TTATB4: Baptism

Ok–see the disclaimer in my “About” section before you get too far into this post…

I had a long talk with one of my favorite _______ college students at church yesterday.  She had reneged on her plan to be baptized last week and wanted to explain herself to a staff member.  Figuring I would be the least disappointed of the staff members, she talked to me.

I am more honored by her than I can say, but that’s for another post.

Here’s her story:  my friend was baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian church, raised in the knowledge of the Lord, and has been a vital part of ______’s College Ministry since coming to Knoxville to attend UT.  She was part of my team during last year’s Trinidad trip (see my post about the trip here) and is a tireless laborer who has been caught up with “missions fever.”

She agreed to be baptized in the first place because she wanted to participate in the Southern Baptist Journeyman program (a two-year overseas missions commitment).  To participate in any SBC missions program, she has to be a member of an SBC church, and to be a member on an SBC church, she has to be “properly” baptized.

But here’s the kicker:  in order to be “properly” baptized she has to break her parents’ hearts by embracing a conceptualization of baptism that sometimes implicitly and often explicitly denigrates other forms and practices as unbiblical and illegitimate.  You see, it’s never been enough for Baptists to simply say, “We’re going to practice the ritual this way because this reflects our best (albiet flawed) current understanding of the intent of scripture.”  Baptists compulsively extend their opinions to positions of exclusivity:  “We’re going to practice the ritual this way because we’re being ‘biblical.’  If you don’t do it like we do, you must not be as ‘biblical’ as we are.  Your experience is deficient, and must be corrected.”

Resistance is futile.  Prepare to be assimilated.

She’s almost willing to jump through the hoop just so that she can do the Journeyman thing, but she’s not willing to reject and spit upon an event in her spiritual journey that has loads of legitimate meaning for her and for her family.  She’s catching it from authority figures at ________ and from her peers imploring her to obey the “clear command of Christ to be baptized.”  But when it came down to it, she said “no, thank you.”

And she’s right.  I’m very proud of her.  I’m not a little angry at the position into which she’s been put.

It’s happened a couple of times now, where a baptismal candidate at _______ will be filming his or her testimony video and will answer the “Why do you want to be baptized?” question with some form of “I’m being baptized because the bible says that’s what Christians are supposed to do.”  I always have to resist the urge to stop the taping at that point and ask the candidate to either come up with a better reason or come back later when they’ve figured it out and really want to do it.  “I’m doing this because I’m supposed to” is not exactly inspirational or motivational.  Or even biblical, for that matter.

So here’s my Baptism Manifesto:

  1. Churches are free to define their membership however they want to.  If a church wants her inductees to sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in Pig Latin in front of the membership and charge them a monthly service fee, then they have that right.  Asking someone to be baptized in order to be a church member is not out of order.  Insisting that someone be baptized in order to be considered an obedient follower of Jesus is out of order in the most obnoxious way.
  2. Jesus’ commands for his disciples are two:  Love God and love your neighbor.  Nowhere does Jesus command converts to be baptized.  Read the Great Commission again slowly a couple of times, and you’ll see that if anything, his instruction is directed at his current followers, not the newbies they would convert (“go and baptize” is different from “be baptized”).  Even then, it’s debatable whether or not Jesus even had a water purification ceremony in mind when he said, “make disciples, immersing them into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
  3. Water purification ceremonies have different meanings at different times and contexts.  John the Baptiser used the ceremony for people repenting of sin.  The Jews used the ceremony to signify the ending of a woman’s menstration period.  Some Christians use the ceremony to signify the parent’s intent to raise their child in the knowledge of the Lord.  Other Christians use the ceremony to mark a convert’s decision to follow Christ.
  4. Infant baptism is a different ritual than is believer’s baptism.  The two rituals are intended to accomplish two different things.  Both rituals are legitimate ways to express different legitimate realities.  No one should have to reject one in order to embrace the other.  Why can’t we have both expressions in the same church?  Why not embrace and incorporate the best of our traditions?
  5. Arguments about what “counts” in baptism are stupid, because God isn’t counting.

[Update]  Some have asked about the “TTATB” acronym–it stands for “The Thing About The Baptists.”  It’s a series of posts about things that drive me crazy about Baptists.  My therapist friend would probably call the series a passive-aggressive attempt at getting myself fired, but he likes to say provocative things like that to get me going.  Here are the links to the posts:  TTATB1, TTATB2, TTATB2 redux, and TTATB3

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