Immersion Is Halfway There
Years ago, I baptized a young man who was a little scared of going under the water, but we are Baptists, and that’s kind of our thing. I don’t believe the ordinance confers grace but testifies and pictures something that has occurred already in the life of the believer. Hence, the way we baptize is essential. Those who sprinkle or pour have their reasons, but it has more to do with the continuity of the covenants than the Biblical example. In that view, baptism does something to the individual rather than baptism testifying of something already received. The mode isn’t as important as the performing of the sacrament. Our differences go much deeper than sprinkling water upon the head or putting the body under the water.
History records a long bloody trail of persecution centering around baptism. Many have been imprisoned, whipped, fined, and even put to death for their view on the ordinance. But as far as I know, few, if any, have died in the process. Thus, it wasn’t on my radar to be concerned about the man making it out of the waters alive. Leading up to the service, we talked a lot about the meaning and the picture. When I explained what would happen, I emphasized going under the water. He, on the other hand, didn’t care so much about going all the way under. His main objective was getting back out. It wasn’t that he was afraid of water. He was nervous about going under and staying down there. The moment arrived, and I lowered him with solemnity, panic struck the man, and up came the leg. The leg went down, but the arm came up, then the other arm. All solemnity had passed, and an outside observer would have guessed that I was trying to drown the poor man rather than perform an ancient rite
Immersion is necessary for baptism. Baptist stress the need for going all the way under. But after that day, I realized coming back up out of the water is equally important, especially for the one going down. We are “buried with him in baptism into death,” but Christ didn’t remain buried, and neither do we. Christ was “raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father.” Coming out of the water pictures walking in the newness of life now and the blessed hope of resurrection. Baptism testifies that we are dead to sin (going under the water) and now alive in Christ (coming back up). It testifies that we are free from sin because Christ died in our place and rose from the dead. Thus, our sins are paid for, and we are freed from sin. We died with Christ, and now we live with him (Romans 6:1-11).
There was no need to fear going underwater. I wasn’t going to leave him there. Baptism pictures a death, and no one wants to die, but it also pictures a resurrection, and I know Christ will not leave me in the grave.