Talking About Baptism in a Room Full of Diverse Backgrounds

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.

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9 thoughts on “Talking About Baptism in a Room Full of Diverse Backgrounds

  1. I believe that baptism is important. I feel that it shows the people around me my decision to give my life to Christ. The question I have is…is it mandatory to get baptized in order to go to heaven? There are so many different opinions on this subject so I don’t know what to believe. Part of me doesn’t want to believe that I have to do it in order to see Him one day. Then I wonder…what’s the point of getting saved. beforehand? If it’s an outward show of your commitment how can that be mandatory? I. understand that we should get baptized because we should follow in Christ’s footsteps but does that mean we will be condemned if we don’t? I was following His word before I was baptized. I think part of it is someone telling me what I’m doing is never going to be enough until I’m baptized. Doesn’t Jesus know my heart? Are there exceptions? Or is it a strict rule that cannot be changed?

  2. Getting baptized is a command by Jesus so in that sense, it is necessary. But so is loving your neighbor, because that is also a command. A big one. There are commands we try to obey because we have chosen to follow Christ, and in the Bible, baptism is one of those commands. It is the way given in the Bible for people to “officially” and “outwardly” unite themselves with Christ. Over the years, churches have replaced it, changed it, dismissed it, debated it, added traditions, etc… So it does get confusing I agree.

    It’s God’s grace through your faith that saves you. Of course, it’s your faith that leads you to obey God, to turn to Him, and baptism is an outward part of that. Can God forgive our sins without water? Can God save a person when they haven’t been baptized yet? Can God give the Holy Spirit before they are baptized? Sure. He HAS made those exceptions-in the Bible. He’s not bound by water. He’s God. As a pastor told me today, you can stop the sentence after the word “can”. God can. Of course He can. He’s God.

    But we get baptized because He told us to, and because of the deep and meaningful truths it represents. God doesn’t need it, but He chose to use it. Were you saved before, was baptism necessary? Well I believe you when you say you were following God. 🙂 Of course, anytime God leads us to take that next step, or obey that next command, etc… we should just keep following God. For some people, like Cornelius who was following God in Acts 10.. that meant getting baptized into Christ. It was the next step for him.

    Plus, I think God is doing something real when a person gets baptized into Christ, I really do. Acts 2:38 said to repent (turn to God) and be baptized and we would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. SINCE Baptism has always meant leaving behind your previous way of life, and starting a new one, and SINCE God commanded us to be baptized, I think it’s safe to say God honors our decision, and honors our faith when we are baptized.

  3. It helps so much. I felt great knowing I was choosing to follow Christ in baptism. Having people say I HAVE to makes me feel that I lose out on my free choice to follow him. Isn’t that what He wants from me…to come to Him willingly?! I wanted to obey Him because I felt it in my heart.

  4. Great testimony cousin. Let me share one. The last Sunday of the month in our church in Togiak, we have Singspiration. People get up and present a testimony in song. Some are formal numbers, some not so much. Yesterday, an 80+ year old lady got up. We didn’t know what she had in mind. At the podium she reached into her pocket and pulled out an harmonica. She played an old gospel number on the harmonica and it was great. Then she tried to sing it, but her voice just didn’t have it. But she kept singing, best as she could. And one by one the rest of us were singing along. Once the whole congregation got up to full volume, she quit trying to sing, and returned to playing her harmonica.

    Her witness was clear. Half of us were crying when the song was over.

  5. Hi, Brian, just happened to stumble on your blog. I teach courses in Philosophy, Religion, and Ethics. Just so you know, from the Catholic Church’s perspective, if an individual has been baptized with water in the name of the Trinity, with a belief in the Trinity, then that Baptism is recognized as valid–regardless of the age the person was baptized, or the church/minister/layperson that performed the Baptism.

  6. ActUally you are incorrect about Catholics and baptism. We accept the baptism of any Christian denomination. ‘I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins…’ it is in both the creed an the catechism.

  7. I believe there is so much more to the life of the repentant thief on the cross named St Dismas according to history documentation. Being the only one promised to see paradise on the day of the Lord’s crucification even out of the 12 discipes, there must of been other notable decisions in St Dismas’s life. He is a perfect example that it is never too late to get saved, even in our darkest hour.

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