In April of 2010, I was baptized as a Christian. I didn’t know much about the faith, nor did I have a strong knowledge of loving God and neighbor. If anything, my faith at the time resembled the words of Christian Research Institute’s (CRI) President Hank Hanegraaff: Instead of people coming to the master’s table because of the love of the master, they come to the master’s table because of what is on the master’s table.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into those early years of going through the motions of attending church and acting religious. What I did know the years prior to my baptism was that I needed to stand out in my family. Having had a brother with numerous encounters with law enforcement during high school, my family subtly operated under the assumptions of 1) I was going to follow in his footsteps 2) was bound to be a dropout 3) potentially embrace any horrible inner-city black youth statistic that’s out there. I figured I needed something to help me rise above their poor perception of me, so I started regularly attending Sunday worship at my uncle’s church.
In addition, I saw people materially blessed. Coming from a low-income household, Christianity seemed like faith in God translated itself in the best life possible on earth. I wanted to be a part of that. Thankfully in retrospect, I know my word of faith drawings to Christianity were completely problematic and unsupported by Scripture.
While I did play the part, there were some positive things about Christianity I began to see as a force for good. Looking back, these “bright spots” were probably small pieces of grace opening me up to God. For instance, I noticed the Bible was evidently an authoritative book. Maybe I didn’t know the technical apologetic terms, but the Bible clearly demonstrated itself as a divine source. Its breadth and teachings on social issues I was familiar at the time proclaimed a standard that transcended the mediocrity of relativism that was prevalent in high school that my friends peddled around as truth. Without ever having read a complete page but only seeing it in Sunday service, I remember appealing to the Bible as a moral authority with my friends to condemn homosexuality.
In addition, a positive thing I noticed during the years leading up to the sacrament of baptism was the amazing preaching of my uncle. Having been a pastor for more than five decades, his ability to communicate truths has always been very mesmerizing. I would sit Sunday after Sunday in amazement of his speaking gifts. He ignited within me a small but powerful thirst for God. Whoever this “God” and “Jesus” he preached about, I knew they were powerful and they wanted me to know them.
Moreover, It seemed like my uncle was helping people, something I love to do, with the ultimate medicine there was available. After watching him for so many years, I knew one day I wanted to become a preacher and share the same passion for souls. Not sure when I told him, could’ve been pre or post-baptism, but I definitely expressed my intentions on becoming a pastor. Because he was a good spiritual role model, my uncle checked on my discernment for this calling many years after my confession.
I can remember during my freshman year in university telling my extremely orthodox Christian landlord that I wanted to become a preacher. She thought it was something God had placed in me. I’d never heard such an expression before so I thought it was edifying.
Spring of my freshman year of college, I decided to be baptized. After much consideration and thinking about it, I knew my mind was made up. Prior to my own baptism, I had seen a few of them in my years of going through the motions of attending church. It seemed like baptism was the standard entry to being a Christian. In my head, I knew the decision was left up to me. Some Sundays during the altar call, my aunt would give me a nudge to get up and express my desire for the sacrament but I never did. Commitment anxiety is what made me the most hesitant. I wanted to be sure I was doing this decision for me and not on familial pressure.
What finally led me to this moment for baptism?
I didn’t know much about the sacrament, but something in the water seemed different. Primarily, the fact that I was being led to do something that intuitively I knew had a far greater spiritual impact. Just like a normal bath, I go in dirty and leave clean. Therefore, I applied the same logic for baptism. Prior to that, my laundry list of sins was high. I figured that by being submerged, I would be able to receive forgiveness, wash away any guilt, and embrace a life of perfection as a Christian.
Man, was I totally wrong about the perfection part, but right about the others.
In retrospect, as a former Baptist, it was commonly said that baptism was a “symbolic physical sign” In fact, every time I’ve ever heard a baptism performed, I’ve always heard those words. As far as I’m concerned, most Baptist clergy I attended church with saw the sacrament as a visible expression of faith without any regenerating aspect. Again, I knew this was far from the truth just on a mere surface level. I knew deep down that the baptismal water was opening the pathway for my salvation and would eventually help me be reconciled with God. Little did I also know that this would make an adopted member of God’s family, and give me the Holy Spirit.
Now as a Catholic, when I recite the Nicene Creed, I’m actually confessing “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” which vindicates my earlier notions of what the sacrament was. History is on the side of baptismal regeneration and not the “Baptism doesn’t save us” belief that I commonly heard by so many Protestant clergies I heard.
So with the little faith I had, God led me to baptism. I’ve often wondered why with so little faith and understanding, why me? I truly should’ve been the least to have this experience. I surely wasn’t learned in the faith nor was I a saint. But Jesus said it best, ” To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Matt 13:12).” I didn’t have a deep enlightened awareness of Christianity, but the bits I had guided me toward Christ further.
Next post, I will discuss my second conversion which really jump-started, I think, my desire for a solid foundation for living the Christian life. This happened almost 3 years post-baptism.
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