Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Baptism of CJ

I went to a new church on Sunday. It’s not a new church, having been in existence for about the past 13 years, but it was new to me. It is a nondenominational church that had begun like so many others in the way Scripture put it, “Where two or three are gathered.” It now boasts about 1200 members so evidently they’re doing something right.

There had to be over a thousand people in that congregation and the sheer number was almost overwhelming. The service began with what reminded me very much of a rock concert — guitars, amplifiers, drums, keyboards, group of five young people with microphones, moving lights, a bit of smoke and a volume that was almost earsplitting. The singers, whose images were projected on huge screens on either side of the stage, were all attractive, healthy-looking young people, very invested in the ministry in which they participated. They clapped, they waved their arms and they seem to be enjoying it. What was also interesting to me was that even though the church was clearly aimed at the younger generations, I still saw some rather senior citizens being greeted at the door and welcomed as old friends. Indeed, this church must be doing something right.

I went because a young friend of mine, CJ, was being baptized and I wanted to be supportive of him in his decision. He was among at least must have been at least 100 people who were baptized just at the service I attended. There were two pools, one on either side of the building, complete with video cams so that even if I couldn’t see what was going on by standing up, I could still see each person being baptized. It was rather amazing being brought close enough to see their faces before and after their immersions. There were older adults, several kids maybe ten to twelve years old, young adults, teens, and even families. Several times I saw couples and even groups of three and four all being baptized simultaneously. Talk about community experience. Even though we were sitting next to one of the pools, I would have missed CJ’s baptism had I not been looking at the big-screen over the pool. Unlike some of the others, he wasn’t particularly smiling, nor was he looking teary-eyed. To me he looked properly serious as I would expect a young man of his age to look when making a major decision in his life. He did smile once he came up out of the water, this time like so many others who were also baptized today. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him after church, but I’d like to know how he felt, what his thoughts were, and what it all meant to him.

There was a part of the sermon before the baptism where several ministers spoke at length about baptism and explained their baptismal policy. The main point was that baptism wouldn’t save you, only accepting Jesus as Savior would do that yet much emphasis was placed on the act of baptism almost as if it really were required to complete the package. One minister said that their policy was no children under 10 were to be baptized because they would not remember their baptism and that sort of got to me. I was baptized at eight, and although I don’t remember a huge amount about my childhood, I definitely remember my baptism in the Southern Baptist Church. I had several disagreements with their interpretation of Scripture and practice although I had heard similar arguments when I was growing up in the SBC, but this congregation wasn’t affiliated with that denomination and it wasn’t my place to say anything or even really to be judgmental of their beliefs. They were following Jesus as they understood it and a lot of people seem to agree with their interpretation just by looking at the number of people present.

I thought about this church, the baptisms and CJ most of the afternoon. At 15 he’s undertaken a journey that literally millions of others have taken at various points in their lives. For some it begins as infants, baptism being their entrance into the body of Christ, allowing them to grow up as members of that body and to confirm their faith in another ceremony of the church called confirmation when they are old enough to assent to the baptismal covenant promised in their name at their christening for themselves. For some it comes a little closer to the end of life. For each one of them, though, it marks a commitment to a life that is more about living faithfully in the world and working to change it into a place more like Eden as it was originally. This church into which CJ chose to be baptized tries to do its bit to make the world a better place, even for people outside its congregation. Theological dissimilarities or not, I have to give them kudos for not just the joy they seem to find in worship but for their welcoming of strangers and their commitment to helping those in need, physically or spiritually.

Baptism is a joyous time, whether for an infant or an elder. It’s also a serious time, a time for commitment not just from the one being baptized but for the entire community of faith that gathers together to witness this baptism. I hope that his church will support CJ in his journey because it really takes a community to guide, lead, support and walk with him as he grows into his beliefs and the acknowledgements he made Sunday morning in church. I hope he will consider me as part of his community even though I may never attend that church again. But I want him to know that I also walk this path, just as he does, and I’m still learning what it means to be Christian.

Blessings be upon you, CJ, on your first days as a member of the Body of Christ and the community of faith. May you be a faithful follower of the one you professed as Lord and Savior.  And yes, CJ, being Christian still means you have to listen to your mom and dad, hang up your clothes and not feel the world owes you.  Jesus paid more for you than you can imagine, and so your life is just paying back that debt. God loves you, CJ, and so do I.

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