Baptism: A primer

A quiet bend in the river has been chosen, complete with resident platypus, a Bible has been ordered, a wetsuit has been arranged: all because a young person in our midst has responded to God’s call on her life and is ready to be baptised. And so, in a few weeks, we will do one of the most exciting things a church can do: hear her vows, and baptise her into the body of Christ.

It’s an incredibly powerful rite, with many layers of meaning and and many entry points. So as we prepare, I thought it would be good to remember the basics. The words below are from our baptismal statement, and I share them with a few extra comments. The first is that, like every sacrament, baptism is best understood through experiencing it and living a life shaped by it. All the words in the world cannot replace the deep ways of knowing which come to those who enter bodily into the sacrament.

The second is that this means that we come to baptism, indeed to any vows, not really knowing what we are doing or how they will shape us. Yet we come, responding to God’s call and trusting that Jesus will lead us. It’s an act of faith: but the faith is not ours and baptism is no proof of our faithfulness. Instead, it’s a sign of God’s faith in us, which has stirred something deep within us and led us to say a great big ‘Yes!’ – and this faith will carry us when our own sense of faith waxes and wanes.

Sanctuary is a faith community of the Baptist Union of Victoria; but its members come from many denominational backgrounds. Each denomination has distinct practices regarding baptism and membership. We affirm the varied practices, seeing in them evidence of God’s infinite variety and grace, and we give thanks that through these diverse paths each of us has been gathered up into the church. This statement follows Baptist principles, but in no way seeks to negate the different denominational practices by which many of us were baptised and welcomed into the church.

What is baptism?
Baptism is the fundamental rite of initiation into the body of Christ: the church. Through baptism we participate in Christ’s own life, death and resurrection. We are cleansed from sin, grafted into Christ’s body and filled with the Holy Spirit. We become citizens of God’s kingdom-culture, and are drawn into a renewed way of living and being human together that is characterised by love, freedom, forgiveness, hospitality, integrity and grace.

As a Baptist faith community, this rite involves the public making of vows and a full immersion in water in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer (or the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Where possible, we baptise in wild spaces to embody the wilderness baptisms at the Jordan River and the Exodus crossing of the Red Sea; to embrace the wild freedom of the Holy Spirit; to immerse ourselves in God’s exuberance and abundance; and to re-member ourselves as children of God’s good earth.

Baptism is a once-off event, and the vows are lifelong. It is serious and can be costly, and has led many to experience persecution, suffering and even death. But we have faith that, through baptism, when we participate in Christ’s suffering we also participate in the joy of the resurrection and new life.

Following Jesus’ practice of teaching, healing and dining with people regardless of religious identity, personal practices or age, we here at Sanctuary do not require baptism for participation in the life of the church. However, we offer it to those who are willing to commit to the Way of Jesus Christ their whole life long, and we do require church leaders to have made a mature profession of faith in a rite recognised as such by their denomination of origin.

The vows
In baptism, we reject all evil and die to sin. Do you reject all that is unjust, hurtful, selfish, violent or false?
> With God’s help, I reject them all.
In baptism, we are made one with Christ. Do you turn to Jesus Christ and put your trust in him alone?
> With God’s help, I put my trust in Jesus Christ.
In baptism, we are ordained to ministry. Do you promise to pray for and serve the world Jesus loves?
> With God’s help, I will serve Jesus Christ in the world all my life.
In baptism, we are grafted into the body of Christ. Do you share the faith of the church, and commit to its life, prayer and ministry?
> I affirm the faith of the church, and commit to God’s people. With God’s help, I will live by the covenant which binds us in Christ.

So that’s our approach to baptism in a teeny-tiny nutshell. For details such as preparation, readiness, or apprenticeship, just ask and I will email you the four page single spaced document outlining theology and processes!


PS: If you are part of our regular worshipping community and have not been baptised, just ask! We’d love to witness you respond to Jesus’ invitation to life in his name, and to baptise you into his body, the church.

Emailed to Sanctuary on 31 March 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Erik Dungan on Unsplash

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