(I wrote this article for The Semi, Fuller’s weekly student newspaper. Any thoughts, comments, or critiques are welcomed!)
With so many denominations and traditions represented at Fuller, the issue of baptism can causes many questions and disagreements. It is nearly impossible to make an absolute statement about a particular method of baptism without contradicting the theological of ecclesiological perspective that someone right next to you in class may hold. For me (and I am probably not alone on this), questions of methods and reasons of baptism are not just theological, but personal.
As far as I could tell growing up, pedobaptism (theological lingo for “infant baptism”) was a dirty word. Baptizing babies meant that, unless you repented and were baptized again after praying the sinner’s prayer, you probably believed in salvation by “works” (another dirty word). Growing up in this environment was sometimes awkward, as I was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church, and my parents did not see a pressing reason for me to get re-baptized as I grew up. However, being raised in a conservative environment with Baptist roots provided plenty of opportunities and pressure to get re-baptized.
During high school and college, upon the urging of friends and mentors, I was nearly dunked several times, but never actually went through with it. Every time I had a chance to move forward with re-baptism, I always decided against it because I questioned my own motives for wanting to do it. Being re-baptized would mean that I could avoid the awkward conversations I had with people who strongly disagreed with infant baptism as well as the questions about how I could be thinking about full time ministry without “really being baptized.” Realizing that it was these reasons, more than any Biblical and spiritual motivations, leading me to want to get baptized again, I never felt right about actually going through with the process.
Over the last year at Fuller, my personal questions about baptism have been challenged. Historical theology classes gave me a new appreciation for the mysterious nature of the sacraments and the role they play in the church. Reading John Howard Yoder’s Body Politics in a ministry class caused me to reflect on the radical symbolism that baptism can hold for the people of God, serving to bring about an entirely new people whose primary identification lies with Christ. More than anything else, my interactions and conversations with others in the Fuller community with differing perspectives on baptism, while not providing a clear answer to my own personal questions, have deepened my understanding of this sacramental ordinance.
This deeper appreciation for the mystery and beauty of baptism has made me less concerned about being re-baptized or trying to apologize for my infant baptism. Although I probably still would encourage and support believer’s baptism, my own personal experience has forced me to realize that the issue is not always as simple as whatever theology or methodology I personally hold as a norm. The church is more diverse than the particular background that any of us come from. Just as with any of the sacraments, baptism represents us coming forward as broken people with imperfect beliefs, methods, and practices to receive reminders of God’s grace. Whatever our experience with baptism is, the issue of baptism should not divide us from moving forward together as brothers and sisters in Christ.