Sunday, February 28, 2010

A baptismal case study

We've been renting our church building to a fledgling spanish speaking congregation for the past two years.  The relationship has been pretty even keeled, but there have been a few touchy points.  They are respectful within certain cultural limitations; require a little more maintenance than I prefer; and have quite a different theological perspective from us. But generally, good people.

70gal_drink_trough.jpgOne differing theological perspective relates to our theology and practice of baptism.  They believe people are saved through baptism.  We believe people are saved through grace, and baptism is a sign and seal of that grace.  They immerse candidates, where as we sprinkle.  Our sanctuary does not have a baptistry, so they typically do their baptisms off-sight.

I found it curious last Saturday, when I just happened to be at the church, that they were dropping off  a large trough that typically is used for feeding animals or as a planter (a little more elegant than the picture here).  They were excited to share with me that they had a baptism coming up. Yes, that is a cause for celebration. Also, they were also tired of borrowing another church...

It took me a day or two to put two and two together.  They are going to try to immerse someone at the church! Where?  How much water will that require?  How will they get the water to the trough, or will they fill the trough first outside and carry it into the building?  Are they sure it won't leak?  What will the do with the water afterwards?  Do they expect us to pay for all that water? Won't it splash everywhere?

A bit concerned, I called their pastor, hermano Solano.  "Hola, hermano.  Paz de Cristo. Donde va a haber el bautismo?  En el santuario...pues han pensado en esto esto y esto?

I hated being the "gringo," but I also did not like the idea they had.  Particularly when we, during this lenten season, are emphasizing our relationship with and our stewardship of Creation.

It's easy to see why they would not have shared similar concerns as the ones I and others had.  Water usage.... Spilling on the floor...what are these concerns when compared to the salvation of one's soul.  (A theology I am familiar with, but do not share..reminds me the story of my old college soccer coach who justified a soccer mission trip to Europe that cost tens of thousands of dollars by saying. "If we save one soul, can you put a price tag on that soul? Not very biblically based rationale from my perspective).

At the end of my conversation with Solano, I made it clear that these were "our" concerns. He assured me that we need not worry, they would be careful and offer a donation to the church for the water... Did I have any trees in particular that needed watering? No trees need watering this time of year....

This Sunday after the service.  My favorite member of that church, Hermano Cruz, came by and wanted to make sure everything was okay.  He is the sweetest man; a true saint.  He is responsible for our chickens; he is the reason they are using the building.  He asked where they could put the "baptistry", and answered questions I had.  He, too, assured me everything would be fine. And that they didn't want to cause any problems.

I went out to leave when I saw what they had made for a baptistry.  They had constructed a nice wooden panel shell that would contain the metal trough.  They had build a platform for the trough so that it would be visible, and steps to reach the platform.  They even had a gas heating unit to warm the water (any fire code violation there?)

This was truly a contest of theological perspectives and cultural norms.  In the end, I did not think it was a good idea.  It was with great reluctance that I told hermano Cruz that it would be alright.

As I made my way to my car to go home.  He backed his truck up to the parking space closest to the sanctuary, opened the bed, and began to take some of the many parts off the truck.  He was by himself and there was the large wooden frame and trough yet to be lowered.  I put my bag in my car, and gave him a hand.  


  1. I used to go to a pentacostal church that did immersion baptisms. There was a huge thing in the basement for this purpose. These baptisms were loud, joyous affairs with lots of music and singing and speaking in tongues. I think the full immersion helps certain people to really get the fact that they are a new creature in Christ. But the old lutheran in me couldn't make that much of a spectacle of myself :-)

    I give you serious credit for going along with it even when you disagree in principle.

  2. Thanks, You could see I was really conflicted...but, I really like the people I've met from that church. In the end, relationship is more important than theology/ practice, but, that doesn't mean that relationships last forever...