Thinking through baptism prep
Yesterday in one of my college discussion groups we were talking about baptism, especially how we go about helping people prepare for it. Some were saying very little prep happens in their church, others maybe five or six 1 hour sessions. Some went through a book like ‘A Sneaking Suspicion (with high school students).
It got me thinking back to an essay I wrote in 1st year on the Didache (a 2nd century Christian document describing church practice). Those guys back then made people go through a ‘catechism’ (pre-baptism teaching) for three years before they were allowed to get baptized and take communion. Until then they were asked to leave the meeting room, along with all the unbaptized visitors, at the part of the church service where communion was shared.
That seems ridiculous now, with most churches seeing baptism as something which they want to encourage people to do with little or no requirements other than profess a faith in Jesus.
But perhaps we need to go back to being a bit more 1st century hard core.
Most agree that baptism is one of the most important steps in a Christians life, whether you have a sacramental view of it or not. My own church tries to review its growth not on numbers coming to Sunday services, but based on how many people are getting baptized. And yet when was the last time you heard baptism preached? Have you ever been to a church that has a high view of baptism? Where preparation is not just a cursory glance over the gospel of Mark, but a serious process which includes serious teaching on Christian life practices, ethics, theology, prayer, evangelism… the list could go on?
The leader of our discussion group pointed out that the Catholics really have it over us evangelicals in this area. Their preparation course runs for an entire year, from one Easter to the next.
Today many people are still getting their knickers in a knot over infant vs. believer’s baptism. Maybe we should stop arguing over that and start wondering if the people we are baptizing, or confirming, are actually prepared enough to take this step and hit the ground running towards the finish line.