18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. – Matthew 28:18-20
There’s something I’ve had on my mind for quite some time, and that is the subject of baptism.
To get right to the heart of things first I guess I’ll share my own baptism “experience”, which happened when I was around the age of ten or eleven; it was June 21, 2004–if I’m remembering the date right (I lost my cute little baptism card that they gave me afterward–gasp! I know)
Now here’s a little background on that period of my life: I was so unbelievably full of myself. I don’t mean I was conceited or stuck-up (well, I might have been) but I mean I thought that as far as my life was concerned, I was it; it was all up to me and God was the bar (to borrow a term from my good friend Caralyn 😉 ) I never would’ve thought it then in so many words, but I was raised in church for performance and hard work and I thought that having read through the New Testament twice by the age of eleven was a pretty good one-up on my peers–okay yeah you’re right, I was just a little conceited. I’ve said this before but one day I read Galatians for the first time and I honestly thought Paul had a screw loose because he said being a Christian wasn’t about performance; I just couldn’t compute the idea that it didn’t really have anything to do with whether I did “good” things or “bad”.
I can’t pin-point exactly when it started, but it was around this same time that I started to develop an addiction first to masturbation and later on to pornography. What I can pin-point is the memory of the night that started it all after I saw some soft-core pornographic content in a movie that was probably only rated PG–wow; from PG to R’s and XXX’s. But that’s another story. What I do know is that I was deep enough into some pretty self-satisfying behaviors by the time baptism was brought up to me as a possibility.
So I said yes.
Of course I did; after all, I’m just a kid trying to get to heaven and I have this habit going on that I don’t even know if it’s right or wrong or just okay but I’m so scared that it’s going to keep me on the ground when that day comes. So of course I’ll safe-guard myself. Funny how my logic went from performance to just get baptized and you’ll be safe.
And you know, I’m not here to judge, not even my past self. He did a lot of things that I would rather he hadn’t, but he still got me here. That’s actually something that has taken me a long time to be able to say.
So on to my baptism.
I was baptized in a lake on (I believe) a Sunday afternoon. Dunk, surrounded by a bunch of women praying over me, done. It rained and thundered after. I was purposely baptized by a pastor not belonging to my family’s denomination so that church politics didn’t get involved.
So? What’s the big deal?
Because of my motives, I didn’t feel at peace about my baptism; I never did, first because no matter how much I reminded myself that I was “definitely saved” now, I had absolutely no assurance of that, and secondly because getting baptized didn’t magically give me power and control over the hormones that were ruling me. God was still the bar (and by that I mean I made being exactly like Jesus and doing exactly what he would do into my personal occupation) and I went deeper into the depths of loneliness and depression as the claws of my own sexuality held me tighter and tighter. But this isn’t just another history lesson.
But as you might imagine, I’ve had a lot to think about. For a long time I wanted to be re-baptized because I didn’t feel like that first one was enough. I’ve since (but only recently) come to terms–I think–with my own baptism, and I don’t feel any more desire to be dunked under again.
But with that out of the way my thought began shifting from, ‘should I be re-baptized?’ to ‘what qualification do I need to baptize people?’ I mean, isn’t that ultimately what we’re supposed to be doing as Christians? So why is it that so few Christians are actually preaching the gospel and baptizing people into the death and resurrection life of Jesus? I suppose it all started with my wife’s desire to be re-baptized and the suggestion that I could do it. Well my instant response of course was, ‘Oh but I can’t’… well, why not? I help lead and mentor a group of teens–if one of them wants to get baptized then shouldn’t I be the first to take them down into the waters? Just where did this idea come from that Christians have to have some kind of credential to baptize?
So I started digging around a while back and honestly it was a little inconclusive. I wanted to find something to say just when the disciples started baptizing people, but the gospels only mention Jesus (or his disciples) baptizing briefly. John notes that Jesus wasn’t baptizing but that his disciples were doing it all.
And then of course we have Jesus’ commission to the twelve disciples–the first place I ever read it was in Matthew 10; Jesus gives them power to heal and cast out demons and he says to them, “Freely you have received; freely give.” [Matthew 10:8] Heal the sick, cleanse the leper, raise the dead, cast out devils, and tell everyone the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Does that make you feel totally useless too or is that just me? Honestly I read that and I think, “Well who cares if anyone thinks you should be some spiritual superstar to baptize people–the Kingdom is at hand, this job is urgent!” And the disciples weren’t even superstars yet, but they went out and miracles became their norm.
I know it doesn’t have anything specific to say about it there but that just kind of blows the whole baptism question right out of the water for me.
And it’s not like I don’t know what it’s all about either. I’ll save the theological lesson for another time but baptism is just a symbol that a person publicly accepts 1) Jesus’ death and resurrection for them and join with him in them as symbolized by the baptism itself and 2) that they are a sinner and don’t want to be and accept Jesus as Lord. And then it’s open-season on their lives for the Holy Spirit’s baptism in fire. I didn’t really understand any of that when I was baptized but now all I want to do is show people what it all really is about and give anyone who might want it the opportunity to be baptized. I mean, Phillip just met some Ethiopian guy along the road and ended up baptizing the guy right there on the way for crying out loud, so why don’t we have more stories like that to share? Could it be because we’re too concerned about credentials and denominational memberships and making sure people follow our lead on their new Christian lives rather than Christ’s lead for them? “No, Joe, that wheat goes in our barn … ” Something to think about. The workers are few; I don’t think Jesus sent his disciples to seminary before he let them start dunking people.
And just another thing: when did baptism become such a ceremonious thing? I mean, look at the early church. Three thousand were added to the church in a day–somehow I don’t think there was time for one-hundred twenty believers to make a big show out of baptizing three thousand people. Philip just did it right along the roadside. I mean, sure, say the right things (and who’s to say you have to say anything?), make sure you do it for the right reasons, you’re helping an orphan make good on a royal family adoption here–but you’re helping an orphan for crying out loud – let their “yes” to God be “yes” and dunk that poor soul.
So how can I conclude? I’m going to tell people about the Kingdom of Heaven, I’m going to heal the sick, cast out demons. I might need some discipleship from Jesus, and I definitely need some help from Holy Spirit now that he is growing these Kingdom desires in me, but by golly I’m going to announce that Kingdom. And maybe, I’ll baptize, too.
Jesus… the harvest is great and the workers truly are few. I can hardly believe the intensity of this desire you’ve put in me to baptize and lead people into your life and it excites me so much. Continue to teach me more so that you in me will be an effective witness.
I know, I haven’t posted anything in a while and it’s a little rough getting back into it 😉 bear with me. In the meantime, why don’t you share your thoughts or tell me about your baptism ‘experience’ in the comments section below!