“Do you renounce . . . ?”
“Do you turn to . . . ?”
Baptisms this past week brought me to tears. A young man, two children, and then an infant were baptized, and each of the clearly pronounced declarations hit me like cosmic, spiritual declarations of war. War against all that would subvert God’s beautiful world and great design for his “image bearers.”
Putting aside the issue of pedobaptism versus believers’ baptism for the moment, in each case a family and other sponsors stood with the baptized person promising prayers and support. We are never alone in God’s household. The declarations in most liturgies (from ancient liturgies through the Reformation up to today) are, or should be, startling!
“Do you renounce the Devil and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Do you renounce the empty promises and deadly deceits of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Do you renounce the sinful desires of the flesh that draw you from the love of God?”
“I renounce them.”
Of course, no one completely understands what such deeply spiritual and profound words mean, but we can imagine that such commitments become a turn in the road, a redefinition of the self. “I have declared war, and I now stand on the side of Jesus and his Holy Angels . . . but I am not alone. I am never alone.”
After the new commitment (“I turn to Jesus Christ and confess him as my Lord and Savior!”), the symbols of water and sign of the cross on the forehead were administered. The young man, eager to start his new life (or now fully alive), turned to the congregation with a huge smile! It was beautiful. I wanted to run up and hug him! “Welcome to the family,” I wanted to say looking into his redeemed eyes.
Baptisms are also times of spiritual renewal for us all. They strip away all the church politics, all the divisions, and all the gossip and get to the core of the matter. “We stand together with Jesus who is our life.”
Baptisms are also evangelistic. Semi-Christians, lapsed Christians, and non-Christians who have Christian friends, attend, listen, and learn how extreme it is to be Christian.
“Wow, you Christians renounce the ‘deadly deceits of this world.’ That explains a lot about how you live. That explains why you don’t watch certain programs, and why you read certain books.”
“Will you obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments and walk in them all the days of your life?”
“Wow, that explains why you give money to help the homeless and why you teach English to refugees, and why you . . . et cetera.”
Yes, I believe baptisms are times to lift up the extreme commitments of the Christian life and to invite in one-time onlookers and curious cousins. Many who attend are unreflective agnostics and unhappy hedonists.
Yes, I was moved to tears as I thought about what extreme and wonderful things are the Christian life, the Christian family, and simple rituals that mark a new life and a new identity.
I made such a commitment at the age of sixteen and remember very clearly—like it was yesterday—knowing that decision, that prayer of salvation, was going to redirect the rest of my life. I have not been deceived, nor disappointed at all.
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.