The Pursuit of God

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Rethinking Christian Rituals: Water Baptism

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THE ORIGIN OF BAPTISM

Read through the Old Testament and you won’t find a single mention of baptism.  The bizarre tradition of a grown man briefly dunking individuals into water first shows up in the New Testament with a guy who made such a career out of dunking people that he became known as John the Baptist.

Now John was an ethnic Jew and a devoted follower of Yahweh.  The religion he practiced was Judaism, and he lived in the land that had once belonged to the nation of Israel, back when she was a sovereign nation.  But Israel had lost her independence centuries ago, and in John’s lifetime, she was considered part of the territory of the Roman Empire. 

John was a legitimate prophet of Yahweh—meaning that when he said he was passing on a message from Yahweh, he really was, he wasn’t just lying to people.  Like the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah who had come and gone centuries before, John spent a lot of time urging people to repent out of their spiritual rebellion and get serious about pleasing Yahweh.

Now while John was receptive to anyone who wanted to listen to his message, his target audience was other Yahweh followers.  For the majority of the Old Testament, Israelites scorned Yahweh while they delighted in worshiping a whole pantheon of false gods.  But during the four centuries that passed between the Old and New Testament, the ethnic Jews who were still living in the original region of the Promised Land had a theological makeover.  They put their false gods away and began aggressively promoting Judaism as their national religion.  The Jews had always recognized Yahweh as their national God, but it wasn’t until the time of the New Testament that they really began putting effort into flaunting their devotion to Him.  The problem was that their so-called “devotion” to Yahweh was as meaningless as the term “Christian” is today.

To understand why it was so popular to fake devotion to Yahweh in New Testament Israel, you need to realize that Jewish government was a religious government.  The Jewish Torah—which was composed of the first five books of the Christian Old Testament—was used like a legal handbook by Jewish judges, and some very serious consequences were being passed out based on those laws.  Execution orders abound in the Torah, with many offenses being dealt with according to a “one strike and you’re dead” policy.  Blaspheming Yahweh, verbally encouraging other Jews to worship false gods, and cursing your parents were just a few offenses that could get you executed by Jewish leaders.  So even if you didn’t personally like Yahweh, it was in your best interest to pretend you did—especially when the local authorities were armed with ammunition like this passage from Deuteronomy 17:

“If a case is too difficult for you—concerning bloodshed, lawsuits, or assaults—cases disputed at your gates, you must go up to the place Yahweh your God chooses. You are to go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who presides at that time. Ask, and they will give you a verdict in the case. You must abide by the verdict they give you at the place Yahweh chooses. Be careful to do exactly as they instruct you. You must abide by the instruction they give you and the verdict they announce to you. Do not turn to the right or the left from the decision they declare to you. The person who acts arrogantly, refusing to listen either to the priest who stands there serving Yahweh your God or to the judge, must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. Then all the people will hear about it, be afraid, and no longer behave arrogantly.” (Deut. 17:8-13)

If you’re a Jewish priest, then you love this passage, because it gives you the freedom to act like a little tyrant and exterminate anyone who disagrees with your decisions.  Imagine what would happen if America were to throw out her Constitution and instead decide to run the whole country by the Torah. Remember those famous Ten Commandments?  The first one says that it’s wrong to worship any God other than Yahweh.  Keep reading and you’ll find Yahweh saying that anyone who is caught worshiping other gods or even saying they like the idea of worshiping other gods must be immediately executed. So if we’re going to go full on Torah in America, then we’d have to execute most of the country right away, including all Christians.  There’s no room for worshiping Jesus as God when you’re obeying the Ten Commandments (see Applying the Ten Commandments: Guidance for Christians).  Are you seeing the problem with mixing religion and government?  The idea has some real potential if you’re pushing the right religion and your leaders are all dedicated followers of the real Gods.  But how often does a situation that perfect occur in this world?  Never.

In New Testament Israel, men couldn’t climb to the top of Jewish society without becoming hardened spiritual rebels.  This was because Jewish government was already being run by two main groups of religious teachers—the Sadducees and the Pharisees—and getting accepted into either club required a whole lot of moral compromise.  When we see how aggressively the Sadducees and Pharisees go after Jesus in the Gospel books, and we hear Jesus describing the spiritual attitudes of those two groups, it gives us a good picture of how unpopular real devotion to God was at that time.  Today if you really put your all into pleasing Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, you’ll soon find yourself getting ostracized by the main Christian community.  It was the same in New Testament Israel: true followers of Yahweh received a lot of flak from the fakers.

So how did Yahweh respond to this situation?  Did He tell people, “Since following Me is obviously a hassle for you, why don’t you just forget it?”  Not hardly.  Devotion to God has always been a costly affair in this world, but that hardly excuses us from having to bother.  In the Bible we find both Yahweh and Jesus warning humans that refusing to submit to the real Gods in this life will result in dire consequences in eternity.  Back in Old Testament times, prophets like Moses, Jeremiah and Isaiah urged their fellow Jews to wise up and get serious about pleasing Yahweh before it was too late.  At the start of the New Testament Gospel books, we find John the Baptist preaching a similar message.  He boldly condemned the spiritual rebellion that was so prevalent in Jewish society, and he urged his fellow Jews to wise up and get serious about submitting to Yahweh.

Now back in Jeremiah’s day, he underscored the urgency of obeying God by saying that Yahweh was about to destroy Jerusalem.  If you find out that God is about to massacre your people, then there’s a very good chance you’ll be one of the thousands who die when that massacre begins.  Once you die, there are no more chances to fix your bad attitude towards God, so it’s in your own best interests to repent swiftly.

In John’s time, there was a new shocking event looming on the horizon which underscored the urgency of getting serious about pleasing Yahweh.  That new event was the coming of Yahweh’s Messiah.  The Jews had been waiting for Yahweh’s Messiah to show up ever since the days of Isaiah.  By the time of John, Israel had spent centuries being the war trophy of some foreign empire, and the Jews were sick and tired of being oppressed.  They desperately wanted to see Israel break free from her oppressors and become a proud sovereign nation once more.  But since Israel was the size of a postage stamp while the Roman Empire was so massive, it would take a miracle for Israel to gain her independence.  The Jews firmly believed that Yahweh’s Messiah would produce such a miracle.  They believed that he would be one of them: an ethnic Jew who would somehow rise up into a powerful, conquering king.  It wasn’t humanly possible, but it was certainly possible with Yahweh—after all, He was the God who had rescued the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and split open the Red Sea.  With Yahweh’s help, there was nothing His human Messiah couldn’t do—this is what the Jews believed.  So when a zealous prophet rose in their midst who was insisting that Yahweh’s Messiah was going to be revealed any second, that got people’s attention.  Ethnic Jews came from miles around to hear what John was saying, and when they listened to John, they got an earful of conviction that they needed to get serious about submitting to Yahweh.

“Repent and get serious about living for God,” was the main message that John preached.  He then came up with a physical ritual that people could engage in to publicly proclaim their new commitment to Yahweh: water baptism.

For followers of Judaism, water baptism really worked, because in the Torah, Yahweh frequently uses the physical act of bathing as a picture of people getting into spiritual alignment with Him.  Before performing their services at the Tabernacle, Jewish priests were required to bathe.  When Yahweh followers did certain things that made them “ceremonially unclean”—such as touching a corpse or touching certain bodily fluids, Yahweh required that they physically bathe themselves.  If you compile all of the bathing laws Yahweh gives in the Torah, you end up seeing physical bathing as a powerful symbol of getting into a better place with Yahweh than you were before you got wet.  So for Old Covenant believers, John’s baptism ritual felt like a very fitting way to publicly say, “I’ve decided to get myself into a better place with Yahweh than I was in before.”

Now John wasn’t a brass railing, marble countertop kind of guy.  He was used to getting by on the basics, and he didn’t need some gilded tub to do his baptizing in.  The Jordan River was a convenient body of water that provided plenty of space for crowds to gather, so John got into a habit of preaching by the Jordan.  After preaching some convicting sermon about the importance of honoring Yahweh and the woes of defying Him, John would then baptize anyone who came forward and said they wanted to make a fresh start.  John’s baptizing ritual was like a watery version of the common Christian altar call.  Only because John was the real deal, and not just desperate to flaunt numbers, he wouldn’t baptize anyone who came forward. If he suspected that someone was just being a hypocrite, he’d chew them out right then and there in front of the whole crowd and refuse to dunk them.

Now much to the irritation of Jewish leaders, John’s preaching ministry really took off and soon people were traveling from miles around just to get the man of God to moisturize them.  With most Jewish preachers constantly spewing out lies and carnal manglings of God’s truth in the community synagogues, John was a breath of fresh air to sincere Yahweh followers who were very glad to have a true prophet rise up in their midst.

As they watched John’s influence grow among Jewish commoners, the Pharisees and Sadducees decided they needed to investigate.  And the more Jewish commoners began to associate John’s baptism as the sign that someone was a true believer, the more pressure the Pharisees and Sadducees felt to go ahead and get baptized, just so they could say that they had when they were asked.  But when they showed up to try and get dunked, John chewed them out instead.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, John denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to Yahweh! Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing!  For I tell you, Yahweh can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire!” (Matt. 3:7-10)

So then, was John preaching that baptism was essential for salvation? No, he wasn’t.  He was targeting spiritual rebels and urging them to repent.  His baptism served as a symbol of that repentance.  Folks who were already serious about pleasing Yahweh didn’t need to repent or have John dunk them.  But since folks who are already in a good place with God often worry that they’re not, many sincere believers would have been baptized by John just to make sure that they weren’t skipping any step that Yahweh wanted them to take.  The same happens with Christians today: souls who are in the best position with God often go through a bunch of needless rituals out of an anxious fear that they might be missing something.  And yet it’s not our external actions that God cares about—it’s our soul attitudes.  Baptizing means nothing if you’re inwardly defying God, and it does nothing to add to the value of your repentance.  John’s baptizing was really just a way for people to publicly tell other humans what their personal attitudes toward God were.  It was really done for the sake of other people—not for God’s sake, because He already knew how people felt about Him. This raises a very important question: what is the value of baptizing?

WHAT IS THE VALUE OF BAPTIZING?

How much importance do you think you should put on how other people perceive your relationship with God?  Isn’t His opinion the only one that matters?  When you die, God isn’t going to judge you according to how other people perceived your devotion to Him.  Instead, He’s going to respond to you according to how you actually treated Him in the secret room of your soul that no human eyes could see into.

Now because we live in a world where humans can’t see each other’s true motivations, we’re used to being defined and judged entirely by our actions.  If you act like a jerk, people will swiftly decide that you are a jerk.  If you really love your wife, but your behavior doesn’t align with her personal definition of a loving person, than she’ll say you’re lying about really loving her, or she’ll say that your true feelings are useless because your actions don’t back them up.  In this world, it’s how you behave that counts, while your internal motivations are often treated as irrelevant.  Because we have to deal with this kind of judgment system day in and day out, it’s only natural that we assume our Creators judge us the same way humans do.  And yet the reality is that the non-humans who created us use a grading system that is radically different than the one we’re used to.  The real Gods judge us by our soul’s response to Them—and that is something which occurs internally, not externally.  If you do some activity for God, what you do is not what He judges you by, but rather why you are doing it.  The specific behavior is irrelevant—it’s your soul motivation that counts.

Today some Christians read the Bible in an eager desire to hear God speak to them because they love Him and they want to know Him better.  Plenty of other Christians read the Bible just so they can say they did and get other nagging Christians off their backs.  For the first group, reading the Bible is one of the ways they’re expressing their desire for God.  For the second group, reading the Bible has nothing to do with God—it’s just an effort to please critical humans.  In both cases, God doesn’t care about the fact that the Bible is being read—He cares about the soul attitudes.  He’s pleased with the first group because they cherish Him, not because they’re reading a certain religious text.  He’s not pleased with the second group, because they’re acting like the approval of humans is all that counts.  With God, it’s all about soul attitudes.  Because soul attitudes and not behaviors are what He’s judging us by, it’s quite possible for us to break our necks going through holy motions and still end up on the wrong side of His wrath in eternity.  This was one of the points Jesus was making when He said these chilling words:

“On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your Name, drive out demons in Your Name, and do many miracles in Your Name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Away from Me, you evil doers!’” (Matt. 7:22-23)

Prophesying in the Name of Jesus, casting out demons, performing miracles—aren’t these the kinds of behaviors we associate with true believers? Of course they are.  In this world, we judge by behavior, and we automatically assume that anyone who does these things must be pleasing to God. And yet here Jesus is saying that in eternity, there will be a ton of folks who acted devoted to God, when in reality, they were totally defying Him, thus He will end up condemning them.  With God, the behaviors are worthless—so much so, that you’d be a fool to engage in any ritual or ministry without first seeking God’s opinion.  Until He tells you that He wants you to do something, you’re just wasting your time.

You can’t impress God by going through a bunch of holy motions.  He isn’t wowed by your church attendance, tithing, preaching, witnessing, or Scripture verse memorizing.  We humans are being utterly ridiculous when we go through a bunch of motions for the sake of trying to get God to view us in a certain way. He isn’t a mortal halfwit, He’s God Almighty.  He doesn’t just know some things, He knows everything, and the real truth about how we feel about Him is never hidden from His eyes.  Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the only Beings who we never have to try and prove anything to, because Their understanding of reality is always complete and accurate.  When your reality is that you dearly love God, then nothing you do can make Him think otherwise.  When your reality is that you couldn’t care less about God, or that you inwardly hate Him, then there’s nothing you can do to blind Him to that truth.

So then, when we get baptized, we’re not doing it for God’s sake, we’re doing it for our own sake and for the sake of other people.  Now is there something wrong with wanting to publicly advertise your devotion to God?  No, but you need to be very cautious about getting too invested in making other people believe that you’re the real deal.  A lot of people who got baptized by John weren’t really serious about pleasing Yahweh, they just wanted to make the zealous prophet think well of them.  Because John wasn’t God, he couldn’t see into the souls of the people he baptized.  When he thought he spotted an obvious hypocrite, he’d chew them out, because he didn’t want his ritual getting turned into some meaningless thing.  And yet religious rituals will always become meaningless over time, so John was fighting a losing battle.

Because we can’t see into the souls of others, we constantly misjudge each other.  We think the truly devoted are rebels, and we think the rebels are truly devoted.  We’re simply not equipped to judge humans accurately but that’s fine, because it’s not our job to do so.  We haven’t been authorized by our Creators to stand around assessing where other humans stand with Them.  Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are intentionally keeping Their relationships with humans veiled in secrecy.  This is part of how They encourage us to stop fretting over what other humans think of us, because we can’t escape the burden of being misunderstood in this world.  It’s only with our Gods that we are fully known, and it’s only with Them that we have a chance to be fully accepted and loved as we actually are.

So what is value of baptism?  It doesn’t have much, if you really think about it.  You certainly don’t need to get baptized to prove something to God, because He already knows how you feel about Him.  Since salvation is a matter of soul submission, you really can’t improve your chances of getting into Heaven by getting dunked in some water.  The most baptism could ever be is your personal act of worship to God—something you do as a way of demonstrating your love for Him. But then again, God already knows that you love Him, and He’d rather have your soul worship Him directly in some private moment than have you all distracted by a crowd of humans staring at you.

Isn’t it true that we humans are the most honest, open, and genuine when we are alone with another human than when we’re in some crowd setting?  A woman will whisper things to her husband in a dark bedroom that she’d never repeat on stage in front of a live audience.  When you get baptized, you’re on stage.  You’re distracted by people watching you, you’re trying to remember to hold your breath when you get dunked, you’re wondering what you’re going to look like sopping wet, and you’re hoping the baptizer doesn’t drop you at the critical moment.  Baptism is far from being some intimate moment between you and God when there’s no one else around and it’s just your soul planting kisses on His cheek without the ulterior motive of trying to impress a human audience. Getting baptized is hardly the high point in a Christian’s walk with God.  It’s not a memory God cherishes when He looks back over His relationship with us.  He’s far more interested in all of those moments our souls whispered their true feelings to Him in secret—all of those moments that our souls perked up at the sound of His Voice and expressed a longing for Him that was far too deep to ever be described in a group prayer meeting.  Once we understand what God really wants from us—what He values and cherishes—we realize how totally irrelevant baptism is.  Baptism is something we do when we don’t yet understand how God judges us and when we think it actually matters that we try and make other humans understand that we’re moving forward in our personal relationship with God.

BUT JESUS SAID…

Now today Christians make a big deal out of baptism, with many denominations teaching that it is essential for acquiring salvation.  A popular defense for this absurd teaching is the fact that the early apostles made a big effort to baptize new converts.  Well, so what?  The early apostles also taught that Jesus wasn’t God, that no true Christian could even desire to sin, and that ethnic Jews are more desirable to God than Gentiles.  The early apostles are hardly a source of reliable truth.

If we’re going to quote someone on the subject of baptism, Jesus is the only One worth quoting, since He is actually God and not just some confused mortal.  When He was commissioning His eleven disciples (the original twelve minus Judas) to go out and preach the Good News about His coming, Jesus said:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:18-20)

Christians have dubbed this passage the Great Commission, and depending on what kinds of Christians you’ve interacted with in the past, you might not be able to hear this passage without feeling like a guilty slacker for not making more of an effort to talk about Jesus to anyone who breathes (see Debunking the Great Guilt Trip: It’s Not Your Job to Save the World).  When Christians teach on Bible passages, they rarely respect context, and that means they downplay the importance of the cultural and theological perspectives of the original audience being addressed.  In the case of the Great Commission, for example, Christians often trim off Verses 16-17, which give us some critical context.

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.  (Matt. 28:16-17)

Who is Jesus talking to here?  The remaining eleven members of His band of twelve disciples who He’s been spending so much time mentoring for three years.  By now Judas has committed suicide, which is why the twelve are now “the eleven.”

Next question: where is this conversation taking place?  Matthew calls it a mountain which means it was probably just a hill.  Who else is present?  No one.  This is a private meeting.  To be more accurate, it’s a secret meeting that Jesus pre-arranged to have with His disciples.

Realize that the Jesus talking here is a resurrected Jesus.  This is a ghost man.  This is a walking apparition, only instead of being just wispy smoke, Jesus is solid: He’s flesh and blood.  And the body He’s using is the same mangled mess that His followers sadly laid to rest in a tomb after Jesus was crucified.  If word got out that this hillside chat was taking place, Jesus would get mobbed by folks who just had to get a glimpse of the walking dead man.  By now Jesus has already made several post-resurrection appearances, so the rumor mills in Israel are at full crank.  The point is that it took work to keep this meeting a secret, and secret meetings are what you arrange when you don’t want other people to come.  You see, Jesus isn’t talking to you in the Great Commission passage.  He doesn’t say, “Here are My instructions to all of My future followers.”  He doesn’t say, “From now on, this is how I want every preacher and evangelist to behave.”  Jesus is specifically talking to eleven men who He specifically chose to function as His first group of evangelists.

There’s a big difference between Jesus pulling eleven men aside for a private chat and Jesus standing in front of thousands of folks discussing general spiritual principles.  The Great Commission was only given to eleven individuals.  By now, Jesus has many sincere followers in Israel, so why didn’t He invite them all to this meeting?  Because He doesn’t want every follower of His to go around preaching and baptizing people.

Our Gods love variety and They do not call us all to serve Them in the same way.  Those of you who feel that God has called you to preach for Him today need to be very cautious about trying to shape your calling based on a private conversation Jesus had with eleven men nearly 2,000 years ago.  The Bible is filled with examples of how God loves to change His style over time.  In the Old Testament, we don’t find Yahweh telling any of His prophets to baptize people in rivers.  But we do find John doing that, and John probably felt he was acting on specific leading from Yahweh.  You might think the prophetic calling is pretty straightforward—a prophet is a prophet, right?  And yet in the Bible we find Yahweh handing out drastically different assignments to His prophets.  Moses was put in the middle of the ten plague drama.  Isaiah had to walk around naked for three years (see Prophets in Action: Isaiah Walks Around Naked).  Hosea had to marry a hussy (see Know Your Bible Lesson 20: The Prophet Hosea). Jeremiah had to run around shoving wine in people’s faces and telling them to drink until they vomited (see Know Your Bible Lesson 30: The Yoke of Babylon).  Ezekiel had to lie in the dirt playing soldiers and looking like a complete fruit loop (see Prophets in Action: Ezekiel & the Siege of Jerusalem).  Compared to some of the challenges his predecessors were handed, John the Baptist got off easy.  But when we see how differently Yahweh instructed His prophets to behave, where do we get off trying to say that the Great Commission is some unchangeable standard for all people?

We’ve already discussed why water baptism was a meaningful ritual to Old Covenant Jews due to all of the bathing that went on in Judaism.  When Jesus told His boys to baptize new coverts, He was talking to eleven Old Covenant Jews.  He was talking to peers of John the Baptist—men who were well acquainted with John’s riverside ministry.  We’ve already discussed that John’s baptism was supposed to be a symbol of one’s personal devotion to Yahweh.  Well, Jesus introduced some radical changes in theology during His time in Israel.  One of the most significant things He did was call an end to the whole sacrificial system.  Now suppose you’re a Jewish man who has already been baptized by John.  You weren’t just one of the fakers—you really have recommitted yourself to Yahweh and you want to stay in a good place with Him.  But now Yahweh’s Messiah has your head spinning with radical new ideas that are making you very uncomfortable.  Suddenly you find another hurdle in front of you. John’s preaching helped you get over the hurdle of your previous rebellion, but now Jesus is pushing you to accept some massive changes to your theology.  So what now?  Are you going to get on board or not?

The early apostles were ethnic Jews, and they naturally targeted other Jews in the early stages of their ministries.  Because the first converts to Christianity were Jewish, the water baptism ritual made sense to them.  Their Old Covenant backgrounds made water baptism feel like a symbol of getting into a right place with Yahweh—of obeying His commands and keeping up with His requirements.  But once you go beyond Old Covenant believers, water baptism loses its depth of meaning and it just becomes motions we go through because some human made us think God commands it.

Now once the apostle Paul did us all the disfavor of pretending to care about Christ, he took the baptism ritual and attached all kinds of meanings to it that Jesus never did.  Jesus’ baptism ritual was designed to help Old Covenant Jews through a major theological transition. By the time Paul was done butchering the thing, he had people imagining that they entered the water as yucky sinners, and then while submerged, they were magically zapped by Jesus so that they could emerge as “new creations” who could easily handle sinless living.  Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees taught that God judged people by their actions, not their soul attitudes.  Pharisees claimed to be perfect in the sight of God and actually thought they were.  Pharisees condemned persistent sinners as spiritual yucks who had no hope of pleasing God.  As an apostle of Christ, Paul simply revised his old Pharisaical preaching to fit Jesus into it, but his bottom line remained the same: if you’re not perfect, you’re going to Hell (see Romans 6: Paul Baptizes Christians Into Despair).

Now Jesus’ first eleven apostles didn’t last long, nor did they get anywhere close to going to “all the nations.”  But they made a stab at it, baptizing as they went.  It didn’t take long for them to start viewing baptism as essential for getting the Holy Spirit, and that false perception remains very popular in Christian circles today.  But if you look closer at the accounts in Acts, you’ll find that the same external behaviors that the Jews took as a sign that someone was getting the Holy Spirit would sometimes occur after baptism, sometimes before, and sometimes not at all. You’ll also notice that in all of His preaching, Jesus never said baptism was essential to salvation, nor does He mention it in Revelation.  Consider what a major theme devotion to God is in Revelation, it’s quite interesting to note the absence of any rituals.  In Revelation, Jesus never chides believers for skipping Communion or not attending church or not getting baptized.  It’s only the early apostles who we find making a huge deal out of rituals, and condemning those who fail to put on outward displays of caring about God.  As humans, the early apostles were judging others by their behaviors, and pressuring people to live up to their personal definitions of a “true believer.”  James rails at people for showing favoritism.  John says anyone who disagrees with him is a child of the devil (see Spiritual Discernment According to John).  Paul orders his followers to strive to imitate him in life (see Applying 1 Corinthians 4: Paul is Da Man).  The author of Hebrews tells his people they need to not skip church (see Fellowship In Perspective).

If Peter was doing it right, then he would have baptized his little heart out during his personal time of serving as one of God’s preachers.  His motivation for baptizing would have been to please Christ by doing what Christ specifically told Peter to do.  But when he met some young guy who felt on fire to evangelize as well, then instead of saying, “Do what I do,” Peter would say, “Be sure to obey God’s conviction in your own life and be open to Him leading you in a different way than He did me.  After all, our God has a long history of changing things up.”

Today Christians are using Jesus’ specific instructions to eleven men as an excuse to say that all preachers and evangelists must baptize.  In other words, there’s only one style that’s “right.”  God can’t possibly change things up.  We all have to cling to outdated traditions and rituals that were only ever given to Old Covenant Jews.  See the problem?  And while we’re busy ignoring God and acting like the opinions of other humans are the only things that matter, we’re getting all stressed out when those other humans hassle us for not participating in a bunch of meaningless rituals which they have decided are important.

So then, who is it you’re living to please?  A bunch of dead apostles? Certain Christians who are in your life today?  It’s time to stop living for humans and start living to please your Creators instead.  Your Gods already know exactly how you feel about Them.  If They’re telling you to change your attitude towards Them in some area, or if They’re convicting you to do something specific, then listen and obey.  If They’re not convicting you of anything, then be content with that and stop trying to control the way other humans view you.  Rituals are done for the benefit of humans, but they hold no eternal value.  It is only God’s opinion that matters, and He doesn’t need you to help Him understand the true desires of your soul.

FURTHER READING:
Salvation Q&A
All About Tithing
Speaking in Tongues
The Laying On of Hands
Guidance for Serious Catholics: What does God think about Lent?
Rethinking Your Christian Rituals
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them

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