A perpetually awkward moment of our tradition is that we ask for each baptism candidate to come to his own faith before considering baptism. However, how old or much understanding is required to participate in our sacred ritual of immersion? Is it just the simple children’s Sunday School answer of “Jesus” or does a baptism subject need to be able to explain complex theological topics such as grace, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, and “The Church?” If there is not some proper understanding of belief our community risks heresy in each new generation of faith discovery.
Another portion our awkwardness is our revival tradition. We believe in repentance and discovery. We must continually weigh our thoughts, actions, and character against the holiness of God. In this process we continue to discover more grace. This causes us to celebrate and change. We hope this revival process will over time with the regeneration brought on by the Holy Spirit make us Jesus’ representative on earth. We believe revival takes place both in our personal lives and in the lives of our community.
With each of our new discoveries of grace and renewal a temptation is to look at our old ways and consider them “not Christian.” At times our revival tradition makes us not honor God’s work in either our past live or our community’s. It can lead to legalistic elitism. Some who experience this will look upon their early baptism and consider it not worthy of our Christian ideals. Some will be re-baptized several times in life as they discover more.
A worry of parents in our tradition is twofold. One, we may baptize our children when they are too young. With such a situation they may come to resent our overbearing influence or to conclude their young faith was really no faith. The second struggle is that we may spurn their early requests to be baptized. Thus we crush their tender young seeking hearts.
Two weeks ago, Jana I were given 2 requests by our fast footed son. These were “I want to be baptized and I want a football helmet.”
We began by asking Timothy, “Why do you want to be baptized?” Timothy responded with simple answers. Everyone in his family had been baptized. Those he admired at church had been baptized. He watched others share our church meal of communion and felt excluded. The most startling words he used were “I am all alone.”
Timothy’s strong will is matched by two deep parts of his personality. One is the sense of personal responsibility. The other is a strong sense of community. Timothy at times grieves over the loss of his arm. One of our most difficult moments was his request for “a new arm for Christmas.” Yet, his grief always ends in resolve. He will run fast, throw hard, and shoot true whether the game is basketball or just childhood tussles. Timothy also deeply grieves over his failures. He is a child with a deep conscience who models contriteness and repentance. For brief moments his contrite spirit can reach the point of self-hatred. It is at those moments that he most needs affirming parental love, grace, and forgiveness to re-discover the will to simply do better.
His sense of community is compelling. He has a tremendous capacity to give and receive affection. He needs great amount of human touch. He is rarely alone. When placed with his peers within a short time most will be following his choice of play. He instinctively possesses the traits of great leaders – empathy, understanding, vision, and resolve.
We have a tradition of asking our children to write their reasons to be baptized so that we have permanent record of their thought process. As Timothy did this he asked for our help. He did not know how to spell many of the words he desired to write. Some of the words included “alone, bored, annoying, and tired.” He struggled to explain, but hungered for more. It seemed his struggle was much like our adult world that the Apostle Paul wrote about as we struggle to communicate our deepest needs to God with our insufficient human language (Romans 8:26).
Jana and I took some time to wrestle and discover. An old book came to my mind – J.I. Packer’s, Knowing God. I spent a portion of Thursday, June 26 in a library in Roscoe, Texas and could not find the book. I went to Roscoe’s book store and found I could order it in 2 weeks, but we would be gone. On Friday, we went to Abilene, Texas to host a reception. We stopped at a Christian bookstore and asked only to find that Packer’s book was out of print. Thankfully, we had a little time to check out Abilene Christian University’s library and finally found our old memory. Packer takes a chapter and writes about the nature of being “Sons of God.” He makes several startling statements. One is that not all of humanity are “children of God.” Only those who have been born again have that privilege. The other is that our “adoption” into God’s family is "the highest privilege of the Gospel."
We read Romans 8:23 – “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
We were traveling and away from our oldest children – Sophia, Caleb, and Ethan. We were away from our home churches of Christ’s Church in Rwanda (Kigali) and Quail Springs Church of Christ (Oklahoma City). However, for a few brief days we were with Jana’s parents, Gaston and Jan Tarbet. Family is not constrained by geography. We decided now was the season.
Gaston called an old friend, Royce Clay and we arranged for Timothy to be baptized at the Colorado City, Texas Church of Christ on Saturday, June 26.
Now is where the video makes it all too real and displays that faith may be its truest in the midst of the humorous.
The thermostat of the baptistery was broken. The water kept heating. We called another church member responsible for the baptistery upkeep. Then we drained and filled the baptistery twice and added 6 bags of ice before the water was cool enough for human contact. About an hour later Timothy and I again descended the waters of baptism. My only thanks to the Lord was for the grace that I was the one who got a little burned instead of Timothy. I am so glad the memory of a water burn is mine and not Timon’s.
Our family shared a meal that evening in celebration. The following Sunday we all shared the meal of Holy Communion.
Evidence of a changed life?
A few days later Jana and I found a football helmet. By the grace of God it was not an Aggies’s helmet. Instead our only options were Oklahoma Sooners or Oklahoma State Cowboys. Timothy chose to be a Sooner. Later, the next day I overheard Timothy discuss with his older sister Ruth, his favorite football player, Adrian Peterson. Timothy is like him in many ways – black skin, fast as can be, and both have Oklahoma roots. Timothy enjoyed comparing himself to Adrian. Then he added one more comment. The most important accomplishments and identifications this side of heaven are neither speed nor ethnic background. They are being part of God’s family. Timothy did not know Adrian’s baptism status, but he chose to define himself not by similar speed, but by the family of God.