I have just returned from a wedding. An other worker performed the ceremony, which was an excellent example of beautiful and sacred dignity. All participants cooperated with practiced ease as the pastor gave his kindly counsel and then led the young couple to pledge their troth to one another. From beginning to end every detail of the service beautified one of the most sacred hours in the lives of these youth.
Amid the simple yet impressive evening my mind turned to another and similar ministerial responsibility baptism the spiritual union of man with his Lord. I wish that I could recall with the same degree of happy recollection all the baptismal scenes that pass in memory's view. Happy occasions, yes, they always are, for they symbolize a precious union with Christ and an eager acceptance of truth. Yet more often than desirable this sacred hour must surely leave unfortunate impressions on new believers. In fact, can the candidate experience anything but disappointment when he is led into circumstances which do violence to the name of culture and modesty and good taste, let alone the spirit of such an occasion?
As in a wedding, would it not be a welcome procedure to thoroughly brief the candidates before baptism? Nothing is more calculated to calm excited nerves and allay imaginary fears than a quiet talk with the candidates, and why not actually demonstrate the steps in baptism?
The Outdoor Baptism
Few baptisms are more beautiful than a well-planned outdoor ceremony amid the beauties of nature. These occasions usually require more planning and painstaking care than indoor baptisms. Every step of the water path should be explored beforehand. Rocks and stones can easily be raked aside the day before and the path checked again immediately before the ceremony. If the water bed is slick or slimy, a canvas tent wall laid out on the water bed helps tremendously.
If the baptism is to be viewed by a group, and there are a number of candidates, it would be well to take new wood dowels or even broom handles cut to appropriate lengths, paint them white, and drive them into the water bed at ten-foot intervals. Then neatly drape clean white rope from post to post, marking the path and baptistry area by a trim outline of white. A few hours spent in such preparation will be rewarded by a well-organized baptism and enthusiastic confidence on the part of practical laymen.
Our Baptist brethren can give us some helpful pointers on beautifying this ceremony. One of these is brought to us in the article immediately following, by John D. Rhodes. Such an innovation as is suggested in this report might bring refreshment to some of our services.
As in the wedding ceremony, there is one climactic moment that makes this service for ever meaningful. This is the prayer and the act of immersion. But how often and I shudder to think of it one is seen to grapple awkwardly with the collar and plunge the helpless candidate beneath the water so hurriedly as to catch the breath and destroy the equilibrium of the stoutest heart! And the expression on the worker's face sometimes adds to the unfortunate impression made upon the witnesses.
With studied practice it is certainly possible to lower the upraised hand with calmness and deliberation, and secure the candidate without appearing awkward or choking him. Then with the other hand supporting the candidate's body by clasping his enfolded hands, lower him gently, gently, into the water and out again. I am sure that much struggle and sputtering is due to a hurried immersion, for who but an accustomed swimmer can stand the shock gracefully? In fact, the worker may even refrain from covering the candidate's face with a handkerchief, if by careful practice he will gently baptize his people. In his book The Shepherd-Evangelist, Roy Allan Anderson goes into this subject very carefully. He illustrates a very helpful method of holding the candidate. It might be well to review the chapter on baptism.
Then, have you tried calling all newly baptized ones to the shore or to the front of the baptistry after dressing, for an impressive kneeling prayer service? Jesus knelt on the shore after His baptism. I like to think of this prayer as a baptism of the Spirit for continual victory and strength to walk in the light. It is never forgotten, and becomes a meaningful climax to the ceremony.
Is the baptism less important than the wedding? Then should not the surroundings and preparation for baptism and the finesse and skill of the pastor support to the fullest the message and meaning of the occasion?
A Beautiful Baptismal Service
JOHN D. RHODES, Minister, Southern California Conference
The pastor of a large Baptist church in Los Angeles recently conducted a unique baptismal service. I was there to glean ideas and will endeavor to describe this beautiful occasion.
The baptism was conducted near the first of the worship service, and associate ministers conducted the pre-preaching phase of the service. At a given moment the choir began to sing soft, appropriate music. All eyes were directed to the baptistry, located high and to the rear of the choir. The pastor stepped quietly into the font, then turned to meet the first candidate at the steps, which were at the left end only. He extended his right hand to the candidate, thus assisting him down the steps. As the candidate stepped fully into the water the minister placed his hand on the shoulder of the candidate and the two walked across the baptistry. The candidate was closer to the congregation, and the minister w7as nearer the rear wall of the baptistry. As the two were walking the six or more steps across the baptistry, the minister quoted appropriate Scriptures words of Christ denoting the experience of the candidate. He used different Scriptures for each candidate. A sample would be: "Ye are the light of the world. A city set on an hill cannot be hid."
As the two reached the opposite end of the baptistry the minister would ask the candidate for a public profession of faith, such as, "Do you publicly accept the Lord Jesus as your personal Saviour?" The candidate would answer, "I do." Raising his arm, the minister repeated the baptismal formula. Then taking a grip of the candidate, he lowered him into the water in a graceful way. After raising the candidate from the water, the minister pivoted on his feet and gently directed his candidate around to his right so that now the minister was nearer the congregation and the one baptized was next to the rear wall of the baptistry. Again in a deliberate fashion the two walked to the steps of the baptistry, the minister all the while again repeating words of Christ. Much of his choice of verses came from the sermon on the mount and other great declarations of Christ. These could be used by anyone following this practice, making his own selections.
The whole atmosphere was deeply spiritual. It gave the observers the feeling that somehow Christ might have been conducting the service. The minister was lost sight of in the words of the Master. The type and location of the baptistry might preclude such a service at every church, still adaptations used occasionally would certainly bring variety and Christian appeal to the baptismal service.
Baptism-Winsome or Repellent?
ROY ALLAN ANDERSON
Fred I. Drexler, a prominent Baptist minister, expresses some real convictions in an article that appeared in The Watchman- Examiner some time ago entitled "Baptism Winsome or Repellent?" Recalling the experience of Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, he reminds us that for generations the Bryan family had been Baptists. But after witnessing a certain baptismal service by immersion, he swung away from the church of his boyhood and became a Presbyterian.
"That the Bible mode of administering this rite should have lost us so great a man is shocking indeed," he says. And we might well won der how many have been actually kept out of our ranks by having witnessed some things that shocked rather than won them.
Continuing, Dr. Drexler says:
"Surely the reason for this lies not in the ordinance itself, in its mode, or in its meaning, but in the way it is handled by the administrator. By and large, its beauty is seen or lost to the beholder by the way the baptizer has prepared for the ordinance and administers it. Rendering it unattractive defeats the very purpose for which it was designed and obscures the gospel truth which it should convey. Even as the communion is winsome, so may baptism be made winsome.
"Three factors make or break the purpose of the ordinance. These are, (1) the baptistry and its surroundings; (2) the actions of the candidate in the baptistry; and (3) the manner and method of the administrator.
"Forty years ago, the trapdoor baptistry was all but universal. It was located on the platform, just back of the pulpit. When a baptism was to be performed, the platform carpet, the pulpit, and the choir chairs had to be removed. Then the door was lifted and usually served as the background. It was about as unattractive a scene as can be imagined. Often there was no way of heating the water." He then recalls his own early experience, and some in our own ranks can tell some things akin to this:
"Forty years ago, I left Crozer Seminary and, with my bride, headed for Minot, North Dakota, where a mission church had had the courage to call me as pastor. In the course of time, several converts were ready for baptism. The month was February and it was cold. The pulpit and carpet were taken up, the baptistry was uncovered, and somehow we got enough water into it. We tried heating the water, but the hot water carried from the stoves of the neighbors hardly made a dent. It was my first baptism, and as I had received no instructions on how to perform the rite, the service was unattractive; it was harrowing.
"A tremendous improvement came about with the open baptistry. This was usually placed on one side of the pulpit, where it was always in view. Since then, the changes have been only refinements of this design. In recent buildings, the baptistry is placed back of and above the pulpit and platform."
Like our Baptist brethren, we too have found that placing the baptistry at the back of and above the pulpit has many advantages. In our newer churches, especially the larger buildings, we are following this plan. A baptism must above all be worshipful, and placing the baptistry here enables all to witness the service and enter into the experience.
Continuing, the writer says:
"The second element in an attractive baptismal service is the proper preparation of the candidate. In my opinion, it is not sufficient for the candidate to be baptized because 'Jesus commanded it' or 'Jesus set the example.' The Scriptures give an intelligent explanation of why immersion in water was divinely chosen, and this explanation should be made clear to the candidate. No matter how much explaining and teaching I may have given the candidate in advance, I make it a rule to have several minutes with him before I enter the water. Then I explain to him not only that the baptistry is a grave in which he will bury the old, sinful life, but that he is now going to re-enact in forceful drama the burial and resurrection of his Lord. With this explanation, and with the assurance that I have baptized many and that he can trust himself to my handling, nervousness is usually reduced to a minimum.
"There remains now the administrator and his method of performing the rite. More often than not, it is the baptizer rather than the baptized who deprives the ordinance of beauty and meaning. Fordidate into the water, creating a stirring of the waters somewhat reminiscent of Niagara. Dignity and deliberateness should characterize every move in the drama. There should be no hurry, for at most the ordinance takes very little time, and its importance merits all the time needed. If the candidate is buried slowly, he will almost invariably adjust both his mind and his breathing to the immersion into the water.
"So with an attractive baptistry, a prepared candidate, and an administrator aware of the possibilities of the ordinance, congregations will be impressed, the unbaptized will ask for baptism, and, if God is good and much prayer has been made, someone will seek and find the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour."