Monday, May 18, 2009

Of Faith & Love: Outdoor Baptism

City churches had baptisteries, but outside the cities, churches held baptisms in a creek, river, pond, or any natural body of water that was closest. They'd wait until the weather cooperated. They also needed a number of converted souls before scheduling a baptism. The entire congregation would gather on the banks of the water and watch as the preacher waded out to a spot where he could stand a little over waist deep, followed by a line of people waiting to be baptized one at a time, youngest to oldest. The minister usually would retell the story of John the Baptist in Matthew chapter 3. He instructs "repent and be baptized." Believers were dipped into the water as these words were spoken: "In obedience to the command of God, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." The participants often shed tears as they recalled what the Lord had done for them. The witnesses would sing hymns like "Shall We Gather At the River" and "I Shall Not Be Moved." Many churches had baptismal white cotton gowns to wear over clothing. The white color represented a cleansing of the soul. As each one came out of the water, the ladies were there to offer dry towels. Afterwards, there was often a time of fellowship. The Bible states Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, I guess being baptized in nature made the experience as true to that experience as possible. Baptism has been part of Christianity from the start. I, myself was baptized at the age of eight when I had reached the so called age of "accountability." The water was freezing cold, so much so that I had difficulty catching my breath. Of course the waters don't wash away sins, it's simply an expression of faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. You were declaring to others you'd walk in newness. For me, this was one of my life rituals, a glorious memory. The heritage lives on, I've watched both of my sons become baptized. Now they have children of their own, I trust the heritage will be passed.

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

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