Baptism: The Who, What, When, Where and Why, Why, Why

I’m going to let you in on a personal battle I’ve been having since my children were born:

To baptize or not to baptize?

See, Andrew and I are not the kind of people to do something religiously just because it “seems right”. We have to understand the ins and outs, the whys, why nots, who said it, why did they say it, who did they say it to, what’s the point, etc. In short, we need to understand the when, where, why, why, why and how of everything.

Sometimes I get pretty annoyed because this need for understanding makes decisions much more difficult. If I’m having this inner struggle over baptizing my children, the easy answer would be just to do it and not have to worry about it anymore, right? By not doing it, I still have to wonder if I “should be” doing it.

This is an excerpt of an email I recently sent to Quest’s founding pastor, Mike Hartzheim:

I’m still hung up on baptism. I think baptism is just a “nice thing” people do, symbolic of parents committing their children to Christ, something society expects of “good Christians”. Andrew and I are raising Livy and Ryan as the children of God they have been since birth– without the process of baptism having occurred. They already are God’s children, born into God’s family, just like everyone else. We’ll raise them to see the beauty, worth and responsibility in that, hopefully not turning away from their roles as children of God when they get older. So, I still don’t understand the point of baptism. Do you think it’s necessary?  (necessary for what… to “enter Heaven”? To be God’s child? To have a relationship with God?)

This is the great thing about Mike and Quest in general. When founded, Quest wrote core values and one of them reads: Following Jesus is a growing experience.  Mike’s first paragraph in response to my email questioning one of the basics of Christianity was, “Lots of good questions. I’m glad you continue to struggle with what it means to follow Jesus. It is a life-long process… we never stop growing and learning.”

Isn’t that great? I expected nothing different, but it still relieves me every time I remember that Quest is the perfect place for imperfect people. I mean, come on, I work for Quest, but I certainly don’t have it all figured out and never, ever will.  And that’s OK!  In fact, that’s what we are all about! If we don’t question, we can’t grow.  No one wants to be spoon fed anything because there’s just no value in that. Tell me what I have to believe and I’ll run for the hills, but allow me to do my own investigating and come to my own conclusions and I’m here to stay. Quest allows me to question Christianity and find my own answers after a lot thinking, praying, discussing and researching. I love it.

Mike went on to write:

The answer to the question, “is baptism necessary?” depends on what you mean both by “baptism” and “necessary”.

Is this a religion question (what are the “rules”?) or a relationship question (what does baptism have to do with loving God and/or neighbor?)? Is baptism simply symbolic (something we do to demonstrate to God our “commitment”) or is Goddoing” something through baptism?

How you answer these questions influences how you answer the question about whether or not baptism is “necessary” and “the point of baptism” (what “benefits” come with baptism). I can share with you how I answer these questions. The more important thing is, “How do you answer these questions?”

Hmmmm, how do I answer these questions? I do not do anything in my faith life based on “rules”, so I wouldn’t take a rules-based, religious approach to baptism. For me, Christianity boils down to relationships with God and others. I didn’t realize it before, but based on Mike’s response, I must have actually been asking what baptism has to do with loving God and our neighbor. As far as whether baptism is something we do to demonstrate to God our commitment to Him, or something God does through baptism, well, I wasn’t so sure yet.

After I had some time to digest this and read the scripture passages he referenced in the email, Mike followed up with a second email.

Micah,

Thought I’d add some to what I said yesterday now that you (hopefully) have had a chance to read and reflect on those Scripture passages I mentioned in the earlier email.

Do I believe baptism is “necessary.” Throughout history, the Church has answered that question with a resounding  “Yes.” Some Christians see it as a “requirement” (you must make a public profession– something we do for God) and others see it as a “sacrament” (something God does for us).  I see it from the sacramental approach.

Is baptism necessary? Yes, but not because we have to (it somehow “saves” us) but because we want to because God gives us something tangible to cling to and recall God’s promise in Jesus. The focus is on what God is doing… it is not a one-time event (although we physically baptize only once), it’s an on-going, daily reminder of God’s presence, promises and power… a daily dying to self and living for Christ.

In its religious sense, baptism means “to identify” or “to be made one with”. It refers to the act of identifying one thing with another thing in such a way that its nature or character is changed, or it represents the idea that a real change has already taken place.

As a reference to identification, “baptize” means to place a person (or thing) into a new environment, or into union with some one or something else, so as to alter his (its) condition or relationship to the previous environment.

Having said all this, does that make what you and Andrew are doing as you raise your children wrong? Not at all. You (and your whole family) are God’s children. Someday you (or they) may want to be baptized. If and when that day comes, I will be glad to assist in any way I can.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Ah, just want I wanted, right? Mike’s beliefs and opinions backed up by scriptural and scholarly evidence, yet opened-ended enough for me to formulate my own beliefs and opinions.

Just what I wanted and just what I didn’t want. See what I mean? It’s difficult to not just accept what educated people tell you as personal truth. I have been mulling over this information for a few weeks now and came to a conclusion (at least for now) when sweet baby Aidan was baptized last Sunday.

In my own words, baptism is a spiritual event that allows us to look back and gain strength and courage from the act of being physically identified as God’s child. Through baptism, we were born into new life. Mike later told me, “The baptism water is just plain water, but when we apply it with God’s promises, it becomes a life-giving event.” Jesus became all that we are so that we may become all that He is.  He became our sin so that we may become his righteousness. Though we only physically baptize once, it is actually a daily process. Baptism is a daily dying to self and living for Christ.

Are we all God’s children already? Yes.

Is baptism a necessary part of the Christian life for rules-based reasons? No.

Can we have a relationship with God without being baptized? Yes.

Is God with us through difficult times without being baptized? Yes.

Does baptism provide us with a tangible event to look back on and cling to when we need the reassurance that we are God’s child, identified by Him and called to live a life filled with His power, presence and promise? YES!

And so, sweet Aidan, I loved being a part of your baptism. You have been physically and spiritually identified as a child of God, born into a life full of the promise of Christ. Look back on this day and know with certainty that God is in you and with you, promising great things for you forever. We love you!

(These are only my personal thoughts, of course. I’d love to read your thoughts on baptism. Please leave a comment explaining what it means to you.)

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