The Humility of Baptism

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

My wife and I recently spent two days in Lancaster, PA Amish country. Since then a word which has been on my mind is humility, an important characteristic of Amish belief and the Amish way of life. Thinking of humility turned my mind to baptism and the Amish. Then to the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 6. Then to baptism in my fellowship, the churches of Christ.

In their book, The Amish Way, Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher briefly describe baptism among the Amish. “As baptismal candidates kneel and confess their faith in Christ, they renounce three things: their self, the devil, and the world. This trio threatens the spiritual well-being of the community: selfishness produces pride and disobedience, the cunning devil with his bag of tricks can lead members astray, and the lure of worldly things can pollute the purity of the church” (emphasis mine, 126). Humility–kneeling, confessing, renouncing.

I turn to Paul’s words in Romans 6. Verse 3, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Verse 6, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Verses 11 and 12, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” Humility–“baptized into his death,” “old self was crucified,” “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God.”

In the Amish practice water is poured into the cupped hands of the bishop held over the head of the one being baptized. The water drips onto the head of the kneeling baptismal candidate. In the kneeling is an act of humility, the humility of faith in Jesus Christ. In immersion into water, the practice of the churches of Christ, the immersion of the one being baptized is an act of humility, the humility of faith in Jesus Christ. At least I pray that is how the baptismal candidate understands his immersion. I pray humility is the attitude of heart with which he/she approaches his/her baptism.

Humility. I cannot, nor do I want to, judge the hearts of everyone who is baptized or the hearts of the churches in the practice of baptism. Yet I have been asking myself since our little trip to Amish country, has baptism become a practice which lifts up the person being baptized instead of the Christ into whom he/she is being baptized? Do we, including myself, adequately teach the understanding of baptism taught in Romans 6–faith in Christ, humility before Christ, death with Christ to sin? Is baptism understood simply as one step in the check-list of church membership instead of death to the old self and resurrection with Christ to a new way of life to God in Christ Jesus?

When I was baptized forty-seven years ago I was asked, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he died on the cross and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of your sins?” Forty-four years in ministry I have asked the same question. Confession. I watched a video clip today of a baptism, heard this question asked, and the simple answer given, “Yes.” I thought of the Amish, kneeling before the congregation, confessing faith (as with the question I was asked and have asked), but also renouncing self, devil, and world, and committing to obedience and submission to Christ and to life in the church.

Humility. Would it be better at baptism to do the following. Have the baptismal candidate kneel before the congregation. Yes, ask, “Do you believe?” Then ask, “Do you renounce your self, the devil, and the world?” Finally ask, “Do you, through faith in Christ and in this act of baptism into Christ, commit yourself to obedience and submission to Christ and to life in the church?”

Humility. Emphasize the very humbling nature of baptism, burial in death, death to self, death to sin. Emphasize the humbling nature of the resurrection in baptism, resurrection with Christ into a new way of life, lived unto God in Christ Jesus. Death to sin. Resurrection to holiness and righteousness of life.

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