Saturday, November 10, 2007

some thoughts on baptism (part 1)

A friend recently asked me about my thoughts on baptism, knowing that I was recently baptized as a step in becoming a member of my church, Grace Community Church. I grew up Methodist, as did he, and like myself was wrestling with some of the implications that went with the Methodist practices of baptism vs. your typical Baptist practices (and of course, the ultimate question includes scripture's view of baptism).

So here are some basic statements regarding these two views of baptism:
  1. Methodist's practice the concept of "infant baptism", which is to say, several months after a child is born within the church the baby is baptized via a public ceremony which generally involves the sprinkling of water over the baby's head and some words of dedication spoken by the pastor.
  2. Baptist's practice the concept of "believer's baptism" and is only viewed as official when the believer is baptized via full immersion
  3. Neither denomination claim that baptism is essential to salvation. Both view it as an important outward sign of dedication to the Christian faith and an integral part of our Christian heritage.
The truth is that I have wanted to fully unpack this subject for quite a while, and I get to rambling on these blog posts so I've decided to break the topic up into a few segments that I will post over the course of the next couple weeks. But to kick things off, below is a quick breakdown of my thoughts on baptism that ultimately led to my decision. I will support these statements in the posts to come...
  1. Baptism is not necessary for salvation
  2. Baptism is a powerful symbolic gesture that publicly indicates faith in Christ
  3. Baptism completely lacks meaning if it is received prior to making a conscious dedication of faith, therefore I fully support the concept of "believer's baptism"
  4. Baptism does nothing to "cleanse" children of original sin
  5. The Methodist standard for baptizing children is misguided and lacks a solid scriptural foundation and fails to capture the spirit for which baptism was originally intended
  6. Baptism is intended to symbolically capture the transformation that happens in salvation - death to oneself, and new life through Christ. Baptism by immersion captures this the best and I find the practice of "sprinkling" or "pouring" particularly lacking
  7. Baptism needs to be understood from a historical perspective - including both foundational Christian and Jewish thought - not just the perspective protestant denominational differences
  8. It is a church's own prerogative whether or not it requires baptism as part of church membership, and this is an acceptable practice
A few years ago, when I first started attending a Baptist church, I was actually offended to hear that I would need to be re-baptized if I intended to join the church as a member... as though my original Methodist baptism as a baby was not good enough. I put it off for a couple years, changed churches in the process, and after a lot of thought came to the conclusion that my theological upbringing had not given me a solid scriptural view of baptism.

Scripture treats baptism as a public declaration of faith, a symbolic gesture of the death of the sinful self and rebirth as a child of God, and the beginning of a life of ministry devoted towards God.

Since I was baptized as a baby I did not have the chance to make a public symbolic declaration of my faith as part of my eventual conversion experience. In retrospect, if I had my say when I was 6 months old I would have held off on my baptism until 10th grade which is when I made my first conscious decision to become a believer. That wasn't the case of course, so I found myself caught in this odd place where I had already been baptized, I had made a public declaration of faith multiple times later in life, and yet my original baptism did not stack up to the standards of Baptist church membership.

Ultimately I came to the personal conclusion that my original baptism lacked the symbolic meaning that I felt it should carry. It was little more than a dedication ceremony involving a handful of water and a few lines of recitation on the part of the congregation. And while my current church "required" that I be baptized according to their standards, I had come to the personal conclusion that those standards were more in line with what God originally intended and therefore I made the decision to be baptized again - as a believer, fully immersed, and grasping the full weight of the symbolic practice.

That's the topic in a nutshell, and I hope to dig into this a little further and explain some of my 8 statements above... it will be good for me personally, and for the purposes of discussion. And if you have any personal thoughts about those 8 statements, feel free to respond and start the discussion... it's certainly an interesting topic.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

hooray for 10th grade decisions about jesus.

not that this is necessarily biblical, but as i was reading, i thought - wouldnt it be awesome if, every time we came to a massive realization about a truth that jesus teaches, that you just run and jump in the nearest pool or lake - so like, you read something, realize that you get it! and believe it! and run and jump into a lake to say yeah! i believe it and stand for it!

i think that would be fun. again, not really realistic, or biblical as far as i know :)

seriously tho, way to go - keep processing it all, reading and reading to understand whatever can be learned from the bible.
i got rebaptized sept. 21 2003 - it was my mom's birthday, but she had no idea i was doing it [her and dad didnt really understand it]. afterward, someone warned me that after such a public declaration, hard times were bound to follow. i was shocked when that came true. so, keep a head up as well, with lots and lots of bible time. peace burns.