A letter from & to a friend on the occasion of her Baptism


baptism-foot-waterThis weekend, I received this wonderful note from a good friend, inviting me and others to her Re-Baptism in one of the rivers of Philadelphia. With her permission, I’m posting her letter and my reply to it below. No matter your precise theological views on second baptisms, I hope you find this exchange to be encouraging to your soul.

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Hello dear friends,

As many of you know, I grew up in a church for much of my childhood and adolescence, and was even baptized around age ten into the covenant family of the Presbyterian church I attended. While I respect this baptism as a symbol of the faith tradition I was born into and grew up with, at ten, I had never struggled with any doubts or questions that have been such a part of my adult faith journey.

In my life, I have found it so easy to get hung up on theology and technicalities (What does it mean if I don’t believe in penal substitution? What exactly does the divinity of Jesus mean?) and my despair at the state of our world (Why does God let horrible evil things happen?). I’ve spent a long ten years questioning and doubting and not knowing. To be honest, not much has changed. I still despair over the evil I see and I still haven’t figured out how how everything works. But I’ve come to believe that that’s just what it is to be human–to be me. It doesn’t somehow cancel out my faith.

I was reading the book of Mark recently, and these two things stuck out time and time again. Jesus told people to “repent” (which means to turn around or think differently afterward) and believe that the kingdom of God is near. Jesus upset religious legalism; he taught abundance and a life and worldview very different from cultural norms.

At the end of the day, in spite of all my doubts, I believe in Jesus. I choose to follow Him. I am going to express this belief and choice today through the very tangible and very traditional symbol of baptism, as an adult, with all my questions and with all my moments of despair.

A friend handed me a quote last night, which I think applies well to my story: “The Spiritual life is a long and often arduous search for what you have already learned.” –Henri Nouwen

my reply:

I’m so excited for you. This is the most ancient of the Christian practices, and I absolutely believe that so many of those that have done it have had those same doubts and questions as they have gone into the water. You’re in the best of company in the family of God in Baptism. If it’s any encouragement, in the past month or so, I have noticed a big difference in you. You have seemed happier, lighter, and just more at peace.

Like you said, the doubts and questions won’t go away but, in Baptism, we’re baptized into Christ’s death. And that death was the same death where Jesus cried out to God “Why have your forsaken me”?

In a very literal way, you are being joined today into the event where the greatest moment of doubt and forsakenness has ever occurred. And so you’re not gaining the privilege of those things being taken away, but the honor of being plunged all the more deeply into those things and for them to now be things that bring you closer to Jesus and the Cross rather than further away. As Martin Luther said:

“No one should be terrified if she feels evil lust or love, nor should she despair even if she falls. Rather she should remember her Baptism and comfort herself joyfully with the fact that God has there pledged Himself to slay her sin for her, and not to count it a cause for condemnation….Therefore there is no greater comfort on earth than Baptism. For it is through Baptism that we come under the judgment of grace and mercy…”

And lastly, he also said this:

“Devil, rage as much as you please, I do not boast of my good works before the Lord at all, nor shall I despair on account of my sins, but I comfort myself with the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again…. Therefore, be gone. If I have committed some sin, go eat [crap]; it’s yours. I’m not worrying about it…. This is not the time for arguing, but for comforting myself with the words that Jesus Christ died and rose for me. And for a sign of all this I have his dear Baptism, his gospel, his Word and Sacraments”

Go in peace and joy. I’m so excited for you.


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9 thoughts on “A letter from & to a friend on the occasion of her Baptism

  1. Baptism is an outward expression of an inward belief in Jesus Christ. It is identifying with Him in His death and resurrection. We are to tell the enemy to “get behind us” and he will flee. I’m guessing that with time, Christ will also remove your need to swear. Any action on or part that doesn’t point to Him, becomes a stumbling block.

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    • That was Luther. It was the word he used and published, not me. That’s not to say I have a problem of him doing so, but your concern is with him.

      Also, I’d challenge you to find your definition of baptism in the Bible.

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      • Greetings, Paul. Baptism is submersion in water. Christ was not sprinkled, nor is there any record of infant baptism in the Bible. John Baptized Jesus (in the river Jordan). There was the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and that was at Pentecost, again….an outward pouring of the Holy Spirit…which then provided many there to speak in tongues (their native languages) so that the Scriptures would be heard clearly. Repent and be baptized are commands, not suggestions. There is only one instance of an individual going to heaven without being baptized in the Bible. That would be the thief on the cross, indicating that it was his faith that saved him, not baptism. Additionally, that would include those who have passed on suddenly perhaps after salvation and did not get baptized. But, there is only one incident in the Bible. John baptized with water and again, an outward show of repentance. Christ baptizes us with the power of the Holy Spirit, once we get saved. Baptism, in and of itself, holds no special magic or power.

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        • Just like any adult who was not born into the Israelite Covenant was supposed to get circumcised as the outward sign of now entering that covenant, so to were infants who WERE born into that covenant required to take on the outward marking of that covenant.

          Baptism is a promise from God, not a proclamation of our own work or decision. You probably know well the multiple “household baptisms”. This was a continuity with the Old Covenant (an outward marking, even of infants), though the discontinuity is in mode (the New Covenant is FAR more open to both genders, whereas circumcision is….well….not). There’s nothing that goes against infant baptism in the Bible. It is assumed. There was no reason to “defend” it. Our earliest church documents describe infant baptism being the default and prevalent view of the earliest member of the Church. And of course, the first converts in the earliest days of Christianity were adults. There were no second generation Christian infants to baptize in the book of Acts, and those children of adult converts within their household were–guess what?–baptized.

          Baptism, like any sacrament, needs to be about GOD, not your decision. It is not a celebration of you, your work, your faith, your decision, or your salvation. it is a celebration of promises God has made to his covenant people APART from and even BEFORE we ever came to knowledge of it. No one (not even Catholics) believe Baptism saves anyone. It simply visibly marks you as part of the covenant people of God. There were lots of circumcised Jews that were not living faithfully to the covenant.

          As far as mode goes, I don’t think it matters honestly. I tend to support sprinkling babies and dunking adults, but whatever. There were no rivers near where Cornelius’ family was, and the text says nothing of walking them to the closest one or filling up a tub of some kind. It looks like John dunked but Cornelius’ household were sprinkled.

          Lastly, I was raised Baptist and am very well aware of all of the Baptismal views out there. I get it. I know that Believer’s Baptism, if it assumed, seems so exegetically clear and that someone has to do lots of logical gymnastics to believe in infant baptism, but I’m telling you, it’s only because you approach the text with that assumption. Believer Baptism folks still have to deal with the fact that the earliest Christians, most Christians throughout history, and most Christians today ALL hold to infant baptism. If Believer’s Baptism is SOOOOOO clear, why are they the severe minority throughout church history and today?

          Thanks again for commenting. (And I hope you noticed I edited out the language above due to your concern.)

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          • Greetings Paul,

            One, Baptist or not, Christ was immersed. No, we are not baptized because of promises of God. We are baptized because God commands it, period. There is nowhere in God’s Word that there was infant baptism. OT records no baptisms because the sacrament of baptism was not implemented. As for circumcision, the Apostle Paul spoke to circumcision being not relevant to one’s belief in Jesus Christ. Whether one is circumcised or not, does not count towards our salvation. It matters not that there is nothing against infant baptism in the Bible, as my God does not make mistakes and if He was baptized as a man and further, if He believed infant baptism was critical, He wouldn’t have left it out of the Bible. You are not baptized on the strength of your confession, rather your conviction of your belief. It says nothing about Cornelius’s house and home family not seeking baptism by immersion. And, as for immersion? If circumstances do not permit immersion, and no doubt those do exist, then a form of water coverage would no doubt be acceptable to God, just as the thief was who couldn’t be baptized at all. I didn’t say we don’t baptize children, I sad we don’t baptize babies. And, as for children, let’s be clear. Each child varies in their understanding levels.. That being said, the Bible speaks to an age of accountability, and it does not mention that age. Only God knows the heart. But, baptism is not done because of promises made by God. It is an act (sacrament) completed, as per Christ’s instructions, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.” What promises does God give at or as a result of baptism, that He doesn’t give to believers, once saved. I note that the word, salvation doesn’t permeate much of your discussion. Would you please explain to me what the Gospel is? You mentioned that there is no record of second generational baptisms of the early church? God didn’t tell us everything, only what we needed to receive salvation and submit to Him a life that points to Him. I’m curious, because I never assume this. When you stand before the one and only Holy God someday, and He asks you why you should go to heaven, what will you say? Am I to assume that the figurine/symbol of Christ still hanging on the cross, that you are Catholic? Please take Him off, He died, and was bodily resurrected and is seated at the right hand throne of God the Father. He is not, and has not been on the cross for some time. Also, I don’t baptize, my pastor does and he doesn’t take your testimony lightly, nor does he take baptism lightly. He does not baptize someone in their name, rather in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Do you recall the story of the Ethiopian who was saved and then baptized? Is it strange that Catholics don’t/won’t use the word saved, salvation, Christ’s righteousness and nothing we do of ourselves? Catholics believe in a works salvation and that is a sad commentary and a spit in the face of Calvary. Even common sense dictates that if there was one thing that you or I could do to inherit eternal life in heaven, instead of hell, then why would a perfect God and perfect man go through the excruciating death of crucifixion on the cross? So many people, so many faiths, only one way to Christ, period. He is the way, the truth and the life and no man cometh to the Father except by Him (Jesus Christ). There are no earthly mediators or heavenly mediators needed for me to access God. And, He only hears one prayer of a sinner, that is the pray of repentance and calling to Him to be one’s Saviour. It matters not what you believe, God’s Word stand sure on all points of doctrinal truths. One, being…..Biblical records show no infant baptisms. You may want to conclude through false teachings that “early church records record infant baptisms, but my reference points start and stop with God’s Word. In addition, Peter (had a mother-in-law) which concludes that he was indeed married. He was no more, Saint Peter than any other person, saved by God’s grace. We are all saints, as again, the Bible concludes. How you drifted so far from presumably solid doctrines to such false teachings, only God knows. I do appreciate you not swearing, BTW. 🙂

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            • I can honestly say that one of the greatest and most freeing dynamics in my religious life has been getting to know enough people from other parts of the Christian family that, I hope, I have cultivated a general gracious spirit and ecumenism towards anyone that receives Christ as their own. I take seriously Paul’s statement of what is of “first importance”. Christ came, died, rose again, and we will be raised with him. Apart from that, there is great latitude in secondary belief. That does not mean that I think all secondary belief is equally valid or true, or that I don’t hold very strong opinions about secondary matters, just that they are just that–secondary. That’s why I changed the language in the post: it would be a silly hill to die on, and I didn’t want it to be an unnecessary distraction from the post, no matter how silly I think it is that it would be a distraction to some in the first place.

              I say all that because I feel like you’re being far more reactive to my comments than really engaging with them, and you seem to have very little grace for the vast majority of Christians in the past and present that have disagreed with you on this point. It simply isn’t as clear-cut as your over-confident proclamations make it seem.

              I agree: Jesus was probably immersed. He also died on a cross and told us to bear our own. That does not mean his “mode” of cross-bearing looks the same for all believers at all times. Neither does his “mode” of baptism necessarily set the mode for all baptisms for all time. His was unique. It was not a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, like the others were. He was also baptized in the Jordan. So is your baptism valid if it’s not there as well? Or does it have to be in a river? It’s too simplistic to simply place Jesus’ baptism as the model for everyone’s. And you’re really stretching the text to force immersion into Cornelius’ household baptism. But that’s fine. Like I said, I don’t think “mode” is the important part.

              I don’t know what you mean by not using the word “salvation”. I did use the word in my comments to you, but I also said that baptism doesn’t equal salvation, nor does it lead to one’s salvation. So…I find it absolutely appropriate if someone talks about Baptism without talking about salvation. They are not the same thing. You’re right, Paul says circumcision isn’t needed for salvation. Neither is Baptism, which is the New Covenant’s version of circumcision. Jesus was circumcised as an infant like all Covenant People. If we are to simply lay his life over ours, how might we follow in his footsteps today. And no, “baby dedication” is nothing like the full meaning of infant circumcision. Baptism does not automatically mean salvation. Even the Catholic Catechism says this:

              “Baptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” The response is: “Faith!”

              For all the baptized, infants or adults, faith must grow after Baptism. For this reason the Church celebrates each year at the Easter Vigil the renewal of baptismal promises. Preparation for Baptism leads only to the threshold of new life. Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth.”

              (Oh, and we need to clear something up: I’m not a Catholic. Never have been. Never will be (probably). Neither am I Lutheran. I was raised a Southern Baptist, and am now a deacon and seminarian in the Reformed Church in America, and previously a seminarian at a Presbyterian Seminary. I have the crucifix up top because (1) it’s a nice picture, and (2) the fullness of Catholic thought behind it is not nearly as weird as you’re making it out to be. True, it is one pet peeve of mine of Catholics that the depth of their theology doesn’t seem to trickle down form their priests to the people, and so the people often end up thinking and talking a lot of wring things, but that is not Catholic thought. If you want to the complex theology behind why I put that picture up, it’s this: Jesus was crucified “before the foundation of the world”. The death of Christ is mysteriously something that stands outside of time. The crucifixion on Golgotha was the physical and material in-breaking of an eternal and spiritual reality. The Catholic idea of Communion is not the Jesus dies all over again, but that it is the eternal truth in-breaking into the world again. And it’s in this way, that the shadow of the Cross is cast over all our lives and covers our sins, even today. I don’t agree with that understanding of Communion–though I do think Christ’s real Presence is there–but it’s not as simplistic as saying “Catholic think Jesus didn’t die once for all.” That’s silly and not true. Relatedly, Catholic do not believe in “works salvation”, but they believe that Salvation is not ONLY by faith (sola fide). It’s FIRSTLY by faith (prima fide), and then is NECESSARILY followed by (as they call it) FAITH-FUL works.)

              As I said, infant baptism is assumed in the New Testament. Meeting weekly is also not explicitly mentioned by Jesus or the rest of the New Testament. Forming churches isn’t mentioned by Jesus. The idea of Scripture outside of the Old Testament is not mentioned by Jesus, and only mentioned in passing by Peter. Homosexual sin is not mentioned by Jesus. Monogamy is not spoken of by him, and premarital sex is not condemned by him. And yet, people aren’t saying that he didn’t believe these things or that they weren’t assumed by the writers as they wrote the Gospels. The New Testament didn’t need to meticulously walk through explanations against polygamy, for example. Why? Because it was an already-established part of the Christian faith by the time the New Testament Scriptures were being written. Just like infant baptism. If you re-read the entire New Testament as if they assumed infant baptism, guess what? It all still makes sense.

              And so, we have an issue (infant baptism) that BOTH SIDES can comfortably, without much difficulty, fit quite easily into the biblical witness. How do you solve that tension? There are many things that can be done, but one of the simplest is to see how the first interpreters of the Scriptures interpreted it. What did the people that were CLOSEST to the original writing think when THEY originally read these words? Within 100 years of the Bible being written, you have Iranaeus, Origin, Tertullian and others talking about infant baptism pretty casually as if it was the normal practice of the church.

              But here’s the thing, there are some writings that imply it may have been in dispute at the time, or that people were wondering about it. And so, I don’t want to turn around and say that Baptists hate the Bible, are disobedient, or are just reading some cultural understanding into the Scriptures. These are genuine interpretive disagreements on genuinely difficult texts by people who genuinely love God and are seeking as hard as they can to be obedient to his Word. I know you love God and his Word, and I will not doubt that even though I completely disagree with you on your conviction on this issue, and especially with the way you wear that conviction, communicate it, and use it to divide the Body of Christ. I can’t help but your over-confidence in this is similar to the Pharisees’ obsession with Sabbath regulations–another issue VERY important to God (he even killed people over it in the OT!). Just because it’s important to God, and he commands it, it gives NO believer the rite to turn into a club with which to bludgeon and cast out other believers in the death, resurrection, grace, and unmerited favor and salvation of Jesus Christ.

              I may be wrong on infant baptism. You may be wrong on limiting it only to believer’s baptism. But we are BOTH co-heirs with Christ, and intend to treat you as such, and I would hope you would do the same for others without resorting to caricatures, stereotypes, and over-confident minority positions. Humility on all fronts is in order.

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          • Paul,

            I was redressing some of your comments. I particularly would like to add to your thoughts on why we are the “severely minority” of people who don’t believe in infant baptism. Catholics and Lutherans no doubt hold to that belief and as you are the second largest “religious” denomination in the world, next to Islam….that would put we Baptists in the minority. I’m also reminded in God’s Word that “broad is the path to destruction, narrow is the way to eternal life and few there be that enter therein.” When I say that we baptize because it is God’s command, isn’t His directive enough, period?

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  2. “For it is through Baptism that we come under the judgment of grace and mercy…””

    Luther had the faith without works correct, but when he left the Catholic Church, he took a lot of baggage with him. It is not through Baptism that we come under judgment of grace and mercy. That was done at the cross. Baptism has nothing to do with our salvation outside of again…it is an outward expression of an inward desire to dedicate your life to Christ. It is an open act of admission that you accept His substitutionary death at the cross, His burial and bodily resurrection from the tomb, and that He is sitting at the right hand of the Father.

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    • Another Luther quote on this:

      “You say you don’t baptize children because they don’t believe. Why do you preach the Word to adults who don’t believe, unless perhaps in the hope that they may believe? You do it on the strength of God’s command alone. For if you baptize me because I say I believe, then you baptize on account of me and in my name. Therefore, since you don’t know whether I believe or don’t believe, you do it only because of God’s command. It isn’t necessary to exclude children, since as a rule you baptize all, whether they believe or not. It would be a terrible thing if I were baptized on the strength of my confession.”

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