One Sunday morning I preached a simple sermon about the meaning and significance of baptism, saying, "Something happens in the water." Then, I invited anyone who would like to be baptized to come forward. I said, "If you have a change of heart, we have a change of clothes."
Something amazing happened. People began to come forward. By the end of the morning—and two long worship services—173 people were baptized. This included young and old (the oldest was 94), first-time visitors, entire families together, three pastors, and two board members.
One young woman, new to the church, was so moved by what happened that she came down to the front after the first service, prayed to receive Christ, and was baptized in the second service. It was truly a God-appointed and God-anointed moment.
I have never seen such instantaneous obedience, freedom in the Spirit, and overwhelming joy in my lifetime. It was like we were experiencing a mini-Pentecost. That next week, so many people responded saying, "I wish I had been baptized," that we baptized another 97 people two weeks later. Within three weeks, nearly 10 percent of our active congregation was baptized.
Here are just a few of the stories shared from these baptismal experiences:
- I had thought about baptism for years but had convinced myself that while it was a great experience for some, it wasn't a requirement for salvation. Sunday I sensed God saying, "It's not a requirement of my love, but are you willing if I ask?" I always had reasons not to be baptized in the past. But I felt God's strong direction to stop finding reasons not to be obedient to His request." — Ed
- When you gave the call to be baptized, I felt no hesitation. I started emptying my pockets and went to hand them to my wife when she said, "I'm going down, too." My first thought was who will watch my stuff now? That lasted about a second, and I just tossed everything on the floor and followed." — John
- As I sat in that back room, waiting for my turn to be baptized, it was a privilege to reflect with my brothers in Christ who were also waiting. Each one of us knew, we must do this! How beautiful to reflect on each of our 'whispers from God' and our individual motivations, experiences, and obedience. I sense as a result of this experience that God is challenging me to a higher, bolder dimension of service for His kingdom. — Tim
- My husband and I love each other very much, but our marriage has struggled lately. That Sunday I saw my husband step into the water with tears in his eyes and get baptized. When we got home from church I wondered if I brought the wrong man home. His whole countenance had changed. He was happy, helpful, and wonderful! Later that night after we put our son to bed, we talked about what happened that morning. He told me that he loved me and with God's help, we would change our marriage. He apologized for the way things had been going and promised to make a change. I also promised I was going to make some changes. I cannot tell you how much our lives have changed. It is amazing! Our home is happy again. Our communication has improved and there are smiles on our faces. Most of all, our prayer life is alive again. If you walked in our home today, you would see God at work! — Elizabeth
- For years, I have been carrying a heavy load of shame and self-loathing over behaviors that I am just now beginning to understand and overcome. I have been a Nazarene for my entire life, and I accepted Christ into my life as a child. But over time, I drifted from my walk with Christ. Oh, I was in the church, sometimes even active, but my private life was a mess. Secret behaviors, secret guilt. A little over a month ago, two life-changing events occurred that forced me to take stock of my life and decide what I wanted, and more importantly, what I needed. I needed God. I fell on my face before God and asked Him for His grace, His mercy, and His forgiveness. I had never felt what I felt in my heart and soul that day. But still, I continued to feel the weight of all the guilt and shame and to carry it on my shoulders. Sunday, I suspected something was up because I could feel the energy in the sanctuary the moment I walked in. As the pastor preached on baptism, I just knew something unexpected was about to happen. I knew there was going to be a baptism and I knew I needed—no, wanted—to get baptized to mark a new beginning in my life. You said, "Something happens in the water ..." You bet something did! In that water, years and years of guilt and shame were washed away! When I came out of the water it was like ten tons were lifted off of me. I think I even did a fist pump or two. What I really wanted to do was shout at the top of my lungs, "Yeah! I am forgiven and free!" — David
John Wesley said that baptism is "an outward sign of an inward grace." In that sense, it can be a witness of personal conversion. But it is also a symbol of something else.
The renewal of human beings is the ultimate sign of God's renewal of the whole world. New Testament scholar N. T. Wright comments in Surprised by Hope, "Baptism is not magic, a conjuring trick with water. But neither is it simply a visual aid. It is one of the points, established by Jesus himself, where heaven and earth interlock, where new creation, resurrection life, appears within the midst of the old ... It should be the foundational event for all serious Christian living, all dying to sin and coming alive with Christ."
I am still processing all of this as a pastor. I believe the stories of what God is doing through this sacrament are still being written. But this much I know: God honors the personal and communal obedience of His people ... and something happens in the water.
David A. Busic is the senior pastor of Bethany, Oklahoma, First Church of the Nazarene. Editor's note: David Busic is now General Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene.