I didn’t grow up with a very strong view of baptism. It’s certainly fair to say it wasn’t a Reformed view of the sacrament that I was raised with. The hodgepodge faith that nurtured me included several different denominations – all with different theological emphases – but all decidedly in a revivalist tradition. Baptism was something that I did. It was understood to be a sign of my faith in God and my devotion.
It’s a long story that includes my mother’s breaking with her Catholic upbringing and my phobia of taking my shirt off and getting dunked in a river, lake, or swimming pool in front of pretty girls in my youth group. I often wonder if the same fear befalls other “stocky” young men being raised in charismatic churches. At any rate, I was in “leadership” of some sort in church since I was in Jr. High. That’s when I started helping adults teach the younger children. I ended up serving as a youth director for two years and I was a year into my per-seminary studies before I was ever baptized. I have much like Augustine, often thought about my youth and wondered, “I ask thee, O my God, for I would gladly know if it be thy will, to what good end my baptism was deferred at that time?”
I have much more robust view, a much more Reformed view of Baptism today. All told, I have a much “higher” view of the church than I did back then. It’s not that I see the church as the guardian of Heaven’s gate or the dispenser of God’s grace. That would just be a corporate version of the human centered view of God, humanity and Sacraments I had in my youth. Rather, the church is part of a larger covenant community going all the way back to Abraham that for some crazy reason God calls and blesses for the purpose of blessing all the families of the earth.
I can reverse my baptism no more than Isaac or Jacob could reverse their circumcision. It is the sign and seal that I am a part of a covenant community that God is faithful to always. It doesn’t mean I have always lived into the life my baptism calls me to. And it doesn’t mean the church has always kept her vows to me, that people in the church haven’t hurt me knowingly or unknowingly in excruciatingly painful ways. But for better or for worse, we’re stuck together with God’s glue.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because many, many, many a day I have wanted to throw in the towel. I have been searching for nearly 3 years for a call to pastoral ministry. I see what is happening. We’ve all read the articles and the last thing we need is another blog post about “Millennials leaving the church” or my analyses as to why (or anyone else for that matter). But what the hell, I’ve got one for ya that you may not have heard before: Gutenberg. I hear so often – from people of faith – why go to church, when I have the Bible? I can be alone – one on one – with God anytime!
As distressed as I am about this trend it is only in small part because not having a full-time call makes me feel a bit depleted not being able to do that which I am called, trained and equipped to do. No, I worry more about Rena and Liam not having a church – or a sense of urgency about their need for the church – throughout their lives. This is not about Daddy keeping the kids mindful of the family business. It is about a deep, unshakable, core belief that community – community that is mindful of the Divine and will help you sustain your relationship with God – is absolutely, utterly essential. Even when community sucks.
The video above is from my friends at Room for All. You can find the complete video series and additional materials at the “Body and Soul: We Belong” section of their website. It is an amazing series! I would encourage you to watch the whole series sometime. This is a call, a plea, an invitation an urgent cry to all of those out there who know that they belong but who haven’t wanted to belong in a long time.
I know! I do. I may not be regularly discriminated against because of my sexual orientation or gender identity and I don’t pretend to know your struggle. I’m a white, cisgender, married (to the opposite sex), protestant, male. But I do know what it’s like to get my head dunked in the toilet the first day of trying out Sunday school at a new church. I know what it is like to be ridiculed for being the fat kid at school, in the work-field, at home and maybe the place where it hurt the most: the church. I know what it is like to have the church buy all of your Christmas presents – and to feel really (at least as a somewhat shallow 9-year-old) – that the church just saved Christmas, if not your life. I know this, only to know the sting of everyone in the church talking about how they bought your Christmas presents and then your dad blew his unemployment check on booze. I know what it is like when the people you thought were your best friends in the world tell you that you have left the faith or you are “dragging people to hell” because you “come out” as open and affirming. And I know what it is like to have that label follow you around and make finding placement in ministry a hell of a lot harder.
So please! Please come back. Not to me. Not for the sake of my job stability. You baptized ones who have not heard a sermon, partaken of the Lord’s Supper or stepped foot in a church in weeks, months, decades. Gay. Lesbian. Bisexual. Transgender. Four times divorced. Too poor to put something in the offering plate. Differently abled. Mentally ill. Too obese to fit into the “stadium” seating. Come. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. Remember your baptism! And come home. We can’t make it a better place, a safer place, a warmer place, a more loving place without you.