Growing up in the church has given me the privilege of seeing a lot of people baptized. I was baptized in the church “baptistry,” which was a large fiberglass pool set behind the choir, with water about three feet deep, with steps on each side. Since we were independent Baptists, this meant the women entered from one side and the men from the other (no mixed company when you’re wet). Just kidding! Well, sort of.
I’ve seen people be baptized in the Jordan River, the French Broad River, a swimming pool, a hot tub, the ocean, and even watched my husband get into a small creek in rural Honduras and baptize a young man. That one was particularly interesting, considering one of our guides went ahead of us with a machete and stayed nearby on the bank while the baptism took place in case of snakes. I have to confess, I was a little worried about what kind of parasites might be making their way into my husband’s body, but when you have the opportunity to see a young Honduran man proclaim his faith in Jesus, the parasites take second place.
I’ve also seen a lot of people of different ages be baptized. Growing up, I thought only the pastor could baptize someone, but that’s tradition, not necessarily a biblical mandate. If you’re a believer, you can baptize another believer. I’ve watched fathers baptize their children, husbands and wives get baptized together, children as young as five, men and women in their eighties. And the best part is always the clapping and cheering that happens, encouraging the one in the water that they are part of an eternal family, united by our faith in Jesus.
Recently we held a baptism at the small church where we attend, and it was such a special time I wanted to share about it.
We had just three candidates (that’s church-ese for the person getting baptized) – an eight-year-old girl with an intense fear of being in front of people and of getting in the water, a young teenager of fourteen who has a debilitating physical condition where something like getting into a pool of water can cause his body to go into a severe episode affecting his muscles and nerves, and a young man in his twenties. It was quite a special morning!
Our baptismal pool was a large galvanized oval-shaped tub; it looked something like a big horse trough! One of our members took the time to heat the water so it felt like a big bathtub. After our morning service, the crowd (and I do mean crowd because baptisms are a big deal and you invite all your family and close friends) went outside for the special time.
The teenager went first. He was so excited and ready. Most people don’t like to talk in front of a crowd, and they choose to let the pastor do all the talking and sharing about their story. But not this young man! He read from his own words (typed up for him by his mom) about why he wanted to be baptized. It was the sweetest testimony, especially when he talked about wanting everyone to know that Jesus is King! This young man is dearly loved by many people and has been prayed for his entire life because of the physical challenges he suffers. But he has greater faith than many adults, and it is a pure, childlike trust that God will take care of Him and God is still good even though he has not been healed. To say the least, we celebrated his baptism!
The young man in his twenties had come to Christ largely because of his (then) girlfriend’s life and testimony. He saw something in her that drew him to Jesus. Now they are married and expecting a little girl to be born in a few months. This young couple loves Jesus. They have become part of our little church because God has gifted them with a love for young children, and they want to use their gifts to help the body. What a refreshing change from the attitude that is so prevalent today, of choosing a church for what it can offer you! Instead, they simply want to grow in their faith, be taught the Word, and have a place to use their gifts.
The little girl so full of fears went last. This young lady was saved in last year’s VBS and was going to be baptized last fall at the river. She tried so hard to talk herself into it but could not overcome her fears. This year during VBS, she told one of the leaders, Miss Kathie, that she really wanted to be baptized because she knew it was the right thing to do, and she asked her to pray for her to be brave. This sweet woman who had been so instrumental in her decision to accept Christ was helping her towards the front and holding on to her as the little girl stood in front of the baptismal. Miss Kathie says that her arms were so stiff and tense she could sense her anxiety and fear. At that moment, my husband began to pray, thanking God for the ones who had been baptized, and asking for God to give this precious little girl the courage to step into the water. Miss Kathie told us later that she could physically feel the tenseness leave her little body, and when we opened our eyes after praying, she was sitting on the stool in the water, ready to be baptized! As Miss Kathie said, “That was nothing but the Holy Spirit!” What a memory this sweet little girl will have of her baptism, and we pray she takes this knowledge of how real God is, and that He is with her, into the rest of her life.
I can’t adequately describe that morning, but we all knew that we had witnessed something very precious and that God was present.
Sometimes “church life” can become routine for us. We think, “Oh, it’s just another baptism,” because we’ve seen so many. In fact, it’s as exciting as hearing that a new baby has been born, because it represents the spiritual birth of another of God’s children. It reminds us of our own salvation, and we rejoice as we realize once again the love and grace and mercy that brought us into God’s family. It shows the world that God is alive, and that He is still calling men, women, boys and girls into the kingdom, and He still changes lives. And that’s a reason to celebrate, every single time.