March 9th, 2023
I was visiting a country church, and a young woman shared that she’d “been looking forward to getting baptised for ages”. They sure breed them tough out there – in the city we only baptise people for a few seconds!
As Baptists, you’d think we would be bigger on baptism. Strangely it seems to have drifted into the background over recent decades. Was it somehow due to our emphasis on action, on faith lived out practically in mission and justice? Against the importance of eating with neighbours, listening to the marginalised and shopping ethically, did baptism get lumped into the category of empty religious rituals, potentially a hypocritical substitute for actual righteous living? “If you want to please God, feed the poor! Don’t prance about in water or fiddle around with bread and juice and singing and saying prayers.”
If that’s how we thought, silly us. It suits the spirit of the age to claim that Christian worship and social righteousness are opposites when in truth there is a massive correlation between the two. Far from baptism being an act of washing one’s hands of real-world responsibilities, it points to and empowers them. The act of baptism is tangible, it is bodily. It steps the new or young believer’s faith out of the realm of ideas and philosophy and into the physical and the actual. It’s like taking me, a war-history buff, and inducting me into the army as a soldier, fitting me out with a uniform, and enrolling me in basic training. Things just got real. Baptism is for those who realise Jesus’ kingdom is real, and their need to get real with him.
So it’s pleasing to see baptism rise again in recent months as a topic and practice of priority for Australian Baptists. We’re re-learning what’s been right in front of us: that lasting transformation for good is driven by and made possible by a real connection to the living God. The real experience of reconciliation to God, knowing forgiveness, security, identity, and empowerment by the Spirit – these are what will result in transformed households, neighbourhoods and nations. It is those who seek shortcuts to the kingdom without the King and justice without the Judge who are in greater danger of wasting time with empty words, token actions and performative hypocrisy.
So pointing people to Jesus and, crucially, giving them an accessible way into his army of peaceful conquerors – this is our deep privilege. It’s not a retreat into religiosity, it’s an advance towards true progress.
Crossover will be encouraging and resourcing churches to speak of and offer baptism more openly and more often. Some might say this is about empty symbolism – we see it as giving more people an opportunity to find life to the full – and to bring life to their world in turn.
Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries.
Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. Please support our Easter Offering in 2023.