Baptism

From Sunday:

The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”

I have never been baptized. The church I was raised in — the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) — taught that baptism was a ritual only for adults.

It’s not surprising: the WCG guarded the gates carefully. To get invited to church, on had to show some real persistence. To be baptized, one had to be living a “Godly” life. The church itself took the prerogative in defining this “holiness.” Though it liked to claim everything came from the Bible, the theology was twisted into unrecognizable shapes by the time it got to us, so holiness meant things like paying tithes, not celebrating Christmas, getting all the leaven out of your house once a year, not smoking, and a thousand other examples of pettiness.

Whenever one of my church friends or acquaintances announced he or she was getting baptized, it seemed like the end for our friendship. After baptism, they were entering a whole new league, and we were often encouraged to see the baptized young adults as true adults, while we unbaptized dilly dallied in sin.

Because it was such a momentousness step, I never considered it. Not once. The thought never entered my mind, and that is yet another in a long line of “proofs” that I never really believed any of it to begin with.

As an atheist, I once took pride in that simple fact. “I’ve never been baptized, and I never will be,” I declared.

I still remain doubtful on some days — and I mean that “doubtful” in every conceivable way. I pray occasionally; I go to Mass with my wife; I read. And through it all, I have little idea what to expect.

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4 thoughts on “Baptism

  1. Jared Olar says:

    I did believe it, most sincerely and wholeheartedly. Believing baptism to be of the greatest significance, I approached it carefully and piously, taking almost a year of “baptismal counseling” to be sure I really was repentant and willing to commit to do God’s will (as the WCG understood it).

    Though the WCG teaching on baptism had certain important things in common with the Christian teaching, the big difference regarding “adult believer baptism” shouldn’t be downplayed. When you think baptism is only for mature teens or adults, it implies that you have a vastly different concept of what baptism is and what it accomplishes than has historically been held by the majority of Christians. In the Church, everyone is baptised soon after they are born, except for those who convert later in life: as a result, there isn’t any sort of “caste system” such as you described, between the baptised and the unbaptised (or not yet baptised). I’ve also come to see the advantage of bringing people to baptism early in life and giving them years of exposure to the Gospel, instead of letting them grow up “outside” and hoping when they grow up they’ll ask to come inside.

  2. Chris Rodriguez says:

    Hello itch. This reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote: “Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable. But when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.” – Mere Christianity

    I have my days of doubting. Its mostly one philosophical conundrum or other. I’ve worked through materialism, idealism and solipsism. Through all of it, I return to my faith in God. There are beauties there (in my catholic faith), which my soul cannot deny. I’d recommend one good read: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

    Continue the search!

    • The Itch says:

      Thank you for the recommendation. I’ll definitely put it on my list.

      There is definitely something to the idea of exercising faith as if it were a muscle to be strengthened. As an atheist (and here comes the hard part: what tense do I use, for I still don’t consider myself a theist — I’ll go with past tense), I always considered that aspect of faith to be a sure sign of the futility of it all. “If God really exists” and all that. But there is a beauty I see in it now. I tell my students: nothing worth having comes easily. I’m beginning to live in that realization myself.

  3. […] Then along comes Mr. Rodriguez, carrying words of the great twentieth-century apologist, C. S. Lewis: Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable. But when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith. (Christ Rodriguez) […]

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