Immersion (2 of 3)

I can still see the translucent glass on portions of the Cedars baptistry walls, with clear glass in the middle.  I can still see dear, white-headed Henry as he did his deacon’s duty, checking the temperature of the baptistry water every Sunday morning before the assembly began, just in case someone were to need the water that day.  I probably witnessed a few dozen immersions in my early years, but it was not so frequent an occurrence as it should have been.  Our church had historically been fairly evangelistic for a while (40s, 50s, 60s), but more of its later efforts were focused overseas.  During the 70s and 80s, I don’t think there were ever more than a couple of intentional efforts going on to study with, convert, and immerse people.  In my experience, there has never been enough discipling effort in any church, either before or after baptism.  (And that reality, in part, led to the offshoot branch of the Church of Christ known in various eras as the Crossroads Movement, or the Boston Movement, or the International CofC.  For all their abuses of authority and dogmatic approaches, they were serious disciplers.)

Christian camps tend to produce baptisms, and my camp was no exception.  Proportionally speaking, the rate of baptism at summer camp was probably ten times that of most people’s home churches.  At some point, I think a rule was put into place that campers at one of the senior high weeks could be immersed regardless of family, but that anyone in junior high or younger would need parental permission.  That rule probably just increased some young people’s determination.  I remember one evening, down at the camp pool, when three young people were immersed on the same occasion.  Singing and wet hugs were part of the camp baptism experience.  Although I attribute a great deal of spiritual growth to my camp experiences, I myself was immersed well before junior high age, following three others in my age group, within the confines of the aforementioned indoor baptistry.

Quite distinct from the quarterly or annual (or spotty) baptism practices of some churches, relative immediacy was important in my tradition.  “Gospel meetings” (a/k/a “revivals”) might lead to baptisms, but not every time.  My church was labeled a “cerebral” one by one reputable, deep-thinking, passionate guest speaker, and I think he was onto something.  We didn’t have as many immersions every year as a couple sister churches tended to have.  I think we were less prone to heart-responses.

Next part:  Sunday, 10/30/16


6 thoughts on “Immersion (2 of 3)

  1. Jonna Statt 11/01/2016 / 2:01 pm

    I guess I have a unique perspective on baptism,, having been raised Catholic (thus sprinkled as an infant), truly born again at 16 1/2, immersed at Mendon Ponds Park near Rochester, NY, along with others at this baptism picnic (no pressure by anyone, just a desire – it was euphoric to do this with my best friend at church at this time). Now I am part of the Mennonite Christian churches – who believe pouring is their preferred method. We just attended a few months ago the baptism of our nineteen year old daughter in this setting. Something truthfully was very flat about it all, with very little being spontaneous, much “forced”, almost repeating wedding-like vows to the church, for lack of a better comparison. The young women wore black dresses (a good friend of mine with my similar background later asked me privately – why the black dresses – shouldn’t they be white or even bright colors to symbolize JOY??). The pouring of water on their foreheads in a church ceremony attended just by others in that church setting just didn’t sit quite right with us in retrospect.

    I realize as previously stated by Brian there are various modes, and hey, these other methods may very well have been used out of necessity in early Christian catacombs, for instance. But I still have in my mind that day I got baptized; the singing of praise songs by those watching to a softly played acoustic guitar , seeing a very expensive car drive up with a very well-to-do woman getting out that no one later admitted knowing, who was so touched by this scene she asked if she might be baptized, too ( in her very upscale clothing) – and she was!!


    • Brian Casey 11/06/2016 / 8:13 am

      I appreciated reading your experiences and perspectives. I was surprised that you stated the Mennonites “believe pouring is their preferring method,.” and I imagine now that I had read too much into Anabaptist documents in the past. In other words, I think I assumed too much just seeing the word “baptism.” My thoughts went to the arising of Anabaptist theology and practice in connection with restoring a first-century practice of separation of church and state — and the very practice of first-century believer’s baptism. I gather that — not unlike the first uses of the word “Christian” (mentioned in in Acts), the term “anabaptist” was derogatory, being used by outsiders at first. I get that the *believer* aspect was what was most emphasized, and rightly so, in order to reform from infant sprinkling/pouring, but I’d suggest that the reformation didn’t go quite far enough on this point. 🙂 In other words, if they’d been just a bit more intentional in separating themselves from practices around them (whether Roman or Lutheran or other), they would have moved more decidedly toward immersion of believers, because of the meaning of the word in scripture and because of first-century practice.

      Thinking out loud here . . . I’m not sure how solid this is, but I vaguely associate the archaic word “whelming,” as in “overwhelming” with baptism. In other words, in discussions and apologetics on this topic, it was presented that the believer is “whelmed” in water. One is clearly overwhelmed by water if dipped or buried or immersed in it, and I suppose that if the pouring is voluminous enough, it’s almost as overwhelming as being immersed! I had to look in three lexicons to find this word, so this paragraph might be negligible. The better translations are more along the lines of dip, plunge, bury, submerge.

      I wondered whether different Mennonite conferences/assemblies/fellowships might lean one way or another on the practice of pouring. I found these sites informative and interesting: (Here, I read, “The church may baptize by pouring, immersion, or the sprinkling of water,” and I note some of the scriptural “proof texts”relate to identifying with Jesus’ death, i.e., in the “grave” of water.) (Here, I read of current thought and practice in some churches, and I was intrigued by the verbiage around the connection between baptism and church membership. In my tradition, the pet phrase was “God adds to the church,” and membership in the local church was de-emphasized. I liked one expression in this article in particular that basically separated the two ideas but then reconnected them by saying that Christian life finds its expression in community.


    • Jonna Statt 11/10/2016 / 8:37 am

      In our 15 years in this setting, we have personally never come across a Mennonite church of any conference, on the conservative end at least, that uses immersion. This may take place in the more (for lack of a better term) “liberal” Mennonite churches that would perhaps be like most mainline Protestant churches except for their non-resistant stance. They just pour a very tiny amount of water on the forehead of the person.

      Mike and I both feel strongly Scripture seems to support immersion – absolutely. Personally, glad we were both baptized with this method before coming into these circles. BTW – we knew of a very on-fire Christian Mennonite in one of these more conservative churches in Florida who had his membership taken away for awhile because he went and got baptized again in a church that did immersion for him, as he strongly just did not feel it was the “real” thing the first time. Seems like a kind of bizarre reason for membership loss to me. I guess he likes the other aspects of his church enough to stay – just not the baptism method.


    • Brian Casey 11/11/2016 / 7:23 am

      This is so interesting to me — that the more conservative-end Mennonites would not be conservative here with the meaning of the word “baptize.”

      It’s my understanding that most mainline churches use sprinkling or pouring, but I could be wrong about the extent. Wouldn’t the more biblically liberal position be the one that expands to include non-original methodologies? The methodological expansion came (first with the Roman Catholics), I would say, in order to allow for sprinkling or pouring on infants, which is obviously not a New Testament teaching, although some will converse about “household” conversions in Acts.

      The one mainline exception I know of is the Disciples of Christ, which as a denomination is practically no longer a branch of the Restoration Movement (Church of Christ, Christian Church) in this country. My guess is that some Disciples groups have moved away from the conservative immersing approach here, but their official statement says, “Those who founded the Disciples movement taught baptism by immersion as the accepted form.” That communicates what it needs to a communicate, I suppose, but it expresses no commitment to continue immersing, nor does it acknowledge what I take as an almost-necessary redundancy: baptism really *is* immersion, so you don’t need to say “baptism *by *immersion.” 🙂 There are probably other denominations that are open to any “method/mode,” but the most convenient one will generally be chosen, I imagine. I can’t find a single statement by the Presbyterians or Methodists on “mode,” but official website pictures show young children and infants being poured over, and the Methodists in particular make a point of trying to justify initiating babies.

      It’s pretty bizarre that a church “member” was stripped of membership rights for doing something he felt conscientiously was biblical. Wow!

      I wish all the churches and denominations that think they are “Reformed” or “Restored” would continue in the work of reforming and restoring. . . .


    • Jonna Statt 11/11/2016 / 8:13 am

      Appreciated your thoughts – only other thing I can come up with in regard to pouring method with conservative Mennonites would be perhaps their perception of the modesty factor that is so paramount to them- having a minister perform a baptism by immersion for a woman member, etc.-

      There sometimes seems to be no real rhyme/reason to why Mennonites do much of what they do – i.e. “we have always done it this way.” Just last night my 2nd daughter went to a special meeting at their church – one of the ministry there had been asked to step down for one year because he took some evangelism- oriented youth on an “unauthorized” missions trip. He then chose to resign instead, and 6 families that rallied to his support (I might add that the membership was removed from the 6 men of those families who vocally defended this minister) have decided to leave the church also. Yet another ridiculous split. My daughter and her new husband had initially wanted this minister to deliver their wedding sermon but since he was being “silenced” he was only allowed to moderate the reception activities. I guess we mistakenly thought losing one’s membership was done for serious repetitive sin issues that the member was unwilling to confront/change – not this sort of thing, or getting baptized by immersion. Our total disillusionment of the majority of Mennonitism continues to grow, sadly.


    • Brian Casey 11/11/2016 / 10:02 am

      The modesty thoughts are intriguing — never had thought of that in connection w/baptism, but you may be onto something there.

      Truly, in any organization (denomination and in other spheres of life, too) tradition and power structures get in the way of discipleship. This is sad.


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