In the fall of 1998 in Nick and Linda Losole’s swimming pool in Coppell, TX I was taking part in the leadership of a baptism service attended by our youth group (I was a youth pastor at this church at the time.) As a combination of kids and parents looked on, the individual who was being baptized climbed into the water with our Senior Pastor (Wayne McDonald) and told his testimony. After the testimony, Wayne walked over beside this individual and dunked him beneath the water’s surface, then lifted him back out of the water moments later. The youth group applauded and cheered. All baptisms are important, but this one was a bit unique for this group (and most groups for that matter!) You see, on this night, the youth got to witness their Youth Pastor being baptized. That’s right . . . on that night in the fall of 1998, I was baptized along with my wife, publicly participating in an ancient ceremony that has been an integral part of Christian worship from the very beginning.
Now, my experience with baptism should raise some very important questions in your mind:
First of all, you might ask this, “Mark, did you become a Christian while attending Dallas Seminary and serving as a Youth Pastor in 1998?” This is a good question, and some might look at the facts of the situation and draw this incorrect conclusion. The reality is, I had been a Christian for many years prior to this water baptism at the Losole’s home in 1998. This experience (together with the truth of God’s Word) reminds us of the important distinction between belief and baptism. We are saved, according to Ephesians 2:8-9, by God’s grace that we receive by faith. God graciously offers to forgive us our sins because of the work of Christ. He asks only that we receive this gracious offer by placing our faith in Jesus Christ as our only way to have a relationship with the living God that will culminate with spending eternity in His presence. Baptism, while very important and commanded by Christ, becomes merely the outward sign of the faith that has already taken root in someone’s heart. Therefore, I embraced Christ’s gift of life in 1990, but I was not baptized after believing in Christ until 1998. In a sense, I spent the first 8 years of my Christian life like a husband who did not wear his wedding ring. The reality of my “marriage” with Jesus Christ existed, even though I had not put on the outward symbol of that union.
A second question you may want to ask is this, “I thought you grew up in a church? Were you not baptized there as a child?” The answer to this is “yes.” I did grow up in a fine church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma that practiced the baptism of infants. If you are unfamiliar with this practice, know that different denominations believe different things happen when an infant is baptized. Some believe that the child has their “original sin” washed away when they are baptized as an infant, thus covering them with God’s grace until they get old enough to make a faith decision for themselves. This was the position of St. Augustine. Other groups believe that infant baptism actually assures salvation for that child as they grow older. This was the view of Martin Luther. Other denominations see infant baptism as merely a dedication of the child to the Lord by the parents who promise to raise the child in a Christian heritage as a part of a community of faith. I was baptized as an infant in a church that had a hybrid belief about infant baptism that combined elements of these three positions.
The next question you probably want to ask is “Why were you baptized AGAIN, if you were baptized as an infant?” I decided to be baptized again out of obedience to what I believe the Scriptures teach about baptism. As I progressed through seminary and grew in my understanding of the Greek language, I came across an interesting concept. The Greek word from which we get the word “baptize” is actually the word “baptidzo.” When translators went to translate baptidzo into English, they basically punted. They did not bother to translate it at all. They simply transliterated the word into English and thus borrowed its Greek meaning. The Greek word baptidzo has two streams of related meaning, one literal and the other figurative. The literal meaning of baptidzo is to immerse. If a ship sank into the ocean, the original Greek would say that it was baptized into the ocean. The figurative meaning of the word meant to fully identify with something. The figurative and literal meanings are intimately related. In other words, a sunken ship becomes so identified with the ocean that (from the water’s surface) it becomes impossible to tell the difference between the ocean and the ship – all you see is water. Seeing these streams of meaning, I began to believe that when the Bible says “baptize” it really means to “fully identify with Jesus Christ” where water immersion becomes the best available symbol to picture this spiritual reality.
Further, as I sat in John Grassmick’s Greek Class at Dallas Seminary studying Romans 6, I came to see that the picture of baptism is a symbolic recreation of one’s death, burial, and resurrection with Christ. In other words, when someone goes down beneath the water, they are identifying their life with the death and burial of Christ . . . a full payment for their sins. Then, when they are lifted out of the water, they are being raised again, a picture of their new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). While I did not believe that my salvation depended on my participation in this symbolic ceremony, I did believe that water baptism by immersion was an important step for me to take in response for what I understood the Bible to be teaching.
Another question you may have is this, “Weren’t you insulting your family when you chose to be baptized again as an adult?” This is a tough question for me to answer. Tough, because I was not the one who may have been offended. The question is a good one because my parents (like millions of parents around the world) had me baptized as an infant as a step of sincere faith. Further they followed through on their commitments to raise me in the church and in a Christian home. This legacy was used by God to ultimately lead me into Christ’s saving embrace. In no way was my decision to be baptized an attempt to discredit my parent’s faithful investment in my spiritual life. In fact, I called them before my baptism to tell them what I was doing and to thank them for their spiritual influence in my life. I do not think that my baptism as an infant was a terrible thing . . . from my understanding of the Scriptures, however, I just do not think it is the best expression of Christian baptism. The pattern in the New Testament seemed to be that people believed and THEN they were baptized. Since an infant has not yet really had the chance to demonstrate faith, the faith given at their baptism was really their parents.
One final question is this. “What are YOU to do in response to this?” This is an important question. If you are someone who has trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, but has not ever been baptized since trusting in Christ, then I would challenge you to search the Scriptures for yourself to see if God’s Word matches your experience in your practice of baptism. As a Pastor who has come to this conviction on immersion baptism of believers and as one who serves in a church that practices this form of baptism, I share my perspective with you. As I state this conviction, though, I know I state a position that is counter to the teaching and practice of giants of the faith like Augustine and Luther. When it comes to this issue, don’t just take my word for it, search the Scriptures and come to your own conclusions. Augustine and Luther had their reasons for believing in and practicing infant baptism, while I ( and many others) have my reasons as stated above for believing something different. What do you believe on the issue? What is your conviction?
If you have trusted in Christ and have never been baptized and are interested in finding out more about the topic, then I would encourage you to attend Pastor Bruce Hess’s Baptism class this Sunday, August 30 at Wildwood at 4 PM in the Gathering Hall. This is a place to find out more about baptism, to ask your questions, and also to sign up to be baptized at Wildwood’s next baptism service, which will be held on September 20. If you have thoughts or questions, I would love to hear them!