“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Acts 2:41
Last April as I stood on the southern steps to the Temple in Jerusalem I wondered to myself if the ritualistic baths that had been chiseled into the stone were the same ones used on the Day of Pentecost to baptize 3,000 new believers. If so, the site of their baptism was a hustling, bustling place. After all Jews and God-fearing Gentiles came from all over to celebrate this ancient Jewish festival. These steps were most-likely full of spectators coming back and forth from offering sacrifices at the Temple as they witnessed thousands of new believers declaring “Jesus is Lord!” (the original baptism declaration) before or after they got plunged into the water.
Sure it could have been a river or stream where they were baptized but whatever or wherever it was baptism in the book of Acts tended to be a very public event. Think about the power of that for a moment. You just put your faith in Jesus and make that “public declaration of your inward transformation” in front of believers and unbelievers alike. You were identifying with this new tribe of people nicknamed by Jesus as “my church” in Matthew 16:18.
I’ve recently witnessed the power of this with my 10 year old daughter. We decided to baptize her on our recent cruise to Alaska. While we didn’t want to immerse her into the frigid waters of Glacier Bay (hypothermia!) we decided we could do the baptism in the swimming pool on the deck of the cruise ship (heated!) Other than maybe getting baptized in the Jordan river it’s hard to beat the setting. But baptism on a cruise ship in front of kids, teenagers, family Which led to an interesting questions like,
“Shouldn’t baptisms be done in a church?”
“Aren’t baptisms to be done by the pastor?”
“Isn’t a baptism for the believers to witness, not as much for non-Christians?”
All of these questions and then some rattled around in our minds before the baptism. We wrestled with it as a family and were finally convinced it was something we should do.
After all, there were no church buildings in the book of Acts. With the exception of the Ethiopian Eunuch, all baptisms that are described seem to have some sort of public in-front-of-God-and-everyone element to them.
The Great Commission which (which includes baptizing new disciples) is directed to all believers. My deduction from this is that if all Christians can do the greater (lead someone to Jesus) then they can do the lesser (baptize that new believer.)
As for the audience, of course believers in Jesus can and should be witnesses! But why not as many unbelievers as possible witnessing this sacred event as well?
Standing on my tippy toes in the 5 1/2 foot deep water of the swimming pool with my little Kailey perched on my knee I began the baptism “service.” Of course my wife, brother and sister in law, nephew and father and mother in law were there with us. But so were five or so teenagers that my son brought from the friends he had made on the boat. There was also Maddy (26 year old Nanny) and Sierra (her 15 year old cousin) that my daughter had befriended while in the hot tub a few nights earlier. There were also about 20-30 others (some kids, some parents, some people drinking it up at the bar just feet away, etc) who were witnesses to this spontaneous baptism.
I took less than 5 minutes to explain that although baptism doesn’t save anyone it symbolizes something significant. At this point I gave the Gospel and invited anyone else who was listening to put their faith in Jesus and consider getting baptized right then. By the time we got to dunking time it was a powerful moment. I plunged my daughter into the pool and baptized her in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. People cheered (believers and unbelievers) and Gospel conversations ensued for the rest of the trip.
What if? What if we saw baptism, not as a hide-away-in-a-church-building private ceremony but as a truly public proclamation. Whether it be in a pool, ocean, lake, river or in a church building that was specially stocked for this occasion with unbelieving friends, co-workers, classmates, teammates, family etc) believers and unbelievers alike could witness this powerful ordinance. I get the sense that this is exactly what happened with the early believers when they got baptized publicly. Who knows how many spectators put their faith in Jesus as a result of witnessing one of these baptisms and the conversations that followed.
However your church does it, consider making baptism a public spectacle that can lead to more Gospel conversations among those who are watching. It will get the good news out to more people and help seal and steel the decision that a new believer has made for Jesus. Because now the wet cat is out of the bag because that soggy new believer has now been publicly branded as a Jesus follower.
Minutes after the baptism, while warming up in the hot tub, two half-sloshed partiers asked me, “What was that all about?” There, in the heat of the hot tub, I got to use Kailey’s baptism as a watery pulpit to have another significant Gospel conversation.
That, my friend, is the kind of conversations that baptism should trigger.