A few years ago I was working in my office while another pastor stopped in. She was having a problem with a person whom she kept referring to as a “baby Christian.” This left me thoroughly confused, since the problems that she was talking about were definitely adult in nature. Finally I had to stop her so I could follow her better to ask “what do you mean ‘baby Christian’?” A smile came to her face: “oh, someone who just came to Christ, you know, like a baby; everything is wonder and awe, but they still have a lot of learning and growing to do.”
“What a unique way of looking at a newly baptized adult?” I thought.
In fact, I thought that gave some unique insight into what happens at baptism especially for adults who are baptized. So often when we think of adult baptism we do so as a culmination of things. Kind of a Baptism is the final show of faith, a pinnacle, you might say. But that is neither biblical nor theologically modeled anywhere outside some modern traditions.
Baptism, by its very nature, is a beginning. It marked the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and for us it marks the beginning of a life’s journey with Christ. Though some are well on their way in that journey when they are finally baptized, baptism is an important initial point within the faith journey and our life in Christ.
Like life, our faith goes through cycles and in fact is always growing and changing, just as we are. This means that whether we are baptized as an infant or as an adult, there is a significant change that happens with the commitment that is made to live for Christ. For me, though, being baptized as an infant, I sometimes got jealous of those who were baptized later in life. Especially at commissioning services or other baptisms when it is said: “remember your baptism” because, well, I can’t, at least through my own eyes.
I know my Grandfather baptized me, and the infamous Rev. Jack Peters (a strange story for another day) signed my certificate. I know from my grandmother that I was a perfectly beautiful and content child and that everything went perfectly. But beyond the stories, I just don’t know, and more importantly to me, I don’t know what it felt like. So when I hear the words, remember your baptism, I used to get a little jealous of those who were baptized later in life. Since they could remember, and feel, and understand.
However, I realized something too; it was a great gift from my parents to baptize me as an infant because as I grew in my life, I also grew in my faith, and as everything in the world changed around me, I had the constant of God through Jesus Christ before me and to ground me and for that, especially as times got tough, I had something more to rely on, and I knew that I belonged, at least somewhere in this world.
It was interesting, because that was at the root of the problem my fellow pastor was having with her newly baptized adult. He was having a difficult time connecting with the community because he never had a place where he truly felt like he belonged. Granted, he had been part of many things, but as they do with all of us they came and went. But now that he had a constant, he did not quite know how to fit in. Once we realized that, my colleague was able to help him and he became a integral member of their church.
On Sunday we will welcome the newly baptized at both services, but as we celebrate both of these baptisms, take for a moment and think about your baptism and what that means to you. Moreover, ask how you feel you have grown from a new Christian to and adult Christian, and more importantly, what you do to help “baby Christians” in their development.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen