Baptism was abused and used violently as a form of capital punishment in 16th century Europe, a time of significant Anabaptist persecution. The death method of choice was drowning in order to mock believer’s baptism. Water has the amazing capacity to be life giving or death bringing. Compare the Sahara Desert with the earth shattering flooding of a hurricane. The unique properties of water and the need for carefully balanced amounts of water are mysterious. Lack of water is the first thing that will kill you. Even so, drowning happens even quicker. Water is preciously delicate and dangerous when abused. “Baptism” through violent means is invalid and an abomination because the sacred context and heart expression of the moment are not present. Violence is not sacred.
Any comparison or use of baptism in a violent context mocks the sacredness of what some Christians consider to be a sacrament, an expression of grace. The symbolism of believer’s baptism by immersion is going down into spiritual burial then raising up in spiritual resurrection. There is renewed life with genuine baptism. Baptism is fulfilled in the name or by the authority of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the name of God is a way that baptism is set apart from swimming or bathing. The ritual requires thoughtful preparation and is inherently sacred.
Baptism is a symbol of reconciliation with oneself as the baptism candidate changes physical states from dry to wet then eventually dry again. Though the person begins and ends in a dry state, there is change as they express physically an entrance into spiritual discipleship with Jesus Christ, and making peace with God. Baptism also reconciles the candidate with the church local and the Church global as he or she moves into full church membership.
Baptism is a unifier of current Christians with ancient Christians. Though there are many traditions of baptizing- immersion, sprinkling, dunking, infants, adults, etc., Christians across time, space, culture, denominations, and other created boundaries have been, are, and will be baptized. To be baptized is to join a religious and spiritual movement that began well before you, continues with you, and carries on to a future beyond you.
I look forward to officiating my first baptism because I recognize the particularly sacred moment as a time when the marginal space between Heaven and Earth is slim if at all present. Baptism is an act of trust- in the Bible that calls Christians to baptism, in the church that disciples before and after baptism, in the pastor that he or she will properly lead the candidate, and ultimately in God’s presence especially during the sacred and peaceful moment of baptism.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” [Ephesians 4:1-6, NRSV]