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Maybe We Should Keep the Robes

Several years ago, a member of my Sunday school class laughed as she commented on her very young daughter’s upcoming baptism. “I think she’s only doing it so she can wear the robe,” she said. “She’s always liked dressing up and wearing costumes. In fact, she’ll probably be disappointed to learn that she can’t keep it.”

Several years ago, a member of my Sunday school class laughed as she commented on her very young daughter’s upcoming baptism. “I think she’s only doing it so she can wear the robe,” she said. “She’s always liked dressing up and wearing costumes. In fact, she’ll probably be disappointed to learn that she can’t keep it.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The woman was probably only trying to be funny, but she made no reference to the girl’s profession of faith or her desire to follow Christ. How much did the child understand about repentance, confession, forgiveness, faith, grace and transformation?  
 
Baptist churches keep careful records of how many people they baptize each year, publicizing those broadly when the numbers are large and becoming noticeably quiet when they are not. How careful are we about instilling an understanding of what baptism means?
 
Though traditions and rituals vary within Christianity, baptisms are deeply symbolic and significant. Baptism identifies us with Jesus, just as his baptism identified him with us. We are perfect neither before nor after we are baptized, but we should be markedly different. Our baptism implies a lifelong commitment and a total transformation of our priorities and values.
 
Marvin Hagenmaier was in his mid-80s when he was baptized. “I needed something,” he said of his decision to become a Christian. “I wasn’t going anywhere the way it was.”
 
The chaplain at the retirement community where Hagenmaier lived said that “Marvin’s past religious experiences stood in the way of a personal relationship with Jesus. He wanted to love the Lord, but he didn’t know how.”
 
Fortunately for him, two mentors in the faith, brothers Arthur and John Driedger, showed him. He grew in his understanding of God and the Bible and wanted to take the next logical step: baptism (see “Never Too Late to Be Baptized“).
 
Hagenmaier’s baptism marked a new beginning for him. At 80-plus years of age, he became not only a different person, but a new person with a new way of living.
 
While we differ from them in terms of doctrine and how we express our faith, our Amish friends can remind us of the importance of serious preparation for baptism. Amish are baptized as teenagers or adults only after completing special instruction classes and being accepted by vote of the congregation.
 
Prior to their baptism in a worship service, baptismal candidates participate in a private meeting in which they are reminded that they are making a lifetime commitment. They have the opportunity at that time to reconsider their decision. Occasionally, some do.
 
During the worship service, the baptismal candidates kneel and a church leader again reminds them of the promise they are making to God and questions them about their faith and desire to join the church. When they are baptized, “a deacon fills a cup with water and pours it into the bishop’s hands. The bishop then pours the water onto the candidate’s head three times, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” (see “Amish Baptism“).
 
Amish baptisms are emotional, meaningful and serious occasions that ask people to declare their commitment to the faith and promise to live a certain way.
 
Perhaps my friend’s daughter was onto something after all. Baptism is, after all, a lot like taking off old clothes and putting on new ones. Maybe we should keep our robes as reminders of exactly what it means.
 
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.
 
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