The annual Southern Baptist Convention is coming up in a couple of weeks, and there’s something on the schedule of events that is both noteworthy and cause for concern. (You really should see the schedule – it seems they have everything organized in 5 or 10 minute intervals. I’m honestly not entirely sure what goes on at the convention or why it’s worth going. All others have told me is networking, networking, networking.)
There will be baptisms taking place at the convention meetings. Upon first glance, maybe it doesn’t sound odd for the Southern BAPTIST Convention to baptize people at the annual meeting. But doing so actually runs counter to a good Baptist theology of baptism. Baptism is not merely an individual rite marking one’s conversion to Christianity, though it certainly seems to be portrayed that way. It is a community event, marking not only the conversion of the individual, but that person’s entrance into the covenant community of the local church. Briefly – baptism does not equal conversion, but it is biblically clear that it happens after conversion as a sign and statement of a person’s being joined to Christ and His Church.
The connection to the local church community is what is vital to understand. So I’ll say it again. Baptism does not signify merely an individual “decision,” but a person’s union with Christ and, hence, his/her union with others in Christ’s body especially as joined together in the covenant community of a local church.
Now, the SBC schedule has an asterisk at this point where readers are assured that those being baptized are being baptized into a specific local congregation, members of which are present to witness the event. But, again, having a few representative members on hand does not solve the issue, in my opinion. Baptism is a community celebration, not an individual matter that a few representatives can attend as legal witnesses.
It seems to me that baptism at this year’s SBC is being used as an inspirational illustration – more a motivational tool than a solemn ordinance of a church. And that’s a shame. The drive for individual conversions that is so ardently pursued by some seems to betray a lack of understanding of the communal nature of baptism and the entire Christian life. (More on that, perhaps, another time).