Christianity: Traditions And Sacraments

Last Sunday, I started what will be a series of posts on Christianity, as I was trying to better wrap my head around what makes Christianity what it is, and the confusion that keeps it from being effective in converting the world.  I decided to distinguish the religious truth from the cultural influences/practices in the Faith.  If you read the first post, and were observant, you would probably have noticed that I made no mention of Water Baptism in my summary of what Christianity is really about.  This post should shed more light on that.

In the history of Christianity, we can see that it arose from Judaism.  The Way, as it was called in its wake, was a movement among the Jews, about a King and Saviour of the World, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  Even still, it was not a Jewish movement, though it had Jewish origins.  The Founder and leaders of the Faith were all Jews, bred in the Law of Moses and the teaching of Hebrew Prophets.  But the goal of the movement was to reach the whole world, to bring them into the Fold of the Father, God, beginning with the Jews (Rom 1:16, Acts 1:8).

Now, the Jewish religion is one that is heavy with traditions and sacraments, as well as laws.  Keeping all these laws and rituals were important for keeping their covenant with God, and remaining blessed as a nation.  Through these teachings and practices, the Jewish religion was a rich blend of spirituality and culture that was quite inseparable!  There really was no distinction between Church and State as there is in Christianity and the world today.

As you can imagine, being brought up with such a religious and cultural heritage, it would have been hard to forsake the old ways and teachings, and take on the new.  Yes, even for the Apostles, this was hard.  And so, there were some customs of the Jews that filtered through to Christianity...and have continued on in Christianity as Christian Traditions, but which actually have no place in the practice of Christianity.

One of them is Water Baptism.  This is a tricky one, and it needs more attention, so I will go into detail later in this post.  Another would have been Circumcision, but that was squashed early on by Paul (Read the book of Galatians), who resisted Peter and other Jews who were insisting that the Gentiles must also become circumcised as they were.

A third tradition, which I will address in my next post, is that of Tithing.  Tithing has roots beyond even Judaism.  However, it is interesting to note that tithing was never a practice of the first Christians, because they practiced a different form of sharing and giving, as alluded to in the first post of this series.  In Catholicism, which is the first organised expression of Christianity, tithing is not required of Believers, though all are expected to give freely to the Church and the poor (source).  Little is said about tithing in the New Testament, and its practice in Christian history has been disorganized and inconsistent, so I wouldn't even like to term it a tradition of Christianity.

Another tradition that was passed on by the Apostles that continues today is that of regular First Day (Sunday) meetings (Acts 20:7).  In Judaism, Hebrews met at the Synagogues on Saturdays, which was the Seventh Day.  And there is a branch of Christianity, called Seventh Day Adventists, that has preferred to hold to this Jewish Day of fellowship, which is also the day God commanded that all people should rest, the Sabbath Day.  They also teach that the shift to observing the First Day from the Sabbath Day is a work of the Anti-Christ, and Christians who choose to meet and rest on the First Day are being disobedient to God.  My understanding on this matter is drawn from Romans 14, where Paul addressed this and other contentions.  To me, everyday is holy unto the Lord.

There are probably one or two other traditions of Christianity you can think of, like the Collection of Gifts for distribution among the Saints and the poor, which Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 16 and other places.  Traditions, which Google defines as "the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation...", increased as the Church grew and became established.  Another tradition that seeped into the Church early was that of Church Leadership and hierarchy, and division between the Lay people and the Clergy.  Catholicism and Orthodoxy are rich on these traditions, while much of this was dropped and revised in the Protestant expression of the Faith.

Traditions have caused major divisions in the Church, because they have been a means of propagating the Faith and keeping the beliefs and practices of the Faith intact.  A deviation from them would cause one to be considered or even ostracized as a heretic.  As early back as the time of Peter, Paul, James and John, people were already being called heretics and excommunicated because they did not accept nor hold to certain traditions (Titus 3:10).  Traditions therefore have a lot of weight, even though they are separate from the actual religious truth that makes Christianity distinct.

We have to be careful that we do not esteem and propagate traditions of men at the expense of the commandments of God, the primary being Love (Mark 7:13, Matt 15:9).  In this sense, Christianity has failed because all the traditions I have listed so far have originated from men trying to develop a custom for the practice of Christianity.  Even the hierarchy in leadership is contrary to Christ's teaching that we are all Brothers, and none should seek to be called Rabbi or Master etc (Matt 23:8-12).

There is only one tradition that Jesus Christ instituted.  This is the one and only sacrament of Christianity, which is called The Lord's Supper or Communion.

14 When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.

15 Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;

16 for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

17 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves;

18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

20 Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

(Luke 22:14-20)

A Sacrament can be defined as "a ceremony regarded as imparting spiritual grace" (Google).  It is also a custom and a belief, and as such, being passed on from generation to generation, a tradition.   Sacraments are usually instituted by God, and so should be esteemed above traditions of men.  Circumcision is an example of a sacrament for the Jewish religion.  But what the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees did, and what the Christian leaders have continued to do is esteem their own traditions above God's Law (Matt 15:1-6).

It is a sad truth that the Church is divided and many do not eat this meal together with sincere worship and love for one another, because of the other traditions that divide them!  But this symbolic sacrament was instituted by Jesus so that we would be united.  So that we would have fellowship and love.  And we do it in REMEMBRANCE of Him; His birth, life, death, resurrection and soon return.  These are the qualities of our Faith.  This is the entirety of our Faith: that we should remember and honour His sacrifice and love one another the same way.

But men will be men.  Even men of God.  And so even the custom of water baptism which John did for the SOLE reason (John 1:29-34) that Christ may be made known, has become one of the major causes of division within the Church.  Even at the time of Christ and His Apostles.

The problem originated with John the Baptist.  He knew the reason he was sent.  He knew that he would and should decrease, while Christ increased (John 3:30).  He knew and taught men to FOLLOW Jesus.

So, why is it that when he had fulfilled the purpose for which he came baptising, he didn't stop it to follow Jesus as well?!!  Why did he continue to baptise people and make disciples, rather than follow Jesus and learn how to make disciples JESUS' way?!  See the confusion?

At that time, many of John's disciples decided to follow Jesus, but some stayed following John, because he still thought he had a ministry, when his work had already been completed.  John even sent people to ask Jesus if He was indeed the coming Messiah (this man had his own revelation of Jesus!!!), while he was jailed, showing that he had become offended by doubt (Matt 11:2-6).  Eventually, he was beheaded!  I don't believe he would have been killed that way if he had believed his own teaching and followed the Light of the World!

It seems that there were contentions then between John's faithful disciples and Jesus' faithful.  Even though John attested that "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matt 3:11).  Despite this, his disciples and Jesus' disciples continued to baptize everyone that came to them with water, and were keeping score, even though Jesus never baptized anyone (John 4:1-2).

But why didn't Jesus stop them?  And why did the Holy Spirit allow Philip to baptise the Ethiopian Jew (Acts 8:26-40)?  Did water baptism serve a purpose beyond revealing Jesus as the Saviour of the World?

Though the practice of water baptism preceded John (source), Jesus referred to JOHN'S baptism, when He said on His departure "...for John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:5).  Jesus acknowledged John's baptism ministry and submitted to it.  When He went to be baptised by John, He said it was to fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3:15), because it was needful for Scripture concerning Him to be fulfilled (Isaiah 11:1-3, John 1:31-34).  And unfortunately, it is on the basis of "fulfilling all righteousness" that water baptism is pushed on all Believers - even after the Holy Spirit has been given!  But this is an error.

John's baptism was for the purpose of revealing the Jewish Messiah.   The prophesy concerning the baptism of Believers is the baptism of the Holy Ghost, the impartation of God's Spirit on His People.  As it is written: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Eze 36:26-27). 

I've come to understand from my study of the Bible and prayer and communion with God on this matter that water baptism only held significance for the Jews.  It was why Jesus permitted it before the Holy Spirit was given - before the Old Covenant was done away with.  It has symbolic importance for their conversion, being already an instituted custom for ritual cleansing, and signifies a forsaking and death of the old way, and arising to the new.  The Euthopian Eunich was baptised with water by Philip because he was also a Jew.  And the practice of water baptism continued among the early Christians because most of them were Jews.  But for the Gentiles, water baptism is as relevant as circumcision!

To make this point even clearer to the Church, God used Peter and Cornelius!  God could have used Paul, but He chose to use Peter, because he and those with him really didn't understand the grace of God that had been given to the Gentiles too.  So, Peter followed the messenger to Cornelius' home, after receiving revelation from God THREE TIMES, that he should no longer call unclean what God had made clean.  And in Cornelius home, EVEN AS PETER WAS PREACHING, they were baptised with the Holy Ghost (and thus saved, like Peter and the other Jews).

It was like God said to Peter: "Open your eyes, Peter.  I didn't call you to baptise anyone.  I called you to preach the Gospel.  I Am the One who will do the baptising.  I will place my seal on My Own."

Still, Peter didn't get it.  He was surprised and uncertain what to do, even though at that very moment, he had remembered what Jesus had said to him about the difference between John's baptism and the Holy Spirit baptism.  To 'fulfill all righteousness', he fact commanded them to be baptised with water, which continued to propagate the confusion.  Read the whole historic event and Peter's account of it in Acts 10-11.

Peter and the others soon came to understand the Way they have been called to, which was not a continuance in Judaism nor John's Baptism, but was a movement of God's Spirit, using men to preach the Gospel, by which we are saved and born again (by His Spirit), if we believe (and thus repent).  This experience with Cornelius prepared Peter and the Apostles for Paul's visit with Barnabas in Acts 15, after he had begun his ministry among the Gentiles, and they wanted to know what customs the Gentiles should be burdened to keep.  At the end of that council meeting, this is what the Apostles agreed that the Gentile Believers should submit to:

"That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well." (Acts 15:29).

All this was written that we may be edified and learn what the truth is, but many will not study and receive understanding for themselves.  In fact, I am sure I lost many readers at the beginning when I mentioned that Water Baptism has nothing on Christianity.  Most would rather believe a lie and propagate tradition for fear of being deceived or called heretics.

But get this...even the Apostles and Jesus Himself were killed as heretics!  They broke tradition to uphold the Truth.  The truth is more powerful than any heresy accusation.  And it is the truth that sets us free, not common knowledge nor practice.

Unfortunately, every reference Jesus made about Believers being baptised (particularly the Great Commission - Matt 28-19-20) is now assumed to be talking about water baptism.  But this is not true.  While giving the Great Commission, Jesus could have said "blessing them in the name of the Father...", but He chose the word 'baptise' instead of 'bless' for significance.  However, we are not the ones who bless nor baptise anyone, but God does this through His Holy Spirit.

Just as Cornelius and those with him were baptised by the Holy Spirit as Peter preached to them, so people are baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  In other places, we see that the Apostles had to lay their hands on Believers for them to receive the Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 8:16-17, Acts 19:1-7), but it still wasn't the Apostles who baptised them.  This baptism was received like a blessing, through the laying on of hands.  Likewise, we can lay hands on people and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit baptism.  And we don't need to water baptise them first, for we are born again by the word of God (1 Pet 1:23).

Just think about it...  Why would Jesus say that we need John's baptism to be saved, when He had prepared His own baptism for us?  People often cite Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus, but when Jesus spoke about being born of water (John 3:5), He wasn't talking about water baptism (which is no birth at all), but about the natural birth, where every human child is enclosed in a cocoon of water in the womb!  That is the first birth.  So we must be born again...

In Romans 6, Paul talks about water baptism being symbolic for being buried with Christ, so we will be raised with him.  He had baptised a few people at the time, and didn't fully understand the true baptism of Christians then.  However, when the confusion and division became too much for him to bear, Paul wrote this epistle:

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

(1 Cor 1:10-18).

Later, Paul gives a clear word on just how many baptisms there are in Christianity.  ONE (Eph 4:5).  Not John's but Jesus', which is with the Holy Spirit, given by God alone, for our unity and not division.

This baptism is a confirmation that we are His (Rom 8:9).  Our seal of sonship (Eph 1:13).  But because it is hard to distinguish those who have received this baptism, the Church continues to rely on water baptism to determine who is Christian (saved) and who is not.

However, being dunked in water NEVER made any one Christian!  Like has been said before, water baptism is a Jewish custom.  How many of John's disciples who were baptised by him became Christian?  The truth is not that many.  Many of Jesus' own disciples who had been baptised with water also walked away before the Spirit was given (John 6:66).  Furthermore, there were no Christians (Believers who had been 'born again') before Christ was resurrected and ascended (Act 1:8).

Since Jesus never partook in this tradition by baptising men with water (though He Himself was baptised for a purpose), and Paul desisted from the same practice, I also have no calling to baptise anyone with water.  Yes, I have been baptised with water, by those who believed it was essential to my obedience and salvation.  But therein lies the biggest confusion.

If we must be baptised with water to be truly saved, does that not make our salvation a work we partook in (through observing an ordinance) and not entirely by Christ's victory on the Cross?  And what about those who believe and confess, but never get dunked before they die (even though they have received God's Spirit)?  What about those who have to wait to complete Water Baptismal classes before being privileged to partake in this "essential" rite to salvation???

There are so many arguments about the proper method of water baptism, that it makes you wonder by what we have been saved.  It is beyond sad to me that a whole denomination of Christianity is named after this practice and its members are bound to not only defend, but propagate the continuance of the water baptism tradition.  For me, there's no argument about this unchristian tradition which, unfortunately, has remained an essential part of Christian culture, to the confusion and division of many.

I'd implore you, as Paul did to Timothy, to "study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15).  Don't fight to defend your religious culture, but fight to defend the true Faith as taught and lived by Jesus and passed on by His Apostles.  No matter how long you have believed and taught a lie, it is still a lie.  When you learn the truth, you must repent and choose to believe and live the truth...and you will be free indeed!

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph 4:4-6).

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8).

"If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32).

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