A Baptismal Service a Little Time Ago in Jerusalem
Nine congregants were ready for baptism, all of whom but my second daughter, Shlomit, were immigrants from the former Soviet Union. God had worked wonders among us. Four were couples who had turned to the Lord together. We hired the CM&A Church building in Jerusalem, reserved three buses and made preparations.
The Orthodox, who almost always had someone among us presenting himself as either a believer or as interested in the gospel, prepared. On Saturday morning, as the bus stopped at various locations to pick up passengers, there were members of the Orthodox community at every pre-arranged stop, to protest. In Ashdod, some of the protesters scrambled up the bus and forced the driver to stop, until the police arrived and removed them from the bus. At church, where we were all to meet, a large contingent of protesters blocked the street and the entrance to our facility. Once again we were forced to call the police, who cleared the street and made it possible for us to access the facility, equip ourselves with whatever was needed, and make our way to the buses. We then drove off, with the cries, threats and pleas of the Orthodox following us until we disappeared from sight. We expected a similar welcome at the CM&A building and took precautions by instructing the buses to pull up directly at the entrance so folks could enter the building at once, but parking our private vehicles at a distance so they would not be identified and damaged. No such welcome awaited us.
The large, vaulted hall, built of Jerusalem stone, was freezing cold – December is cold in Jerusalem! The baptismal water was likewise cold but we managed to heat it somewhat and, with the majority bundled up in their coats, we proceeded with the ceremony. Our baptismal services followed a set order, devised around the fundamental concepts of baptism as we understood them. We believe that the sacraments should always be accompanied by preaching from the Word of God with direct reference to whichever sacrament is being enacted. We further hold that only those who, like Abraham, can make a credible confession of faith may be baptized, as an expression of the righteousness they have by faith in the virtues of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. These only should be admitted to the Lord’s Table, and all of these should not decline to participate. Both sacraments are viewed as a public act under the jurisdiction of the church. Consequently, after worship in prayer and song, a short message is given, explaining baptism. Two or the Elders – always two and by rote – invite the baptizee to enter the water, where they await him or her. A question is posited: what are you about to do and why?, in response to which a brief testimony is given by the person being baptized. One of the Elders would then announce: ‘On the strength of your testimony and in the presence of God’s people, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ Coming out of the water, the baptized individual is embraced by each of the Elders and makes his or her way out of the pool.
Emerging from the baptismal pool, two congregants await each person baptized with a large towel and a hug. All those baptized are given a bouquet of flowers and invited to sit on the front row. Meanwhile, the congregation sings praise. When all are seated, a short message explains the meaning of Communion. The Elders are invited to the front, the Pastor breaks the bread, repeating the words of the Lord, ‘This is my body, broken for you for the remission of sins. Eat you all of it,’ and one of the Elders is invited to pray. The Pastor then hands the bread to the Elders, who move among the congregation, dispensing the bread, while the congregation sits or stands in silent prayer.
The Elders return, hand the bread to the Pastor, who places it on the table and distributes to each of the Elders a cup of wine. One of them is invited to pray and the Elders dispense the wine. A common cup is used to express our unity in Christ. Upon returning, the Elders hand the cups to the Pastor, who then dispenses the bread and the wine to the Elders and then steps back. The Elders then dispense the bread and the wine to the Pastor and one of the Elders prays a prayer of thanksgiving. Further worship in song is followed by a (relatively) short sermon (some 25-39 minutes), concluding in prayer and then a question and answer period. Finally, the congregation is invited to stand and the benediction pronounced.
We were preparing for the ceremony when Alex approached, with Misha alongside him. Misha had recently come to faith. He was an eager, devout, enthusiastic individual, somewhat superficial and extremely naïve. He had requested baptism earlier and been rejected because his testimony was not deemed reliable. Now he pleaded to be baptized.
– ‘Alex, what do you think?’
– ‘I think he’s ready.’
– ‘Let’s call the other Elders. This is highly irregular, but that does not make it wrong. Let’s think together about this.’
We called the Elders, invited Misha into a side room and interviewed him. He was able to give a solidly credible confession.
– ‘Well, brethren, what do you think?’
– ‘We’ve no doubt of his sincerity, nor of his experience of grace.’
– ‘Is there, then, any reason, to refuse him baptism?’
– ‘He’s not undergone our pre-baptismal classes.’
– ‘True, but the course is a dictate of wisdom, not a biblical requirement. It cannot be the grounds of a refusal.’
– ‘Let’s baptize him, then, and require him to undergo the course afterwards.’
That is what we concluded, and Misha exuberantly joined the nine who awaited baptism. It was a glorious service. Our way home that afternoon was uneventful.
From the ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ blog of Baruch Maoz (MaozNews 74, March 2014.
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