What does baptism really mean?

First of all, I’m going to talk about baptism for a while, and then I’m going to ask for your opinion. So this will be one of those posts that needs other people’s feedback to make it complete.

Just so you know.

And I think that this might be a little bit self indulgent, so if that makes you roll your eyes and go ‘first world problems’, then head on over to these great Countess of Grantham gifs and I’ll see you next post.

So, I’ve been thinking about baptism lately. And I’ve been thinking that it’s something I would probably like to do. And what it means.

Is baptism mainly about belonging? About belonging to the faith, tracing back to the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul. And about belonging to a church.

But a church that isn’t, in its most pure sense, a building. Church is a people. A disparate and eclectic and imperfect and wonderful people trying to bring about their best version of heaven on earth, while also trying to navigate their own lives, and other peoples lives, and the tricky bit where everything intersects and what do we say, and how do we say it and what happens then?

People are fantastic. I know that I joke that I’m a bit of a misanthrope, but I’m really not. I love people. I like to be challenged and to connect and to question and be questioned, and to spend time with the energy and the ideas and the stimulation of others.

But what I don’t like is to be exposed. And I don’t like the walls to go down too far. Because you can connect with people deeply, and forge friendships and make a pretty good go of life without opening up yourself too much.

I know that some people would say that you can’t, but you can.

But I don’t really think that you can say, in front of a group of people;

I repent of my sins…

I turn to Christ…

I commit myself to God…

Without pretty much exposing yourself completely. Don’t you think?

I’ve read that it’s an ‘outward sign’ of an expression of faith, which immediately puts my back up. Outward sign? What, for other people? An expression of faith for other people to accept?

Or maybe it’s much more than that. It’s about God and I. But I thought God and I were doing pretty well. Will getting baptised cause me to be anything in God that I am not already?

I suppose I’m a bit confused at what it’s all about.

Because it will take a bit of interior realigning for me to get there. Which I can do, of course, but it would take some work.  But doing something just because it’s what people ‘do’ when they are a christian isn’t something that I can connect with on an authentic level.

So what is it all about? Do you think it’s necessary? What does baptism mean to you?

34 thoughts on “What does baptism really mean?

  1. I wish I knew the answers to Baptism. I’ve been baptised twice – in the Catholic Church, and then in the Pentecostal church I’m in the process of leaving – they said my Catholic baptism was invalid because it was before I made a conscious decision to believe. I don’t know what I think anymore about it all! Though as I go through the process of moving away from Pentecostalism, I wonder if my baptism there had more to do with wanting to be accepted by my husband’s church family than anything else. It was definitely a personal expression of faith but then also meant I got a shiny certificate that would allow me to participate in other aspects of church life.

    • Ooh, no body mentioned a shiny certificate!
      I’m interested in the difference between infant and adult baptism too. If baptism can be seen as a trans formative thing, then shouldn’t we all do it as adults when we can truly understand and experience it fully? I’d be kind of irritated if I’d had it done as a baby and that was it. The literature that I’ve read makes it clear that it’s a once and once only event.
      Thanks for your contribution 🙂

      • While I’ve reached a point where I’m reluctant to make any statements on what the right or wrong theology is (and I tend to err on the side of seeing differences in denominations as reflective of stylistic preferences rather than dichotomous truth positions) my own children weren’t baptised until my son made the choice for himself at the age of 11. My youngest hasn’t shown any interest so far. I think there’s a lot of good reasons for making it a matter of personal conviction. But in the liturgical churches that’s what confirmation is for, anyway (which I’ve also done! I’ve got all bases covered!).

  2. Rituals and ceremonies are used to allow individuals to do something that creates a sense of fellowship and community, to become part of something larger than ourselves. That religions use this for their own ends is not surprising; trying to make it appear as a necessary ‘divine’ event for some god’s recognition of the individual is all rather silly… but effective on the psyche of the individual.

    • i’m trying to work out whether it really is necessary to do in order to get God’s recognition. I know that I already have Her recognition anyway, I’m just wondering what else is implicit in it. The belonging and community may be the main part of it.

  3. I’ve spent some time in both adult and infant baptism churches. They both have their pros and cons as far as I am concerned. My kids were baptized as babies, I was baptized as an adult. I can swing either way on the issue in that regard, I guess.

    As far as what it means, well, here’s my stab at it. Tildeb was talking about the ritual of community, and I think that is a big part of it. There’s a sense of belonging. We’re all standing in this river together sort of idea…which is kinda lost to contemporary churches with baptismal fonts, but wouldn’t have been lost on the crowds standing in the Jordan river. there’s a powerful and unpredictable life force that comes from a river, and at its best, that’s what the “abundant life” is all about. I think there’s also a washing away of shame in baptism. When sin came into the world, the first thing Adam and Eve did was hide in shame. When we are washed in the rivers of baptism, our shame can be washed away. It’s a community thing and a private thing all at the same time. We don’t have to be ashamed of ourselves anymore, and, by default, we can now bathe in front of others without shame as well.

    But, I have to admit, those weren’t the things I was thinking of when I got baptized. I was thinking, oh crap, I’m marrying into this new church I better get all my ducks in order first. Haha! Which I’m pretty sure is the exact opposite of what baptism is actually all about.

    • I love your river imagery, and ‘abundant life’. That’s great.
      And I think that they whole ‘this is the thing Im supposed to do’ is a big issue for me. Because I am stubbonly resistant to ‘shoulds’, which is all trendy and edgy when your in your early 20s and its all sex and drugs and rock and roll, bit becomes a little tragic as i’m approaching middle age….

  4. For me baptism is more of a shouting to the rooftops that I love Jesus. It’s an outward expression of an inward faith. I know that some people believe that you have to be baptized to be saved but that is not my understanding of what I’ve read in the bible.

    • I would agree with Mommy Lane. I would have written the same. I was christened as a baby but as an adult having left the Anglican/Episcopalian denomination I wanted to be baptised as a witness that I wanted to follow Jesus.

  5. I was christened as a baby, I think because that was the thing to do – my parents certainly weren’t explicit believers at the time, or for a long time afterwards. My wife and I became believers, met & married, and joined a church that did infant baptism, so that’s what we did with our three children. Some time later, we came to believe that baptism was important, and should be done as a sign of explicit belief, i.e. not done for babies. Both of us, and all our children subsequently, were then baptised, mostly by friends in the ocean, and all at separate times.

    My reason for being baptised is summed up in Romans 6:1-11. I wanted to be a new “me”, more like Jesus, and I think baptism is a symbol of this, and maybe a little more than a symbol, perhaps a means of grace to move in that direction. I can’t say I noticed much difference afterwards, but I’m still glad i did it.

  6. I think we need to hold onto the fact of the historical Jesus, but also allow creativity and devotion to take forms that suit different types of people. That sometimes means taking factual things like Jesus’ death and resurrection and building symbolism and spirituality on them. I think that is what Paul is doing when he talks about dying with Christ and being raised with him.

    If we truly want to follow Jesus (however we understand that), it will partly mean dying to self and taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23), as we take on Jesus’ values of self sacrifice, love, forgiveness, etc. Of course we gain something too – our relationship with (God different for everyone) and a sense of purpose, guidance and help.

    But I don’t think that it’s just a symbol, but also a spiritual reality. The Holy Spirit works through all these more mundane things to bring about spiritual change. I’m sure some of the stuff you’re reading and some of what you can experience at Jamberoo show you these things.

    So I think baptism is at least a symbol for taking up our cross daily, but I think it is also often a means of grace as the Holy Spirit sees our intentions and deepens us.

  7. Hi Eva, interesting to read your thoughts… I never thought baptism really mattered, I mean how could it? God loves all and welcomes all… But I began to rethink as I had children of my own and after much thought ended up getting baptised at the same time as my baby daughter was christened. I’m sure it can’t make much difference to God but for me it was about actively saying Yes to life with God. I was never keen on the imagery of cleansing and washing away your sin as often you feel just the same afterwards. But I do like the imagery of God descending to the depths with you, being submerged with you and then returning to the surface with you. I like to be reminded that Jesus has been here before us, has been low and troubled and tormented and even experienced death. God is not waiting to celebrate with us when we have risen to the surface, when we are good enough, when we are clean enough. God is right there with us in the depths, in fact went there before us. At our baptism we used this quote and I think it sums up how I feel – it’s all mystery but a compelling one and I’m up for it.
    “For all that has been — Thanks. For all that shall be — Yes” – Dag Hammarskjöld.
    Blessings x

    • Thanks for this comment, it’s very thought provoking. The whole being cleansed of sin thing is odd to me because I’m pretty sure that within an hour or two I’d start it up right again anyway, so what’s the point? (Just like driving home from washing my car means it is covered in dirt by the time I get here anyway).
      But that quote at the end is fantastic; it really shines a light on it for me.

  8. While most modern low church type protestants hold the view that baptism is just a symbolic act “an external expression of inward faith” the majority of Christians throughout history have believed it was more than just a symbol and is a participation in the saving work of Jesus.

    If you want to, I would suggest reading what the New testament says you can start with Romans 6.

    Oh yeah and here’s something I wrote a while ago on the subject
    It may give you a little different perspective.
    (Infant baptism as well- https://benjaminiperegrinus.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/infant-baptism-why-not/
    https://benjaminiperegrinus.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/infant-baptism-why-not-part-2-histoical-considerations/ )

    • Thank you for that- the posts present some interesting points for me. And I still don’t turn to scripture as a first (or second) option, so I will definitely work on that and get into the NT.

  9. It seems to me that there are two broad strands to Christian understanding.
    1. Creation and incarnation, and
    2,. Sin and redemption.

    These are clearly not mutually exclusive, however people tend to preference one or the other. (And there’s much, much more that could be said about that.) I remember an occasion meeting with ministers from other denominations and discussing a wine cork. The Catholic priest said something along the lines of, “To me that symbolises the goodness and hospitality of God.” The Assemblies of God pastor said, “It’s a reminder to me of my sinful past and my need for salvation.”

    Understandings of baptism focus then upon which of these two strands are most important to people. I know my preference would be to focus upon God rather than upon myself. And I think Dag Hammarskjöld might be on the same page.

    • I hadn’t really thought about it operating in two different paradigms before. Or spheres. Now I have a Venn diagram of theology in my head that I’m trying to figure out.

  10. I don’t know about the rights and wrongs for everyone else, but for me this is how it worked. I was baptised (christened) as an infant and then confirmed into the Anglican church in late primary school. One of those I had absolutely no control over, the other I did basically because my brother had been confirmed and I wanted to take communion. (Things are different in the Anglican church now) Anyway, there came a point in my adult life where I knew that I had a decision in front of me. I had decided for Christ many times before – I’m a ‘go up at every altar call’ kinda gal. But I had a real ‘no turning back’ time and decided for Christ at that time. I also decided to be baptised by full immersion then so that it was an outward sign of the full on decision I had made. I needed to make it clear to myself which side of the line I stood on. I talked to my minister and he couldn’t re-baptise me but he was happy for someone else to, and I had a mature friend who I asked and he stood there with me.
    After the baptism, things did change in my life, although I’m not sure why God would wait for that physical thing to happen before he changed things for me! One thing that changed was my dreams. Where I would have nightmares before, after the baptism the nightmares were not allowed to develop. A God figure (lion, angel, whatever) would step in and rescue me before the dream got too scary. Think what you will.
    So, for me, baptism was an important step as an adult. A declaration of whose I was.
    As an aside, we didn’t christen our kids but they were both baptised at around five years old. At the moment they are still God-followers.

    • That’s interesting about the dreams. I wonder what’s going on there? I’m glad to hear that you’re not sure why God would wait to change things for you until after a baptism; it makes me feel better for having doubts too.

    • Thank you for sharing. I have heard of such experiences before and it is a timely reminder that before a person is baptised they belong to the kingdom of darkness. Sometimes when a person changes sides by standing up and declaring obedience to Christ ( Satan’s sworn enemy) Satan becomes very possessive and doesn’t want to let you go. I Know that many pastors warn people being baptised that the devil may want to have a hey- day with them once they get baptised but not too worry, God is stronger and they are reminded of the Scripture which tells us to “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee.” I am glad you won the battle but sorry that it caught unawares.

Comments are closed.