Baptism; Joining in Worship of Other Faiths
Baptism is about repentance, seeking forgiveness and commitment to the Divine Trinity and participation of religious worship of other faiths is an opportunity as well a trap that may be avoided.

Baptism; Joining in Worship of Other Faiths

          The circumcision debate of the first century Church was about induction of the gentile believers into the Jewish Law and then baptize them into the LORD. Most of such converts have relatives who are part of their new and the old religion and face a dilemma of joining the relatives in celebrations of various social events. The command on one side is not to bow down to other gods while Apostle Paul emphasizes that an idol is nothing and any food offered to it can be eaten by a believer. But the fear of doing something displeasing to God haunts every time that such a situation arises. Other question faced by such is about the necessity of being baptized. But what is the correct position as per the Scripture?

       Is baptism necessary? – Criminal on the cross begged Lord Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom’ to receive a reply, ‘today you will be with Me in paradise’ (Luke 23:42-43). He was not baptized during his life. God’s command is, ‘Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer’ (Deuteronomy 10:16) for ‘I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to what their deeds deserve’

        Does God require baptism to establish a relationship with us? – The answer would be both yes and no. The Great Commission is about making disciples and baptizing in the name of the Holy Trinity (Matthew 28:19). But there is the case of the criminal on the cross who was taken into Paradise by the Lord without any formal ritual. On the day of Pentecost, 3,000 were baptized (Acts 2:41) after listening to Apostle Peter. In the household of Cornelius, ‘While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the Word’ and they started speaking in tongues. It was after this that they were baptized in the name of the Lord, under and in His authority was baptism in the Holy Trinity (Acts 10:44-48).

        What is baptism? Is it only about repentance from sins? – Baptism is declaring a ritualistic confirmation of relationship with Lord Jesus and through Him with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is not about repentance of sins, though that is a part of the ritual. Lord Jesus was baptized but He was sinless while the Holy Spirit descended on Him as He came out of the water and God the Father revealed their true relationship (Mark 1:9). Baptism is about faith and obedience to Lord Jesus’ commands as contained in the Scripture. The complete ritual has first discipleship and then comes baptism while third is affirmation of relationship ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:19). It is a public declaration of being His follower with an open confession of faith and commitment and follows repentance and faith in the Son of God. Lord Jesus declared that ‘whoever believes and is baptized is saved’ (Mark 16:16).

         Baptism is a symbol of Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection; a rebirth from sinfulness into His righteousness. Going under water is burial of old life and coming out is resurrection and in the process sins are forgiven. In the sacrificial death on the cross of Lord Jesus, God the Father wiped the sinful record of all humanity clean and nailed the legal requirements of the law to the cross. We receive this blessing by expression of faith through baptism. In Christ we become a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come and it is for the glory of the Father (2 Corinthians 5:17 & Romans 6:4).

         It is like wearing of the wedding ring where an unmarried person wearing it does not become married but through the ring a married person wants to declare to the world ‘I am committed to my wife’. Baptism is that declaration to the world ‘I have trusted Lord Jesus for salvation and I am committed to living for Him’. When Adam and Eve joined together it was for the two to become one through a union of love and commitment (Genesis 2:24). Baptism brings us into a new family of God as His children ‘for we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body’, that is the Body of Christ or His Church (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).  

       How should we to be baptized? – Greek word ‘baptiso’ means to immerse or dip under water and ‘As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of water’ (Matthew 3:16). Likewise ‘both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When then they came up out of the water’ (Acts 8:38-39). It represents burial and resurrection with Lord Jesus and burial is about going in and under and then coming out. Any other mode of baptism is not correct. Baptism is ordained by the Lord; it is about union with Lord Jesus; it is with immersion in water; it is in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and is an expression of faith.

       Should we baptize a child or an infant? – Jewish custom of circumcision on the eighth day after birth has entered into Christianity also. Apostle Paul describes baptism as ‘having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith’ (Colossians 2:12). It is happening through faith and anyone who cannot understand or express faith cannot be baptized. An infant, sick or the infirm may be covered under the blood of Jesus by administering water that has been prayed over but baptism without expression of faith is inconceivable.

       Should we baptize for the dead? – Apostle Paul mentions about others being baptized for the already dead ‘if the dead do not rise at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?’ (1 Corinthians 15:29). The practice of providing salvation to the already departed by baptizing someone else instead has been frowned upon by Apostle Paul for the ritual is complete only with the individual being baptized rising up out of the water which the dead do not.

        To undergo baptism, do I have to change my physical attire or shape in any way? – No, the Savior Lord declared, ‘no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him’. And again ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father’. God the Father decides whom to bless and bring into faith to accept Lord Jesus as the Messiah (John 6:44 & 65). Scripture reveals a believer’s identity that ‘you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light’ (1 Peter 2:9). God chooses a believer and He does not make mistakes. The circumcision debate in the first century church started when ‘some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them (gentiles) and to command them to keep the law of Moses’. But Apostle James declared the decision of the Jerusalem Council that ‘known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the gentiles who are turning to God’ (Acts 15:5 & 18). The circumcision debate of the first century church and the decision of not imposing unnecessary burdens on believers has been continuing in one form or the other.

       Prophet Jeremiah received God’s Word, “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10). Lord Jesus taught the Samaritan woman on the well, ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’ and the Father is seeking such to worship Him (John 4:23-24). It is not about physical appearance but circumcision of the heart and not the body. Changing of appearance is no importance but change of heart and surrender to God’s will is definitely necessary. Lord Jesus has promised, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Matthew 7:7-8). Is it about opening of a physical door or only about worldly matters? King David pleads ‘wash me and I will be whiter than snow’ and is it about physical washing that he seeks? (Psalm 51:7).

        Participating in religious rituals of other faiths – Most of the believers who have come from other faiths ‘under the wings’ of the Messiah Lord have relatives still belonging to the old religion. They face a dilemma when required to participate in religious services during family functions for various events on both happy and sad occasions. On the one hand is the command that ‘You shall have no other gods before me’; ‘You shall not bow down to them nor serve them’ (Exodus 20:3; 5).  But what is having another god? It is to believe in and pray to him/her for blessings while also praying to YHWH God for the same blessings in the name of His Son. To bow down to them is also about revering other gods while to serve is to work for expansion of their domain/dominion by bringing others into that belief. Joshua commanded the Israelites ‘you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things’. ‘And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city (Jericho), both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword’ (Joshua 6:18 & 21). This was to prevent the Israelites from ‘following their customs and getting carried away to worship their gods.

          Installation ceremony of an idol is called ‘pran partishtha’ or putting a ‘living’ spirit into the idol. But which spirit is installed and the effects of that are clear in the deliverance ministry works. Apostle John saw that the devil ‘was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed’ (Revelation 13:15).

         The reasons for this prohibition of joining in the worship of other faiths are – First, worship only the LORD your God; second, food offered to other gods or idols are offered for blessings by invoking their names and partaking of these offerings make us partners in that worship indirectly. Thirdly, through that offering the spirit of the deity is likely to try to control a believer through that offering. Fourthly, the Scripture command that ‘you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God’ (Exodus 34:14). What is the meaning of jealous God? It shows God’s character of vigilantly guarding all that which is His or those who believe in Him. Apostle James cautioned that ‘do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’ (James 4:5). The battle is for our spirits and God does not want that the devil should have any connection with it. The caution is to ensure that our spirit is not turned away from God in heaven towards the earthly things.   

         The second view point, Apostle Paul clarifies this, ‘concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world and that there is no other but one God’. Further that the ‘food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak’ (1 Corinthians 8:4; 8 -11). Thus there is only one God, living and mighty and anything offered to anything else is irrelevant. In any case  before we eat anything we pray to God, who is provider of everything, to purify it so that it becomes a blessing for us. Apostle Paul is using this argument to permit eating of such foods when we join others in their ceremonies out of social compulsions. But he cautions us that though it will not affect someone with a strong faith but a new believer may stumble because of my act and backslide and I must be careful of that.

      In addition while joining people of my old faith, I have to fervently guard against my heart inadvertently joining in the worship while I had gone there only as a bystander. This is likely to happen for earlier we used to sing those songs and my heart may inadvertently join in the worship. Preferably I should avoid such participation except when there is an opportunity coming my way to reach out to others and witness the Lord there.

        Our relationship with God is through faith in the Son of God and until we commit ourselves to Him through baptism we do not fully join ‘the sheep of His fold’. Baptism is about cementing my relationship and entry into His Divine family. Joining our relatives who are non-believers in their religious functions can be converted into an opportunity to witness the Gospel. Other than that any participation is likely to affect someone else’s faith and I may fall prey to the ill effects of a demonic spirit. Before any such participation it is essential to seek ‘the weapons of God’ and thus protected go for His glory.

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