Baptism

The Agony and Ecstasy of Baptism

robert_s / Shutterstock
robert_s / Shutterstock

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the reign of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the reign of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

—John 3:3-6

IN THE WEEKS LEADING UP to my child’s baptism, I wrestled with this passage from the gospel of John. While it doesn’t explicitly mention baptism, most of the churches where I had worshipped over my years as a Christian nevertheless drew significantly on it when they articulated their understanding of what it is we’re doing in the waters. And so, experiencing a deeply conflicted desire to raise my child—my daughter—in the church, I prayed for God’s Spirit to release fresh insight from old wisdom. I was yearning to understand what it was we were about to do.

Nicodemus is almost always presented as a fool in this story. What a silly question! What a silly man, thinking that there might be any kind of a special relationship between a person’s first birth and their second! I’ve never heard a sermon or attended a Bible study where we acknowledge that for someone hearing this brand new and seemingly nonsensical concept of being born again, Nicodemus’ question is perhaps the most logical one to pose.

Even more to the point, I’d never noticed before that Jesus’ answer to the question doesn’t dismiss the validity of a mother’s labor as the very context out of which we should understand what it is that happens in baptism.

It’s patriarchal theology that did that.

Now, the phrase “patriarchal theology” might be an offensive one simply to toss around. So let me just tip my hand: I’m a card-carrying feminist theologian, Baptist minister mama. From some angles I look like a jumble of contradictions, contradictions that I try to live with grace and glee.

But it’s not the fact that I’m a Baptist that gave me pause on the decision of baptizing my infant daughter in the Anglican church in Toronto where our ecumenical family happens to worship. Of course, as a Baptist minister I affirm the theology of baptism as an outward expression of an inward conversion, an expression that requires one be of a certain age to be able to proclaim it. But at the same time, my ecumenical sensibilities and general disposition of theological expansiveness mean that I simultaneously affirm a more Anglican theology of baptism—which sees God’s invitation to the community of faith as occurring through a grace that precedes our awareness of it. So, being a Baptist married to an Anglican, I didn’t really struggle with the idea of baptizing our daughter on account of her infancy.

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Was the Tree of Knowledge the First Baptism?

Adam and Eve
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When Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the deed actually is done, so to speak, before they take a bite of fruit. They both know better before they do the deed, but they do it anyway. But like baptism, eating the fruit is an outward expression of an inward choice. And although the law in our culture says that ignorance is no excuse, sin is a little bit different. The truly sinful act takes place when we know better but don’t do better.

And what happens then? 

A.A., a Beautiful Lake, and God-Filled Places

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On my way home from working at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., I decided to do something that I’ve dreamed about for many years.

I would visit the lake.

There’s a lake just west of Youngstown, Ohio, that’s been special to me since I was about seven years old. It’s called Lake Milton. I don’t know the story behind how it got its name. But I can share my story of why it’s special.

Some of my friends know that my dad was an alcoholic. He didn’t drink every day, but when he did, he couldn’t stop. And he’d get loud and angry and abusive toward my mom. It was awful and frightening. I remember listening to the arguments and shaking uncontrollably. This went on for several years.

Fortunately, my dad eventually recognized he needed help and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. His sponsor was a funny, kind man named John. He became part of the family — we called him Uncle John. He and his wife, Fran, owned a cottage by Lake Milton. They encouraged us to use it for a week each summer.

School District Investigates Mass Baptism Filmed at Football Practice

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A Georgia school district is investigating after video of a mass baptism was posted on YouTube.

The video, posted by First Baptist Villa Rica, was shot on school grounds just before football practice.

“We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption with the video reads.

Is It Heresy for Baptists to Baptize a Baby? One Pastor’s Example Sets Off a Debate

Photo via Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com
Baptism of infant in Orthodox Church. Photo via Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com

In April, an influential American Baptist Churches USA pastor performed the rite, which most Baptists believe is reserved for Christians who are able to make a mature confession of faith. Although there are dozens of Baptist denominations in the U.S., the news made instant waves among those who know and understand Baptist teachings.

Before long, a Southern Baptist seminary president compared the notion of Baptists baptizing infants to vegetarians eating steak.

For Mother’s Day, a Place to Mourn the Babies Who Never Came Home

Photo via Hans Pennink / RNS
Deacon Jim O'Rourke speaks at a memorial service at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery. Photo via Hans Pennink / RNS

None of the remains of the 26 babies — miscarried, stillborn, and short-lived — whose names are engraved on paving stones or metal butterflies at the Remembrance Garden are actually interred there. But to the families who gathered at the memorial last month, the plot is sacred ground.

“The garden says to us: You matter,” Biskup told them.

“Your baby existed. He or she matters. We remember.”

Legislating Love in the 21st Century

Photo via Aleksandar Stojkovic / Shutterstock.com
Photo via Aleksandar Stojkovic / Shutterstock.com

One of the hot button topics in America today is same-sex marriage. This issue has been in the news often due to same-sex marriage bans being struck down in state after state and on the minds of many after the controversial “religious freedom” law passed in Indiana (and similar ones already enacted in other states). And it has been in the hearts of many gay and lesbian couples faced with the possibility of being denied access to services because of who they are and who they love.

Imagine planning and preparing for your wedding for months, making decisions about guest lists, music, menus, seating charts, and attire. You go to the lone bakeshop in town to talk about your cake choices, only to be told that the baker is not willing to work with you because you are gay or a bi-racial couple or a couple from another faith tradition. Imagine the feelings of rejection, isolation, and denial that you would potentially feel, because the state allows this denial of services. This scenario is not hard to imagine, because it is legally allowed in many places throughout our country.

“Othering” happens all the time for many different reasons – not just sexuality, race, and gender.

About 10 years ago, my son and I were at a local park playing on the swings when a group of young boys started taunting a small child with a disfigured arm about 50 yards away from us. They were calling her ugly names and throwing small rocks and sticks in her direction. We had seen this little girl playing happily, running around, and laughing with delight. But now she looked terrified.

I heard the taunts and began moving that direction to intercede, but my son outran me. Only six years old at the time, he yelled at the boys, “Leave her alone. She’s just like us.” The boys saw and heard my son and likely saw an adult close on his heels. They abandoned their harassment and ran away.

Pope Francis to Moms: It’s OK to Breast-Feed in Public

Photo via Elena Stepanova / Shutterstock / RNS
A mother and baby breast-feeding. Photo via Elena Stepanova / Shutterstock / RNS

While baptizing 33 babies in the Sistine Chapel on Jan. 11, Pope urged mothers to breast-feed their infants if they were hungry.

“Mothers, give your children milk — even now,” Francis said. “If they cry because they are hungry, breast-feed them, don’t worry.”

The pope departed from his prepared text, which included the phrase “give them milk,” and inserted the Italian term “allattateli,” which means “breast-feed them.”

The celebration took place to mark the day Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River.

Francis also asked the parents gathered to remember the poor mothers around the world.

“Let us thank the Lord for the gift of milk, and we pray for those mothers — there are so many, unfortunately — who are not able to give their children food to eat,” he said.

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