We had a great Sunday. Seven people were baptized. I know, I know, if you are at a mega-church then seven baptisms is just another day. Maybe a slow day. On the other hand, anytime someone accepts Christ it’s a great day, whether it be seven, or just one. The Bible does say that heaven rejoices when just one sinner repents, and at our church, it’s a big deal. We work at it and God has blessed the work. On average, we see 1 salvation for every 10 members each year, which is a little better than the 1 for every 100 that is the nationwide average. I think any Christian church could do this, honestly because it’s the same God… But I digress.
This week the baptisms were the after-effects from an evangelistic drama called “The Battle: The End is Coming.” The Battle presents scenes of life and death-heaven and hell. We use video, music, special effects, even pyrotechnics. (yeah, actual fire!) Did we scare people into being saved? Well, the idea of standing before God can be a little scary. Or a lot scary. So probably. There were a total of 25 decisions that we know of this year. Awesome stuff. You should have seen the smiles on faces when people came out of the water on Sunday. There’s really not a much better feeling anywhere in my opinion.
So here’s the thing, with so many baptisms, we geared the entire worship service around them. Plus, family members attended for the main purpose of witnessing the event and taking pictures. Do we allow pictures in a Worship Service? Why yes we do. That’s how we roll. And these families, plus many people in the congregation, have diverse backgrounds in what baptism is all about, and how a church “saves” people.
I did the scary thing and actually talked about the meaning and purpose of baptism. Yes I know that sounds mundane, but in reality it’s like poking a badger. Some of you who don’t attend church or don’t believe in God may not realize how divisive the subject of baptism or the method of salvation can be in churches. Trust me, it’s one of the worst. Baptist churches and Christian Churches primarily split over this very issue, and both oppose the practice of infant baptism in the Methodists, Presbyterians or Lutherans. The Catholics and some Baptist churches won’t even count your baptism if it happened in one of the other groups, and some Christian/Church of Christ’s won’t count your baptism if you didn’t have a “correct” belief about it when you were baptized. And that’s just the beginning, but honestly, I don’t want to go there. I don’t care. Fact is, we argue over stuff like this too much, and make it too complicated.
I said that last sentence on Sunday, and I truly believe it. In the early church there weren’t any Confirmation Classes yet, and no one had thought of a Sinner’s Prayer yet. There is nothing wrong with either by the way. Confirmation Classes are a great way of making disciples by teaching the foundational truths of the Gospel, and a Sinner’s Prayer is a prayer of repentance and turning toward God, much like the thief on the cross did when he appealed to Jesus for mercy. Nevertheless, neither are required. No one in the Bible ever got “saved” by attending class or saying a repeat-after-me prayer. It’s not the act of praying or going to class that does the trick, it’s a heart that puts faith in Christ that matters.
Hmmm… I like that last line. Wish I’d thought of that yesterday.
The same is true, really, for baptism. It’s not the act itself. It’s not magic water or anything. God could have said to throw sand on our heads and we’d do that instead. There’d be a big pile of sand where the baptistery now sits, and we’d have to make especially sure a cat never entered the building…
But Jesus did say to baptize in water so that’s what we do, and baptism expresses on the outside, the decision you made on the inside. For the Jews, even before Jesus or John the Baptist showed up, baptism was a ritual that meant you were starting brand new, that you were leaving behind your old life, washing away the sin of the past, and starting a new life with God. That’s how they used it. That’s how Jesus and John the Baptist used it. And on the day of Pentecost, this outward expression of starting a new life with God, took on added meaning because it now included the promise that God would go with you.
Catching the end of the message preached by Peter, it reads:
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.-Acts 2:37-39
For the church in the beginning, baptism was what you did on the outside, after you had made the decision on the inside to believe in Jesus. They didn’t have Sinner’s Prayers yet, and they didn’t have Confirmation Classes, and for them, baptism wasn’t about joining a particular church (there weren’t any particular churches) and it wasn’t a mere ritual. It was simply how you expressed your faith. It was what you did, when you made the decision that your life was going to belong to Jesus from then on.
Or like Paul wrote:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.-Galatians 3:26-27
So I do think we make it too complicated. We argue over when is the exact moment a person is saved, or when is the exact moment a person receives the Holy Spirit, or what are the exact words you should say when being baptized…
When instead I think we should just use it. In the beginning, when someone wanted to get saved they put their faith in Jesus and they got baptized into Christ. And it wasn’t the act of baptism that was important (in and of itself), it was what baptism meant between them and God. They were leaving behind the old life, and starting a new one.
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.-Romans 6:4
Pretty cool stuff really when we don’t surround it with too much tradition.