The Power of a River Baptism

There’s nothing like a good old river water baptism. Tradition dictates that our church does at least one river baptism service a year. We’ve got an indoor baptismal tank as well, but there’s nothing quite like a frigid river dunk to give you some old-time religion.

Our baptism choice is the Stuck River. The Stuck River is a cloudy, fast-moving, glacier-frigid tributary that flows around the edges of south Auburn. To limit our travel time from the church to the river, we usually gather at a spot in Roegner Park behind Auburn Riverside High School. It’s a pretty park, but there aren’t that many locations where the water is deep enough and slow enough to accommodate the dunking of a whole person.

Even so, we usually find a spot that is “good enough” for the task at hand. In past years, I’ve found that my “good enough” is someone else’s “Are you kidding me … do you see how fast that water is flowing!? I signed up for a baptism, not a drowning!”

There is nothing like a good old river water baptism at the Stuck River: the terror of wading waist deep into murky rapids; the metabolic shock of being fully plunged into ice cold waters; the exhilaration of being lifted out of your immersion as the congregation cheers from the river’s edge. Dying to self as we plunge into the fearful deep, rising alive in Christ as we rise from the waters. This is the joy of a good baptism.

Whenever I baptize someone, I remind them and the gathered community that we are participating in a sacred event; we are engaging in a sacrament that goes back to the beginning of the church. I remind them how how much baptism cost the early church.

In the early days of Christianity, baptism was more than a ritual or sacrament. It was more than a public expression of a personal commitment. It was more than telling the world that you had decided to live for Christ. In the foundational days of the New Testament Church, water baptism was far more than a symbolic gesture; it was a literal confession that one was willing to be beaten, abused, slandered, shamed, disowned or even martyred for the sake of Jesus Christ.

It was one thing to have a private salvation experience with Christ, it was another to publicly proclaim this decision in the public arena of a baptism. By being baptized publicly, slaves risked being beaten by their masters. By confessing their new found faith through water immersion, wives opened themselves up to being abused, disowned or divorced.

Baptism produced countless heartaches and persecutions. Sons were rejected by their fathers. Daughters were abandoned by their mothers. Whole families were permanently shamed by the communities that once loved them. All because they chose to confess their faith through baptismal waters.

The social pressures of the early church were very much like the pressures many believers experience throughout the world today. There are countries and communities throughout the world that will not tolerate the confession of Christianity. In these communities, publicly witnessing Christ is considered shameful to treasonous. In many repressive communities, the new believer must confront a spiritual as well as possible physical death as they wade into the waters of baptism. In their baptismal journey, they are not only embracing Christ, but they are also signing up for a lifetime of persecution.

Baptism is a sacred act. I remind myself of this every time I enter the waters, every time someone entrusts their body to my care. As I lay them deep into rushing waters, as I lift them up into the light and life of a new beginning, I remind myself that my gospel must cost me something. If there is no cost, there is no value.

I encourage you to embrace a way of living that produces inconvenient fruit. Live for things that matter, work for fruit that lasts. Contend for a truth that’s worthy of the love of God and the sacred sacrifice of the martyrs.

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One Response to The Power of a River Baptism

  1. Denise Johnson August 22, 2011 at 3:25 am #

    Doug, I love this! We will be having our 2nd ever baptism next week. That being said no one who will be participating has ever actually “seen” a baptism. We will do it in the lake…the rivers around here are to shallow for my sense of adventure. You talked about the cost of water baptism please keep my church & these brave individuals in your prayers as this one event could cost these new believers a lot….they will be labeled part of a sect even more than before. They will have family reprocussions at the very least & it could be more. I’m so proud of them for taking this step. I think knowing the cost is great & fully counting that cost strengthens the inner conviction. no cost …no big deal.

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