AKA, it's about to get real fun around these parts...
The joys of Apostolic baptism... in other words: The joys of putting a man/woman fully under water as he/she is immersed in water as the symbolic representation of the death and burial of the Lord Jesus Christ and our dying with Him...
In other words, we don't take part in that willy-nilly, non-consensual "water being poured over your head" when you are 8 days old sacramental stuff that I once heard an evangelist refer to as "baptism rape."
We don't Mickey Mouseify our baptisms, we go for the whole thing - Which includes risk of drowning...
Because like the Greek word which baptism comes from ("baptizo") implies baptism as "fully wet" we hold back nothing....We even make our baptisms feel like they were in the days of Jesus by giving you a giant parachute aka a Mumuu which we think everyone wore in Jesus' time.
Toe out of Water!
I think we have heard that story (whether myth or true it matters not), wherein someone goes to get baptized but when the head is brought low to be baptized, the feet spring up out of the water... and this continual teeter-totter process happens several times, until someone comes along to hold the legs down to ensure the whole body becomes immersed at once... It's a comical story told by all pastors this side of Babylon.
But dear reader, I have met one person whose name I would never disclose, who recalls that one time he observed a baptism whereupon, on the descent of the head in the water, a couple toes sprang up out of the water ever so subtly so as the whole body was immersed but that of the two toes. The person thought about saying something but then decided against. When asked why he didn't speak up, his answer "When I get to heaven and see the person who was baptized (without the two toes) in heaven, I will look to my church members and say "Ha! that person was not fully immersed, and I saw it with my two eyes and yet God's mercy isn't restricted to the absence of two toes out of water." I then added the real horror will be when he looks down at the feet of the person who was baptized, and finds that she is missing two toes in heaven!
And should this not be the case, we are looking at this conversation between Peter on Judgement Day and the person who was baptized with her two toes out of water:
Peter: Hey Sally, you've been a great Christian. You always tried to give what you could in your life and died many times to your own wishes. You prayed much and read your Bible daily. You fed the homeless. You even went to prayer meeting for a record 28 straight weeks, which has never been done before!
Sally: Thank you, by God's grace alone though. So I got into heaven?
Peter: Well... uggh... this is kinda awkward... you
wellll...the problem is...well when you were baptized...you
Sally: I was supposed to get baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost?!?
Peter: No, no no... you did that part right. What I am trying to say is that we can't let you into heaven... When you were baptized, the pastor did a shoddy job of making sure you were fully immersed and your toes sprang up out of the water when you were being baptized...
Sally: Then cut off my toes!
Peter: It's not that easy... Christianity is not some partial allegiance Praise God club where doing your best gets you in. It's all or nothing. And although most of your body was baptized, it wasn't all your body. Sorry Sally but you're going to have to take the elevator going down. If it helps I can send you down with an icepack which will make the heat not as intense upon initial entry...
Retreat for the Hills
Warning: Please feel free to leave at this point... I am about to rant. Much of it probably won't make sense. I don't even know what I am going to write. But it is one of the biggest evils in my heart and I don't know if there is a resolution... writing it down may help but I doubt it. Know that Marxist theory will be used... This is all confessional, and I am putting myself out there as an example. If you must judge, do so. But I am not writing to you. The problem described is not just mine though, and if not addressed will be a cancer in our movement growing bigger by the day... (click the read more if you must read on).
One last note: I believe baptism is necessary for salvation. Romans 6 and its definition of the importance of baptism literally changed my life. Baptism is a wonderful thing. So what I comment below is in no way a rant against the truth of baptism nor its essentialness. If it's a rant against anything it's a rant against myself...
I don't know the last time I really cared about a baptism.
Call it a lack of faith.
Call it a poor foundation.
Label it however you want to make yourself sleep better at night.
But the bottom line is baptism in terms of an impacting event, has lost meaning in my life. I have seen hundreds of baptisms. Waves of faces going down in that water. I see them come up and I see everyone cheer and I cheer out of respect and also so people don't think I am an atheist. But I don't feel excited in my heart. I don't even know the person. And probability says that this person who was baptized will never come back (because someone wrongly told them all you need to do is Acts 2:38 to be saved), or just stops coming in a few weeks after the initial fun of being important wears off.
I have tried to search high and low in my heart and through some analysis about what baptism is in our culture...
Here is what I think is going on...
If you are in graduate school or took any class on Marx: The term is "Commodity Fetishism."
I won't try to get into the intricacies of the theory, but I will outline what we need to know for our use here.
Commodity fetishism in short basically says in culture (mostly capitalist cultures), objects become the thing worshiped and valued completely detached from the human element which created the object. Example: When you give a man a piece of wood and pay him to make him a table, you are not just paying for the table but you are paying him for the hours of labor he put into the table. The man and his table go hand in hand.
However, when I go to the store and see a table for sale. I do not think about the man who created the table. I see the table and I see a price. The table is what I desire. The man who built that table was just a tool used to make the object which I desire. Humans lose relevance. The object (e.g. the table) becomes what matters.
One step further, when we have Church and forget about the price Jesus paid for this occasion, we are in a sense practicing such fetishism because we have separated the church service itself (and all the good we will feel in feeling the Holy Ghost and having "church") with the how we are able to even feel the Holy Ghost (the cross).
Now in terms of baptism... Baptism is the object we seek in Apostolic circles (same with tongues). Whether baptisms mean "our church is getting bigger and that revival we have been waiting for may finally be happening" or "thank God, another brother or sister added to the body of believers" it is not the person we value at such a moment of baptism, but rather it is the fact that a baptism is happening is what matters.
We celebrate the act of the baptism taking place instead of the person who is getting baptized (and dying to himself).
When I see a baptism, I see the person about to be baptized, but it would be just as easy to substitute the face I see and whatever past they have with any other person and face from "out there." I don't care about the person... Give me the act of the baptism. It is not the person that matters to me, it is the fact that there is one more added to the kingdom.
It's just as easy for me to imagine at the announcement of a baptism from the preacher: "Come one, come all, come little children and see the objects which we value in our religious beliefs. It's a plastic baptism!"
The baptized person becomes the object used in order for us to celebrate the thing that really has meaning to us: baptism.
You may say I am greatly distorting and oversimplifying everything. Right well! I acknowledge the oversimplification and distortion of the meaning of baptism. But I am not arguing its biblical importance, I am arguing how we as a people are perceiving baptisms when they happen.
I am a result of growing up in an Apostolic church my whole life, and I can attest only for myself (though others have admitted as much), that in our description of Acts 2:38 being preached over and over again and seeing its execution happen, that the people themselves will come and go, but the moment of baptism and infilling of the Holy Ghost (triple points if they happen at the same moment!) is what really matters.
How many preachers have to ask the name of the one to be baptized the seconds leading up to the baptism?
Think yet again about the children who are raised in church. As soon as one of the kids gets baptized, the competition is on! They see that if they want widespread fame and recognition and shouts of praise in their honor, they should repent as quickly as possible, cry some tears if possible, and ascend to the heights of the baptismal tank to receive their honor. Sure Jesus is the reason for the season, but we cannot act like the "social context" in which baptism is found is not important.
Of course, when I do sit there and reflect on Romans 6 and all its power and its awesome vehicle to guiding the disciple to salvation on his journey, I can get pretty worked up.
But my analysis of what's going on when I take a step back is not what is happening in my heart at the moment of worship of the act of baptism within the church. The human identity gets lost, and the moment gets glorified as the vehicle to salvation becomes that which is worshiped. And with this understanding in mind, my heart has hardened and meaning has been loss to me.
So dear saints, how do I gain back meaning in baptism? And further, and I say this humbly, what can we do as a movement to stop this perception which honestly seems inevitable with how we currently present baptism (the person as the object to which baptism itself is glorified).