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Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.


About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (ESV)

A Little Fishy

St. James the Elder, Apostle

25 July 2014

The congregation I serve has far more baptisms than funerals; bucking a common trend in our church body. Among those baptisms, we are baptizing more adults than ever before. Some of the adults are being baptized because their parents neglected to have them baptized as children, some because they were brought up in a church that rejected baptism as a gift of God to all persons, some because they have recently been converted to Christ. It is an exciting day in the life of the church when people are being brought, wet with baptism, into the life and death of Christ.


In the ancient church the majority of the faithful were baptized as adults. Until recently the majority of those baptized by the contemporary church were infants and small children. That is beginning to change. The forms that my parish used to document information for baptismal records requested, "Child's Name." for the person being baptized. This is at least confusing to the increasing numbers of adults who are being baptized by the church in these latter days (despite the fact that we are all baptized into the community to become God's children), so the form was changed. Our mission is not different in these days than in ancient times; to preach and baptize. We are called to lead people into the water of life. Jesus Christ is our Savior as He was the Savior of the ancient faithful.


In the ancient times, congregational security was important to the Christian churches. No, the TSA did not stand at the doors of the church gatherings with metal detectors, wanding suspicious looking matrons. But the ancient faithful did have to be concerned about the possibility that government agents would infiltrate their fellowships. Such infiltrators could be deadly. The Roman government occasionally perpetrated fits of bloody persecution against the ancient Christians. To support congregational security Christians adopted symbols that were recognizable to the faithful, but innocuous or meaningless to those who were not. The most enduring of those signs was, of course, the fish. The Greek word for fish was Ichthus (we have the scientific term for the study of fish, that comes from it: ichthyology). The letters of the word formed an anagram, which gave the first letters of this phrase: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." Oh, that's why all those SUVs have fish stuck on the back of them! 


The church I serve commissioned a new glass baptismal bowl, which includes the image of little fish on the rim of the bowl (see above). Fish live as long as they stay in the water. The baptized are placed into the life and death of Christ in such a way that God's Son becomes for them a Savior. The fish spawns little fish through the water of baptism. If we are becoming fish in baptism, then to neglect it or to speak against it is tantamount to extracting fish from the water. Death ensues. The orthodox church still proclaims the benefits and blessings of happy baptism so that those who are spawned in the water of life might always live by it and in it. That way we are all a little fishy. 




"Happy is our sacrament of water, because, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only those who are just becoming formed in the faith, but also those who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry in their minds through ignorance an untried though apparent faith. The consequence is that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism. This is quite in accordance with nature; for vipers and asps and serpents generally inhabit arid and waterless places. But we, little fish, after the example of our 'Ichthus' Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor are we safe in any other way than by permanently abiding in water; so that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fish, by taking them away from the water!"


Tertullian, On Baptism, 1
Collect for St. James the Elder, Apostle

O gracious God, Your servant and apostle James was the first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ.  Pour out upon the leaders of Your Church that spirit of self-denying service that they may forsake all false and passing allurements and follow Christ alone, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


For the catechumens of Memorial Lutheran Church, as they await holy baptism, that Christ would watch over their faith as they prepare to confess Him as their Savior


For Pastor Elmer Hohle, that he would kept in the gracious care of his heavenly Father


For Bud Obert, that Jesus would watch over his life
Picture: Courtesy of Martha Fredenburg

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057