I remember it quite well. As I stepped up into the baptistry at the church that I was attending, I recall that I was a bit nervous. I was probably more nervous about being held under water by my jokester of a pastor than I was about being the center of attention. I remember hearing my pastor speaking over me, with an emotional quiver in his voice, about how he had enjoyed watching me grow in the Lord. After being submerged, I arose from the water to the roar of applause and to my crying friend who was handing me my towel.
All I could remember thinking prior to this amazing experience was, “What is so special about baptism? Why do we perform baptisms? Why should I be baptized?”
Baptism, historically, was not something that happened immediately after one affirmed the gospel of Christ. Initially it was preceded by a time of instruction called the “catechumenate”. This was a time in which “catechumens received instruction on Christian doctrine, and were to give signs in their daily lives of the depth of their conviction” and “they were taught the meaning of the creed or baptismal formula that they would be asked to affirm at their baptism.” (Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity vol. 1, 112) In the days of the early church, baptism was usually performed by immersion, with the water being poured over the person’s head, especially when water was scarce. (Gonzalez 113).
Baptism is a quite contested issue. For the sake of space I will mention a few of the issues surrounding baptism, but will not spend too much energy trying to flesh out the issues. One issue is that it is believed to be an act in which a person is saved once they are baptized (this view is often called baptismal regeneration). Others, however, believe that a person should be baptized only after they are saved. In either case, baptism plays an important role in the church. Another issue is about how baptism is supposed to be performed, whether through submersion, sprinkling, etc. And another major issue is over whether or not infants should be baptized.
Beyond the issues that have been argued, however, baptism is a special event. It is an event in which the converted declared that they identified with Christ in his death, particularly identifying in the death to one’s own self and the sinful life, and resurrection, identifying with the newness of life found in Christ. In this way, it is a public declaration that the baptized are Christ’s, that they are made new, and that they no longer live for themselves but for Christ.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)
It is unfortunate to see baptism simply as a recognition of one’s newness of life because it is, in fact, much more than that. Though it is debated whether saving grace is channeled through the act of baptism, grace is still communicated. It is not simply an act in which we affirm God, but it is also an act in which God affirms us, calling us by name and reminding us of our truest identity: as the Beloved of the Lord.
And so I have realized that being baptized in the name of the Lord on April 22, 2012, identifying with Christ in his death and resurrection, I am affirmed by God and that through this ceremonial act I am continually blessed to be known as one of his own.
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