Over the years, one of my roles has been that of a pastor at a local church. Part of a church leader’s life, of course, is to come alongside other people’s spiritual experiences from time to time, for guidance, support, and sometimes even to help interpret life events.
For many followers of God, one of the big spiritual events is baptism. Baptism, despite its original simplicity, has unfortunately become complex over the centuries, in terms of meaning and purpose. Within Christianity, there is an incredibly wide range of belief and practice of baptism.
In general, there are two main views of baptism – some Christian traditions see baptism as a sacrament, others see it as an ordinance. For our purposes of our Talking about God series, I will focus on one particular faith tradition – that of the “Anabaptists” (originating in the 16th century), who believe that baptism is an ordinance.
Let me illustrate a basic view of baptism by using a modern analogy – laser tag. I remember my first experience playing laser tag – it seemed like all of my friends had played for years, and I was the last one to join the party. I remember the anticipation of playing the game, and the excitement of being handed my first laser gun (unfortunately, there were no light sabers available).
The central part of playing laser tag, of course, is to actually put on the special vest that has both targets to hit and a laser to use. No vest, means no laser tag. I could talk about laser tag all I wanted to, I could say whose team I wanted to be on, and I could even get dressed in all black clothes so that no one could see me. But until I put on the vest and stepped into the dark room filled with passageways and hiding spots, I was not actually playing laser tag, and I certainly wasn’t an active part of any laser tag team.
Being baptised is a lot like putting on the vest and playing on the team. It is way of telling other people that you or I are “all in”. Every analogy breaks down at some point, but just as the vest identifies me with the game of laser tag, baptism similarly identifies a person with Jesus. Additionally, baptism identifies a person with a specific faith community (ie, the “team” that a person is a part of).
In essence, baptism is a physical act (immersing oneself in water and then coming up again) through which a person tells others about a previous spiritual act (accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour). In this way, the Anabaptists believed and practiced baptism as an ordinance – a symbolic action that physically expresses an already existing spiritual reality.
Questions to ask ourselves and others …
- In terms of your own spirituality, what physical and/or ritual events have been powerful for you? Describe what they meant to you at the time.
- Have you ever been part of a physical action that had spiritual significance for someone else? How did it affect them, and how did it affect you?