Baptism—Prayer or Formula?

A New Look at the Words Used at Baptism

Reed Qualley is pastor of the Rockwood church in Portland, Oregon.


WHAT IS more enjoyable than leading people to baptism? It doesn't matter whether the baptism is held in a home bathtub, a church tank, or an outdoor stream, it is a high moment in the lives of all involved. You probably agree with my feelings of preference. I find the baptismal experience far more enjoy able than disciplining church members, visiting on a hot day, or attending committee meetings. Much more!

The baptism service is a special occasion. It is a significant step in the life of the new member and the church. I can think of nothing better to focus on than the righteousness of Jesus, how He changed the life of each candidate standing in the water, how He died that each person might have that gift to accept, how He is the one that first gives us the power to decide for Him. This is the truth that the new Christian needs to keep fresh in the front of his or her mind.

There is a practice or tradition among many Seventh-day Adventist ministers, however, that seems to cloud this most essential fact. It is evidenced in the words traditionally spoken just before the candidate is lowered into the symbolic waters. As the pastor raises his hand toward heaven, he says, "My dear sister, because you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, and because you have decided to go all the way with Him, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

It sounds as though the candidates are the ones being honored and that people are the ones who receive credit for this great change in the life. I believe that instead we need to focus on the unlimited salvation that Jesus gives us so freely. We need to reveal, even by our words, that it is Jesus Himself that should be praised, not the baptismal candidate. If I read my Bible correctly, it is the grace of Jesus that saves mankind, not anything that we do—and that includes even our decision.

Many Christians fall into a works concept of salvation all too soon for us to be planting the seeds of such thinking at the time of baptism. As an example of what I am driving at, let me share with you a sample baptismal prayer I use:

"Loving Father, we praise Your name for this moment. We are grateful for the peace and joy that we have come to know in this world so full of unrest and hate. Nick and Diana are standing in this water today because of what Jesus has done for them. They have come to realize that all of their future rests in Him alone. They have made the decision to accept His life and death as their own. Seal this decision with power from on high as I baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and according to the ex ample of Jesus. Amen!"

A few weeks ago as I baptized Nick and Diana in Deep Creek, it was raining, just lightly, but still raining. They still wanted to be baptized outside—after all, they would get wet anyway. Some seventy-five church members came with their umbrellas to witness the baptism. It thrilled Nick and Diana's hearts as they saw seventy-five friends who cared that they were joining the church. I prayed the above prayer and then lowered them both into the cool water together.

As we left the bank of the creek, a member came up and embraced them and welcomed them into the family of God. There is nothing I enjoy more than a baptism!

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Reed Qualley is pastor of the Rockwood church in Portland, Oregon.

April 1977

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