So this weekend I did a thing. But in order to tell you that story I have to tell you another story first.
I was raised and baptized as an infant in a Presbyterian church. I attended Presbyterian, Lutheran, and nondenominational congregations until I moved to Wisconsin and began attending a Baptist church with my husband. While there are differences in the method and timing of water and professing, Baptists and Presbyterians hold similar views on the issue of baptism — that is, that it does not confer salvation — but the manner and timing are treated differently in these traditions. (Disclaimer: this is an incredibly simple treatment of an important theological issue that I am not going to break down on this blog. But you can read some thoughtful pieces on believer’s baptism (credobaptism) vs infant baptism (paedo-baptism) here and here). Long story short, I never felt the need to get baptized as an adult.
Our church here in Wisconsin requires credobaptism for membership. Submitting myself to the authority of a church through membership is something I feel very strongly about. As the wife of a member, it seemed out-of-step to not have our household unified in responsibility to the church community and in answer to its discipline (Jack was, for his part, less worried about this than me). As far as I knew I had been baptized, even if it was when I was an infant, and I made several public professions of faith (for instance, when Jack and I dedicated our daughters, we professed faith before our church). My question therefore was: was I coming to baptism as a box to be checked for church membership? I wanted to submit to the authority of the church on this matter because membership is important. But I did not want to come to baptism lightly. We have two kids who will ask us questions about these things one day. What would I say if I got baptized just to join the church?
So Jack and I spoke with our pastor. We read some books. We prayed. I read a bunch of articles online. I read the book of Acts. I read some more articles online. After a month or more I was not convinced that I wasn’t baptized as an infant, and therefore was without a good reason to seek baptism as an adult.
Then, one day, I was thinking about this and wondered if I was being obedient. I went back to the book of Acts:
So then, those who had RECEIVED HIS WORD were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41
But when they BELIEVED Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. – Acts 8:12
And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (And Philip said, “If you BELIEVE with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I BELIEVE that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”) And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. – Acts 8:36-38
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They asked him to stay on for a few days. – Acts 10:44-48
And after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “BELIEVE in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having BELIEVED in God with his whole household. -Acts 16:30-34
And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, BELIEVED in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were BELIEVING and being baptized. – Acts 18:8
And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples, and he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to BELIEVE in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 19:1-5
First believe, and then be baptized.
For probably the first time I became convinced of the argument that my infant baptism was more of a profession of my parents’ faith than mine. Which isn’t to cast aspersion at my parents, but it raised questions for me. I believe, so, why not baptism? But wasn’t I already baptized? And if I was, did it really matter that my parents were the ones who made the decision and not me? Weren’t all of my subsequent professions of faith a confirmation of my infant baptism?
I was going in circles with this question again and again, and in exasperation I just prayed to God for clarity, “Just tell me what you want to do because I want to do whatever that is.”
The next Sunday, we went to church and the pastor gave a sermon in which he asked, “Do any of you need to be baptized?” The immediate answer in my heart was “Yes!”
Thus the wheels were set in motion. In the days following I felt such peace and happiness in the decision. Not because I was checking a box, or had finally determined that for some technical reason of timing and application of water that I had never been baptized and was now rectifying this situation, but because I had sought an answer from God and in his mercy, he gave it. I was at peace and happy because I could respond to God’s grace and his mercy with an act of obedience.
So on Saturday, my family and I got together with some friends from our church down at the river. We sang some songs, read from the Bible, and I told my story.
And then I got in the water with Jack and our pastor, and I was baptized.
Some years ago, I visited the battlefield at Gettysburg on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the battle. As my friends and I sat on the battlefield at twilight participating in the commemoration events, the past suddenly felt very near. It was almost as if I could lift my eyes to the hills and see the campfires of the opposing armies in the distance, poised to meet the next day.
That feeling of nearness to the past washed over me as the water closed in over my head in my baptism. I was plunged back through time, connecting with the first generations of Christians who were received into the faith in the same way. I would not have been surprised if when I emerged from the water, Peter himself had been standing there. The experience was wonderfully ancient.
I am still in awe of it. I feel changed by it. And, of course, that’s the point of baptism: “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.” (Romans 6:4).
So praise God for his word, answered prayers, and a continually-transforming life.