In launching his followers out into the world, Jesus said: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV) All Christians, then and now, share this great commission of our Lord. We differ, however, in the details of living it out.
For Brethren, baptism requires an adult decision. It is not an act anyone else can decide or do for us. A disciple is someone who chooses, of their own free will, to follow Jesus. Baptism is not the end of the road, but its beginning. We don't have to have it all together before we step out in faith. We don't have to be perfect. We just need to know the cost. Jesus once said, in a verse or two often quoted in Brethren circles, "Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'" (Luke 14:27-30 NRSV)
While we recognize the baptism of those in other churches who entered the faith as infants and later confirmed that faith on their own, our understanding is that this is not what Jesus taught. "Count well the cost," Jesus said, "before you lay the foundation." Following our Lord is not an easy journey. There will be times when the road is an unpopular one. The earliest disciples knew it. Our ancestors did also, facing arrest or worse for what their faith in Christ called them to do.
Baptism, however, is not a time of doom and gloom. It is perhaps one of the most joyous
occasions in the life of our congregation. Practically speaking, it takes place in the context of a
Sunday morning worship service. Those being baptized stand up front for all to witness the vows
they make, having studied the meaning of following Christ in a membership class. After being
introduced to everyone by a member who has gotten to know them, they answer the following
questions (though not necessarily in these exact words every time) :
"Do you believe in Jesus Christ and receive
and trust him as your Savior and Lord?"
"Will you turn away from all sin,
accept God's forgiveness,
and by God's grace live according to
the example and teachings of Jesus?"
"Will you be a faithful member of his church,
receiving our support and prayers,
and giving yourself freely to us
- through your prayers,
your active participation,
Each person then steps down into the water of the baptismal pool in the front of the sanctuary where, upon their confession of faith, the pastor baptizes them. They are dunked completely underwater, three times forward in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Then there is prayer. A new beginning!
In earlier days, Brethren were called "Dunkers" by others. Now you know why. Making banners for a Sunday School class, one of our children came up with this slogan: "Brethren are going down for the third time." Another creatively wrote, "Triple dipped Dunkers are best in the long pool." Whereas Baptists generally do so once backward, rising out of the water as Christ rose from death (as in how he was laid in the tomb), Brethren baptize into his death upon the cross, his head bowed forward. A minor difference, yes - though our forbearers would thoroughly debate the issue at length.
The point is, in baptism we become disciples of Christ, daring to step out by faith and walk where he leads, believing that "I am with you always, to the end of the age." We do not walk alone. Not only is Christ's Spirit with us, but so is his earthly body, the church. Baptism is not an individual act. We join ourselves with a family of faith, in the truest sense, echoing the words of Ruth in the Hebrew portion of the Bible, "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God"(Ruth 1:16 NRSV).
In our prayer for each person baptized, we ask that the Holy Spirit would empower them with and help them to use their own special gift(s). As the apostle Paul makes clear, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7 NRSV) Everyone, not just the pastor, is equipped with a gift from God "for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12 NRSV). Baptism is an ordination to a life of ministry. Printed in our bulletin each week: the "ministers" are "the people of Long Green Valley Church."
"Making disciples" is a lifelong process. Stepping into the water we open ourselves willingly to that process, to being "discipled." Discipline, rightly understood, is this process of growing by faith into what God has created us to be, as individuals and as a church. Nobody ever said it would be easy. The best of adventures never are. Baptism is the starting point for this journey. And Jesus said, "Go...."
Some sample worship services in which we have baptized persons can be viewed here and here. If you are wondering what we do with our children instead of infant baptism, check out - "Let Them Come to Me."
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