I thought I knew about Baptism, I’m from the denomination named “Baptist” for goodness’ sake. I should understand it; however, seeing the way believers here seriously consider the spiritual, symbolic statement of faith, has opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of baptism.
Recently, a Rwandese friend stated that as he wanted to be baptized, he would be participating in a 3-month course with his church. “Three months!!!” was my initial reaction. What could there possibly be to learn about baptism that could take three months? Furthermore, why was my friend, a long-time Christian, just now considering this step in his Christian life?
He first explained that, in his words, once he was baptized he would be a “real Christian.” To him, his baptism would proclaim to everyone in the church and surrounding community that he was now a committed and avid Christ follower, that there should be no indiscretion in His life, because He was making a committed open statement of following Christ. To him, salvation was accepting Christ’s atonement for His sins and trying to walk in His ways, but baptism took this commitment to a new level.
As for the 3-month course, many churches here see baptism just as importantly as does my friend, and they want those who participate to be fully educated in Christianity and what it means to follow Christ. The 3-month course was held 7 days per week for several hours each night. It was literally a Bible school. Upon completion of the Bible school (including exams), the student could then become baptized.
Now, whether or not I believe that one needs to attend a 3-month course and pass all exams in order to be baptized (a stipulation which isn’t exactly in the Bible), this example did cause me to look a little bit more at the history of the early church. What I found is that “In the early church, whenever converts sought baptism, their entire careers were re-imagined. Just as baptism was a symbol of people’s dying to their old lives and rising to new ones, so there was the very real sense that the old ways of living were gone and something new was here” (Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution). Furthermore, this act was often delayed until later in life as it was seen as a critical point in a life as” a turning point, a decisive break with the past, a new life” (Basil, On Social Justice).
Now, I was 10 when I asked Jesus to be the Forgiver of my sins and my Savior and chose to become His child and His follower, so maybe I didn’t get just how important baptism was. I’ll admit, I’ve often wondered over the years why the Bible commands baptism in which we must get wet in front of a group of people? Why not just tell them? Why not some other symbol? When I accepted Christ and chose to be baptized, I knew that it was “the next step after Salvation,” and that it was a statement to others that I was a Christian. As I had grown up in church and in a Christian environment, telling everyone I had accepted Jesus did not mean a whole lot of changes for my life at the time. So, forgive me, if I had unknowingly diminished the importance of one of the few Biblical outward ordinances of faith. But as I have been awakened early in the morning to walk miles with a group of believers to the nearest body of water to baptize Christians who were making this commitment with their lives, I have understood the importance of the practice of this ordinance in a new way. I have better understood the words my own dad spoke each time he baptized a believer in his church, “Buried in the likeness of His death, raised to walk in the newness of life.” It is a true symbol of the old ways of self dying and accepting a new, pure and clean life in Christ.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
St Basil the Great (2011). On Social Justice. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.
Claiborne, Shane (2008-09-09). The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.