I was baptized when I was six years old.I had just come to place my faith in Christ in the summer of 1983 when my rebirth was celebrated with my Clear Fork Baptist Church family on the Warren and Logan County borders of southern Kentucky. It marked a refreshing change from my life of violent crime and gang-related activity to that point… Actually…
I hadn’t committed any jailtime-worthy crimes and I wasn’t mature enough to understand the doctrine of justification by grace through faith or the virgin birth of Christ. After all, what was a virgin anyway? Here’s what I knew, though. Jesus Christ was God’s Son. He had lived a sinless life and died on the cross for my sin, then rose again. As a human being, I was a sinner in need of salvation and Jesus was the one and only Savior. So I asked him to save me.
Hence began my new life as a born again Christian. I grew in my Christian life as much as a kid could and lost my way a bit as I entered my teen years. But I never seemed to lose my grip on the simple gospel message. My baptism was a bit of a challenge for Pastor Doug Riley since I was terribly afraid of being splashed in the face with water (let alone dunked in a tank) and of being stared at by dozens of people. He and I survived the experience and I’ve never been the same.
Baptism means different things to different people. You may have grown up in a religious tradition in which babies are “baptized” or where baptism is done by sprinkling. I understand a christening, or sprinkling of an infant, to be an act of devotion by Moms and Dads who are making a public commitment to raising their child with the help of a family of faith.
I don’t think infant baptism is an evil practice, but I do think it presents two significant problems.*
First, it can easily give christened individuals a false sense of assurance about their own salvation if they don’t grow in their understanding of the gospel as they mature into adulthood. We can’t be saved by a decision our parents made, or by any ritual, including baptism in any form. Each person must, as they mature to an age of responsibility, make a personal decision to transfer their trust to Jesus Christ alone, and that decision to repent and believe is essential to our justification before God.
Second, individuals who have merely been christened miss out on the wonderful opportunity to declare their newly found, personal faith in Jesus, in a bold and public way before a celebrating crowd of fellow believers, as well as before nonbelievers to whom the ritual can be a strong witness.
See, baptism is weird. It’s odd in the sense that we don’t get dunked in water when we get a new job, or start kindergarten, or when we get married. It’s exclusively a Christian thing in our modern age. It clearly identifies us as followers of Jesus, who himself chose to be immersed as an adult by John the Baptist (Mark 1:9-11), and who subsequently charged the church to keep baptizing new believers until his future return (Matthew 28:19-20).
Baptism is a celebration, not of natural birth, but of new birth. It initiates us into the life of a church and points to our common faith in a buried and resurrected Jesus. It’s an awesome picture of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as well as a symbol of our own spiritual burial to the old life and resurrection to a new life in Christ (Romans 6:4). This is the reason we’re so adamant about immersing people rather than simply sprinkling them (which would be way more convenient), as immersion becomes a picture of our coming back to life, spiritually.
At Grace Hills, baptism is a big deal. We celebrate it. We clap and cheer and shout in support of each person who has the courage to step into our portable hot tub (you have to improvise when you meet for worship in a movie theater) and share their faith with the watching crowd. We invite parents to take part, with our pastors, in baptizing their children and spouses to take part in baptizing each other. When a Grace Hills member helps someone come to know Jesus, we want them to feel free to be in the water, helping to submerge their friend to be part of the momentous occasion.
Baptism doesn’t save you. It doesn’t change your heart. It doesn’t literally cleanse your soul. But it’s definitely a big deal, and we dream of baptizing as many new believers as possible into the life of our church!
In believer’s baptism by immersion, we declare… I’m going all in! I believe Jesus died for me, was buried and rose again for me! I want to follow his example and be obedient to his instructions. I want the world to know that I’ve been born again to a whole new life of faith in Jesus. And I’m boldly, publicly declaring this to my new church family and all of the witnesses who gather to watch. There’s no turning back. I’m fully immersed in this new life of faith!
This coming weekend, we will be baptizing believers in Beaver Lake in Rogers, Arkansas. It isn’t necessary to be baptized multiple times, but if you’ve never gone ‘all in’ and been immersed as a believer yourself, we’d love to celebrate that great occasion with you! If you have questions, email me or visit our baptism page!
Get a glimpse of what it’s like by watching the baptisms from last year’s Church at the Lake…
* My intent here is not to debate or to prove, but rather to present my interpretation of the Scriptures for those who wish to know the perspective that I and Grace Hills Church hold.