It was once common for people to ask their local vicar about baptism (sometimes also called ‘christening’). There was a time when baptism was viewed as a kind of spiritual insurance policy – the idea being that baptism booked you a place in heaven.
Nowadays there’s less cultural pressure to get baptised, and we’re able to be clearer with people what baptism is really all about. Very simply it’s about making a fresh start. (Not any kind of fresh start, mind. There are a great many personally significant life-events, that baptism wasn’t designed to mark) Baptism is specifically about making a fresh start with God. Many people know they’ve gone wrong at points along life’s way and wish they could start over. The good news is, God promises us a fresh start, and a new life with him, if we reach out a hand to Jesus.
Baptism is God’s way of marking that promise to us in a tangible and public way. It’s a powerful symbolic act performed in church with water. (The amount of water doesn’t matter. Some give you a little splash, while others submerge you completely!) But it’s more than mere symbolism. It’s real! If we take baptism at face value, believing God’s promise to us, then God is true to his word – we’ll have a fresh start with God that transforms our lives.
For me, the most memorable baptism was probably the first one I took, as a trainee vicar in Leicestershire. A couple were asking for baptism for their son. But as we talked the father said he’d not been baptised. We discussed how important it is for parents to set an example for their children to follow in. So the father decided there and then that he’d like to get baptised too. He’d do it with his son, to mark the beginning of a journey with God that they could both go on. We’re still in touch with that family, and father and son are still following Jesus to this day.
The ‘still following’ bit is important. After all, there’s no point making a fresh start, unless we mean to go on. That’s why we encourage people to come to church for 6 months before thinking about baptism for their children. That gives people time to consider the implications of making a fresh start with God – throwing yourself fully into life with God’s family, the church.