When I was eight-years old, our church had a week-long revival. I don’t remember the visiting preacher’s name, but I remember Thursday night of that week. There was something in the message or the song that pulled me forward for my “public profession of faith.” I remember writing on the back of an offering envelope what I wanted to tell our pastor: “I want to accept Jesus as my personal Savior.”
We were on the third verse of “Just as I Am,” and I had this sense of now or never. I made my way past my parents; I think my mother began to cry. I was trying to squeeze past strangers in the pew when the music stopped, and the preacher started talking. He was talking about the need to come forward, receive Christ, and be obedient to Christ in baptism.
I should fill in non-Baptists. Baptists do not baptize infants; we only dunk people old enough to make their own decisions. We’d heard tell of Methodists and Presbyterians who baptized babies, and regarded them (Methodists and Presbyterians, not the babies) with suspicion. When one of our deacons was asked if he had ever heard of infant baptism, he declared, “Heard of it? I’ve seen it with my own two eyes!” We were of the tribe that believed baptism meant “put ‘em under till they bubble.”
I was stuck amongst a family I didn’t know, waiting for the preacher to be quiet and the music to start again, so I could get up there and do what he was asking us to do. Finally, mercifully, he stopped, and I started back down the aisle.
I remember taking the preacher’s hand and reading my declaration of faith off the back of that offering envelope. What happened after that was a blur. People came by, shook my hand, and my baptism was set, along with others, for the next Sunday.
For some reason, we only baptized on Sunday night. Because of revival there were a bunch of people to baptize, including my step-father, Lawrence. I was excited because so many of my relatives came to see us baptized. I was also excited because I was eager to let the world know I believed in Jesus.
When eight-year old boys get excited, their bodies burst with energy. Twenty times I’d been told to calm down that Sunday. I was trying to, but the excitement had to go somewhere. My excitement went to my bladder.
Now it’s Sunday night. With others, I’m standing in the baptistry, in a pool of water. Every eight-year old boy knows the magic of being in the water: you can do things and no one knows.
The preacher recited from memory the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. Pressure was building inside my plumbing. The preacher said, “Let us pray,” and began one of his very long prayers thanking God for creation, Jesus, salvation, those being baptized, the faithful work of the evangelist, the wonderful songs that drew us close to Jesus, for the generous offering, for life itself, for his education, for justice and mercy. It was a long list of thanks. Meanwhile, in my eight-year old body, the dam was about to be over-topped.
Growing up in church, I had always heard about the sweet moment of surrender. The moment came. Excitement released. The volume in the baptistry increased slightly.
The preacher finished by thanking God for “The sacred waters of baptism and the willingness of these candidates to enter these baptismal waters.” If only they knew.
I never told this story until after my step-father passed away and went to be Jesus. I’m pretty sure Jesus met him at the gates of heaven, laughing, and said, “Lawrence, you remember the night you were baptized? Let me tell you the rest of the story.” I once told this story to a Presbyterian and a Lutheran pastor. After they wiped the tears from their eyes, they laughingly said, “Sounds like everyone who was baptized that night was baptized and sprinkled.”
I’m sure that some people who were baptized that night, March 4, 1968, are still alive. Please accept my profound apologies. But remember baptism is a picture of what Jesus has done for us. The Gospel was present at my baptism: the impurity of who I was and am, was and is overwhelmed by the grace of Jesus. Thank God for his grace.
This, by the way, is why I never let eight-year old boys in the baptistry until right before I baptize them.