Baptism: a Meditation on Anecdotes.
by Scott D. Hendricks
As a matter of disclosure, before I became Orthodox by chrismation and communion, I had been born and raised in The Wesleyan Church, in fact I was baptized the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit by a Wesleyan Pastor, and since the age of 14 I was a full covenant member of The Wesleyan Church. Aside from the fact that The Wesleyan Church allows the baptism of infants, its baptismal practice is essentially believer’s baptism after the manner of Baptist churches.
With regard to my own baptism, I remember taking traditional baptismal vows according to the Anglican/Roman tradition. What stands out to me about my own baptism is that as I look back, I realize that my own baptism marks for me the point at which I felt like I was truly a Christian. I no longer felt the need to ask Jesus into my heart again and again to no apparent avail or change in my life. I did, in fact, until I was baptized fear for my salvation and “prayed the sinners prayer” somewhere between 5-10 times as a child, just to be sure I wouldn’t go to hell. But it never seemed to make much of a difference. While I cannot distinctly remember how I felt after being baptized, what stands out to me is I felt that I was a Christian.
Now we genuinely admit that for The Wesleyan Church, as for a great number of other Protestant denominations, baptism is not believed to have any material or spiritual power or efficacy for the baptized. It is taught and promoted as a means of testimony whereby faithful profess their faith. This is not 100% wrong, because even in the early church and today when one is baptized one must make profession of faith and say the Creed. But we would presently hold as Orthodox have for centuries that Baptism is the “bath of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), and the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It is primarily the action of God whereby we are buried with Christ into his death, and raised to new life unto his resurrection.
A number of years ago, before I was Orthodox but while I was already persuaded of Baptismal regeneration, I noticed something very unique, inspiring and promising. I noticed that baptismal candidates prior to their baptisms, while professing their faith ad libitum, tend to use language about baptism as if they are expecting God to do something in them and for them and to them through being baptized – whether it be forgiveness of sins, new birth, or salvation in general – I’ve witnessed and heard a great number of people profess faith in baptism’s power at the hands of ministers who deny its power. It is to the chagrin and shame of Christian ministers that their baptismal candidates believe in baptism more than they do. In other words, Christian denominations are attempting to maintain through (erroneous) doctrine, that baptism is only an outward sign and has no inner power. But those coming to baptism tend to believe differently.
Now, I cannot quote or cite actual examples. But I would encourage those who might witness Protestant baptisms to listen closely to what the candidates say about baptism directly prior to it. Time and time again, I’ve heard people humbly, powerfully and innocently confess one baptism for the remission of sins in the midst of traditions that deny this tenet of faith.