I'm a big fan of infant baptism, so much so, that when we had just moved to West Virginia (more than 11 years ago! Ack! I'm getting old!), and were looking for a church, the lack of infant baptism was one of two main reasons that I couldn't bring myself to become a member of the large Baptist church that we really liked, other than those two little (or huge) things. I just love the symbolism: infant baptism reminds me that God chooses us to be His, and diligently pursues us, before we are even capable of choosing Him. Besides, that's the way we did it in the churches in which I grew up, so that must be the right way, right?
This weekend, however, I was a witness to over 100 adult/teen/older child immersion baptisms. Five wonderful women and I attended Willow Creek Community Church together on Sunday morning, and it was Baptism Sunday. I had witnessed an adult (well, I suppose he was officially an adult, but he was also still a teenager) dunking baptism before. My freshman year of high school, our church youth group traveled to Colorado, and one of the young men chose to be baptized in the frigid (40 degrees) Arkansas River. I don't remember much about it, except that a lot of us girls were crying, and Michael and Pastor Tim looked really, really cold.
These baptisms at Willow Creek were so inspiring--I wasn't prepared to be so inspired. First of all, it was so amazing and wonderful to witness these men and women being dunked. This wasn't just a few sprinkles of water on the forehead, this was a whole body commitment! The pastors would put one hand behind the baptizee's back, and hold on to their arm with the other hand. Then they dunked them, backwards, into the water. I couldn't help but be reminded that as these brothers and sisters went under the water, they were dying to self, and as the pastor raised them back out of the water, it was just a perfect picture of being raised again to new life in Christ, after having been washed clean.
But it didn't stop there. Many, many of the folks raised their arms in victory after being raised out of the water. They were just so incredibly thrilled to have made this public commitment to live a new life in Christ, and their enthusiasm was contagious. The atmosphere in the auditorium was festive and celebratory. There were hoots and hollers and applause as each person emerged from the water. Yes, every single one. Over 100 times.
Another thing that I noticed was that a lot of the people who were being baptized, probably 95%, wore black. As they stepped from the pool, their black clothing was covered with a white towel, just as Christ covered their sin through his death and resurrection. Just as their baptism symbolized.
A few of the baptisms really stand out in my mind. At one point, one pastor was preparing to baptize a couple, and all three of them were bawling, as he was asking them the questions. The woman looked a lot like the pastor, and I think that, perhaps, this pastor was finally getting to celebrate his sister coming to Christ. I'm sure that moment was, quite literally, an answered prayer. It's making me tear up just thinking about it. There was also a group of 4 teenage girls who were baptized together, and I just remember them coming up out of the water and jumping up and down and hugging each other--oh, what a joy it was to witness. Everyone was smiling, everyone was thrilled to be finally known as a child of God, and I tell you, it made me want to run down there and join in, renewing my commitment to live fully for Christ. By the time it was over, I was bawling, and cheering, and laughing, too.
I found myself thinking about Confirmation services that I've been a part of. I've always thought that a baby dedication in a Baptist church is kind of like infant baptism in other churches, in that it's the parents making the commitment on behalf of the child, and that Confirmation or Profession of Faith is like baptism in a Baptist church, in that it's the child or adult making the commitment for themselves. But never in my life have I seen someone as thrilled to be confirmed as those people were to be baptized. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could all be that excited and joy-filled to live as Christ followers?