When visiting my parents recently, I found my mom’s and her sisters certificates of baptism. I learned that all 3 girls were baptized on January 6, 1935 at Trinity Lutheran Congregation in Astoria, Oregon. When I asked my mom about it, she didn’t remember them baptized together. Certainly there was a reason why my grandparents had chosen to have their children baptized together, but with my mom being the only one still alive, the reason is lost.
The events of our lives form our history, both personal and spiritual. For Christians, baptism is an important event in their spiritual history. The timing of their baptism expresses their (or their parents) theological beliefs, church tradition and personal conviction. Some are baptized as an infant, others as a child, and many as an adult.
If I could, I would ask my grandparents, “Why did you have all three girls baptized at this time?” Neither of them were Lutheran by tradition, so something more drove their choice. I might ask you the same question about the purpose and meaning of your baptism. There is much behind your answer to the question of if you have been baptized. Both a “Yes” and “No” are full of meaning.
As I consider the possible answers I find that there is possibly even more behind those who answer, “Yeah, but…” Their answer reveals that something has changed since their initial baptism. Possibly a change of belief or maybe they are reconsidering the meaning of a baptism because the new church they are attend places a different meaning on the importance of baptism. The reasons for baptism testify loudly of our beliefs.
That brings me back to the reason for my grandparents choosing to baptize all three girls on the same day over 80 years ago. While baptizing infants is the norm in Lutheran traditions, the baptizing of all three girls on the same day (ages 5 to 6 months) indicated something more.
The most reasonable explanation would have been that my grandparents had decided to start attending this church and chose to have their girls baptized. But this could not have been the reason as they lived nearly 100 miles south of Astoria. I cannot tell you how long it would have taken them to drive up Hwy 101 in 1935, but with today’s highways and cars it would take 2 hours. Not something one would do regularly on a Sunday morning.
While their motivation is unclear, their determined purpose is clear. They intentionally chose to drive past other churches along (even a Lutheran church in Tillamook) to go to this church. So, what persuaded them to drive the 100 miles to Astoria on a Sunday in January to have their young children baptized? If I knew the answer to this it would tell me a bit more about their spiritual convictions.
While knowing the dates and locations of events like baptism help shape the understanding of our history, without knowing the reasons behind them, we are missing the most critical information. History offers us the ability to understand the present and the reasons give our traditions meaning.
History tells me the date and place where my grandparents choose to have their children baptized but it cannot tell me why my. If they had simply wanted their girls to be baptized, there would have been more convenient church options. Plus, this was during the depression where a laborer didn’t have an abundance of discretionary income to frivolously spend on an unnecessary trip. However, their reasons motivated them to make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen.
While I can only guess my grandparents motivation, I can say that we should be motivated by the truth of our convictions. Unless what we believe is true, then as Paul says, everything we do is meaningless. “But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)
When someone is baptized in our church they’re asked to share their testimony, the reason for the hope that baptism celebrates. Everyone’s story is unique; each celebrating what God has done for them. Where history celebrates an event, our testimony offers the ability to understand the present and gives the reasons that bring meaning to our spiritual traditions.
Eldon Peterson is pastor of the Cache Valley Bible Fellowship. His column appears on the Faith page. He can be reached at email@example.com.