Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 29:19-20

Almost any religion you can think of (especially old ones) has a form of ritual washing. The idea of the symbolic cleansing of the body being a stand in for the cleansing of the soul is almost a cliche from an anthropological point of view. But let’s consider what makes the immersion (baptism) that Jesus taught different.

First, it is passive. One must be baptized, as even Jesus himself was. This has the effect of making a community of two, the smallest viable gathering (church) possible for basically anyone, anywhere. It also means no one can claim autonomy over their own spiritual practice. You need a church, the Church, to be a disciple.

Second, it initiates our education. How? We can see in the text that apostles made disciples, students. Students must be capable of learning and of the appropriate age to understand the obedience required of them. What better way to start learning than to wash off everything that would hold us back?

Finally, baptism has a dedication. It is done to dedicate oneself, yes, but it is done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is dedicated to God. Whereas washing, even in the Old Testament, was a prayerful or worship act, the invocation of the names of the persons of God are not mere invocations or some kind of magic spell. They are a mark of authority from God. The baptism was a sign of his rule over the baptized.

When we are washed in baptism, we truly take part in a universal, yet singular experience. Something as basic as to be expected, yet totally unique to God’s people.

Ethan Kirl