I started last night’s “Holy Conversation” with a story about a time, early in my marriage, when I decided to surprise Christy by washing the dishes. I filled one basin with warm, soapy water and the other with clean, scalding water. And then I washed all the dishes, starting with the cups and saucers, ending with the pots and pans, washing them in the warm, soapy water, rinsing them in clean, scalding water, well on my way to surprising Christy when…she came home early. She asked me what I was doing. “I’m washing the dishes,” I said, magnanimously, waiting for her praise. “That’s not how you wash dishes,” she said, patiently. “You just turn on the tap, let a little warm water flow, and wash the dishes under the stream. That way the water is always clean and you’re not washing dishes in (she looked into the murky wash basin) that.”
For years I’ve been telling that story to couples as an example of how conflict can crop up in a marriage when you confuse “a” way with “the” way. I was doing dishes my way, the way my mother had taught me. And Christy did them her way, the way her mother had taught her. It didn’t dawn on me until years later that I did dishes the way I did because we didn’t have running water when I was growing up. Washing them under that warm stream Christy recommended wasn’t an option. We had to haul water, heat it on the stove, and pour it into basins. Often there are good reasons for doing things the way we do them, or at least, there were good reasons. What Christy and I had to figure out for the sake of our marriage was a way of washing dishes that was neither my way nor her way but our way, together. And we did. These days we simply load the dishwasher, push the button, and move on to other things.
That little parable served as preface to last night’s meeting in which a crowd of some 400 people engaged in conversation about the Baptist way of making disciples (baptizing believers by immersion), and the other way (baptizing infants who are later confirmed as believers). Former Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and others, stood up and talked about their experiences while lifelong Baptists sat and listened. Some of the experiences were funny, like the woman who remembered that when she finally decided to be immersed a girl who was baptized along with her wore a swim cap, so as not to ruin her gorgeous new hairdo. Some of them were humbling, like the man who said he resisted being re-baptized, but when he finally submitted out of a sense of obedience found it to be one of the most meaningful experiences of his life. Some of them were powerful, like the young man who remembered his confirmation in the Methodist Church, and the sure sense that in that moment he had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some of them were sad, like the woman who told us her Presbyterian way of being Christian had never been accepted in 25 years of Baptist churchgoing.
What I’m hoping for in these holy conversations is that we will talk to, and listen to, each other long enough to come up with a First Baptist way of receiving members that is neither my way nor your way but our way together. I’d like to think we would continue to make disciples as we always have—baptizing believers by immersion—while opening the door of membership to let in those who have been discipled in other ways.
I’ll have to wait and see how things turn out, because one of our Baptist ways (and one I affirm wholeheartedly) is a congregational form of government that doesn’t permit the pastor to make the church’s big decisions. Instead, as in a healthy marriage, we talk about these things, listen to each other, and make our decisions together.
That’s just our way.