Different things mean different things to different people.
Indeed, we could all be watching the same game of football, and what would be a reportable offence to one person, would be a fair tackle to another. We could all go to the same historic site, and what would make some googly-eyed, could leave others ho-humming. And we could all go to a movie together, and some would come out with a deep and meaningful message, whilst others would have only been mildly amused.
Different things mean different things to different people. We all come at things from different perspectives. And whilst that is true for things in general, it’s also true when it comes to baptism. Because baptism means different things to different people too.
Indeed, some think a baby has to be “christened” in order for that child to receive a Christian name. Some think “christening” is important because of family tradition. Some think a person has to be baptised in order to guarantee their life after death with God. And others … Well there are some really odd ideas about what baptism is about.
However whilst, for many things in life, it can be a matter of interpretation and a matter of personal interest, with baptism it is not the different meanings that we put on it that counts, but the meaning that God puts on it.
Now in biblical times there were three types of baptism that people could choose. There was Jewish baptism—the initiation rite into the faith of the living God. It gave the Gentiles in particular an opportunity to stand up and commit themselves to the worshipping life of the community. There was John’s baptism—with the idea of repentance. The opportunity to admit one’s failings and commit to turning one’s life around, to commit oneself one hundred percent to a new life directed on a relationship with God. And then there was Christian baptism—which not only incorporated the ideas expressed in the first two baptisms, but went on to include acknowledging our total dependence upon God for our eternal welfare, acknowledging that Jesus paid the penalty that we deserve for our sins, and a public commitment to follow him.
As you can probably realise, then, there is a great gulf between what many people think baptism is about, and what God thinks it’s about. True Christian baptism contrasts considerably with the ideas that christening is a rite in which a child is given a name, or that it something that is done to uphold a family tradition, or that the rite itself will guarantee a person’s eternal welfare.
Because, in God’s eyes, baptism is about an opportunity to respond to him in a very real and meaningful way. It’s a sign of commitment, of taking one’s place in the life of his church. And that means for an adult, it should be an outward sign of a commitment already made. And for a child, it should be an expression of hope that after being brought up in the faith and in the life of the church, that that child will, at some stage, come to believe and express it for themselves.
Different things mean different things to different people. And whilst that is true of things in general, we need to be careful when it comes to baptism. Because it’s not what we think that it’s about that is important, it’s what God thinks it’s about. So we need to respond to God’s idea of baptism, not our own. For he is the one who has our eternal welfare in his hands.
Posted: 11th April 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis