Yes

    Pastor: Okay you can get baptized.

    In such a fashion while baptism seems important biblically, there is no "weight" in the understanding of baptism. Providing a learning scenario would seem to cause the guest and also the rest of the body to see more value and importance in baptism....

    It doesn't seem far fetched to hypothesize, but I doubt it could happen in most churches considering how baptism is perceived (aka if you die without baptism you are going to go hell. Therefore get baptized quickly and hope you learn it's significance later on)....

    As for the "mystical" comment, I have not heard of such a thing. Care to elaborate?

  3. If you believe baptism to be essential for salvation, then you really have no argument about post-poning baptism and making sure people have a sound theology before it being administered.

    I've heard some really cool stories in the past year about what others are doing for baptism. Baptism is the re-enactment of the Story, the Gospel. It is quite significant. It is truly mystical. And despite not all brothers/sisters believing it's necessary for salvation, all practice it and see it as a normal response to, or intiation of, salvation.

  4. Please do tell about these stories you have heard Lee

  5. Commodity fetishism is another very useful term you have added to the dialogue (along with holy magic hair) that I think help us make it much more candid and meaningful. Thanks for holding up the mirror.

  6. Can I just say that I loved the Marxist analysis? It made me laugh out loud and it made my day. Commodity fetishism. Enough said.

    Also, the dehumanizing factor is incredibly important I think. As a friend said to me, "it's another indication that a worldly society of perpetual growth is mirrored by a group that is supposed to be separate."

    When there are churches whose aim is to be a certain number or a certain size rather than share The Message, our priorities are misplaced. It's about each individual story and then the collective story we are all involved in.

    I listened to a podcast where a church had a specific Sunday set aside for baptisms, and each person being baptized spoke about what had brought them to the place where they decided to be baptized and the personal significance of it. It was incredibly personal and vulnerable - and it was awesome.

  7. Perhaps its the burden of summer semester finals week baring down on me, but I'm gonna have to nit-pick a little with the schema you've applied to this problem, Joel.

    Specifically, it's the use of a "Marxist" analysis. The historian in me cries, "Where's the dialectic? Where's the material bases and relations to modes of production? Where's the phenomenology?" I'm being just a little glib here, but I think neo-marxist, or perhaps "Marxian," as the new vogue term goes, might be more appropriate.

    Also, I don't necessarily think that the fixation with the baptism as an event stripped of subject and given meaning by the viewer only--"a body without organs" to borrow from Guattari and Deleuze--is a case of commodity fetishism. Your summation of the alienation of labor and production of commodities is fine, but the point here is that a baptism cannot become a commodity until we actually start charging people to become baptized or to view the baptism. This is important because the function of the commodity, which leads then to the notion of it as a fetish, lies in its power to forestall the aporia or doubt about the entire capitalist system and the alienation of one's labor as the constitutive act of the Self. I think you're raising a good point, but it might be best if we apply a different analytical tool instead.

  8. One more note, a baptism lies outside the realm of labor, since, as your earlier post on Grace rather eloquently puts it, no one is actually doing any sort of work on their part or through their efforts to be alienated from--there are no means of production, hence no chance of commodity fetishism.

    What I would like to suggest, and referring to our earlier conversation about Totalitarian theory, is the way in which various and sundry discourses surrounding the baptism as a narrative trope (emplotment) serve to obfuscate the reality of the baptism itself. That is to say, that the baptism is in fact a complicated and necessary stage within an ongoing process, not an event to be performed for the purposes of church unity or happy endings to long services.

    One might say that, like in a totalitarian system, the typically ritual nature of the baptism attempts to surround the person being baptized in a fiction that they are now redeemed and through their fulfilling of Acts 2:38 all is complete. The point here is that this is untenable to reality, so, there exists a paradox that relies on complete denial to continue: on the one hand the unreality of the apostolic baptism narrative and on the other the harsh reality of life outside the church during the weeks after those first blissful post-baptismal months.

    I think this is what you were getting at in the first place, but maybe this made it a little sharper in focus, though I readily admit that this is in no way systematic or articulate. Anyways, good post!

  9. Chady - isn't your definition of a commodity a little limited? Money isn't the only way to pay for something. Commodities can also be traded. And just for the sake of argument (I love this kind of stuff - takes me back to my undergrad) couldn't one say (hypothetically) that the one being baptized is trading the act of baptism for positive reinforcement, a sense of acceptance, etc., to the leaders who are using the baptism as a commodity to underline church growth numbers, rather than focusing on the individual experience and personal story that should actually be the focus of the baptism?

    In other words, I'll get baptized, in trade you will affirm me while dehumanizing me (that work for dialectics?) and making me a number to add to your list of members so as to make your corporate version of the "church" grow and look better on paper.

  10. Excellent post, I have to agree with the tragedy that is commodity fetishism. Though the question remains, "What is to be done about it?" Sure we could implement a waiting period like you suggest, (extreme example to follow) but serial killers are often quite willing wait the extra 5 days to get a gun in order to fulfill their intended purpose (the purpose of the attention seeking new convert of course to be given recognition for their entrance into the church).

    Another possible alternative, is perhaps to make all baptisms private affairs. And then we would be able to tell the truly repentant from the attention seeking hypocrites (marginally joking using that word) by how many people they tell about their baptism.

    Anyway, that's my young person's semi-intelligent attempt to solve the problem. Or was that really even the point? Sorry, I get thinking about something and I just follow it through to it's not always logical conclusion.

    Aside from all that there, great post! And I'm really looking forward to the one on Johnny Lang

  11. In the statements regarding the purpose and intent of this blog, you focus on ensuring us as Apostolics laugh at ourselves. I see nothing humourous about this post. You try and take something like salvation and criticize it and the way it is treated? I marvel, once again at how you guys call yourselves Apostolics whilst turning around and attempting to tear apart every aspect of Apostolic culture and beliefs. Disturbing to say the least.

  12. @rachel - could you define salvation and explain how it has been criticized?

  13. Rachel,
    This post talks about the importance of baptism and how it is treated too lightly. If anything this post criticizes those who treat baptisms like a trophy to the church and not the washing away of our sins. Where is baptism criticized?

    Did you read this post? or just skim it?

  14. Keep in mind rachel that several weeks back the purpose of the blog changed....

    "To remember to take a moment and laugh at ourselves as Apostolics. And occasionally reflect on our worldview and it's implications through a pointless rambling of sorts."

  15. truly the term "Apostolic" needs to be defined so we all know where we stand. For some "Apostolic" means a good huffing and puffing after running the aisles, namely a "powerful" religious experience of sorts; for others, "Apostolic" means of or relating to the Apostles. This is a figh-er discussion that should be had.

  16. I was a part of a home missions church that was too small to have a baptistry. The way we did baptisms... We filmed an interview in which the candidate was asked to explain what God had been doing in their life and why they wanted to be baptized. We then took them to the nearby lake (or occaisionally a swimming pool) after church with as many saints as were willing, and held a public baptism, again asking them to say a few words about why they were here. We also filmed the baptism, and collected water in sealed jars. After everything was over, each person received a DVD of their baptism experience as well as the jar of water as memorials. We then spent some time together as a church family remembering past baptisms.

    These were some of the most personal and intimate moments of corporate worship that I will forever keep with me. It highlighted what God was doing in the lives of those being baptized. It reminded us of what God had done in our lives when we were baptized into Christ. It helped us to reflect on our shared experience-our shared story, if you will-and who we were as a community of believers.

    I suppose I have seen baptisms like you have described, but I will never forget the baptisms that took place in that church. (not a solution, just a remembering)

  17. Ryan, sorry I didn't respond right away, it was finals week and I forgot to get back on here.

    I think I understand where you're going, and as far as trading compliance in ritual (baptism) for positive reinforcement, that works.

    However, I'm still going to have to say that you cannot trade or barter a commodity. An object becomes a commodity through its relation to the means of production--and the means of production which make a commodity are necessarily alienated and dehumanizing.

    If I were to fashion a chair through my own work or through the effort of a small labor force where the work was divided equally or with some commensurate distribution and then exchange that chair for something that you'd made in the same manner, then, that would be a trade/barter.

    However, this is not a commodity. Commodities are defined (at the very least) through their status in two spheres: being made in a such a way that the act of creation has no positive affect on the individual who performs the labor. The second level is that of the individual who receives the item, who we might say is now truly a consumer. The item itself has lost all meaning, it has no meaning from the individual who made it or from the consumer, since he/she did no true work to earn it, they only bought it with some form of money, which in itself implies alienated labor. Therefore a commodity is a thing which is always bought--or at least got through an exploitation of labor capacities on both ends.

    As I mentioned in my initial response, the use of a term like commodity doesn't fit to the baptism a priori because no one involved--not the dunker or the dunkee has performed any work at all. Jesus has done all of the work, we are only the grateful recipients who comply with what we read in the Bible. Now, one could very well dissect the issue from this angle (alas, I don't have the energy at this point), but I think that we need to apply some different theoretical apparatus to question this.

    ps. The dialectic is not between two people, but between the thesis and antithesis (impersonal, dispassionate historical forces). Good discussion!

  18. Chady,

    I am willing to concede a bad choice of words.

    But theoretically, here is another spin:

    Jesus dies on the cross as the perfect sacrifice (labor), which produces the commodity which can be two-fold: baptism is the commodity for the one getting baptized (more specifically, Salvation, remissions of sins, etc...). ALso, the one getting baptized becomes the commodity for the congregation watching the event (brings justification that something is going right), but in this regards the labor of the one baptized (the past history and identity of him/her) is dissected from the commodity of simply "a person getting baptized."

    Now for both of these, the crucial aspect of "commodity fetish" is that while spiritually (and from God's point of view) there is much more significance to baptism than what is presented here. but the tendency is that baptism in the apostolic context is divorced from this significance but rather is seen as just a commodity which when I hear someone say "5 were baptized last night," I don't think 5 people were dead and buried in Christ and thus have found the vehicle to which they can escape their sinful condition, but rather I think (and would theorize that others think similarly), "We have acquired 5 more faceless beings to justify our religious explanation of the cosmos" which brings me joy.

    And then for the one getting baptized, they are not thinking about the whole Romans 6 aspect and it's spiritual significance in light of the crucifixion, but rather as a commodity divorced from it's laborer (Christ) that is to be acquired as means to have their sins remitted which is a necessity to get to heaven (or not go to hell).

    But I do see how this explanation only answers part of your definition....

    But I do think it gets close enough to the point to allow for an admitted heist of the term as to let me use a fun term from Marx in this blog to make me sound smarter than I really am....(I kid)

  19. Maybe the problem is that we as a movement don't even know the meaning of baptism.