Back in November, I got to perform my first baptism. (Yes, I’ve been meaning to write this post for that long.) The candidate (Shi) and I spent time in “catechesis” for about 40 days leading up to the baptism day. We met once a week and worked our way through the Heidelberg Catechism together.
Even though this was my first baptism, it wasn’t my first time doing catechesis. When doing the English Ministry (i.e. college ministry) for KUPC, 4 students sought to be baptized, and a fifth sought to reaffirm his infant baptism. I wasn’t ordained at the time, and so the baptisms were done by the senior pastor, but he gave me the responsibility and privilege of doing pre-baptismal counseling.
So, I had some prior experience in leading catechesis and I mostly knew what to expect. In addition to reading the Catechism, I also require baptism candidates to write their own statement of faith. I intentionally leave the assignment somewhat open-ended so that no one can reproduce what they think I want to hear, and they’re forced to use their own voice and perspective. The results are always fascinating and creative (and orthodox :-)) Some have simply translated the ancient faith into their own words. Others would include paragraphs on how they planned on living out their faith after being baptized. What Shi wrote back in November, though, was the most original and made me completely rethink the purpose of the exercise.
As Shi and I talked about how he would write the statement, he decided that he would write his statement as if a nonChristian were reading it. I thought this was a great idea, and I was even more surprised when I learned that Shi was writing it with a specific nonChristian in mind: his brother. The result was a statement of faith that was beautiful, honest, and very passionate. It ended with an invitation from Shi to his brother to follow Jesus. Shi wrote it with the intention of giving it to his brother after the service.
Typically when we require people to write statements of faith, we expect them to write with good, clear theology that shows their knowledge of church language. Whether it’s candidates for baptism or candidates for ordained ministry, requiring such statements implicitly tells people that what’s important is learning to speak “our” langauge and learning to fit into “our” church. What if we spent more time asking candidates to write statements of faith for those who don’t know church language? What if we expected them to do as Shi did, and write the statement as a letter to a friend who doesn’t know Christ and then give that person the statement?
Then, maybe, baptism wouldn’t only be a rite of passage into the church, it would also be the annointing of an evangelist.