There was drama in church yesterday. All kinds of drama. From my greeter post at the door, I witnessed it all.
First, there was no bulletin to put into the hands of the arrivers, only a flier announcing an event for women. Not drama at all for most, but a tiny bit for those who rely on routine. And for those who are visiting and were hoping for a little info. Like the woman who came out of the sanctuary with the flier I had given her in hand. She stood in front of me and looked squarely into my face and apologized for being hearing impaired. She asked me to write the name of the church on the flier so she could tell her sisters and friends which church she had visited. I wrote it and apologized, “Of all Sundays to not have a bulletin…” She smiled as if she wasn’t sure what I said and started to walk back into the sanctuary. I tapped her shoulder and asked her name. “Brenda,” she offered with a beautiful smile. I told her my name and she reached for me with a warm hug.
Two women were sitting in the foyer chatting excitedly. Someone came by and handed each of them a large black t-shirt as they rehashed the order of service. I asked them whether they were going to be part of a special program. “We’re getting baptized today,” they beamed in unison. It finally dawned on me why there was no bulletin. We were having a special baptism service. It was this nearly-one-year-old campus’ very first baptism and it was a big deal.
A few minutes later an eight year old came through the doors in a ruffled, taffeta party dress. “I’m going to get baptized in my dress!” she happily announced. “No, you aren’t” came a nearby voice.
The service started with a song then moved right into the baptisms.
First up was a large, football-player-sized young man. From where I stood at the door, I could see the pastor in the baptismal font, but I could not see the young man. The pastor asked him to share a bit of his story. I could only hear muted and garbled sounds from him, but afterward I could clearly hear the pastor say the familiar words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son and ….” He didn’t finish.
There was silence for a few minutes and then the pastor started again. Again the baptism failed. I wondered whether the young man was having second thoughts, or perhaps he was afraid of the water. The pastor asked the church to pray for him. I asked the Lord to give him the courage to overcome whatever was keeping him from taking the plunge. The pastor kept trying, kept asking us to pray, kept announcing that the young man was getting so close. I could see the shadows of those waiting in the wings for their turn to be baptized. I could hear them encouraging the young man, telling him to trust Jesus.
At a suburban campus greeter duty is rather short and sweet. By ten minutes into the service everyone who is coming is there. At that point the greeters can safely leave their posts. But at this urban campus, people trickle in all the way through to the end.
Thirty minutes into the service, I was still at the door and the pastor was still attempting to baptize the first young man.
A tall, long-haired, statuesque, thirty-ish woman breezed past me as she exited the sanctuary and then the building. A few minutes later she re-entered following a much shorter, slightly older woman. The younger woman was yelling at the older woman, telling her to get hold of her kids…. The older woman kept walking, looking straight ahead with her hand in the universal “stop” position. The younger woman was still yelling as they crossed the threshold of the sanctuary. I put a finger over my lips and whispered that there was a service going on. The woman ignored me and kept yelling.
Forty-five minutes into the service the pastor was still attempting to baptize that same young man.
People started to trickle out while others were still trickling in. A woman with a walker stopped to apologize for leaving. “I have a bad back,” she explained, “and I cannot sit that long.” A few minutes later another woman with a bad back left. Then a couple who did not stop to offer an excuse.
I glanced into the sanctuary and glimpsed my own beautifully dramatic moment. While others were getting restless, Brenda was standing at attention in the second row witnessing the baptismal drama without the benefit of sound. This beautiful, hearing-impaired, first-time visitor to our church stood there with sweetness emanating from her soul and I got to see it.
By this time my husband came in from his outside the front door post.
I filled him in. He shared that he spoke with the young man on his way in and that the young man had said, “I don’t know if I can go through with this.” Just then one of the core members of the church came into the foyer and wondered whether someone should say something to the pastor. Was this a spiritual battle? Should the pastor be forcing the young man to be baptized? Was he afraid of water or of taking a spiritual plunge? If he was having second thoughts, shouldn’t he have gone last instead of first? In the midst of the speculation, I heard the pastor say that the young man had a water phobia and that in such circumstances the church allows for the one being baptized to have water poured over his head.
Oh… my…. goodness. Sixty minutes later?
Surely the pastor must have known about the phobia. Why did he wait so long to make that declaration? Was he hoping for a dramatic victory over the phobia? Is being immersed really that crucial? (Obviously not if there is a provision.) Water was finally poured over the young man’s head and the church cheered. It took about thirty seconds to baptize the little girl who came next.
Then my husband and I slipped out. I would have loved to have heard the rest of the stories and I would have loved to have given Brenda a parting smile, but I had medicine to take.
When we got home, I googled “immersion baptism” to find out why full immersion is so stinking important that my pastor had to be so stinking stubborn. One of the first articles that came up started with this paragraph:
Baptists are often criticized for being so insistent on the proper method of administering Baptism. Many people declare that it is not the method but the spirit of the ordinance that pleases God. Some go so far as to say that it is not a question of what the Bible teaches, but rather, what method have the church leaders approved. Because Baptists are considered narrow and bigoted in their dogmatism they should be ready to give a reason for their stand. We present herewith six reasons for insistence upon immersion as the only proper method of scriptural Baptism.
The author proceeded to give those six reasons, some of which were silly, none of which gave a definitive Scriptural reference. There was a definitive phrase, however, and it jumped out at me from the bottom of the third reason: “Baptists are proud to be….”
It seems to come down to this: You have to be fully immersed because Baptists are proud to be all in. We’re the best Christians, after all, because we do things perfectly. We get baptized exactly like Jesus did. Well, except we don’t fly over to the Middle East and get baptized in the Jordan.
I have nothing against immersion baptism. I was dunked. I get the symbolism of identifying with Jesus’ death and ressurection. But this insistence on doing it a certain way or it doesn’t count is just more church nonsense. Jesus was baptized outside, in a river. So how does getting dunked in a tank inside a church count as doing it just like Jesus did? To me it’s just the old Pharisaical practice of heaping on burdens.
The church we attend removed “Baptist” from its name several years ago, and neither my husband or I knew whether it requires immersion. So I visited the website to read the statement of faith on baptism: “We practice baptism by immersion – in the manner Jesus was baptized and in the manner the Bible commands.” And then it listed several verses that make a clear case for baptizing, but not for dunking.
In the course of it all, my husband and I realized that he was never dunked. He was sprinkled at a former church, but on the eve of his dunking at a Baptist church, he came down with the flu. It was never rescheduled.
“Are you two unequally yoked?” my daughter asked with a light-hearted gasp.
“I think we are,” I teased. “Sorry, honey, but I don’t think there can be fellowship between darkness and light.”