‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’
This story sheds some light on Baptism... what it is, why we do it.
Our baptist tradition tells us that baptism is an ordinance (something ordained, by Christ) that is meant for ‘believers’ not infants. By ‘believers’ we means someone who is capable of making the choice for themselves. Our baptist tradition also tells us that Baptism is not a necessary precursor to God’s eternal love. One need not be baptized in order to ‘go to heaven.‘ So why do we baptize?
The Ethiopian Eunuch is identified in many ways. He is a person of dark skin. He is the descendent (more poetic or symbolic than literal) of Egypt, the nation that enslaved Israel. He is a eunuch which means that he has either been violently physically altered, born with a physical aberration, or that he is same-gender loving. Regardless of which, he is ‘cut-off.‘ If physically altered, then enslaved. If physical aberration or same-gender loving than he is cut-off from the covenant community of Israel, which, apparently, is the community that he is drawn to. He is the outsider, the other, the ‘not-like-us.‘ He wishes to be claimed, to belong. Baptism a ritual in which the individual proclaims that they belong to God in Christ. This is the new identity, the new allegiance. Where once the Ethiopian Eunuch always felt the outsider, now he is named, claimed and valued as a child of God.
But if that were all that Baptism was, we could baptize infants. Surely we want our children to know, from the first moments of their birth onward, that they are claimed and loved by their Creator. Baptism is more than an assurance of love, it is also claiming an identity and allegiance that trumps all others. Paul will write in Galatians; 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. What Paul is saying is that what identifies us is not cultural gender roles, ethnic or national allegiances, or social or economic class/status. Now we are identified as one in Christ. This cuts both ways. If gender role, ethnic identity or social/economic status has always left us vulnerable, oppressed, marginalized, then we are freed of that and open to a full life defined by relation to Christ alone. If, however, we have benefitted from, found pride, comfort or strength in these allegiances and identities, Baptism is a challenge to us, a radical break between who we have always been and who God calls us to be. Why do we take such a radical break from all allegiances? So that we are always open to receive those who God leads us too, to welcome all that come seeking the solace of God’s love.