Come On In, The Water’s Fine!

Posted: October 5, 2009 in crossings, faith

For me, one of the nice things about growing older – both in age and in my faith – has been the opportunity to wrestle with faith questions in my life.  Over the years, one of the most important of these questions has been the role of baptism in salvation.

Background – I grew up in a church tradition, and went to a Christian college, that both viewed and taught baptism as being a necessary, final step to being saved.  There was a specific salvation process – you believe, you repent, you confess, and you are baptized.  All four of these steps were necessary, and the omission of any, at the very least, put your salvation at risk.  It was looked at sort of like changing the tire on your car, but forgetting to tighten the lug nuts on the spare.  Yeah, the tire is there, but it’s probably going to fall off as soon as your drive away.  Then you wreck and die.

I had often questioned this view of baptism, but had neither the depth of faith nor the moxy to dig into it further.  I had asked myself questions like, “If you saved a person in the deserts of Africa, and the nearest “dunkable” water source was 5 miles away, and this person simply could not make it to the water source, would they really die and go to hell?”  Scriptural references aside, this simply did not make sense to me.  It was contrary to the loving and relational nature of God.

A turning point began for me around 1997, when I heard Bob Russell, senior minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky, do a sermon series on these 4 steps of salvation.  Long story short, he spoke of baptism in this way…..baptism isn’t necessarily required for salvation, but it is required for the “assurance” of salvation.  God is not a legalistic God, so it’s not in his nature to make us do things to earn his love.  But read the New Testament, especially Acts – Jesus was baptized, and everyone who came to know and believe in Christ was baptized.  If it was good enough for Jesus and the first Christians, shouldn’t we naturally follow that example?

This made sense.  It left open the possibility that a person was saved upon belief and repentance, even if they couldn’t immediately get to a baptistry, creek, or lake.  It helped me see baptism as a celebration of salavation, rather than the final exam.  Since that time, I’ve viewed baptism as a wedding ceremony to Christ….when you fall in love and commit your life to your future spouse, you don’t have to just run out and immediately get married.  At the same time, it’s not necessary to have a full blown wedding with 100’s of people and a fancy ceremony.  Yet couples like to do this, because it’s a celebration.  It’s a way to celebrate their love with others, to make it public, to create a memory that will last forever.

You don’t have to get baptized immediately….accordingly, nor should you wait 2 years to do it.  You can be baptized in front of 2 people or 10,000.  The point is, it’s a celebration of your love for Christ.  It’s your wedding to him.  Maybe – MAYBE – you don’t have to marry Christ.  Maybe God’s love reaches wide and long enough to hold you in, even if you ignore this important step.

But why would you?  Why ignore the example of Christ and the early believers?  Why explain away its importance?  Why sprinkle when Christ was immersed?  Why baptize babies when people in the Scriptures made this decision on their own?  Why roll the dice and take the chance?  In this way, baptism as the “assurance” of salvation has always made great sense to me.

Yesterday, we had another Crossings baptism celebration.  As always, it was great.  At Crossings, we have baptism celebrations every 3-5 months.  In most cases in our community, new believers in Christ are not baptized immediately.  I have old friends who would have a great deal of issue with this, so much so that they would probably not attend our church because of it.  I can understand this, I just don’t agree with it.  You just can’t imagine how special it is when we plan these celebrations, invite the entire community, have dozens – even hundreds – of people show up, and all celebrate wildly together when each person is raised from the water.  As a result, our baptisms are less of a hurried requirement (and even sometimes annoying to those who are ready to leave church and get to lunch before the crowd arrives)….and more of an anticipated party.

I’m so grateful for the depth of God’s love.  And I’m thankful that the waters of baptism are not a hoop, a jump rope, a high bar, or a 3 point line.  Rather, they are 2 open arms, a kiss on the cheek, a thousand hugs, and enough “woo hoo’s!” to last a lifetime.

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