My baptism was conducted in the church where I grew up, a Methodist church. The pastor who conducted said baptism just recently past away. He was a tremendous influence on me spiritually during my teenage years, and rarely missed any of my football games during that time. Since my baptism was conducted in February, it was a sprinkling ceremony with the congregation, my beloved church family, in attendance. The church wasn't opposed to an immersing baptism by any means which were conducted frequently in warm weather months in a nearby river. At the time, I really didn't know about or understand the oft controversial practice of sprinkling as opposed to immersion. All I knew and cared about was my obedience to follow in the lead of my Savior and be baptized in His name as a profession of my faith in Him...and Him alone.
Fast forward five years, and I'm in my sophomore year of college. I was seriously struggling with matters of faith but trying to remain obedient by attending a church in Nashville...a rather large church. I don't think it is important to call out the denomination at this point, but the church wasn't a Methodist church. As I became more involved...or maybe interactive is a better word...in the church and with members, an inquiry about my history was inevitable. Upon finding out about my Methodist roots, several of the members I had befriended began the Inquisition...Do you believe that doctrine? You honestly think you can lose your salvation? Were you sprinkled?
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt about my baptism as the group looked on in disgust at my answers. I had developed a good deal of trust with these people. Most were well-learned and several attended Vanderbilt with me...which was just across the street from the church. Doubt began to fill my thoughts concerning my very salvation. Would I actually go to Heaven if I happened to die that day?
There are points in each of our lives when we come to a major crossroads or fork in the path. You might think this particular dilemma of doubt is one for yours truly...and you'd be partially correct because I would face several in a short period of time. More specifically though, the paths I had to chose from with the greatest impact would be ultimately defined by the method I would use to find the answers I was now seeking and needed.
I look back now and picture a fantastical scene from Robert Frost's great poem...and I am tip-toeing to peer down two distinctly different paths. Given the relevance of where I was at this point in my life, I had the path of academia...worn well from the scholarly atmosphere of being in the midst of some of the greatest minds wondering the campus of Vanderbilt University. A school of higher learning that, to the surprise of some, has a world renown School of Divinity.
The other path is overgrown with weeds and barely resembles a path at all. It dips a little way into the journey disappearing from view and then there are obvious hills in the distance...some look quite steep. This path seems familiar to me in a way, but I can't quite put my finger on why.
So off to the library I go, to spend countless hours over several weeks in search of the answers. My determination to find those answers was unyielding, and my friends from the church were relentless in a continued belittling of my spiritual history. I read articles and books. Dissertations and opinion papers. But it seemed the more I read, the more confused I became.
Hours of discussion and debate would stretch into the early morning. Finally, after nearly a month of exhausting research and persuasion (which was above and beyond my normally heavy load of school work), I concluded I must have been told wrong and needed to be baptised again by immersion because I was never truly baptised to start. The service was conducted on a Sunday night...I never told a single person back home... for some reason I felt embarrassment.
When I was raised from the water, I didn't experience an epiphany. As a matter of fact, I felt even more confusion...and a slight tinge of guilt. The people who attended looked as if they had just won a prize fight. Smug and prideful. I only went back to that church a few more times before coming to yet another fork in my life's journey. A path chosen that would lead me through very dark times and even more mounds of doubt about His love and caring for me and His creation.
Now I don't blame the people in that church...no, not entirely. Had my efforts to find answers been spent in God's Word and not into what others thought about God's Word, in prayer and meditation and not discussion and debate, I might have avoided many years of being a spiritual nomad...well, maybe. That was the other less travelled path I had shunned.
God has a plan for my life...just like He has one for yours. I can spend all my time and effort trying to figure out that plan, hoping to shape His plan to my liking, or trying to discover why He has to have a plan at all...but in the end...it really doesn't matter.
It's His plan, not mine. His plan, His game, His rules. He loves me enough to give me a free will and to forgive me when I misuse that gift.
Sprinkle, dunk, shower or swim. God knows my heart...my intention. He knows my first baptism was in Him. My second was in search of something...something I actually already had.
21Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
22And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. Luke 3:21,22 (NIV)