Rising from the waters: The celebration of baptism

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I was raised in the Roman Catholic church. My rebaptism in the Mennonite Brethren church was a defining moment in my life. I invited my parents to the service at Willingdon Church, Burnaby, B.C., but they graciously declined, probably nursing a mixture of bafflement and heartache.

Although my parents’ reaction was painful for me, I knew I needed to step into the water. Adult baptism was an opportunity to walk in obedience to Christ, witness to my faith and claim allegiance to the family of churches I’d chosen to serve.

At the time, I was an elementary school teacher. So I invited my Grade one class to sit around the baptismal tank (in the “splash zone,” as we called it) to observe – and maybe even get a little wet. Pastor John Wiens, with his good-natured character and enduring smile, made the event extra special.

At the last moment, my parents decided to come. I was grateful they could hear about the seeds of faith they – and many other Catholics in my life – had planted. It was a pivotal moment in my journey with Jesus.

Looking back

Believer’s baptism is one of the most significant activities in our faith tradition.

Nearly 500 years ago, a secret baptism heralded the beginning of Anabaptism itself. On a dark winter’s night in 1525, near Zurich, Switzerland, George Blaurock and a small band of men retreated to the home of Felix Manz. The dozen or so believers were keen to see the gospel preached, but felt disillusioned by some of the church’s teachings, particularly around infant baptism. That night, the Holy Spirit led them to take startling action:

[They] began to bow their knees to the Most High God in heaven and called upon him as the Informer of Hearts, and they prayed that he would give to them his divine will and that he would show his mercy unto them…. After the prayer, George of the House of Jacob stood up and besought Conrad Grebel for God’s sake to baptize him with the true Christian baptism upon his faith and knowledge. And when he knelt down with such a request and desire, Conrad baptized him, since at that time there was no ordained minister to perform such work.  

That baptism changed the course of history for thousands of people – some to the point of martyrdom.

Looking forward

Today, baptism continues to hold a central place for Mennonite Brethren: “We believe that when people receive God’s gift of salvation, they are to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism is a sign of having been cleansed from sin. It is a covenant with the church to walk in the way of Christ through the power of the Spirit” (Confession of Faith).

Baptism says we’re growing and multiplying as a church. We rejoice with every person who steps into the waters of baptism and joyfully recognize the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth.

Resurrection Sunday

This past Easter, if you had an aerial view of our nation, you would’ve seen dozens of MB congregations celebrating baptism in unique and diverse ways. In Vancouver, four churches took to the Pacific Ocean and baptized 29 new believers. (See “Let’s go down to the water”.)

Highland Community Church (Abbotsford, B.C.) introduced several elements of symbolism to its baptism service. There was a water procession with containers of all sizes, and five baptismal candidates wearing “baptismal clothing” as a visual representation of Galatians 3:27. It was all celebration and fanfare as 250 people danced, cheered and listened to a retelling of the Exodus story, featuring actors clapping coconuts together to replicate the sound of the Egyptian army.

The darkened theatre stage at Winnipeg’s The Meeting Place was set to awaken all the senses: a swimming pool stood front and centre, three artists filled a giant canvas with colour and movement, and a choir’s voices rang throughout the worship service. At the end of the morning, 16 people had been baptized.

Fifty new brothers and sisters in Christ. Hallelujah!

Sharing our stories

Last year, the Herald quietly phased out our baptism section. Our decision was practical, based on the fact that fewer congregations were submitting baptism information and photos. The baptism section had become an incomplete picture of who we are as a denomination across Canada.

But theologically, believer’s baptism has always stood at the centre of the Herald’s mandate. So we want to continue telling the stories. Send us your reports and testimonies – whether you’re a new church plant or long-established congregation – so we can all celebrate new life within our denomination. We’re ready and willing to sit in your “splash zone” for a while!

One Comment on “Rising from the waters: The celebration of baptism

  1. Thanks for this very engaging article, Laura, combining your own story with historical and current church events.

    I have a concern which, in the context of the article, may be a minor quibble. (But in the context of ‘Mennonite’ history and biblical theology, I think it’s important enough to say something about.)

    At the start of your article you referred to your “rebaptism.” Perhaps what you meant was that that’s how you saw it at that time. But the word is not appropriate, even though the term “anabaptist” (re-baptist) has been applied to the founders of the so-called Radical Reformation.

    As Balthasar Hübmaier stated, “I have never taught Anabaptism. . . . But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ. . . .”

    Second, you mentioned “adult baptism.” This is not a Scriptural concept. Baptism is for those who have come to Christ, irrespective of their age. It’s a symbol of their “having been cleansed from sin,” as you note later in your article; it’s also a picture of their unity with Christ in his burial and resurrection. My daughter was baptized at the age of six, on her confession of faith (with good understanding). Almost thirty years later, she continues to serve the Lord.

    Having made those points, I acknowledge and appreciate that you also referred to baptism as “believer’s baptism” and (in the quote from the Hutterian Chronicle) as “the true Christian baptism upon his faith and knowledge.”

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