As I was cruising the lovely land of Upstate South Carolina yesterday, I was listening to a sermon about Baptism.
No, this is not my usual M.O. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m some excessively spiritual—or excessively nerdy—preacher who listens to sermons all the time. But, on occasion, I like to hear what others have to say.
The sermon was about a large baptism that this particular church had planned (always a good thing). The preacher said:
“This is for those who are being baptized the first time, and for those who are being re-baptized because the first time it didn’t mean anything.”
Whoa. I hit the pause button on the ipod to give that some thought. That’s a bold, brash, and incredibly arrogant statement for a pastor to make.
I was once in the category of those who thought that my original Baptism was “meaningless” because I was too young. As a 17-year old senior in high school, I had a spiritual awakening of sorts that made me believe my original baptism was useless.
As a seven-year old PK (that’s Preacher’s Kid if you didn’t know), I went down front because that’s what you were supposed to do. Yes, I believed that Jesus was God, that He died on the Cross, that He rose again on Easter Sunday. Deep down, I even knew that Jesus was more important than Easter eggs and candy.
That’s all we need to know, isn’t it?
Yes, I was young and naïve and had very little idea of what all this meant for life as a whole. And yes, I thought it was “the thing” to do. But does that mean the entire event was invalid?
As a 17-year old, I thought that it did. I heard evangelists and youth ministers and pastors talk about how it wasn’t a “real baptism” if you were just following the crowd.
As a 29-year old for the last 12 years, I realize that I was buying into some hype that sounded right. But it wasn’t right.
To say that my first baptism was a fake invalidates everything that God was doing in my life to that point. It means that the Lord wasn’t really working in me. It was also an insult to my parents, my father/pastor, and the church family that did their very best to raise and nurture me.
That’s exceedingly arrogant for any person, or any church/pastor, to say. And it borders on hubris for any pastor, church staff, or church to say that OUR baptism is the only one that really counts.
This also borders on making baptism of a particular kind a requirement for salvation and discipleship. I cannot find any scripture that supports this idea (if you can, please point it out to me).
I don’t know exactly what God was doing in my life at the age of seven. But I knew the basics. I was just at the beginning of understanding what they meant. After all, isn’t Baptism supposed to be the beginning of a journey rather than a final destination?
To say that we need renewal is fine, because we all need that on a regular basis. Even Jesus stepped away from time to time to be refreshed in his walk with God. But we need to be extremely cautious about saying that we need RE-baptism because the first one didn’t “take” on us.
Encouraging people to be spiritually renewed is one thing, but encouraging them to be re-baptized reeks of arrogance, maybe even self-righteousness. As pastors, we should be very careful not to negate the work of the Holy Spirit in order to pad our baptism numbers.
And as Christians, we need to look carefully at what God was doing in our lives, even when we didn’t fully realize or understand it.
God doesn’t have to ask our permission before working in someone’s life, even at the age of seven.