Filed under: Baptism, Baptizing Ventriloquists, Christianity, Jesus, Moody Bible Institute, Religion
In the Presbyterian church’s baptismal liturgy there is a point when the presider exhorts the congregation to, “remember your own baptism.” When I recite these word standing in my robes, a squirming baby in my hands I always have to stifle laughter. I am transported back to those evangelical days when baptism had a much different symbolic meaning to me. It was a public confession that a person had asked Jesus into their heart (we would never use a term like sacrament).
Even though I had asked Jesus into my heart on multiple occasions, I had even rededicated my backslidden heart to make sure, for some reason I was never baptized. This sin of ommission would present me with a great problem later in my life. The problem surfaced as I found myself sitting in the lounge of my dormitory at Moody Bible Institute eating Sunday evening Ramen with some of the men on my floor.
It was one of those late night sessions where the guys sat and compared war stories about who was worse before they had become a Christian. Most of them were about bad trips on drugs and were quite entertaining. So, I always listened. Unfortunately, this night the conversation took an unexpected turn. These men all began to talk about their baptism. Some had been “dunked” in small country churches, others at the end of a week-long revival, while others had to be rebaptized when they really became Christians. I sat quiet sipping my noodles until someone asked, “Brian, where were you baptized?”
Fear shot through me as I tried to think of the perfect lie, but what came out of my mouth was, “I have never been baptized.”
The room was absolutely silent except for a few dissapproving grunts. Then my questioner reminded me that we had to sign a form saying we had been baptized to get into Moody. I, of course, had not really thought about it when I filled out the form. I just knew that God was calling me to the foreign mission field to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Bro, you need to get baptized. If you don’t we’ll have to tell the dean,” was what the resident assistant declared to everyone’s agreement. So, I told them I would get baptized over the upcoming spring break.
I immediately phoned my mother and asked why she had never pushed me to be baptized. She jokingly said that they were waiting for me to reach the age of accountability.
“It’s okay. Jim’s in town preaching. I’ll ask him to baptize you at your friend’s church on a Sunday night.”
I was relieved and couldn’t wait until spring break to get this over with. When the day finally arrived, we waited in the parking lot of Central Alliance Church, waiting for Jim. A green Winnabego pulled into three spots and out of its middle door a fifty-year-old man in a baby blue suit emerged. From the moment he swung open the door, I immediately recognized this man. He was a tent evangelist that I had heard speak many times in the past. Jim was not only an evangelist, but he was a children’s evangelist. This meant that he transversed the midwest from VBS to VBS spreading the message of salvation to tents filled with children. Jim did not merely stand and preach to children, he sat in a chair and preached the gospel through his ventriloquist dummy, Toby. I was going to be baptized by a ventriloquist!
The service went according to plan and I was baptized without incident (so I was told). I returned to Moody, but something in me was changing. I believe that this baptism became a point when I seriously evaluated my faith and the church that I found myself participating. They were lacking in what could connect me to my Creator. So, began my slow ascent into liberal Christianity.
Today, I consider baptism to be a joyous sacrament–a sign and symbol of our acceptance into the community of faith. As a church we smile with the little child and promise to raise her up right. Yet, when I am transported back to my baptism, it’s an event of miraculous humor, rich with the deeply held belief that I must never take myself too seriously. God is certainly having a few laughs on my account.
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