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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Baptism: It should be more than just water

The church I visited today had a baptismal ceremony.

And as I've thought for a very long time now about the sacrament and is often the case, it was WAY too brief.

It was three people being baptised (I prefer that word with a lovely "s" rather than a jagged "z") and the entire ceremony lasted less than a minute and a half.

Were I a stranger to seeing such things... and there are MANY for whom the act of baptism WOULD be an alien spectacle... I would be absolutely bewildered at the brevity of so mystifying a ritual.  Clearly, some context is in order.  WHY would one subject himself or herself to being immersed in a vessel of water, before a cloud of witnesses?

I think we are depriving ourselves as the body of Christ when we reduce baptism to so few fleeting moments.

A baptism should be much more than a quick dunking in the baptistery (or the "cow trough" as it resembled at this particular congregation).  It should be a time of sharing with the spiritual family one is joining about what Christ has done in one's life to bring him or her to that moment.  It should be preceded by a minute or so of testimony by the candidate himself or herself, in their own words, expressing faith and gratitude and hope and... well, whatever it is that God might place on their heart to say.  

I am not alone in believing this.  Many churches in Great Britain, Canada, and Australia give each of their candidates for baptism several moments to address the congregation and speak of what God has done to bring them to have faith in Him, before being baptised.  It is a beautiful prelude to the act of baptism itself.

But in America the vast majority of the time, we don't do that.  Everything that God means to us comes down to a baptismal candidate merely muttering the word "yes" when asked if he or she is saved.  Maybe that suffices for some people and it's okay if it is.  But there are others who might have more they are led to say, and they are not afforded the opportunity to do that at the time when it would be most meaningful and appreciated.

Baptism in American churches has become like seemingly everything else in this land: fast and now.  And the body of Christ deprives itself of some nourishment when we treat this sacred act of obedience to God so.  It should be one of the common cords that bind us to one another and together, to the Lord we are pledging to serve as His bride.

That loses something precious when we reduce baptism to a quick plunge in the tank, without at least a few moments of testimony and gratitude for the body of believers to appreciate what God has done in the person's life... and to also be reminded to be thankful for their own salvation.

When I was in college at Elon, I attended a weekly worship service on campus.  It was a ministry of a nearby congregation.  There was a time of sharing and testimony around the beginning of each service.  A few moments of praise reports and prayer requests.  That was a very special time of worship, of drawing closer to Gods and each other.  I know that's not feasible for a larger congregation to manage during a single service (praise reports are often perhaps better suited for small groups), but testimony such as that edifies and encourages us as Christians.  It makes the act of worship something that more thoroughly fertilizes our faith, instead of simply showing up for an hour each week in the church sanctuary.

I can think of no better time of such sharing than those first few moments when one is about to scripturally become a vibrant and active member of the body of Christ on this earth.

It's NOT simply about joining a local body of believers.  Baptism is the ceremony that formally connects us to two millennia of believers, as well as to all of those who will come after us.

That merits more than a momentary getting oneself wet and nothing more than that.

Just something I'm feeling led to share this afternoon, for consideration by my brothers and sisters in Christ.


Thalia said...

Chris, longtime reader and first time caller as they say. You haven't written an essay like this one in a long time, that I can recall. You are a beautiful writer and you say a lot of things that need to be said in this one. I would challenge you to write more like this. This is your real calling. I know it's fun to show off your AI art and about Doctor Who but you can be so much greater. You just turned 50, that is a remarkable thing to reach that milestone. You've come a very long way and you're going to go further still. Thank you for sharing your world with us, it is an amazing adventure =)

Stosh said...

Hi Chris! Some churches here do allow for baptismal testimonies. They even video record them to play on the screen before the person is baptized. I agree it should be a part of the experience for the one baptized and for the church's edification, as you put it.

Chris Knight said...

Greetings Thalia and Stosh! Thalia yours is a BEAUTIFUL name. I've never heard of that one before. I may have to use it someplace :-)

Stosh, I visited a church that does that. It really is something that more churches should do. Ideally they all should. We are all ministers of Christ, each of us brings something to the table He has set before us. The stories we can share with each other and with those beyond the body of Christ are powerful. Some churches post the videos of their new members giving their testimonies on the congregation's websites. Other churches should consider doing that too.

I don't know if anyone will take it seriously, but the story of how I came to have faith in God.. and how I lost it for a long time before finding it again... is part of the book I'm writing. If even a handful of people go away from reading my testimony as changed for the better for it it will make all the work of writing this worth it.