Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Baptism

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Baptism

Article excerpt

The first time I remember seeing a baptism was at a tiny Southern Baptist chapel in Chiefland, Florida. All dolled up in my frilly pastel dress, white buckled shoes, and lacy socks, my brother and I walked across the hot parking lot from Grandma's black Mazda truck into the homey brick chapel, each holding a finger of our grandmother's hand. She had pressed her best dress so stiff she may as well have washed it in pure starch. My little brother's six-year-old indoctrinated Southern etiquette displayed itself proudly-church was not a regular outing, and he didn't mind being suited up and shown off. Plenty of others coming into the chapel were in their Sunday best, most of whom gave the air of being "regulars," but medleys of worn denim mixed with the collared shirts and skirts didn't seem out-of-place.

We mounted the steps, crossed the threshold, and adjusted our eyes to the dark and our damp skin to the blasting air conditioning. As we filed into the congregation, Grandma's finger tugged me gently because I kept getting distracted by bright stained-glass windows and forgetting to move. After we sat down, the preacher started in on his sermon and someone passed around the collection plate. We may also have done what I only knew as the bread-and-water thing. (I couldn't remember which churches we had been to that did that, but I liked it-if for no other reason than that it broke up the monotony.) But what I really remember is the baptism.

Sometime during the meeting, the preacher announced that we had a new brother who was being baptized and coming to Jesus. Behind the pulpit, front and center of the chapel, he dramatically pushed back a glass door to expose the font, which looked to me like a tall bathtub. A young, clean-cut man waited in the water. Smiling, he held out his hand to help another man descend the steps. This other man was older, bearded, and gruff, certainly not dressed for the occasion of coming to Jesus. When the two men met, the younger man said something (unintelligible from where I sat) and quickly dunked the older man under the water. When the older man came back up, he was sopping wet but grinning. He had looked a little nervous before, but now he appeared nothing short of triumphant, as though he had left everything sad or scary in the water. We all clapped and cheered for our new brother.

All of a sudden, I wanted that.

For Southern Baptists, as for many Protestant Christians, baptism is a deliberate act of faith, a declaration to the world of belief in Jesus Christ. As such, you are probably more likely to see an adult baptism at a Baptist church than the baptism of a child. Baptism doesn't "save," but it shows that the person has been saved by accepting the Savior.

For Baptists, baptism is highly symbolic. It must be done by immersion because it represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the death of your life as a sinner and the birth of your new life as a follower of Christ. It also makes you a member of the church, although the spiritual significance of the ordinance is emphasized much more than is entrance into the church, because nothing about the church is considered necessary for salvation. It's just a community of believers.

Granted, I couldn't have told you any of that at eight years old. But I could have told you that this baptized man looked newly born, he had come into a community, and he believed.

I leaned over excitedly and whispered, "Grandma? Are we going do that?"

She paused. Carefully, she replied, "Umm . . . not this time."

"Can I, though?"

"Maybe."

"When?"

"We'll talk about it later, okay, baby?"

I assumed "later" meant Grandma had politely dismissed my request, but I soon found out that it hadn't been ignored. My grandmother, who viewed her precious grandbabies as spiritual protégés, was always eager to encourage (but not force) any religious inclination. She was excited when I wanted to attend church, pray, or hear stories of Jesus; my newfound desire for baptism thrilled her. …

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