For non-swimmers as well as those who have a fear of the water, the prospect of being baptized could spark a genuine terror.
I believed in God from a very early age, but despite my faith, I was afraid of being baptized. The reason was simple: when I was a kid, I didn’t know how to swim.
So the thought of being in front of a huge congregation and being dunked underwater was absolutely terrifying.
This became a problem at my old church.
There were several folks in our church when I was a kid — I call them the “Old Blue-Hairs” — who loved gossip, something they should have recognized had no place there. To them, the fact that a child older than 5 or 6 years old who hadn’t yet been baptized was a sign of trouble.
They were only too happy to talk about my family without talking to them to discern the problem. On one occasion when they did address the issue, they did it in an indirect, insulting way.
One of them greeted my mom once and, gesturing toward me, she said, “I’m so worried about my buddy.”
My mom asked the woman what she was talking about and she answered that she was worried because I hadn’t been baptized.
No one at that church ever bothered to ask me why. I’d have told them if anyone had ever wanted to know, that I was afraid of the water.
It was more fun for them, apparently, to cast aspersions.
Eventually, I learned to swim. Shortly thereafter, we found a better church where gossip wasn’t so prevalent and I was baptized.
But for some, the fear of being baptized is very real.
I heard a snippet of a podcast recently in which a pastor tried to address that fear…by completely ignoring it.
Instead of showing anything resembling compassion, he tried to argue that being baptized should be terrifying because it’s a moment of total vulnerability in which you’re waiting for someone to pull you up from the water. He then connected that “rescue” to Christ’s salvation.
It’s a nice little bit of symbolism.
But to someone who’s already afraid of going under water, it probably makes that fear even greater. It would for me. I’m sure it does for others.
I think baptism is an important part of one’s faith walk. I don’t know that I believe that it’s absolutely necessary for one’s salvation. John 3:16, the most-often quoted Bible verse, doesn’t mention baptism as a critical part of the recipe for eternal life.
Then there’s the story of Christ’s crucifixion that causes a serious dilemma.
In the Biblical account of that story, Christ was executed alongside two others. A pair of thieves were also being put to death. One of them, we’re told, insulted Christ for not working some sort of magic to save them all. But the other rebuked his criminal counterpart, pointing out that Christ had done nothing wrong.
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
This is a problem for those who insist that baptism is a requirement for salvation. Christ couldn’t have baptized that thief; therefore, if the only way one can be saved is to actually be baptized, Christ, who surely must have known that, was lying to a dying man.
That doesn’t sound like Christ to me.
Still, I do think that baptism is an important step and I’m glad I took that step.
What made the difference was how the pastor dealt with it.
The pastor of that second church my family started attending didn’t try to “guilt” me into it. What helped for me was when a pastor actually stopped to ask what my concerns were. As soon as I explained, he was only too happy to reassure me that he would have held me the entire time and I’d only be under water for a matter of a second or so.
As I recall, that pastor even joked something to the effect that he’d never lost a single person in the baptismal pool.
Instead of trying to win an argument, he put himself in my place and was able to show that he cared.
That’s something that shouldn’t be a difficult concept for a man of the cloth to grasp. But unfortunately, the eagerness to add another person to the “tally” sometimes allows compassion to be push aside.
If you’re afraid of being baptized because you don’t like the thought of being immersed, the best thing I can tell you is that there’s truly nothing terrifying about it once you’re in the water. Talk to your pastor if fear of the water is what’s in the way. Let your pastor know exactly how you feel. That alone should make a huge difference.
If it doesn’t, maybe it’s time to find another church.