Someone asked me over the weekend why we’re having a “Holy Conversation” about baptism and church membership, and specifically why we would talk about changing our practice of re-baptizing Christians from other denominations. The short answer is: me. I’m the one who put the event on the calendar. But the reason I put it on the calendar is interesting.
Since I’ve been at First Baptist I’ve had conversations with dozens of people who grew up in other denominations. Some of them (Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc.) were surprised to hear that in order to become full members of the church they would have to be baptized by immersion. Actually, I was surprised to hear it. I grew up Presbyterian, was immersed at 14 at my own request, and joined a Southern Baptist church at 22. But of the six Baptist churches I’ve belonged to this is the first that requires new members from other denominations to be immersed, which is why I never thought to ask the search committee about it. I hear from other Baptists in Virginia that my experience is not typical, not even close, which explains why the search committee never thought to mention it to me. It’s nobody’s fault, but it does explain why I would raise the question.
Still, some people don’t understand why we’re setting aside two Wednesday nights to talk about baptism and church membership. “I got sprinkled as a baby and dunked as an adult,” one said with a smile. It’s just water. It’s just a symbol. What’s the big deal? But for some people it is a big deal. They’ve been Christians for years and the suggestion that their baptism “isn’t good enough,” and that they would need to “start all over again,” offends them. It would be like renouncing their faith. “No, no!” others say. “It’s not renouncing your faith at all. We know you’re a Christian; you’re just not a Baptist.”
I’m guessing that wouldn’t be the end of the conversation, but only the beginning. And I’m hoping you can join us in the Dining Hall this Wednesday night at 6:15 for the first round, where we will listen to the stories of people who became Christians in our tradition and others. Maybe by the end of the evening we will all have a better feel for the complexities of this issue, and understand why, for some people, it’s a very big deal indeed.