Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Reflections on Baptism

This reflection was originally posted last week, but I deleted the posting after realizing that my blog is almost entirely reflections on my faith. I do want to write about other things, but ideas aren't forthcoming. Can I have blogger's block at this early stage in my blog development? Anyways my sister emailed me and mentioned she appreciated this posting, not that she had noticed its absence, so here it is again resurrected from my Word Perfect files. Hopefully my next posting will take this blog into new, exciting territory.

A few weeks ago I witnessed a baptism, actually--more than twenty baptisms, including that of my close friend, at a charismatic church not far from my house. Most of the people being baptized were young teenagers or young adults and some cracked a few jokes at their own expense or the expense of their church culture's. There were many people doing the baptizing and most of them were not pastors, but cell group leaders and mentors of the young people. The baptism was by immersion and every one gave their testimony before they were baptized in the name of "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." My friend had already been baptized--at least once. I am not sure if she was baptized as infant, but she was baptized as a young teenager. When she told me she was going to be baptized again, I told her of my conviction that one baptism is enough. She told me that when she was baptized as a young teenager her reason was that she feared the baptism experience and wanted to get it over with. So when our mutual friend who went to the same church as her told her she was going to be baptized, my friend decided to be baptized as well. She said she didn't really know Christ then as her personal Saviour. She always told herself, whenever she felt the prompting to be baptized as a believer, that maybe she had gotten things a little backward, but she was baptized after all. But recently she had felt led to humble herself and take a step of faith and trust by being baptized even though she had been an active, faithful member of her church for several years.

I grew up in the CRC and was baptized as an infant. When my family left the CRC in my late teens we went to a charismatic Word-Faith church. My parents and three of my siblings were baptized again as believers in various swimming pools. I remember one occasion when a number of people from our church, including my younger sister, were being baptized in our swimming pool. The pastor pressured me to be baptized as well. I told him firmly that I had already been baptized. To me the point in baptism was what God was doing, so whether I was an unknowing infant being sealed with covenant promises or whether I was a believer who was determined to follow Christ, it didn't matter. Infant baptism was legitimate and could be followed up with a public profession of faith when the age of maturity was reached. To me it seemed just another way to arrive at the same place. In university I heard of one lady who was baptized six or seven times, whenever she came back to the faith following a period when she had backslid into a life of sin. For my church history course, I did a twelve page paper on the Church Fathers' view of baptism and the Eucharist and it confirmed me in my view that baptism should not be repeated. I also learned about the rich symbolism involved in the sacrament as one is buried with Christ when immersed in water and then raised to newness of life when brought back up. You died to sin and then were made a new creature in Christ. The point was what God was doing in forgiving your sins, adopting you as his child and heir, and sealing your eternal life, whether you was sprinkled or submerged in water and whether you were an infant or adult. I did admit it would be nice to remember your baptism as a turning point in your life, but it was also good to know you had been baptized as an infant and God had placed his seal of ownership on you and made you covenant promises you could later accept and affirm. It showed his grace in your life before you even could accept it. You were a covenant child, a child of God even though you were to young to understand the meaning of it.

But as I listened to my friend give her testimony and watched her get baptized, I felt proud of her and certain that she was taking a step in obedience and submission to God. Yes, she had already been baptized, at least once. But being dogmatic about these points might be to hinder how God is working in some-one's life. I realized I felt envious too, as I think it would be such a rich, meaningful experience to be baptized as a believer and to be so identified with Christ's death and resurrection that you die to sin and are raised to new life. It would be a sign-post, a turning point, a life-altering event. Yes a public profession of faith can function in much the same way, but it is not as symbolically powerful. And being baptized after deliberately deciding to follow Christ means what God is doing in the sacrament can be immediately applied to your life of faith in a powerful way, rather than, as in infant baptism, be potential covenantal promises to be appreciated later at the age of understanding and later accepted or denied. I still believe my baptism as an infant is valid and does not need to be repeated, but if I ever had the opportunity to be baptized as a believer I would not hesitate. Because I am a member of the CRC, such an opportunity in any official sense is not likely to occur. My Mom pointed out I could be baptized in my own pool if I wanted. I'm not sure if I would do that. Would I have my own children baptized as infants? If I was a member in the CRC, I probably would do so and I would appreciate the promises of God and the seal of the covenant, but deep in my heart I would wish my child to be baptized as a believer when he or she makes a concious choice for Christ. Either way God's grace will be at work in the lives of my children and he is able to redeem them by his love. He is bigger than any doctrine or dogma and he is at work in my life,in the life of my courageous friend, and in the lives of all his children.


John den Boer said...

A good reflection, Suzanne. Very thoughtful.

Suzanne den Boer said...

Thanks John.