Tuesday, August 25, 2009


"Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever." Those words stuck with me from my baptism.

Unlike most Lutherans, I was not baptized as a baby. My former denomination was not opposed to infant baptism, but the more common practice was to dedicate infants--the parents and the church community would vow to raise the baby in the faith and to walk with them, spiritually.

Typically, you were baptized once you were old enough to make the choice. My particular church would hold one or two baptism services a year in which all of those interested were baptized. The procedure usually went something like this: the person would give her personal testimony, the pastor would then give a trinitarian baptism pronouncement, and then the person would be fully immersed in what resembled a bathtub. Then, afterwards, you were expected to cry and talk about how different you felt. Seriously, people talked about how different they were within the second they went into the water and were raised. The concept sounds good. There is a sense of appeal to literally being "raised to new life." However, there's a lot hinging on the moment. What if I didn't feel new?

Since baptisms rarely took place in my church, there was never a real urge, on my part, for it to happen. Plus, the whole thing made me a bit shy. I wasn't a fan of getting up in front of the church and have a spectacle made of me, a spectacle which warranted a public testimony and an emotional response. It just never seemed important to me, and why should it have? It was something that took place, out of duty, a couple of times each year. The church didn't reflect the importance of baptism in its infrequent practice.

By the time I got to college and began to reflect on baptism, I knew that my local church was not the church in which I wanted to be baptized. There was a lot of brokenness and betrayal there, and I didn't want to give them the "privilege" of sharing in that moment with me. So, time went on and I remained unbaptized.

Once I started my doctoral program, I was somewhat embarrassed to admit to my advisor, an anabaptist, that I was not baptized. I think she was a bit surprised, since I had grown up in the church, but she said it was up to me to figure out my theology of baptism.

When I started going to my first Lutheran church, communion was offered to all who were baptized. I understand that that qualification is likely meant to be one of inclusivity--all Christians, regardless of denomination, were invited to the table. However, I had not been baptized, so each week, I went forward for the blessing rather than the body and the blood. I knew I wanted to be baptized; it was just a matter of timing.

My current church is the one in which I was baptized. On the same day I became a member of that ELCA congregation, I was also baptized. My small group members were my sponsors. The date was also memorable for me, as it was the 100 "birthday" of the Church of the Nazarene. Nazarenes all over the world were celebrating that Sunday, and it was on that day I was making my official exit from the denomination in which I had been raised and with which I had grown weary.

Perhaps most notable to me were the words the pastor used--that I had been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked by the cross of Christ....forever. I am not sure to what "forever" is intended to refer. But to me, it meant I was sealed by the Holy Spirit forever and marked by the cross of Christ forever. To me, who grew up fearing losing my salvation because of something I had done, those were words of promise--promise of what had been done for me in Christ.

I recall reading my baptism program to my mom who was unable to make it. I know she was skeptical regarding being eternally sealed by the Holy Spirit and eternally marked by the cross of Christ. It probably made her a little nervous, as she--like me--has spent most of her life in a church that requires so much from her.

I, on the other hand, find it to be a relief that Christ has taken care of the hard stuff and because the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and my participation in that through baptism, the pressure is not all on me!

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