Recently I was invited to visit a baptism service at another local church attended by a friend of mine.
I don’t remember the context of how baptism came up in our conversation but his comment to me was, “I guarantee you haven’t seen anything quite like this.”
He had my attention for sure. The following Sunday my wife and I drove out to this particular church to meet up with our friend and enjoy the baptisms.
On the drive up I remember thinking, “How different can it really be?” While the actual process of baptism, (the lowering and submerging into the tub of water and raising back up), wasn’t that much different than others I had seen – the emphasis certainly was. Here baptism was much more than just a symbol of change – it was a celebration of change.
Before the baptisms began one of the staff pastors came up front and told a story centered around life-change in someone he recently met on a mission trip to Central or South America. The story was of a women whom he had met while there and had escaped a life of sexual abuse and prostitution – finally finding Christ and experiencing life change. Instead of running from her past she was using it to reach out to others in similar situations. The Pastor’s whole emphasis seemed to be on visuals of life change. And boy were the illustrations just beginning.
Next a young women came up on stage and talked about her past and her present. She was a recovering meth addict who had recently trusted Christ and found new worth and value in Him. One of her most moving statements was, “For a long time I knew who Christ was in my head…but it wasn’t until recently that I allowed Him to finally know more of me.”
She finally trusted Him, acknowledging her powerlessness and need.
When she was done telling her story she walked over to the tub which was surrounded by her closest friends and family. They were invited on stage to share in this awesome moment. She then stepped into the tub grabbing both the hands of her husband and her mentor, a woman from Celebrate Recovery named Debbie, and sat down. She was then lowered back into the water and lifted back up – symbolizing her newness in Christ. As she got out of the tub she was embraced by her loved ones from around the tub.
What followed were several more, very similar and equally powerful, stories of life change. Each person was baptized – not by the pastor – but the person who had had the most impact on their life spiritually. It was a very powerful moment to see Father’s baptizing sons and daughters, sisters baptizing sisters, friends baptizing friends.
The whole service revolved around these baptisms. Story after story of life change – played out on stage in front of the entire church. No sermon, no teaching, no power points. Just a visual, real-life message displayed right before our eyes. It was powerful, humbling, and simple.
One other thing that struck me was the fact that many of these individuals were able to get up in front of the church and tell their story with no shame at all. These folks talked about their struggles with meth, sexual addiction, and rage and yet did so in front of an entire congregation. Not something most churches seem to embrace easily from the pulpit. And that is unfortunate.
I thought to myself, “They seem to get it here. If you know Christ – you are not defined by what you did but rather what He did for you.”
It was an amazing experience and reminded me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:9-12:
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.“
Sometimes a message needs to be seen more than heard.