Why I Chose to Be Re-Baptized
Have you ever had the chance to take a look at your life with the knowledge that it was about to come to an end? Everything you know is about to change. The world was once a familiar, safe, beautiful, and even happy place, but you are moving on, choosing to let go—exchanging what you don’t know for the promise of something better. Most people come to the end of their life with a firm resolve to resist until they have no option but to capitulate to the persistent call of death. How does one process the decision to embrace this call when they still have years of life ahead of them?
In some ways, that is how I feel this morning before my baptism. In a few hours, I will have crossed over a line from which I can never go back. I am choosing to make a commitment that I have avoided for a long time because I always want a way out of everything. How did I come to the point where I want to close the door to any other option and choose to be identified as a son of God?
I think that, rather than struggling against the flood and attempting to control the currents of the river of life and of love that surrounds me, I am embracing the freedom that comes from letting go and throwing myself into its power. In a more straightforward statement, I have been overcome by the love of God and no longer resist its attempts to shape my life but rather choose to wholly succumb to its power.
Still there is a fear that I have no idea what I am getting into. As I am still recovering from a season of challenging the goodness of God through suffering, I have one remaining reservation: that perhaps my risk will not go unpunished. Those who chose to follow God throughout history often lost their ‘lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honour,’ to borrow a phrase from the American founders. From the writer of Hebrews we find that those with faith in God spent their lives “wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins, through the mountains, without a home, forsaken by family and loved ones, seeking a better promise by faith that was never actually fulfilled” (Hebrews 11:37,13) They were waiting for me and for those around me to embrace the truth that they knew, so that their investment would be fruitful (11:39-40). These are the people identified by their faith in God ‘of whom the world was not worthy’ (Hebrews 11:38).
With their story in mind, I must ask the question of how much I am willing to go through in order to wholeheartedly pursue by faith the call of God that is on my life. Can I give up everything that I might otherwise desire in order to jump into this one thing? So far in my life I have made the choice to follow God by faith as an experiment in various contexts and the rewards have outweighed the suffering. However, they did not turn out to be what I expected. If somehow I knew that I would never experience a moment where I felt separated from the presence of God, this decision would be easy. But we have a relationship, which like any other enjoys its ups and downs. There are moments of intimacy, but also those of distance and even of frustration. I have walked the journey with God long enough as a spectator, researcher, and beta project to know the reality of what I am getting into when I step into the waters of baptism.
Jesus, the only begotten son of God was killed within three years of his baptism. Others had even less time to live from that moment. Even today, those who choose to make the commitment that I am moving toward this morning face homelessness, ostracisation, abandonment, difficulty, and other obstacles that are even worse. I am scared of simply being left out in the cold both literally and figuratively; how much worse the prospect of being forced into it by the ones that I love? Would I still do it? What is in it for me that I would take this step of faith, this risk of publicly saying, “I’m all in” no matter what the cost?
As one who avoids commitments as a general rule, my choice to follow through with this only makes sense when it is considered in light of another major commitment that many people choose to make at some point in their lives: a marriage. The ceremony in which two people publicly confess their love for each other and promise ‘love and honour’ forever is not the starting point of their relationship. Rather, the marriage ceremony is the recognition and celebration that such a relationship exists and is worth pursuing. It is a solemn promise by each person to continue what they have already begun by sacrificing some aspect of their independence, their ‘right’ to be selfish, their focus on themselves and committing to the process of learning how to submit their dreams, hopes, and wishes to the context of the other for ‘as long as we both shall live.’
The ceremony is not in itself the thing that creates the reality of love, however it is also more than just a recognition that such love exists. There is something special that happens in a formal and public testimony of the internal truth that love exists between two individuals. Something about the external demonstration makes the internal reality visible and adds a tangible dimension to its value. It places the individuals within the context of a community where they can share their joy and struggles with others. It invites accountability and becomes a marking point for commitment, which can be celebrated, commemorated, and strengthened within the cycles of time.
As a sacrament, marriage places the actions and desires of the individual within the ecclesiastical context winning the rewards that come from showing honour toward the institutions that God has established. The joyful occasion is met with much preparations and anticipation—even nervousness and fear, as there is no individual who can completely overlook the finality of such a choice: once you have married a person, you will forever be identified with them no matter what happens in the future.
Therefore the question that must be asked is whether or not the other party is worthy of such an endowment of trust. A marriage is not something that many people enter without months of forethought, counsel, and preparation. It takes time to determine that it is appropriate to die to the former ways of life in order to embrace a new reality within the context of another individual [for more explanation of this thought, see my previous article on Conciliar Post: ‘To my Single Friends: Why Wait?‘
Likewise, for me the choice to publicly confirm my commitment to living out the rest of my life in relationship with God has not been an easy decision. The world is filled with enticing opportunities to pursue a life filled with sex, money, fame, power, pride, and pleasure without thought of commitment to anyone besides myself. As someone blessed with both ability and opportunity to succeed in such pursuits, I constantly wonder how my heart has been drawn from these toward a singular focus in which the only satisfaction that I crave is to be lost in the childlike joy and wonder of perfect freedom in the reality of Love. I know the risks and I know the pain of such a pursuit and there are times when I forget the moments of perfect peace that are its reward.
Through the counsel of wisdom, I have learned from others the value of any other pursuit and weighed the risk and reward of each path I could follow. The one I have chosen is by far the most foolish and risky of all if it is motivated by anything other than a lovestruck heart. It is only in the context of love that foolishness becomes wisdom. Perhaps there is still some level of insensibility present in my mind, but I have taken months, if not years to screen my options and now make this decision with my eyes wide open. It does not mean that the risks have gone away. It does not mean that life will work out smoothly. It does not mean that my relationship with God will be easy from this point or that I will never desire to go back.
What it does mean is that our relationship has reached a point where a person like me, who is afraid of commitment, is ready to publicly confess a choice to commit the rest of my life to the pursuit of one thing. The time for exploration and choosing that began nearly seven years ago at a young church in Dublin, Ireland will reach its conclusion in Loveland, Colorado just a few hours from now. I have wavered long enough between two opinions: between the way of life that I want to live and the way of life to which I am irresistibly called. In my pursuit of purity as a thing to be cultivated rather than a thing to be protected, I have come to recognise the inconsistency of maintaining a double mind in which I continue to wonder what life would be like if I chose to leave behind the relationship that has so defined its character for the past six years. I can no longer continue to waver between two opinions. If the LORD is God, I must choose to serve him, but if Baal is God, I will choose him (1 Kings 18:20-29). Or as Joshua said to the people of Israel, you must “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).
I wish I could say that for me the choice was instantaneous. In the moment I believed, I found a pool of water and said “look here is water, what is keeping me from being baptised?” (Acts 8:36). Yet, every story is unique. I have extended the agony of choice as long as possible gaining both the rewards and the sorrow of such an experience. Others jump right into the water and never know the process through which others must go when choosing to make this commitment. As I heard somewhere, “your battlefield is your message.” Those who I am called to serve are those who face a similar struggle and through my experience I have won the ability to lead them bravely through the fight.
My baptism is not unique or extraordinary, except inasmuch as every baptism is so. Like everyone else, I will be placed beneath the water marking the end of my life as I have known it and then will be raised by no effort of my own into a new experience of life. It is a level playing field in which all demonstrate and receive the grace of God. The spiritual significance of this ceremony is well explored in other places here on Conciliar Post and I have begun to outline my own thoughts. However, for someone who must decide whether to go through with the ceremony a second time, the challenge is in the choice, not necessarily in the meaning. The effect of baptism is unchanged, but the experience can imbibe such a depth that I will not hesitate to recommend its benefits to any believer who considers at all the possibility of being re-baptized.
*Disclaimer – the author was raised in a religious tradition descended from the anabaptists and the re-baptizers and his ideas probably reflect this influence.
**Note – if you would like to discuss the ideas in here on a more personal level, the author is open for a more private conversation through email. firstname.lastname@example.org