I have baptism on my mind, because we will be having a baptism service on Sunday immediately following our 10:30 service. I love baptisms! I love what they mean for the body of believers. We get the privilege of hearing about the way that God brought a person to faith and trust in Jesus Christ. We hear them testify that Jesus is indeed their Lord and Savior. And we get to watch the visible symbol of them going under the water and being raised up as a symbol of the newness of life that they were granted when they first believed.
Over the course of over 15 years of pastoral ministry and more like 40 years of faith in Christ, I have noticed three increasing trends regarding baptism.
1. Skipping it Altogether.
This is maybe the oldest and certainly most troubling trend is that I have identified regarding baptism during the course of my life. Long before I was a pastor, I encountered many friends and acquaintances who told me that they had asked Jesus to be their Lord and Savior but had never been baptised. I grew up in a church tradition that downplayed baptism. And so I may be particularly familiar with this trend from a narrow perspective.
But I see the source of this trend coming from a place of attempted theological precision. So many young people in our tradition heard the church leadership so STRONGLY communicate that baptism wasn’t necessary for salvation, that we took it a step further and therefore saw it as not necessary at all.
The New Testament ties believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and being baptised in water as events that are intended to be close together. Being baptised in water is a major step in the growth of believer. It is meant for the blessing of the person being baptised and for those who are there for encouragement.
2. Being Rebaptized
Whether it is during a trip to the holy land where the Jordan river was calling, or at a retreat center on the shores of Lake Michigan, more and more parachurch organizations are performing baptisms. (And that point forms my final observed trend… so keep reading.) But this trend of being “rebaptised” is something foreign to the New Testament and likely demonstrates a misunderstanding of what baptism is meant to be.
Baptism is a public sign of an inward change. Just as the inward change happens once at a point of time that I would call conversion, so also the symbol of that inward change should be demonstrated once subsequent to that conversion. (This definition does allow for someone who was baptised pre-conversion or as an infant to be baptised as a symbol later after they place their belief and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins).
I believe that we say something wrong about the gospel when we administer baptism as the ending of retreat or as an emotional response to being on the shores of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptised. Baptism is mean to signify something much deeper than emotional energy, it is meant to show that you belong to Jesus by faith. And just as we are converted once and that is sufficient for eternity, so we demonstrate that once, through the symbolism of Baptism.
3. Skipping the Fellowship
This last one is maybe the trend I am seeing the most on the rise among evangelical Christians. Like I said in the previous point, many parachruch organizations are increasingly offering baptism at the end of retreats during conferences or while on tourist trips. I want to be clear that I believe baptism can be performed by anyone anywhere. There is no magic in it being done in a church. In fact, my preference is public baptism at a lake or river. And there is no magic in having a minister do the dunking.
What I DO think is an important thing that is missed in this trend is a sense of community and accountability that Baptism naturally brings when performed in the gathering of God’s people. We are made for community. God has given us the church as a place of fellowship, love, and a commitment to unity. When a person is connected to a local body of believers, but chooses to get baptised at a parachruch retreat, they are taking away a great opportunity for their church to rejoice together with them. Further, they are likely removing a level of accountability that comes with all who witness a baptism! Those people at that retreat will not be walking with you week by week and year by year. You can stand up and testify, and then walk away. At a church, that is not possible.
Some may rightly identify that the book of Acts includes a baptism of an Ethiopian man who was baptised by Philip while he was on the road back home. Doesn’t this mean anyone can baptise anyone, anywhere!? As I said above, I agree that anyone can baptise and anywhere is an option. But this man from Ethiopia was on his way back to a context without church, without fellowship, and without accountability. He was already on his own going back home with God.
The focus of this blog is on anyone contemplating baptism. I am not interested in making people feel bad for their personal history. If you were baptised in the Jordan River for the third time, okay. If you were baptised at a retreat center last year or at summer camp, it is good that you followed Jesus in obedience by demonstrating your faith!
But if you have not yet been baptised, please consider the powerful benefit of being baptised at your local church. I believe that the very nature of baptism is to obey Jesus, to testify, and to come into accountability.
I am so excited to be baptizing people at ReCAST Church this Sunday! It is one of my favorite parts of being a pastor!