Home > Catechesis, Right Worship, Sermons > In the Name – Dr Scott Murray – Memorial Moments

In the Name – Dr Scott Murray – Memorial Moments

Psalm 8

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (ESV)

In the Name

Friday of Pentecost 5

18 July 2014

Some years ago, a missionary working in villages of Africa where Islam was making some incursions happened upon a community of people who were anxious to hear his proclamation of Christ. He preached and taught the people for some time. Since they received his preaching with joy, he suggested that they should be baptized into the triune name. Upon his mention of baptism, their joyous reception of his preaching came to a screeching halt. He asked them why they were reluctant to receive baptism into the Christ he had taught them. They patiently explained to him that they would have none of this baptism business until he fully explained what they were being baptized into. They told him that Muslim missionaries had been among them some years before and that they too offered a ritual washing to initiate them into Islam, to which they assented. But after being washed, only then did the Muslim missionaries reveal the full meaning of the religion into which they had been initiated. No, these people took baptism seriously and they understood that being baptized set them into the full religious universe of that into which they were baptized. They weren’t going to be tricked by a religious “bait and switch” again. Of course, the Christian missionary rejoiced to hear this and catechized these people into the full faith of our confession. The people were duly baptized into the triune name after being instructed and confessing the faith that they had been taught.

Baptism as a rite of religious cleansing is not new with Christianity. We know that the Jewish monastic community called Essenes performed multiple ritual cleansings, perhaps daily bathing as a sign of cleansing from sin. Jewish missionaries used a baptism to initiate whole families into the Jewish community when Gentiles were converted. This we call “Jewish proselyte baptism.” This baptism was the background of the command of Jesus to His disciples to “go and baptize” (Mt 28:19). Heretical Christian communities retained baptism, although they mean something quite different from the church when they name God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Even those religious communities that have specifically and intentionally rejected the holy Trinity still often “baptize” in some three-fold formula: “in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, etc.;” including even some Unitarians.

Unfortunately, old line Protestant churches in America are increasingly not only adopting baptismal formulas only heretics could endorse, but worse yet are teaching a doctrine of God that simply contradicts God’s self-revelation in Christ. It is quite jarring to hear a so-called Lutheran address prayer to “our mother,” and know full well that this prayer is not addressed to the mother of God, Mary, but to the deity who seems to be having “gender issues.” Does the baptismal formula then become “in the name of the father/mother, son/daughter, and spirit, and um, what have you”? Could we start calling God “LeBron”? Oh, wait, some people already are! If names don’t matter, then what’s the difference? We are so desperate to affirm every mania that we forget about God’s self-revelation in His eternal Son, Christ our Lord.

What would a trinitarian baptism mean in a church where the holy Trinity is not taught according to the divine self-revelation, but is rejected outright? If God could be addressed as “our mother,” as validly as our Father what does it mean if there is a baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” within such a context? Is that baptism valid? Do the words Father and Son morph into something else when used this way? God has graciously made Himself known by offering into our hands His name. In our wickedness and unbelief we have begun to call Him names that He has not given to us. God has graciously set His name into our hands in the rite of baptism. In the giving of His name He gives Himself and all His blessings. What right do we have to change it? If we do, will we lose Him and His blessings?

Athanasius of Alexandria

“If the consecration of baptism is given to us into the name of the Father and the Son, and the Arians do not confess a true Father, because they deny what is from Him and like His essence, and deny also the true Son, and name another of their own framing as created out of nothing like any other creature, is not the rite administered by them altogether empty and unprofitable, making a show, and in reality being no help towards religion? For the Arians do not baptize into Father and Son, but into Creator and creature, and into Maker and work. And as a creature is other than the Son, so the baptism, which is supposed to be given by them, is other than the truth, though they pretend to name the name of the Father and the Son, because of the words of Scripture. For not he who simply says, ‘O Lord,’ gives Baptism; but he who with the name also has the right faith. On this account therefore our Savior also did not simply command to baptize, but says, ‘Teach;’ then thus: ‘Baptize into the name of Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19-20); that the right faith might follow upon learning, and together with faith might come the consecration of baptism.

“There are many other heresies too, which use the words only, but not in a right sense, as I have said, nor with sound faith (2Ti 4:3; Tit 1:9), and in consequence the water which they administer is unprofitable, as deficient in piety, so that he who is sprinkled by them is polluted by irreligion rather than redeemed. So Gentiles also, though the name of God is on their lips, incur the charge of atheism, because they know not the real and true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Athanasius of Alexandria, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 2.42-43

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