We had a baptism down at the local rock pools this year. As people walked by on their afternoon walk along the beach they were fascinated to watch a young man stand and speak out for Jesus and about how he chooses to follow Him in his daily life.
This young man had come from Buddhism, so this was a complete change and a decision that was very “deep” for him. It meant the world to him to publically say that he wants to live DAILY with CHRIST at the centre of his life. Some people watched from afar, some people probably walked past laughing and snickering. There were some who stopped and chatted to us as they were friends from the past, so it gave us a chance to reconnect and chat about what we were doing. Some came to the baptism who did not believe, but wanted to support the young man, and it was a great way to include them and share Jesus’s love. Then there were others of us who enveloped him as family, prayed and sang with joy as we shared this moment with him. For many of us, this young man’s example stirs us all on, for baptism is a great reminder of our own faith choices and how we need to walk with Jesus daily. This was a personal experience for us all, as we were able to share it together. Then most us of grabbed “fish and chips” and hung around the beach as one big extended family, all ages together. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
When I grew up, I was taught by example and teaching that baptism was something you did in Church as with baby dedications, communion and … well let’s be honest, generally any show of religious conviction or belief. These ceremonies were formal and structured and usually within a tightly programmed service.
I remember reading with Sam (my son) when he was much younger, the passage that talks of not hiding your light under a bucket and being a light to the world (Matthew 5:15). Sam, who has not grown up in the same Church environment I had, asked why so many Christians go inside a building on a Sunday morning, if we are supposed to be a light to the world. I thought it was a very good question.
John the Baptist was such a radical in his time. Being the son of a Priest, he would have grown up in a privileged upper class religious family, where offering sacrifices, officiating at festivals and performing ritual cleansing called “baptisms” were a regular part of his upbringing. He would have been expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. “Baptisms” in those days were a way that pilgrims were made clean from having contact with other cultures and religions. It always happened around the temple where special baths were set up, so they could be clean to go and offer their sacrifices to God.
Can you imagine the disruption John would have caused being seen baptising people in the local river rather than the private, holy baths set up near the temple? He was bringing a new kind of baptism with a radical new meaning. John the Baptist was called to bring a re-think, a new paradigm, to rattle the status quo, to prepare the way for Jesus, who would take it to a new level again. So imagine the statement Jesus makes as he joins this growing protest movement, by asking to be baptised in the local river, as his first public act. What a collision with the world...what a statement.
For John the Baptist the key word was REPENT. He was calling all to PUBLICALLY show that they have made a choice to “re-think everything”, to choose to have a deep turn around in their thinking and values. A baptism is a great way TODAY to be re-reminded of this and for it to TRULY be PUBLIC is a great COLLISION with the world.
So am I saying that Baptisms in a church are wrong? Not sure if that was John the Baptist’s point, nor mine, but I do know we are called to collide with the world. I do know we are called to be a light in the darkness. I do know that if our passion and conviction to live as Christ is ONLY displayed inside a building, at a prescribed time of day, on a prescribed day of the week, I think we have missed the power of the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus who call us to “Go out and share His love to all who will listen.” A baptism is but one great way to COLLIDE with the world and share our “passionate” choices with anyone who passes, with those that we walk with and those who will listen.
By Tammy Tolman
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