Yesterday was our annual church picnic at Hersey Congregational Church. We also for the last three years have been doing baptismal service in the Hersey River. Many people who live around here laugh when I say that because they know the Hersey River is very shallow. In fact I think the deepest place I know of is maybe three feet. most of it however is one foot or less. There are reservoirs and pools along it of course that are deeper along its course but none of these places makes for a good place to baptize.
I was the pastor of my current church for four years before I did a baptismal service. I had several reservations about the whole thing. 1) My church is made up of people from all kinds of former church backgrounds. I think I have identified at least fifteen. Many people in my church have more than one background. Needless to say, thoughts on Baptism vary widely from infant baptism to believer’s baptism, from sprinkling to full immersion. It becomes a problem only when you are trying to figure out how to hold a baptismal service trying to respect all of those beliefs. 2) Dealing with my own convictions about baptism. In large part if grew up in a tradition of immersion and I was myself baptized by immersion. I however have looked at the subject with new eyes in recent years and have come to the following conclusions.
1) No specific mode of baptism mentioned in the New Testament. There is going down into water and coming out of water, there are people being baptized in cities where there would only be fountains or wells. There are all kinds of places for baptism in the New Testament, but no where is there a mode specifically talked about or stated. This actually is one of the things that churches fight about the most and probably it is because of this nebulous quality to baptism in the Bible.
2) What is not as filled with mystery in the Bible is the name in which we are to baptize. In one case, we are told that we are to baptize in Jesus’ name in the other we are told to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I think some people make the mistake of thinking you have to go one way or the other and the truth is that you can do both together.
3) Baptism is often done immediately after salvation in the New Testament. It is something that is said in the same breath with the word ‘repent’ The point is that the early church did not expect perfection in morals, perfect doctrine or even a full and complete understanding of baptism to be baptized.
I now believe that the church makes it far too difficult to be baptized. They do it trying to say that people need to me more serious about it or fully understand baptism to be baptized, by making it a huge deal about the mode of baptism and arguing over what form of words to baptize with. No wonder people are not only confused about baptism, they are afraid of it.
This odd to me now because if there is one thing you can say about baptism and the New Testament is that things were highly flexible and open about baptism. Whenever I see something that is open and flexible in the Bible and people have made it rigid and difficult in the church I smell one word – ‘religion’ It is people in church that feel things like this should be controlled that are the real problem. They seek for iron clad dictates in the Bible and when they do not find them they make them up. Baptism has long been the victim of this.
In the end I baptize in six inches of water of the Hersey River. I have them stand beside me and ask them to testify about why they want to be baptized and ask them about their faith in Jesus. Once that is done. I baptize them by cupping my hand in the river and pouring the contents of my hands over their head. I look at this as more than qualifying for baptism and the one thing that is said is that this makes it easier to not only baptize, but remove some of the fear of it. It works and I can’t see anything Biblically wrong with it.