What’s the Big Deal?

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.”

Hmmm. 

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.

5 thoughts on “What’s the Big Deal?

  1. I look forward to Wednesday night and the opportunity to better understand the question. There can be many facets. Will the discussion include those who are members of other religions whose membership ritual did not involve water? Also, what definition of “religion” should be used? In my work, employment law, religion is defined as “any sincerely held belief” so long as the individual’s conduct conforms to those beliefs.

    I thoroughly enjoy your sermons each Sunday, and enjoy wrestling with them through the coming week. I have briefly mentioned to you some of the interesting questions your sermons present.

    FBC is truly blessed to have you as our Senior Pastor!

  2. I am also came from another denomination catholic church and baptised as a baby. I didn’t go to church until the begining of 2005. After three month of a every empty worship only a to or three time a touching moment. I needed to go to another church… I know alot of good baptist. Can I get an Amen!!! I started down chinatown of Washington DC. Started going to Calvary Baptist Church join the church in November and baptised on New Years day. I also started to go monday night to First Baptist of DC on Monday and told to come on the Wednesday night service. After so many week and finaily come to the time to become a Associate Members. I become a part of the family. I was still going to Calvary until Jan 08 until I know I going to bring my full membership to FBC. First three Sunday I was going to FBC and the last Sunday I was at Calvary. I joined the church on the first week of April. I was thinkful in being in a church I love. An had a wonderful pastor and now a brother in Christ.

  3. Jim – I look forward to the Wednesday evening sessions on Baptism! I was a Methodist, growing up, and I was Christened, as I informed you at our first meeting. I attended “Soul Salsa” last night, and one of my new friends spoke about being Baptized in “the river”. If it turns out that we are required to be Baptized at FBC, I would prefer to do it in a river as well (may have to wait until next summer). Would you consider performing Baptisms in a/the river?

  4. Dear Dr. Jim,

    It never occured to me that there was any controversy regarding being baptised or re-baptised in FBC in order to become a member.

    I was baptised in the Greek Orthodox Church as a baby and it has always been important to me to keep that part of my heritage sacred. Growing up I attended not only the Greek Church but Second Baptist Church, which at that time they were a block apart. My mother taught me at a young age that God can hear us no matter which church we attend. I always felt welcomed in both.

    In April of 2007 I decided I wanted to become a member of First Baptist Church and had several discussions with friends, family and Steve Booth. My final decision was to join through WatchCare as it allowed me to keep my “Greekness” (new word I’m sure) and at the same time become part of a community I had grown to love.

    In my year and a half as a member, I have never felt less than a full member of the church nor has anyone ever asked me if I was baptised there. And for those who know that I have not been re-baptised, it has never come up in discussion. I am accepted as a Christian and a human “being”.

    I love being part of the fellowship and community of FBC and hope that others who are trying to decide whether to join will not allow the choice of how to enter (letter, baptism or watchcare) discourage them in any way.

    God is not hung up on rituals or how we come to know and love him, He just loves that we do.

    Vicky

  5. Dear Dr Jim, I feel strongly about immersion, that being said I feel you will come up with the correct solution and will support the policy you reccomend. I usually am not this cooperative. You must have caught me on a rare day.

    God Bless

    Dan

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