Baptism for most people is an event in which family gathers, words are spoken, a cute baby is admired and pictures are taken. Is that what baptism is though?
As people of the early church gathered in secret to be baptized they knew it was far more than an event. The God who had loved and created them, who had called them from their rebellious and sinful lives and had gifted them with new eyes of faith in Jesus Christ, was now inviting them to become part of a new community and way of life. To be baptized for them was a life and death decision since to be a Christian back then could mean persecution, torture and ultimately death.
Is that how we see baptism today? When parents bring their child or when an older person comes for baptism do they recognize the life implications of this action?
We certainly do not live in a time and place where Christians are dragged out of their homes to be persecuted and killed. However, does that somehow change the significance of being baptized?
In the early church people underwent a very lengthy preparation for baptism. It emphasized the seriousness of this decision. Likewise, the baptism of infants was restricted to those households who were already actively engaged in the Christian community.
In contrast today, many pastors baptize infants of almost anyone requesting baptism, whether the parents are baptized or not. And adults are baptized after a very brief period of instruction. What does this tell us about baptism and the life it represents?
Baptism is certainly God’s action. It is about Christ’s death and resurrection. It is God reconciling us through Christ’s death and gifting us with the opportunity of a new life.
However, baptism is also about us as sinners, called to repent and renounce our old way of living so that we might follow Jesus into a new way of life. The problem that we face in the church today is that we have been reluctant to define what that new life is except when it comes to speaking against certain moral issues.
So what is the life of baptism or the life of being a disciple of Jesus? I believe that if we can begin to define this in non-legalistic terms we will also begin to understand what we must repent and renounce, as well as move towards.
Baptism is a way of life for at its core is life with God.