I was baptized 35 years ago today. Here’s what that means to me now. Here’s what it means to you, too.

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Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

My dad baptized me “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” on March 4, 1987–35 years ago on the day of this writing. I was 11 years old.

I keep a reminder of this anniversary in my calendar along with reminders of other anniversaries, birthdays, and milestones.

My baptism is worth remembering and thinking about each year.

If you’re not part of my faith fellowship–the Church of Christ–and its traditions, please let me fill you in on a few things about the way we “do baptism.” This is strictly FYI before I get to the point of this post.

First, we are those Christians–the ones who call themselves “born again.” This comes from something that Jesus said: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (…or “born again”, as some translations of the Bible put it) (Gospel of John 3:3) and “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit” (Gospel of John 3:5). Our fellowship holds to a tradition of baptism by immersion, what we think of as the moment of “water and spirit” in a person’s life. We believe and teach that being “born again” happens in baptism.

Second, we believe that the Bible models and teaches baptism by immersion as the entryway into citizenship in the kingdom of God and the starting point of eternal life. The stories and teachings from the Christian Bible support this. Whenever someone chose to believe and trust Jesus as their Christ–thereby pledging allegiance to him as eternal protector and provider–he or she went down into the water of baptism. One example that Christians in my tradition like is Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40.

Third, we believe that baptism is a choice that a person makes to follow Jesus Christ from baptism on. In our fellowship, we often sing a song, ‘I Have Decided to Follow Jesus’, at our baptisms. We believe that each person makes the choice (“I have decided…”) for herself or himself when she or he knows enough to make that choice. We neither consider nor practice baptism of babies and small children because they are not able to choose to follow Jesus Christ of their own free will.

We in the modern Western world frown on parents who force their kids to go into careers that the parents want. We frown on arranged marriages. In the same way, we in the Church of Christ frown on the idea that parents can force their own religion on their children by baptizing them when they are too young to choose for themselves. We believe that misses the point because religion is not the point; faith and hope in God are the point. And nobody can “borrow” from someone else’s faith and hope; they have to find and act on their own.

Besides, the Bible has neither examples nor teaching of “infant baptism”. Since our fellowship tries to “go by the Book,” we don’t either.

All of this to say that I made the choice–at age 11–to ask my dad to baptize me so that I could be “born again” as a citizen of the kingdom of God and an heir of the eternal life of Jesus Christ.

Every year when I think back to that night, I have the same thoughts: “What did I know about anything when I was 11 years old? Did I have any idea what I was doing? Was my baptism really any better than infant baptism?”

Those questions bothered me for many years.

They also bothered my best friend, Jimmy, “my twin brother in the Lord,” who asked my dad to baptize him at the same time that he baptized me. Years later, Jimmy told me that he got what Church of Christ folks call “re-baptized”. This is not uncommon practice for a lot of Church of Christ men and women who chose baptism when they were just kids. In our fellowship, you would likely find that a lot of kids choose baptism at summer church camp when all of their friends are doing it. Years later, as adults, many of them wonder if their baptism was “for the right reasons” or “ for real”.

I worried about this, too, well into my mid-30s.

I don’t worry about it anymore.

Before I share three things that ended my worries about whether my baptism was “real”, I imagine that you may be forming some criticism of how the Church of Christ “does baptism.” You may pick up some hypocrisy in our practice: If we can be so against infant baptism (because infants cannot choose faith and hope in Jesus Christ for themselves), how can we allow little kids who don’t know much more than infants to choose baptism on what often amounts to impulse and peer pressure?

I agree with you. One of my strongest critiques of Church of Christ tradition is how we insist on baptism, oppose infant baptism, and yet our practice of baptism can be flippant, irreverent, sloppy, and unserious. If the kids who actually stick around with the Church of Christ into adulthood (and there aren’t many of them these days) grow up to feel like their baptism didn’t count, we should take the hint: There is something wrong with the way we baptize and think about baptism.

You, however, may not be part of the Church of Christ fellowship (as many readers of this blog are not), so I won’t dwell on that here. I only want to say that if you see some problems with our fellowship, I see them, too. We have have a lot of work to do on ourselves.

Everything I wrote so far, however, leads up to this: I don’t worry about my own baptism anymore–whether I did it for the “right reasons” or knew enough at the time to make it “count”.

I promised you three reasons I don’t worry anymore.

First, when will I ever “know enough” or “understand what I’m doing” when it comes to my own life in relation to the infinite mysteries of the Divine? What if I waited until I was 21 or 31 to make my commitment to Jesus Christ? Whatever I knew at 21 or 31 would not be as much as I know at 41 or 51 or 61. No person who chooses baptism at any age ever “knows enough.” It’s not called “faith” for nothing!

Second, baptism is one point on a long journey. From the moment of our conception, the love of God is baptizing us inside and out. Did the sun rise on you today? That is the love of God baptizing you in light. Did gravity hold you to the ground today? That is the love of God baptizing you in stability. Does air fill your lungs (without you even thinking about it)? That is the love of God baptizing you with “the breath of life.” When I came to see that God is always baptizing me, always preaching good news to me, always as present to me as the breath in my lungs, I came to see how baptism in water is just one point in a long life of baptism in God’s love. When I came to believe that God is always calling and drawing me toward life and love, I stopped worrying about whether my baptism was “good enough” or “real.” What makes baptism “good enough” or “real” is not how (or even why) I do it, it is…

Third, the love of God. God’s love for me is not conditional on what I do for God. In other words, God’s love is not something I unlock by keeping a formula or performing the right rituals. If it were, God’s love would not be love. When I was 11 years old (and for many years after that), I thought that God started seeing me the moment I came out of the baptistry. I thought that my baptism (and my obedience to the rules and traditions that my fellowship taught) was my “end of the deal” that kept God to his “end of the deal”–to keep me out of hell. It took many years for me to come to believe that God sees me, cares about me, loves me, and goes out of his way for me every day of my life–whether or not I see him. Whether or not I choose baptism or reject it. Nothing I do or don’t do changes God’s ever-constant, ever-present love for me. And for you.

Don’t believe me? Did the sun come up? Is gravity working? Are you breathing? Is the universe still expanding and growing and starting anew?

Baptism, then, is not how we get into the love of God; it is what we do when we finally awake to the faith and hope that we are in the love of God–that we have always been in it and always will be.

Baptism is our expression of joy and thanksgiving that leads us to commit ourselves to living the rest of our lives practicing our trust in the love of God. We are born again because believing in the love of God changes us. It changes how we feel and live and think in this world. We no longer have to worry about rules; we are eager and excited and free to “live by the Spirit” of love (Letter to the Galatians 5:16).

My belief in the love of God is what led me to believe that my baptism on March 4, 1987, is “good enough.” God’s faithfulness and love–not my maturity, mindset, or motions at the time–make my baptism “good enough.” Another way to put it is: God baptizes me in his faithfulness and love every day of my life (including the day of my baptism). I don’t baptize myself; God baptizes me.

And whatever God does is always more than “good enough.”

This is the Way.

Grace and peace.

 
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