I’m supposed to want to baptize people. As a Christian and as a priest, I’m supposed to want people to come to the waters.
It just seems that sometimes baptism gets in the way.
Never has the water been a problem. Or the logistics of getting someone wet or blessed or marked as Christ’s own forever been a block. Never once has Christ been absent from one of these moments.
The moment isn’t the problem.
It’s more like all the other moments which are.
Like our closing the doors to community.
Depriving the thirsty from a drink from the fountain.
Rejecting a person for the purity of one’s own practice.
It’s about all those things we try to make baptism mean.
Like the entrance exam.
The ID badge.
A free pass to be a jerk.
And let’s not forget how hard we make it for people to be baptized.
And treating another church’s baptism as invalid.
It is almost as if we don’t want people baptized. Or we don’t want people to want to be baptized.
Baptism is more than a rebirth certificate.
The longer I’m involved in church and church governance the more I realize how little respect we actually give baptism.
Think of it like a parent. I remember the moments my two children were born and the joy we felt holding them and loving them and naming them. We said hello to our children by name, looking them in the face and knowing they would be the most beautiful gifts GOD has ever given. The privilege to guide them as they grow is incredible.
Our parents were in the waiting area for the first. For the second, we called them at 1:00 in the morning telling them all about it. We were full of such joy.
And every day since, we pray and dream and love with them.
Some day, that event will be treated as unimportant. That child will be 16 and they will walk into the DMV and present a birth certificate as proof they were born.
A piece of paper which proves its true. Certifying the date and the name. A pledge of honor with as much value as dotting an i and crossing a t.
When baptism is a requirement, it is stripped of meaning.
It is a rebirth certificate proving you’re official. You’re alive. The church says so. Here’s the date and the place. It’s even signed.
For baptism to mean anything, it must be treated as the very thing it is: the promise. The promise to love and be loved and follow Christ.
It will lead us into the darkest places. We’ll avoid temptation and help liberate the vulnerable.
And if we are children, a whole crowd of people who love us vow–they make a covenantal promise to GOD–to build us up. They will serve us as we grow in faith.
Fostering a Spirit of Baptism.
In the book of Acts, baptism has three parts:
- blessing in a proto-trinitarian formula
- the presence of the Spirit
The funny thing is that none of the spontaneous baptisms and the hundreds baptized in a moment would pass muster in many Christian churches today. Because they did it wrong.
Many of them would be criticized for their lack of proper formation and instruction before receiving the sacrament.
And few would be cited as examples of what we’re doing when we dunk an adult in a pool or drip a few drops on a baby.
Acts remains the most telling example of how the early church really saw the movement of the Holy Spirit and of participation in this Jesus Walk of ours.
It is ritual and liturgical; it is about the revealing of GOD in our midst; and it is an event of the Spirit.
It’s also chaos and disorder: a moment of divine revelation and inbreaking.
When we baptize a baby, we are baptizing a Christ child.
When we baptize an adult, we are baptizing the Christ.
And we are privileged to gather to celebrate the incarnate GOD in the flesh every single time.
I’m not willing to sully that with thoughts of church councils and membership requirements. I’m not denying the love and grace of Jesus from someone because they can’t verify their status with the proper paperwork. No card check at the rail or the confessional or the hospital bed; no rebirth certificate needed.
Are you ready to live a life in Christ? Do you want a real, vibrant life? Then let’s talk about getting wet. And let’s pick out some stationary. Because the Spirit likes her invitations bold, colorful, and in many languages!