Reading Barth Backwards: IV/4, Baptism with Water

After a section on Baptism with the Holy Spirit – which Barth equates with the divine action that makes possible faithfulness to God, and thus not to be equated with the Pentecostal Baptism with the Holy Spirit, Barth turns to a more lengthy discussion of baptism with water.

“Baptism with the Holy Spirit does not exclude baptism with water. It does not render it superfluous. Indeed, it makes it possible and demands it…

On the one side is the action of God in His address to man, and on the other, made possible and demanded thereby, the action of man in his turning towards God. On the one side is the Word and command of God expressed in His gift, on the other man’s obedience of faith required of him and to be rendered by him as a recipient of the divine gift. Without this unity of the two in their distinction there could be no Christian ethics.” (41)

For Barth, Christian ethics are to be found precisely at the point where the action of God comes together with the response of humanity, and thus it is fitting that Christian ethics should begin with water baptism.

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