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Things I Never Heard in Fundamentalism — Baptism (9)

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There are times in this recovery process that I feel a little like a Native American dropped in the middle of ol’ England. It’s not that I regret or begrudge my more organically American religious culture. I miss it sometimes. But this newer-to-me world seems so . . . foreign.

We were taking the New Members Class a year ago. I had never taken a New Members class before. I don’t know why exactly.

But the seminarian leading the discussion said:

Remember your Baptism.

Huh? What’s that mean? How?

In (credo) Baptist circles, Baptism is a statement — a public declaration of your commitment to living for Christ. A Coming-Out Party. For some Reformed Baptists, it’s a carrot-on-a-stick. An initiation rite so hard to reach, that once you get there and get in and get wet, you know you’re “in.”

I do remember my baptism. I was six. It was in the Fall. I had practiced in the bathtub for months beforehand with my cat, Charmin, officiating. My mom bought me a pretty little dress with small embroidered flowers on it that was “permapress” or “wash-n-wear” or something so I didn’t have to wear a robe. And she tied my hair up in two skinny pig tails to stay out of my eyes.

I remember walking out. Seeing the crowd. Listening to the pastor. Nodding. And getting wet.

I also remember the doubt that my first grade teacher at Grace Baptist School put in my gut because the next day when I told her about the previous Sunday’s event, I couldn’t articulate exactly what it meant (I was six and I was painfully shy). So I wondered if it took. Since I couldn’t say.

But that kind of remembering is not what the phrase means. With credo-Baptism, baptism is something you do. With pedo-Baptism, baptism is something God does. And that sums up for me why I am a fully converted pedo-Baptist.

The credo sees baptism as an act of obedience. The pedo sees it as a “tattoo” with the Family name. The credo describes Baptism as a recent part of the Church Age. The pedo describes it as a continuation of circumcision. The credo celebrates individual commitment. The pedo celebrates communal involvement. The credo says to God, “I’m yours!” The pedo hears God say, “You’re mine!”

In Fundamentalism soooo many services ended with a hand-raising question:

Do you know beeeyond a shaaaaadow of a doubt [voice quivering] that if you died today, you would go to Heaven?

So after hearing the Word and (hopefully) feeling the Spirit working, doubt was introduced as a test of your justification. You get to the point that you ignore the Stirrings just so you can push past that question.

And, you know, if you catch me on a particularly lousy day, I might not know. Luther didn’t always know. But my doubt doesn’t discount God’s salvation. God’s bigger than my big (negative) feelings.

When Martin Luther told us to “remember your baptism,” he was admitting that doubt was part of being human. It’s not proof that you’re not saved (as we heard in fundamentalism) or proof that you are saved (as the Puritans assumed). It’s proof that you’re a finite creature, tempted to despair by the Great Doubt-Stirrer himself.

Baptism is a comfort to us (I’m sensing a theme), not a test. Luther puts it like this:

If, then, the holy sacrament of baptism is a thing so great, so gracious and full of comfort, we should pay earnest heed to thank God for it ceaselessly, joyfully, and from the heart, and to give Him praise and honor. For I fear that by our thanklessness we have deserved our blindness and become unworthy to behold such grace, though the whole world was, and still is, full of baptism and the grace of God. But we have been led astray in our own anxious works, afterwards in indulgences and such like false comforts, and have thought that we are not to trust God until we are righteous and have made satisfaction for our sin, as though we would buy His grace from Him or pay Him for it. In truth, he who does not see in God’s grace how it bears with him as a sinner, and will make him blessed, and who looks forward only to God’s judgment, ‘that man will never be joyful, in God, and can neither love nor praise Him. But if we hear and firmly believe that He receives us sinners in the covenant of baptism, spares us, and makes us pure from day to day, then our heart must be joyful, and love and praise God. So He says in the Prophet, “I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son.” Wherefore it is needful that we give thanks to the Blessed Majesty, Who shows Himself so gracious and merciful toward us poor condemned worms, and magnify and acknowledge His work.

God loves me and pities me like I love and pity this little punkin standing in here in a pull-up. God has lifted me up, identified me as His Own, and has given me His Name. Just like a Daddy does with his mysterious and other-worldly child placed in his arms. God started it. Just like a Mommy first loves that wrinkly, wriggly bundle before the child ever loves back.

God loved me first, so why wouldn’t I run into His loving open arms? When I doubt that I’m good enough or saved enough, I remember that God’s big enough, merciful enough, and loving enough.

That’s something to remember. For pedos and credos!

3 thoughts on “Things I Never Heard in Fundamentalism — Baptism (9)

  1. I’m glad to see “The End” was not the end.

    My husband is on the road, driving to NC and I called him and read it to him.

    “The credo says to God, ‘I’m yours!’ The pedo hears God say, ‘You’re mine!’ ” sums it up for us.

    We are currently going through the process of joining Covenant Presybterian (PCA). Our 2 and 3 year old children will be baptized probably in August or September.

    What an exciting time!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! This has come at the perfect time because I am getting baptized this upcoming Sunday.

    Almost two years ago I started going to a fundie church. I hadn’t been to church since I was seven (where I was saved) and when they heard I hadn’t been baptized they tried to bully me into it. However, something told me to wait and last month I finally understood what you wrote:

    “The credo says to God, “I’m yours!” The pedo hears God say, “You’re mine!””

    I finally realized that the sins that I did after I got saved never stopped me from being a child of God. This might seem simple, but I never heard it. Instead, I was filled with warnings about “quenching the spirit” and indulging the flesh.

    I can’t imagine how it would feel if I had let myself be bullied into getting dunked without understanding this.

    Something to add about your “shadow of a doubt” on going to heaven question is that Fundies demand the particulars of how, when, and where someone got saved. My pastor’s wife got angry at me because I made her simply take my word for it. It seems that when you constantly have to re-affirm your own salvation you tend to question other people’s as well.

    It seems sometimes that they do this so they can purposely keep us spiritual babies. As long as we don’t trust ourselves, we always have to rely on someone else to correctly interpret doctrine for us.

  3. Camille, This was a blessing to me. I am thankful to see the ministry that the Lord is giving to you and your husband. There are very few who, after leaving, stand in the gap and effectively challenge the other realm, fitted with an intimate understanding of what goes on in there. Though not all can, some need to do this, no matter how hard it may be. Your experience and communication gifts put you in a unique place.

    Dennis Bills
    Minister
    Winifrede PCA
    Winifrede WV

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