In my experience, families are messy. There are fights, sacrifices, insults, kindnesses, and estrangements. Family can be a great asset in leading its own to Christ, and it can be a great barrier. No family is good at all times, nor is any family evil at all times. All families, however, are visible and tangible. You can not only tell exactly who is in your family (at all times), you can literally reach out and touch them (if virtually, when distance separates).
When you are contending with a family that, in word and deed, sets a course away from Christ, then the rival with whom you are struggling is real, tangible, visible, and relatively permanent (and messy). It is very difficult to convince anyone that their own family is on the wrong path when the path you would have them travel seems vaporous.
And it will seem vaporous, unless the family you would have them join is stronger than their own family. God’s family must be shown to be visible, tangible, and real if it is to compete. It must be able to be touched, felt, and it must be permanent. Above all, it must be filled with love. Love that will provide real help when needed, love that will spend time, love that will sacrifice.
This post is about baptism, so much more than merely the door by which we enter God’s family, but also a central part of what keeps God’s family “real”. Baptism not only makes us brothers and sisters, it keeps us bothers and sisters. It is forever.
In my years, I have had to deal with many (physical) fights, but I have seen many more fights prevented, and all of them prevented by baptism. Many times I have been standing between two kids, screaming “YOU CAN’T FIGHT HIM/HER, YOU ARE BOTH BAPTIZED!”. And it worked. Always with much shouting and noise, but it worked. Once, someone cursed their own baptism, yelling “I HATE MY &%(#*$% BAPTISM! I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN BAPTIZED!”. I have always said that, in that moment, that kid understood baptism better than many theologians.
You cannot undo a baptism. It is forever.It makes us bothers and sisters, forever. Brothers and sisters that are real, that you can reach out and touch, and you can love and that can love you back. Forever.
Sadly, many in American Christendom today inadvertently emasculate this great gift from God through their misunderstanding of it. When you believe and teach that baptism is merely an “outward sign of an inward confession” (evangelicals, baptists, etc), you have already admitted that it might not be forever, because any decision made by a man or woman (even a decision to “ask Jesus into your heart”) can be undecided later. A brother and a sister apparently can be temporary. This view has other consequences as well, one of which is a watered down view of the church. Every day we can see people deciding that their church no longer “meets their needs” and moving on. In a real family, a brother can’t decide not to be a brother anymore.
Others have a slightly stronger view of baptism, but unintentionally water it down by teaching that the church being joined is invisible (reformed). Do you know what the problem with an invisible church is? It is that it is invisible. Invisible churches can’t really take stands on issues or provide real leadership, and the state of protestantism today makes this manifestly evident (protestants as a group can’t decide whether abortion is bad, whether gay marriage is bad, etc). Another problem with an invisible church is that you are always wondering whether or not you are really part of it. This sort of “family” is ephemeral and vaporous. Hard to compete when all you have is vapor.
If we are to have any hope of success in showing those with wayward, but very real and tangible families, that Christ’s love is real (in fact, more real than anything else), then we must strive to keep our baptisms real, and in so doing, keep God’s family on earth real, vibrant, tangible, permanent, and filled with love. Then (and I don’t think JRR Tolkien will mind me absconding with his words here – the light of Eärendil, after all, was a vial of WATER), our baptisms will be for us, and for those around us,