Baptism Redefined


Baptism: From the Greek root-word baptizein, meaning to plunge, immerse, sink; hence to wash; to be immersed. (from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)

I once heard a nun lead a congregation in a meditation on the love of Christ.

Think of it as water, she said. Think of it as a room filling with water. It is rising around your chair, surrounding your ankles, your legs, your waist.

It is cool. It is filling in all of your empty spaces, your open hands. It winds around every strand of your hair. It is filling up the whole room, and you are suspended in it.

Don’t be afraid, now. This is not drowning. Take a breath. Feel yourself fill up.

Think of it as pure love. The love of Christ. You are immersed in it—every part of you touched, every part of you buoyed, floating, held.


I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It goes so fast. You were standing, then you are pulled underneath the water ever so briefly, then you are hoisted back up, dripping.

You slip up the steps out of the baptismal pool, your gown slapping around your ankles. The congregation is singing a chorus. “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.”


But at dawn, there is no one at Glencoe Beach on Lake Michigan, even in the summer. You sit on the life guard stand, and the seagulls fly in from all the far reaches of the air to sit on the sand and wait.

When the sun comes up, you walk into the water. It is cold at first, but you keep moving forward towards the light. Finally, you force yourself to go under all the way, and it is so quiet down there, so cool. The whole world is silent, muffled by the bigness of all this water.

Think of it as water, the nun said. Think of it as pure love.

When you bob to the surface, the whole world is orange and pink, and the sea gulls are back circling the sky. The new day is beginning, and you are in it, and this is a kind of baptism too.

You are alive. You float until your fingers prune.

13 thoughts on “Baptism Redefined

  1. Great posts on baptism. Today Sadie asked me if she had been baptized. When I told her no, she said, “Well, one time I went under the water all of the way!” 🙂

  2. Love your last two posts. It’s sad how theologically charged the idea and act of baptism have become. Once again the church has turned something that is supposed to be beautiful, symbolic, and filled with holy mystery into a psuedo commercialized cattle call. Thank you for taking us back to the essence of it. You have such a way with words. 🙂

  3. That is a really helpful way of describing baptism. I have often thought of how evangelicals focus so much on the cross that we don’t know what the resurrection actually accomplished for us. It’s this new life, this filling up, that characterizes the resurrection. I think that’s part of what that nun was driving at. We emerge from death with the fullness of Christ’s love that broke the power of death in the Resurrection.

  4. Your blog really has me thinking. I have not been able to read much, yet. (I come and go when I get the chance.) It has me thinking about the way I talk, though. I enjoy the art of words, but I wonder if I’m speaking in an art form no one else understands. I think that because my blog is written for Christians, it is ok. Then again, I write specifically for abused Christians. There are many words that hurt me as a survivor. I wonder how many of my words hurt others. For example, “heart” took on a whole new meaning for me after spiritual abuse. It became a bad word. Now, I use it in my blog title as a means of reclaiming the word. I wonder what words I use that cause a knee-jerk reaction in others.

    Concerning your thoughts on baptism, I think this is actually one thing I experienced well while growing up. It was never the cattle-call that others have turned it into. It was a divine experience in which we gathered around one person and committed ourselves as family members. Some have said that the church I grew up in has turned baptism into a work because of the emphasis ‘we’ place on it, but I believe the opposite is true. It is an act of experiencing the Spirit’s work.

    Thinking about words again, (sorry for the rambling) we have left traditional church for an organic approach. I know that to really live this way, I will have to drop the Christianese in my everyday conversations. My husband is much better at this than I am. I don’t want to stop talking about God, but I want to make sense to others.

    1. Thanks Teresa! I so appreciate your thoughts and I’m so glad that in your church, baptism was a meaningful celebration.

      As for the Christianese, I wouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to drop it. I still find that it creeps up in my everyday speech too, no matter how intentional I try to be about my words. I think the important thing is to just keep rethinking and redefining it.

      In my journey with these words, I’ve found that many of them still resonate with me, while others produce that knee-jerk kind of anger and cynicism. It’s interesting to explore why. I think that for me, it’s more about trying to find the places where I’ve used cliche and easy answer to avoid dealing with a complex truth. That’s where I most want to be careful.

      I’m with you: I don’t want to alienate people with my language, so I try to be careful, but I also recognize that I don’t always know what will set another person on edge. For example, that word “heart,” had never occurred to me as being a touchy one. (Maybe I should have you do a guest post on it!) In the end, as the Prayer of St. Patrick says so beautifully, what I really want is “Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.”

  5. My baptism experience was quite truly a wonderful one. The church my wife and I attended emphasized the act of water immersion as a final step in coming into salvation with Christ. After Hearing, Believing and Declaring (verbally), one then was baptized in front of witnesses. It was a great experience emotionally and spiritually. Unfortunately that denomination also thought that if you were not baptized under their “interpretation’ of scripture as relating to salvation, then to hell you were going.
    We no longer go to church there…

    1. Glad your baptism experience was a great one even if the church experience itself wasn’t. I hope you can hang onto the beautiful even as you discard the less-than-awesome.

  6. Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean?
    Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There IS no translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

    There is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, “ And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.” Not a single translation in the entire world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists believe it should be translated.

    Isn’t that a problem?

    And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, “Asking Christ into your heart in a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

    And Mark 16:16 as, “He that believes will be saved, and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought out and very reasonable…but it is wrong. Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist “Greek” scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated, states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

    Please investigate this critical doctrine further. Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

    God bless you!


  7. There is more evidence in the NT supporting infant baptism than there is condemning or prohibiting the practice:

    1. “Baptize all nations” does not include an age restriction in the Great Commission (GC).

    2. There is no mention in the GC of requiring an older child/adult “decision for Christ” prior to baptizing! Isn’t that really, really odd? If the only means of salvation is an adult “decision for Christ”, why would Christ not mention this in his final comments to his disciples before ascending to heaven? Why didn’t he say, “Go into all the world, and lead people to Christ by telling them to pray and ask me into their hearts. Then, teach them everything I have commanded you, including being baptized as a public profession of faith.”

    Nope. That isn’t what he said, is it?

    Baptize, baptize, baptize, baptize, baptize. It is repeated over 100 times in the NT. “Be born again” is mentioned twice, and “accept Christ/make a decision for Christ is NEVER mentioned in the NT!

    The simple, plain rendering of multiple passages of Scripture state the following:

    1. It is the power of God’s Word that saves.
    2. The Word saves only those who have been predestined by God to be saved. You will never understand how infant baptism/salvation is possible if you believe that sinners have a free will regarding spiritual matters and are required to make a “decision” before God is allowed to save them. You must believe in (Single, not Double) Predestination to understand Infant Baptism.

    3. When God quickens the spiritually dead souls of those he has predestined, at some point in their lives, they become spiritually alive and therefore believe and repent. There is NO decision on the part of the sinner.

    4. God is not limited to the “when” of salvation. God can save an adult by the preaching of his Word BEFORE baptism, and God can and does save sinners by the power of his Word spoken/pronounced during Baptism.

    The Church has always believed this. Baptism IS necessary for salvation, in that if one rejects or neglects to be baptized, he demonstrates he does not have true faith, and very likely will go to hell when he dies. But, baptism is NOT mandatory, in that God can and does save outside of baptism as was the case with all the OT saints, the thief on the cross, and many martyrs over the last 2,000 years.

    It is the lack of faith/belief that damns, not the lack of baptism.

    In conclusion, Christ did not give any age restrictions for baptism. Christ did not require a “decision for Christ” prior to being baptized. Christ did not require believing PRIOR to baptism. More than five entire households, filled with servants and slaves, were baptized. It is mathematically virtually impossible that none of these households had infants or toddlers, and Scripture says that the ENTIRE household was baptized. There is no mention of an exception for the infants and toddlers.

    The explicit mention of the baptism of infants is not mentioned in these household conversions for the same reason that the baptism of teenagers in the households is not explicitly mentioned; or the baptism of the household’s servants, their wives, and their teenagers; or the baptism of the household’s slaves, their wives, and their teenagers. These subcategories of the “household” are not mentioned because everyone in the middle east, in the first century AD, knew and expected that these subgroups are ALWAYS included in a household conversion when the head of the household converts.

    The Baptist worldview of only allowing persons who can make a conscious decision to believe prior to being baptized is a sixteenth century, industrialized western European mind set. First century Jews and other Mediterranean peoples would have NEVER left their children in a spiritual state of “limbo”, outside of the parents’ new religion, to make a “decision” for themselves when they grew up. Such a practice would have been unheard of and outrageous!

    In the post-Resurrection period of the NT, there are only TWO explicit examples of INDIVIDUAL conversions: Saul/Paul and the Ethiopian eunuch. Neither one had families: Saul/Paul probably by choice; the eunuch for obvious reasons. Household conversion was the norm in the NT, NOT individual conversion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top