Here’s a little humor in celebration of our recent baptismal service when we welcomed three more brothers and sisters into God’s family following their public confession of their sins, acknowledgement of their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and obedience to the command to be baptised (Three Went Through the Waters).
It also illustrates the difference between what is important and what is not important; what is a central truth or requirement and what is just methodology or tradition. Baptism is a command from Jesus and it is important that Christians take this step of obedience but while it may be nice to be baptised in a similar fashion as Jesus was – in the open and in the middle of the Jordan River, that can be difficult or inappropriate in a different setting or situation (as in the cartoon below). Yet sometimes we get caught up way too much on the methodology or the ritual when we should be focusing on what is on the heart of the individual. How strange that we do this when the bible repeatedly tells us that God is more concerned with our hearts than our rituals. Rituals carried out as an outward representation of our inner contrite hearts and our worship is received by God joyously but rituals carried out by hardened and rebellious hearts is not welcomed by God.
“16You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.”
Nevertheless, we should not also be outright dismissive of rituals and traditions. Many rituals and traditions of the church were developed after much thought and time, with the intent that the symbolism would help express those very inner testimonies of our heart in a way that could be easily understood by all. However these rituals and traditions can sometimes be limited by time, geography and cultural differences. When that happens, it is important to maintain the message and meaning of those rituals and traditions rather than its form.
As for baptism, let us be of the same spirit as the Ethiopian eunuch as recorded for us in Acts 8: 36. “36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” It did not matter if it was not the River Jordan, nor that it was not in a baptismal font, nor that it was not in a church, nor that it was so spontaneous but what was important was the heart, faith, obedience and testimony of that Ethiopian eunuch. And as our Eskimo friends learn below, river baptism may not be so practical where they are.