I visited one church that had a baptism. Immediately afterwards, the congregation got out their seats, formed a huge circle around the outside of the auditorium, held hands (including the newly baptized member), and sang “We love you with love of the Lord.” It was a touching ceremony.
Plenty of churches surround new converts with hugs and shouts of celebration.
My own congregation has gotten into the habit of applauding and celebrating with the convert.
We also encourage parents to baptize their own children. And, yes, sometimes the mom stands in the baptistry with the dad. There’s no scripture to the contrary, and who are we to make up rules God didn’t make? It’s important that parents take ownership of the salvation of their own children. And there’s no joy quite like baptizing your own child. Why would we deny that to our parents?
We’ve started including baptisms in the order of worship. Not always, but most of the time, the preacher knows the baptism is coming. Rather than pretending that this was a response to the invitation and going late, our preacher arranges the service around the baptism — letting the Sacrament be a structured part of our worship — which is very cool, and you just really have to try it.
I do not like baptisms conducted separate from the assembly. I just think it’s a good thing for everyone to get to join in the celebration. It’s a great teaching moment — not on the necessity of baptism but on the meaning of the Sacrament — why we do it. This is not a time to debate Baptist baptismal theology. Rather, it’s the time to talk about the baptism of Jesus, Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit, what it means to die to Jesus, what repentance really means, what faith really means — get basic. Remind us where our Christian journey began — not with a decision to adopt better baptismal theology but a decision to follow Jesus.
Yes, baptisms outside the assembly take. But if someone were to be adopted into my family, I think I’d want the family to know. I’d want them to be there. I’d want them to welcome their new brother or sister.
If someone feels the need to be baptized right now, good. That’s why God made text messaging. Send the word out. Gather a crowd. Do it now — but only after the text has gone out for the family to gather at the baptistry.
I mean, this is momentous and the moment needs to be shared.
We once had a youth minister who had the audacity to teach our teens that baptism is the greatest moment in their lives. Bigger than graduation. Bigger than getting engaged or married. Bigger than prom. A huge, gigantic, wonderful moment to be celebrated. Crazy, right?
And so he baptized one of the teen boys, who had the audacity to believe it. And when he came out of the water, he shouted “Yahoo!” with a fist pump into the air.
And the church responded in spontaneous applause, whoops, and hollers. And ever since, we applaud for those being baptized.
Funny how these things start. It started with a story about the importance of this moment, and the story changed how the church sees baptism and so how it sees itself.
I think every church should have its own traditions and stories. This shouldn’t be uniform and cookie-cutter. It needs to be something special about this particular congregation. It’s your chance to tell your story, to welcome a new family member in your own unique way — the way Jesus made you to be.
And if we would do that, if we’d loosen up and let a celebration be celebratory, well, it would change us in a very good way.
Baptism has many meanings and effects. One that we often overlook is spiritual formation. It should shape us. Seeing someone baptized into Christ should shape us just a little bit more into Jesus’s shape. Something about the event should be cross-shaped — not at all in a funereal sense. But it should take us back to basics about what it all means, why we made that same decision.
Just as going to a wedding reminds us of what our love felt like at the beginning, baptisms should renew our commitment and faith and hope. We should all feel a little like a brand new Christian once again.
How we do that is with tradition and stories. We need to work on it.
We need to see the Sacraments as opportunities to shape us and our believing communities into the shape of Jesus. This is not our chance to prove our superiority hermeneutics to the denominations down the street. This is, rather, a ceremony invented by God to teach us about his Son.