Summary: An overview of water baptism from the ministry of John the Baptist and our Lord’s baptism.
Bible Teaching Series
# 1 - Water Baptism in the Gospels
I have been a pastor for 35 years and during that time I have baptized hundreds of people in water. The baptismal services that are most memorable to me, with a few exceptions, are ones that I conducted outdoors, either in rivers, lakes or the ocean. I will briefly share two experiences.
In 1976 I was the pastor of a church in Postville, a community on the north Atlantic coast of Canada in the Labrador region. At the time the church did not have an indoors baptismal facility so baptisms were held once a year in the summer on the shore of Kipakok Bay on which the village was located. It was on a sunny July Sunday afternoon when I walked to the shore with 26 new church members to perform what I consider to be one of the greatest joys of being a pastor, baptizing in water. There was a problem however. A north east wind had been blowing for several days and ice pans from the Labrador Sea had found their way up the bay to the place where the service was held. As I took candidates by the hand and walked with them into the water, there was an abrupt hesitation as the shock of the freezing-cold water hit them. I led each person around the ice pans to water that was deep enough to baptize and found myself reminding them of how much Jesus suffered for us. Amazingly, no one turned back. After several were baptized I began to enjoy it more. My legs adjusted to the cold, or so I thought, and I was able to concentrate more on each person and the blessing of this wonderful experience of assisting them in following the Lord. It wasn’t until several hours later that I realized my lower body had become numb and as I began to warm I did more than a little suffering myself. I can still remember the pain.
In 1999 I was asked to preach at a baptismal service in a village called Tatapalaguedum in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. It was a hot Sunday afternoon and about 2,000 people gathered in a large tent to hear the gospel. The pastor of the church instructed me that when I gave the invitation for people to receive Christ as their Saviour, I was to invite them to be water baptized as well. About 50 responded, and after a brief time of instruction we walked to a small lake, about 1 kilometer in distance, to baptize these new believers. It had been agreed that I would stand on the shore and watch while others did the baptizing, an arrangement I was not adverse to once I saw the condition of the water and smelled its putrid odor. Similar to the bay in Labrador there were obstacles in this water too, only this time instead of ice pans it was water buffalo. I always get excited when I see new believers get baptized and there in India it was no different. In my enthusiasm and in spite of the condition of the water, I asked the pastor if I could enter the water and assist with the proceedings. I wanted to show my unity with these new believers and be a part of the blessing they were receiving. The pastor promptly and abruptly answered “NO!” and said he would explain why later.
Afterward, he asked me if I noticed that standing amongst the crowd spread along the shore were several Hindu priests. The pastor explained that Hindus consider Christianity to be a “western” religion and by joining the new believers in the water I would be lending credibility to that notion. I would also be adding to the suffering that would inevitably follow for these new believers. The pastor proceeded to say that the Hindu priests had taken notice of each person who was baptized and later would exact an awful price from them. Some would lose their jobs, some would lose their spouses, and their families would disown almost all. Water baptism meant losses for these new believers that were much more tangible than I had ever witnessed before, certainly more than anything I had experienced. Earlier that afternoon, when I spoke about baptism during the preaching time, I closely related it to repentance and the renouncing of our old sinful natures and lifestyles. Now, these precious new Indian believers were showing me just how far they were willing to go in following through on that instruction and it was much farther than I ever imagined. I was humbled and even ashamed by all this. I had been ready to jump in the water to rejoice with these new believers and later leave them to suffer while I returned to my comfortable home and church in Canada. I am a man big in physical stature so I towered over most of these Indian folk. Now, in comparison to their faith, I felt dwarfed, unworthy to be their instructor. If anything, it was me who needed their tutelage. Their faith, obedience and courage were more than I had ever called upon to have. I shall never forget that day!