Tuesday, July 03, 2007

That Little Baptist Church Revisited

The summer after my first year at college, I met my husband when we were both working at Arrowhead Lutheran Camp (I'd been going there since I was a kid...so even though I didn't think I was Lutheran, I still loved working there - besides, half the staff wasn't, at the time). He was just heading off for his first year at seminary, and I was still in college in Utah. During our early days, I had told him about my struggles with baptism (appropriately, we were in the pool), and he just nodded and listened (which really amazed me. But he just figured that was one of those things that would determine if we were headed in the right direction or not).

Not long after returning to school, I was sitting in church again, and Pastor Dave was preaching on Colossians 2:11-14

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ. buried with Him in baptism in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Now, the pastor went through the nature of circumcision and how this text compared it to baptism, and he was doing a really good job. But there came a point where he lost me...and I mean he LOST me.

Because he said "and this is why infants should not be baptized."

All of a sudden, it all clicked. The connection was made in my brain that if baptism is how we are brought into the new covenant, and circumcision is how we were brought into the old, then baptizing babies was no more wrong than circumcising them on the eighth day. Those babies did not choose to be part of the Old Testament covenant either, yet it was commanded by God. (So yes, it was a Baptist pastor who convinced me that infant baptism was a good thing, though I don't know that he'd be proud of that)

A few days after it occurred to me that the pastor was waiting for me to come forward for an altar call, it also occurred to me that this particular sermon was directed right at me to push forward my desire to be baptized(I was born blonde...sometimes it takes me a while, just like it rarely occurred to me that a guy liked me until he was planting one on my pucker. And like I said before, there really was no one else in the congregation that this was an issue for...but I just figured it was regular teaching).

I am not laughing at the pastor. He was a good man, and he was taking his calling as a pastor and I believe he was legitimately concerned for my salvation. He knew I had faith, but he took seriously their doctrine that getting baptized was a matter of obedience to God's commands, and not having the desire to do so may indicate that I am not saved. A part of me wishes that he could see that maybe that lack of motivation was fruit from the fact that I already was baptized, but I do respect him for taking my spiritual well-being seriously.

That sermon also showed me that I was clearly in the wrong place. I'd already wanted to find out if I could "handle" being Lutheran again, since I was in a long-distance relationship with a seminarian who was clearly the marrying kind. But this was the kick in the pants that I needed, so it was time to go see if I could find in Lutheranism what my (then) boyfriend found there.

I'm thankful for Pastor Dave, he was a good man, and he was good to me. That congregation will always have a special place in my heart (his wife also taught me that you don't have to be rosy, sweet, well-organized, and completely feminine to be a pastor's wife). Pastor Dave left shortly after I did, and I appreciate all he did for me, and there is simply a part of me that is thankful that he kept me busy until I found where I really needed to be, the same way I am thankful for my husband's ex-girlfriend who kept him busy for four years before we met. I am truly where God meant me to be.


steph said...

After reading it, I think the key is the punctuation and interpretation of the phrases in vs 11. I don't think circumcision (literal) was intended to be a parallel to baptism in that passage. I think circumcision (literal) was supposed to be a parallel with Christ's death for our sins as indicated by the phrase "by the circumcision of Christ"--which was made "without hands". In the translations I read after I read your post, the rest of the passage follows a colon and is more of a descriptor of "by the circumcision of Christ" than an explanation of how circumcision (literal) and baptism are parallels (I don't think that's what the passage is trying to say).

Most Baptists I know believe that baptism is an outward declaration of an inward faith, not salvation, which would be why the pastor was probably trying to tell you that he thought infants should not be baptized. It's important that this passage is referring to the parallel I mentioned before (circumcision and "by the circumcision of Christ") not to a parallel between circumcision (literal) and baptism, because comparing circumcision (literal) to baptism infers that baptism is required at infancy (or required, period) to receive the covenant imputed with Christ's death and resurrection just as circumcision (literal) was required at birth (or later, in a few cases) by God of the Jews. But as this is NOT what most Baptists I know believe (having grown up attending many Baptist churches and identifying most closely with them) then I'm guessing that you and the pastor interpreted the passage differently due to emphasis on different phrases.

I hope that's not impossible to comprehend. It's pretty late and I have a young infant that keeps me up all hours (I know, I should be sleeping.) I see nothing wrong with baptizing an infant as long as the people doing so don't believe the baptism equates to salvation. I don't believe Christ's new covenant passed on to us the same way God's covenant with the Jews passed on to them. I have no idea how God protects the innocent ones, but I'm sure he does. If the pastor was trying to say that baptism is required at all to enter into this new covenant with Christ, I'd be surprised, but I definitely wasn't there and there might be pieces I'm missing.

However, from your description and from reading the passage here and elsewhere I'd have to say that I completely see what the pastor was trying to get at, but I think, personally, it was an unnecessary comment and didn't add anything to the discussion of the passage. Just my way more than two cents. Hope it added and didn't offend in any way (and I could be way off! It's happened before.)

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

And the pastor said those words to me "baptism is a symbol of what has already happened in the heart." and "It is necessary to be baptized because Christ commanded it...but it is a symbol of what has already happened." He was more concerned that my lack of motivation to be baptized again might be a sign that I was not yet saved, and I think he earnestly desired me to be saved.

Now the rest that I really would like to respond to, I can't do in this little comment box..it simply drives me nuts, so I think I will have to do a full post on it.

But I do have a question for clarification...are you reading that text as saying the circumcision of Christ made without hands is Christ's death or is it baptism? I have a semicolon in NASB, a comma in NIV, and a comma in NKJV. I would agree that it is a descriptor - continuing the idea - but I read the circumcision made without hands to "be the removal of the body of the flesh" the cleansing we receive through baptism, where we were "buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." This is described both here in Colossians 2, and also in Romans 6. Paul doesn't say that this is a symbol of that being put to death with Christ and being resurrected with Him, or symbolic of that bond with Him, but he says that baptism is WHERE that happens.