Baptism...a new look at an old subject.

by Chariklo 11 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Chariklo

    Fresh onto the forum this morning, I found a post on another thread where whether or not someone is/was baptised was being discussed, and it made me think.

    I am in the process of radically re-appraising my attitude to religion and all things spiritual, and realised that this must include baptism.

    Here in the UK baptism most of the population traditionally used to think of baptism as christening, and it was a kind of official recognising that a new baby was here. The christening in church, white shawl for the baby, best clothes, family gathering and teaparty, godparents giving presents to the baby, often the starting of a bank savings account...all of that together comprised the baby's christening, and in many cases would be the last the child saw of the inside of a church until the wedding day, and then years ahead the funeral. Hatch, match and dispatch.

    Baptism is seen and recognised as a sacrament, with a power in and of itself. There is intention that the child should live according to Christ's teachings, and the godparents make promises on behalf of the child, but the very sacrament is seen as having an inherent power..

    Then, for those more closely involved in a church or chapel, christening/baptism was more of a reception into God's family. This didn't imply on the whole that anyone really thought that those not baptised were not in some sense part of God's wider family. That thought was never really discussed. But for church/chapel-goers it would be part of a lifelong membership of church or chapel.

    For Catholics, baptism was always important, because the teaching was that if an unbaptised baby died it went to limbo, a kind of nowhere. That teaching went out at the time of the Second Vatican Council, but is still widely believed. It results in what was the norm for many centuries, baptism as soon as possible after birth, and if the child was sickly and not likely to survive it might even take place within minutes of birth. That is still the case, and in fact both Anglicans and Catholics recognise that anyone can baptise, midwife, family member, whoever. All that's necessary for it to be "valid" are the use of water, the intention to baptise, and that it be done in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    For Baptists and some other denominations, including Jehovah's Witnesses, infant baptism is taboo. They believe that to be baptised or not must be an informed and therefore adult personal choice. I am not clear in my mind exactly how, therefore, Baptists view the significance and implications of baptism. Do they see it as entry into God's family? Do they see it as an outward act of personal dedication and commitment? I don't know.

    Jehovah's Witnesses, it seems to me, rightly or wrongly, take their understanding of baptism one stage further away from a sacrament. For them (I am open to correction) it is not only an outward and very public declaration of intent to follow Christ's teachings, it is to follow those teachings as JW's understand them, and that means to accept formally the Watchtower as the only channel of God's communication with humans, and to submit totally to the jurisdiction of what is in essence a society and corporate business. Do I have that right? Baptism takes place with water and a form of words that satisfies Jesus' instructions, carefully making sure that that interpretation doesn't involve any implied understanding of the Trinity.

    What exactly is a JW baptism? Is it membership of God's family? Of a human society? It is certainly exclusive. The JW baptised believe that the deliberately unbaptised have chosen everlasting perdition. A JW baptism can carry no sense of protection from evil, since they’re so terrified of demons. And their baptism seems to imply inherent submission to JW judicial and punitive procedures. It is almost hard to see it as anything spiritual at all.

    So, I am now wondering, exactly what is baptism? Teachings go from what, to me, is inherently a very spiritual thing (setting aside for the moment exactly what the word spiritual means) to, at the other end of the spectrum, the Jehovah’s Witness baptism which seems almost to be a legalistic entry into a judicial system. If you’re good, i.e. do as you’re told and never, ever think for yourself, you don’t come up against the judicial side and you get benefits. If you stray from the hard line you suffer. That sounds rather more like a protection racket.

    Maybe I’m being unfair to JW’s, and I’ll be pleased to be further enlightened. But then, I am thinking of baptism in itself, across all self-declared Christian denominations. Other religions, e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, don’t have an equivalent of baptism. Or do they? Judaism has circumcision, but it isn’t baptism…or does it approximate to something similar?

    Baptism is different from the later rites of passage which are common to all religions in different forms, eg Bar-Mitzvah, and various rites of passage from childhood to adulthood. I am thinking specifically of baptism.

    I am hoping that through a wide-ranging discussion including all points of view we might hammer this question out. If anyone’s interested?

  • Ucantnome

    Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." (John 3:16 NIV)

    Paul in Corinthians said

    "all got baptized into Moses by means of the cloud and of the sea" (1 Cor 10:2 NWT)

    This would have included infants I think so I see nothing wrong with infant baptism.

    Peter mentioned the Ark which saved eight people from drowning and "was a type or figure of the facts of spiritual death, burial and resurrection," (Vines)

    In this baptism babies would have been on the ark if there had been any.

  • Captain Obvious
    Captain Obvious

    Very interesting take on the subject, Chariklo

    The JW claim is that the water baptism is a public declaration of the dedication of one's life to God. However, in JWspeak it means to promise to do the preaching work the way they want you to. The question about association with "God's bOrganization" came about more recently. Unfortunately in reality, like many facets of JWhood, it means more than they say... But don't you dare say it! An unbaptized person woudn't be subject to the same judicial procedures unless they truly wanted to be recognized as a JW. They could however, make the same "so and so is no longer recognized as one of Jehovah's witnesses" announcement and it would have the same effect.

    As far as the significance of the occasion, I think that if one were to put aside the attachment to the bOrg, it would have equal significance to a person who wants to serve God. Either way it is a very important decision for someone who intends to live up to it, organization or not. Which is why myself and many others feel strongly about allowing children and immature younger ones to get baptized just because they can answer the questions in the OM book. I think the feeling among JWs is that to them it is the RIGHT decision, so it doesnt matter if the person making it isn't old enough to fully understand the implications.

    Myself, I got baptized at 20 yrs old after being pestered about it by family and friends for years. I kept using the "Jesus didn't get baptized until he was 29"! Excuse. I could BARELY answer the questions in the OM book without help... Very poor instruction as a kid from my folks, and I had learned to tune out the meetings at a very yound age. I did not have the knowledge a person should have when making that decision, despite being a born-in. I had no interest in learning how to explain the doctrine, but there was a very pretty girl who I badly wanted to date (now my wife) and I had to get dipped to make it legit.

    Either way, NOBODY ever intentionally dedicated their life to a CULT. And for that reason I dont feel like any JW baptism is legitimate in light of it's actual purpose and significance. They have no business making association with any one group a condition on one's baptism.

  • Pistoff

    Especially since the vows changed in the mid 80's, baptism among Jehovah's Witnesses is considered an outward symbol of an internal event, dedicating one's life to God Jehovah.

    In reality Witness baptism is a social contract that is unbreakable, and is encouraged for those who are too young to enter into any other legal contract. The majority of most baptized now are under 18, the legal age in the US. The record of your contract with the 'organization' is kept forever, on paper, with the local congregation and with the worldwide headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    It is a rite of passage for all witnesses; without baptism, you are not part of the community and are regarded skeptically.

    This is the problem for young witnesses, even preteen witnesses; you must be baptized to fit in, and to please your parents, but baptism means that you have chosen to be a Witness for life before you ever can get perspective on who they are or what they teach. (Interestingly, the Society discourages major decisions like marriage until one is much older.)

    The punishing social nature of Witness baptism should be illegal, or at the very least the reality of what baptism will bring should be provided for those who consider it.

    From baptism on, regardless of age, one can be removed from the community of Jehovah's Witnesses for perceived or real mistakes or for attitude, with no recourse in a real court of law. The decision about your mistakes will be made by those who know you, and may or may not be biased against you.

    Even worse, it can be announced that you have removed yourself if they find that or decide that you have taken blood or voted.

    Witness baptism has nothing to do with faith, an internal process, and everything to do with social acceptance, peer pressure and legality.

  • Bobcat

    I can confirm what Captain Obvious and Pistoff said. There is a 'public Watchtower position' on baptism, and there is the 'mostly unspoken reality' of what baptism means to the WT Society.

    In the Bible (NT) you see examples of fairly private baptisms, sometimes on the spur of the moment, as it were. There are also mass baptisms. There are no minor baptisms mentioned or alluded to that I can think of, but no specific rule against them either. Baptism was done at the command of, and following the example of, Jesus.

    Circumcision somewhat compares with baptism in its relationship with the Mosaic Law code. But there are differences that don't allow strict comparison. The whole Jewish nation was dedicated to God. Therefore infant circumcisions were the norm. Whereas, under the New Covenant 'knowing Jehovah' and 'having His law within their heart' were stipulated. (Jer 31:33) Similarly, being a Jew was a natural inheritence. Becoming a Christian involves accepting the preaching of other Christians first. That would seem to argue towards being careful about a young person with regard to baptism. Both circumcision and baptism were seen as requirements of being fully part of their respective communities.

    Curiosly, the WT does not accept non-WT baptisms. For example, a person baptized as a Baptist would be considered a non-baptized person to the WT. Their arguement would be that the former Baptist did not have accurate Bible knowledge when he got baptized in the Baptist church. Yet a Witness who was baptized, say, in the 1930s, his baptism would be valid despite the fact that witnesses of today have very different beliefs on many things. (I don't know if this rings true for other churches also.)

    Here is an example of what the posters above are saying about the WT's unspoken side of baptism:

    This paragraph is from the Bible Teach book, chapter 18 page 182 par. 21 (Baptism and Your Relationship With God)

    Let the coordinator of the body of elders of your congregation know that you want to get baptized. He will arrange for some elders to review with you a number of questions that cover the Bible's basic teachings. If these elders agree that you qualify, they will tell you that you can be baptized at the next opportunity.* A talk reviewing the meaning of baptism is usually given on such occasions. The speaker then invites all baptism candidates to answer two simple questions as one way to make a verbal "public declaration" of their faith.

    * Baptisms are a regular feature of annual assemblies and conventions held by Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Notice the last sentence of the paragraph:

    "The speaker then invites all baptism candidates to answer two simple questions as one way to make a verbal "public declaration" of their faith."

    This is what the JW student is taught. In reality, if the baptism candidate does not answer the questions, he is not qualified, and will not be, baptized. Answering the questions is a WT requirement.

    There is more. I oversaw the baptism department for many years at the Circuit and District level. One year (in the winter) the heater for the pool would not work. The pool was outside, and it was very cold that day. So, we approached the DO about putting the baptism off for later. We suggested, go ahead and give the baptism talk (which occurs just before lunch), but we'll have the baptism later when we can get the water warmed.

    The DO wouldn't hear of it. He gave a number of reasons which were meaningless (such as: 1st Cent. Christians didn't have warm water.) I was already a little flustered from trying to get the pool heater to work to no avail. So when he kept giving these useless explanations for why we had to freeze these people (some being very old), I kept brushing his explanations aside.

    Finally he told the truth. And he was very reluctant to do that. It was only because I kept pestering him. He said; 'The Society doesn't want alot of time to pass between the "Vows" (the word he used) and the baptism.

    If you don't grasp what that means, I'll explain it: When you join the military, they make you take an oath and then step across a line painted on the floor. The whole process includes the oath and the act of stepping across the line. Naturally, the more time there is between the oath and the step forward, raises the question about whether the first act (the oath) is related to the second act (the step forward). That is why the ones administering this process want both acts to occur, one after the other.

    What the WT is doing is, they are administering a legally binding oath, consisting of (1) the two questions and (2) the act of baptism. And they are doing this without telling the baptism candidates what they are doing.

    As many have commented (on other posts), the WT knows exactly what they are doing. The poor baptism candidate is led to believe he is simply following in Jesus' footsteps.

  • unclebruce

    Very interesting Bobcat. Thankyou.

  • Bobcat

    Thank you Uncle Bruce. I could have added alot more to my previous post but it was already getting a little long.

    Some more that galls me:

    It says:

    "Two simple questions," when in fact they are very carefully worded or contrived by the WT.

    "As one way to make a verbal declaration of faith," as if the candidate could choose some other way.

    "A talk reviewing the meaning of baptism is usually given on such occasions." When was that ever not the case?

    "You can be baptized at the next opportunity.*" (and see footnote) As if one's baptism just happened to coincide with an assembly or convention. How convenient is that!

    Everything about this gives the appearance of being crafted by pathological liars.

  • mind blown
    mind blown


    Great insights everyone, makes one think

  • kurtbethel

    During my studies, I asked questions about baptism, JW style. One of the things I asked was if someone had been baptised in a scriptural manner, in the name of Father, Son, Holy spirit, whould they have to get baptised again to be a JW. I was told they would. My follow up was that one would have to revoke their baptism and belief and dedication to God and Jesus in order to get baptised again, otherwise they would be serving two masters. This caused considerable backpedaling which amounted to admitting that a scriptural baptism was not recognized by the Watchtower, but an unscriptural one was.

  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    I raised an issue in the other thread that deeply interests me. It has to do with John the Baptist (Michael York is my St. John the Baptist actor). John did not use the Trinity formulation. Jesus was not baptised in the Trinity formulation. Many of John the Baptist's followers chose not to follow Christ at John's execution. I have no clue how John fit into Jewish thought. From the gospels, it appears that there were many connections between the movements. Even John's followers who did not embrace Christ were welcomed by Jesus, who was deeply interested.

    I wish the gospel writers had explained why if Jesus' baptism was so public and John said he was not worthy and acknowledged Jesus as the greater, all John's followers should have followed Christ from the moment of baptism, not execution.

    John's baptism appears to be very different from Christian baptism. No Christology was formulated yet. It only makes sense if you accept Christology and impose it on an earlier time.

    My mom was adamant that adult baptism should occur at 35. The consequences of baptism were emotinal and no young teen could comprehend it. Now I read that 8 year olds are baptized. Justitia also posted a court case where a 16 year old with both bioloigcal parents opposed was allowed to die by refusing a transfusion. I do believe that some teens are quasi adults b/c of hardship. Death is so final and being 16 is not grown up and mature in our culture. Erik Erikson wrote of prolonged adolesence a long time ago. Also, baptism has NO legal force. It is not a contract.

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