I'm not against going to someone's house for a baptism. Let me say that up front. I honestly believe the Lord has a special blessing for families who will open up their homes, and in particularly, their pools, for the ordinance of baptism to take place. But I also believe that baptism should be something celebrated by the church. When baptisms can't take place in a location where the whole church can participate, it tends to minimize the celebration and participation of many. While people opening up their homes is certainly a gracious act, the truth is that providing directions to a person's neighborhood and trying to pile any number of people into a stranger's house can be a bit overwhelming. Try baptizing 10 at a 3 BR/2 BA house or at a house with limited parking. It can become frustrating instead of enjoyable.
And so knowing our past experiences, (and to my knowledge they've all been good), I decided to try and find a way to have a meaningful baptism in our sanctuary without the benefit of having a baptismal pool or area. I looked at horse troughs and small swimming pools, but I couldn't help but to think that it would be what it was, that is, people being dunked a swimming pool or a horse trough while I stood on the outside. I wanted something more personal, more baptismal like. When I found this idea online, I jumped at it. We purchased an 1100 gallon water tank from Tractor Supply Company in Dublin, GA. We would have went with the one in Warner Robins, but that's another blog story. (Needless to say, make the drive!) We cut the top off of the tank and we were pretty much set. The tank was translucent white which allowed for it to be seen through when full. We researched lighting however and found that a studio light would be bright enough to light up whatever was inside the tank. So with a newly cut 1100 gallon water tank, a par64 studio light, and some Party Blue Pool Coloring, we were able to create our very own baptismal pool for Free Point. My goal was to make the pool the centerpiece of the service and for it to stand out. Some important decisions were made in that pool on Sunday. Some amazing things took place there. The service was tremendous and the house was packed. There were only 13 empty seats in the whole building! We baptized 10 who had recently been saved, rededicated, or were entering a new phase in their life. It was an amazing day that I will never forget.
All of that got me thinking however. Why did I wait so long to do this? Why haven't we had more baptisms and why haven't I put more emphasis on it than I have? When I started researching baptism and reading books on it, I found some interesting things. For one, churches that emphasize baptism are growing across the board while churches that only do it every now and then are declining. Coincidence? I think not. I found that baptisms that were planned in advance and made personal, yet public with the church congregation, served as a somewhat right of passage for people to feel like they had truly joined a church or been accepted into a movement. Baptism drew out family members and friends to the church to hear the Gospel. Baptism was also about remembering Christ. I preached a truth on Sunday that jumped at me while studying for the message. In Colossians 2:12, Paul likens baptism to being crucified with Christ under the water and raised with Him when we come up from the water. In short, I realized that in many ways Communion is about remembering the death of Christ and what it means for us and Baptism is about remembering the resurrection of Christ and what it means for us. To focus on one and not the other is like half-remembering Jesus. It was Jesus who commanded us to be baptized and to baptize. It was Jesus who set the standard as He submitted Himself to being baptized. And when I started seeing all of these things, I came to some freeing conclusions.
The church of Acts taught baptism, for lack of a better word, religiously. In Acts 16, Lydia accepts Christ and Paul baptizes her practically immediately. In Acts 19, Paul leads off a conversation with the question of whether or not some people had been baptized or not. Baptism was a major part of the church. So why had it seemed to disappear in my church and in other churches claiming to be descendants and replicas of the New Testament church of Acts? I discovered some things by remembering my past.
I'm blessed to have grown up in the church I grew up in. I don't think I could have had a better experience growing up in any other church than Hazlehurst Church of God. It wasn't that it was perfect, because it wasn't. But what it was was solid. It was sturdy. It was filled with disciples of Christ. There was something real about the people I grew up practically idolizing in many ways. I knew they weren't perfect, but they fascinated me. Our church had a baptismal pool and I remember several baptisms. To be fair, I don't remember them being on a regular basis, but I do remember many. It might be because I was part of several. If I had gotten away from the Lord, I got baptized again. When I accepted my call into ministry, I got baptized. When I got my license, I got baptized again. I recognized firstly that if I had walked away from Christ and was thereby going to hell, then to come back meant I needed to do my first works again. My first works included baptism. I also realized that Christ never sinned and yet He was baptized before beginning His earthly ministry. So when I got ready to start mine, I got in the pool again. I don't remember how I came to this understanding about baptism at a young age, but it just seemed to come natural that baptism was important and I wanted to be a part if at all possible.
However, when I started going and doing ministry in different places I found something startling. Many of the churches I'd preach youth services in or sing in or do some sort of ministry in did not have baptistries. Being a pastor and having to deal with finances now, I understand why the decision was probably made not to build one because they can be expensive. However, I found that when I would go and speak or sing in a small Methodist or Baptist church, they always had baptistries. Always! The church sanctuary might only sit 50 people, but there was a baptistry. In talking with someone raised in a different denomination, I found that in their churches, salvation was almost always followed up by baptism almost immediately. I started reflecting on my experiences in ministry and with other churches in my own denomination and I realized, at least from my viewpoint, that baptism was not typically pushed that much. It wasn't that it was preached against as much as it wasn't preached at all. I hesitate to say it this way, but I remember hearing more about the baptism of the Holy Spirit than the baptism in water. I'm not so sure that some didn't care more about people getting the first without having ever went through the latter . . .
Don't get me wrong. This isn't about building baptistries in churches. Our model that we pulled off was more than adequate, and quite nice looking may I add (sorry for the humble brag), and we pulled it off at a major fraction of the cost of installing one. What this is about however is getting back to what I believe was a calling card sign for the early church. The Great Commission tells us to disciple and baptize. The early church did, but what about the modern church? If baptism can be considered the calling card, the proof in the pudding that someone has made a decision for Christ and is ready to follow His commands and directions, then doesn't that take the guesswork out of follow up? I can't tell you how many times I've beat myself like a prophet of Baal on Mt. Carmel for not being able to keep people who have come to the church and prayed a prayer. It wasn't until I studied baptism and prepared for our own here at the church that I realized that there was something missing.
If a person gets saved, they're supposed to be a new creation. Now this isn't about judging someone's salvation. I'm way passed that. Outside of major egregious things, for me, that's to be left between the person and the Lord. Instead, it's about the response to the decision. If I know I'm going to hell and I accept the reality that Jesus Christ suffered the most excruciating death imaginable for me and then rose again and is coming back to get me, then something in me has to want to know more about Christ. If someone saved your life this afternoon, you'd want to thank them and know them. Salvation brings the Holy Spirit to live within us and it is His job according to Christ to teach us and lead us into the ways of Christ. When people have a real experience with Christ and truly recognize Him as Lord and Savior of their life, I just have to believe that they will want to know more about Him. In short, they'll want to know "what's next?" For the early church, baptism and discipleship were next. If a convert didn't want to follow through with baptism and didn't want to be discipled, then it became questionable whether that person really had experienced anything with Christ. In such cases today, many pastors and churches beat themselves up because they weren't able to keep people coming who unfortunately had never even demonstrated outside of one walk to an altar a desire to truly follow Christ, much less make His church important.
When a church is trying to build disciples, then baptism can't be an optional thing. If a church is just trying to get people to come, then not only is baptism optional, but discipleship is just a choice instead of the call for Christians according to Luke 9:23. For me, I want everyone who wants to come to my church to come, but I have to be honest. I've learned to lower my expectations for people in my church who openly display a desire to not be plugged into the pathway of a Christ follower. That's not to say they're not important to me. Far from it! They are of the utmost importance to me. This is to say however, that if someone doesn't think baptism and discipleship are important or necessary, I've learned not to be surprised if they don't think church attendance or prayer time is important. It would be like being surprised that someone doesn't know how to drive a stick shift when all they've ever driven is an automatic.
So I've gained a new found love for baptism and its place in the church, at least mine that is. Baptism is here to stay at Free Point. If we're not doing it regularly, something's wrong with us. It means people aren't getting saved. It means people aren't moving forward in their destinies with the Lord. It means no one is accepting a new call into a new ministry or way of living. And truly, if we're having church and none of those things are happening, are we really having church or are we guilty of using the Holy Spirit to massage away our troubles while we remain enthralled with our close knitted group that only selective people are invited to be a part of? Have we then actually turned the church into a place for Christians to gather and have their needs met? If so, then have we not made our own selfishness the motivation behind our assembly and thus perverted the actual reason and mission for the church in the world today?
Baptism is important. It's remembering the resurrection of Christ. It's an outward sign that we've crucified our flesh with His and that we've come alive by His Spirit, the same Spirit that the Bible tells us raised Him from the dead and now lives in us. I invite all of those in my church who haven't been baptized since you believed (at all or again) to pursue it. Follow Christ in it. Make His commands priority and let us celebrate with you as you make Him first in all things in your life!
Below are some pics from this past Sunday's historic event. I'm so very proud of each individual that was baptized! They are amazing individuals who God is moving in and working in. I'm excited to see what's next in each of their lives!