Emily the Episcopalian

I heard a story recently about a woman from another denomination who was visiting a Baptist church in the South.  Let’s call her Emily the Episcopalian.  She loved the church and wanted to join, but then she had a talk with the pastor.  What follows is a close approximation of that conversation. 

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Pastor, thank you for giving me a few minutes of your time.  I just wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying the church!  I’ve been visiting for about three months now and I’ve gotten such a warm welcome from your congregation.  I love the music and the message of your worship services.  I don’t think I’ve ever left here without feeling blessed by the experience.  I’ve even visited a Sunday school class where people did everything they could to make me feel at home.  So, I think I’m ready to join, and I just want to know how I should go about that.

Well, that’s wonderful, Emily!  And when it comes to joining, nothing could be easier.  If you’ll just come forward at the end of any worship service, when I give the invitation, I can introduce you to the congregation, they’ll lift their hands to “vote you in,” and then, as soon as possible, we can schedule your baptism. 

My baptism?

Right.   

But I’ve already been baptized.

Have you?

Yes.  When I was a baby.

Oh, right.  You grew up Episcopalian.  In the Baptist tradition we don’t really think of that as baptism.  The Greek word for baptize means literally “to dip,” or “immerse.”  That’s the way they did it in the New Testament and that’s the way we do it.  We baptize believers by immersion.  So, (smiling) let’s get that on the schedule as soon as possible.  You are a believer, aren’t you Emily?  

Of course.  I’ve been a believer for…thirty years. 

Great, then I’ll look forward to welcoming you whenever you choose to come down the aisle.

Um, Pastor?

Yes?

Are you telling me my baptism doesn’t count?

No, not at all, Emily!  I’m sure it was very meaningful for your parents and for the church.  But, see, you didn’t choose to be baptized, and in the Baptist tradition we think you need to make up your own mind about Jesus.

But I did make up my own mind about Jesus.  I was confirmed when I was twelve.  I stood before the church and claimed my baptism, professing my faith in Jesus as Lord.  Nobody made me do that.

That’s wonderful, Emily.  It really is.  And you’ll have a chance to profess your faith again when you are baptized.  That’s the way we do it here: you stand in the baptistry and I ask you if you want to follow Jesus.  You say “Yes” and then I dip you down under the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I don’t mean to argue, Pastor, but that sounds like what you do when you become a Christian, and I’m not becoming a Christian.  I’ve been a Christian for years.  It sounds as if you’re saying that doesn’t count either.

No, no!  That’s not what I’m saying at all!  Of course you’re a Christian.  There’s no question about that.  But if you want to be a member of a Baptist church you need to be baptized in the Baptist way. 

Why?

What do you mean, why?

Why doesn’t my baptism count?  Why doesn’t my Christian experience count?  I’m not moving from one religion to another, just from one church to another.  Why can’t I just transfer my membership?

That’s just not the way we do it, Emily.  We place a high value on believer’s baptism.  It’s the biblical way, and if you’re not willing to be baptized in the biblical way, well….

Wait a minute.  I’m confused.  I became a Christian in the Episcopal church.  Now I want to join a Baptist church.  But it sounds like you’re telling me I have to become a Christian all over again, in the Baptist way.  Not only that, you’re telling me the Baptist way is the “biblical” way, as if the Episcopal way were not.  I came into this meeting eager to join your church, but in the last few minutes you’ve told me my baptism doesn’t count, that I’m not a real Christian, and that my tradition is “unbliblical.”

No, no!  I’m not saying that at all! 

Well, that’s how it sounds to me (she gets up to go).  Thank you for your time, Pastor.  I’ll have to think about this.  But, honestly?  I’m not nearly as excited as I was about joining.  In fact (she pauses), I think I just made up my mind.

—————————————-

This is what happens when real people encounter a membership requirement that treats their previous Christian experience as if it were no experience at all.  I post this example because it is so similar to some of the conversations I’ve had with people from other denominations when I explain to them the current membership requirement of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  They can’t understand why their Christianity isn’t “good enough,” or why their baptism “doesn’t count.”  Although I assure them that it’s not like that at all, many of them decide not to return. 

I’m still hoping that we can come to that place where we welcome committed Christians from other denominations without asking them to start all over again.  I think there is a way to honor their baptism, honor their previous Christian experience, and then “immerse” them in the Baptist tradition.  Who knows what kind of Baptist Emily might become if we simply welcomed her with open arms, as if she were—in fact—our sister in Christ?

Because—in fact—she is.

15 thoughts on “Emily the Episcopalian

  1. I know how this all got started…being immersed becuase that’s the “way” Baptists do it! BUT, when you stop to analyze it, the lady makes sense. So we have traditon (i.e. that’s the way we do it) or a common sense reason and confirming “Jesus Is Lord”. So the technicality of being immersed is what separates us from those who have been baptised “their” way.? I concur that it is high time to revaluate, discuss and decide what is really the point here?
    Glad to know it’s going on at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

  2. Let us not forget that there is a reason that we believe and “require” a believers baptism. The bible says “believe, be baptized, and be saved,” not “be baptized, believe, be confirmed, and be saved.” I know it is all accepting and nice and non-offensive to just say ok, as long as what you felt was meaningful lets just change things. Now, I have no problems with the kind of baptism a person receives, but I absolutely cannot fathom how we would not remain thinking a believers baptism is a fundamental element in being a member of the church. What happens when “Emily” is teaching my daughters sunday school class and a child asks why it is important to be baptized. Does she tell them well at this church we do this, but I didn’t have to b/c my alternate Christian experience was meaningful to me. I believe that believers baptism is an act of OBEDIENCE not just an important experience to the believer.

  3. E. for Episcopal.
    Jim, to me this debate begs the question of whether we are truly members of the same family: the family of God; and if so, what do all these denominations really mean, and what are they good for if they serve to divide us rather than unite us. I remember an amazing sermon you preached sometime in the last 9 months or so that made a lingering impression . It was about the fact that if we truly believe ourselves to all be members of God’s family, then we have to treat everyone in God’s world as if they were members of our own personal family.
    I never thought about not being an Episcopalian until I experienced First Baptist Church, Richmond. I know you know, and hope you and your wonderful staff are proud of, what a truly extraordinary church family First Baptist is. I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson’s line from the movie “As Good As It Gets,” when he says to his love interest, “You make me want to be a better man.” First Baptist Church, Richmond has made me want to be a better Christian. That’s what’s most important about a church family; and so far, not being a “real” member has not been an impediment to my effort in that regard.
    In all honesty, I do share some of “Emily’s” concerns. My and my siblings’ infant baptism and confirmation were two things that my parents, who had precious little else to give as parents, gave us. It is a tie that yet binds me to the Episcopal church.
    For the moment, I’m thinking that God is glad that I am motivated to be a better Christian, enabling me to keep at it while letting the rest recede to background noise.

  4. I am a deacon in a Baptist Church in Florida and I have been looking for a Baptist Church for my wife to attend as she is a nanny in Richmond and is there a couple of Sunday’s a month. After reading the blog about “Emily” I am saddened to read about a leader of a Baptist Church, who would put “religious correctness” above what the word of God teaches. It sounds like he and others here are saying it is more important not to offend someone that it is to obey God’s simple plan. Furthermore, the women in the story is not willing to submit to the teaching of the N.T. which shows where she is in her “walk with God.” Additionally in the real world…I have never met a person from that denomination who ever knew one thing about being “born again!” Maybe if she was questioned a little more on that… he would never have gotten to her convincing you all that what God says does not matter and that Baptism by immersion is not just “what we do here.” p. sarlo

  5. For what it’s worth…In Acts there are several “orders” of Baptism. Faith, Spirit, Water…Water, Faith, Spirit…Spirit, Faith, Water etc…The first Christians seemed to notice the chaotic nature of coming to belief and practice and getting into the community. They didn’t prescribe it, per se, but they noticed.

    I’ll step away now.

  6. I was trying to imagine the conversation with Emily the Episcopalian and the pastor as you have portrayed it and changing the characters to Emily the Episocopalian and Jesus. I reread it and exchanged Jesus’ name wherever the pastor’s name was. Enough said.

    We as a church need to be inclusive as Jesus was and welcome genuine Christian experiences of other faiths. I truly believe in my heart that this is the right thing to do. I also believe this is what Jesus would do.

  7. Our church should be commended on the manner in which this issue has been discussed. Bravo!
    I believe in beliver’s baptism by immersion. I also know that all Christuan denominations do not practice baptism in the same way. Surely, the baptismal pool was never intended to be merely a passageway for being a Bapist. The baptistry is a place to proclaim the powerful witness that we have a new life in Christ! It is a beautiful sermon in and of itself.
    By welcoming other Christians into our congregation without re-baptism, we are demonstrating that Christianity is more important than Bapistianity. Being baptist is just as much about 1) the freedom for the individual to interpret scripture for him/herself 2) the priesthood of the believer 3) being congregationally led and 4) the autonomy of the local church. Accepting Christians from other denominations without requiring re-baptism, I believe, is the most baptist thing we can do, and the message of inclusion could be the best and strongest legacy we could ever give our children. There is enough prejudice around without the church having to lead the way.

  8. I could not find words to express my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings any better than Phil Mitchell has as a comment on the issues of membership requirements that First Baptist is discussing and considering just now. While I personally would want to offer baptism by immersion to a practicing Christian who comes from another church or denomination, it does not seem to me a “necessary” for every person to view in the same way the symbolism of one’s acceptance of God’s grace and one’s own faith. God created us with minds capable of making informed choices; I believe He expects us to use them. I believe we are each responsible for our own actions — both positive and negative — and I think we all need to try to live in gratitude for the grace that has been given us so freely.

  9. Yes – very well spoken, Phil.

    I feel that First Baptist, Richmond just about “HAS IT ALL.” I believe that as a body of Christ, we have put together a beautiful 1000 PIECE PUZZLE, but there is that ONE piece missing – the piece that accepts other baptized Christians to transfer and become full members. With that piece in place, I think we would flourish.

  10. Another three cheers for Phil Mitchell’s Response! I couldn’t have said better!

  11. @Phillip–
    You’ve never heard of an Episcopalian talking about being “born again,” because Episcopalians don’t believe that salvation occurs from saying a salvation prayer and then “presto-chango,” you’re set for life. Instead, they believe that salvation is a lifelong process evidenced by choosing daily to follow God’s teachings. It doesn’t mean that if you get hit by a bus with unconfessed sins that you go straight to hell, but it’s seen as a lifelong commitment. Being “born again” really means believing the gospel in faith and putting it into practice. Just because they’re not using that term, doesn’t mean that they’re not real Christians anymore than a show of immersion in baptism means that they haven’t been real “christians” up until then.

    Episcopalians do believe in an individual’s need to confess sins. They believe in Jesus’ blood that cleanses us from sin, and they believe in the resurrection and reaching out to the community surrounding them. And yet, you’re saying that if they do not obey the mandate to immerse in baptism into a brand new church, they can’t join the church, despite having believed the gospel for years. That, then, just becomes legalism, and not a true image of Christ’s idea of what the church was all about, or the reason why baptists believe that baptism was done in the Bible to begin with.

    Just thought I’d share some things that I’m learning about Anglicans/ Episcopalians. For the record, I’m also born and raised Baptist.

  12. I am Episcopalian. Briefly we baptize as infants because baptism is a gift from God. It is a sacramental rite that marks you as his. You may leave him,but he will not forsake you. Upon the age of 12 we go through pretty extensive classes at the end the Bishop will come to confirm us as recite our baptismal vows in front of the church. To Ms. Norton. I do certainly understand your concern. But someone coming from a background like mine also grew up with the Niceene Creed as part of our regular Sunday liturgy. Within that liturgy is the statement : we believe in one baptism. This person is going to have the most respect possible for Baptist traditions. In the end she would most likely be a very good Baptist bc something about her Anglican traditions just weren’t working for her. As my husbands says (a former Baptist). There are lots of different roads that can take us all to the same place.

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