Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
By Cj Spensley
Josiah and his family came from Indiana because his four cousins were all being baptized that night.
In their late seventies, Edward and his wife, Gloria, had come to Christ four years ago. Gloria is now with the Lord. On the night of the baptism service, when previous dinner plans were canceled, Edward’s daughter, Chris, a WBC member, thought he would be encouraged to hear the testimonies of changed lives as men and women, students and children were baptized.
Neither of them knew when they arrived at the church that Saturday night what a spiritual land-mark that evening would be.
Normally when individuals decide to be baptized at WBC, they indicate their interest by calling, sending an email, or signing up online. They are then registered to attend two Baptism Class sessions, where they will learn about baptism—what it is, what it means, how baptisms are performed at Wheaton Bible Church, and why the baptism of believers is encouraged.
During those classes, testimonies are shared, and those attending learn about how to write out their own testimonies. Then they are given an opportunity to practice in front of one another. Traditionally, those who are being baptized will each give their own testimony—roughly three minutes in length—just before they are baptized.
Another part of the class includes a tour of the baptistry and of the place where they will change their clothing before and after their baptism. They’ll also be instructed about what time to arrive.
Those in charge ensure that enough white robes will be available and that the water temperature is just right.
That preparation typically led to a baptism scheduled during one of the Sunday-morning worship services, but last April we held our first “all church” Spanish-English Baptism Celebration. You may remember being there or reading about it in LIFE magazine over the summer. Fifteen hundred people attended and saw 150 people—English, Spanish, adults, teens, and children—baptized that night. What an exciting evening!
For that special evening, several standard procedures were adjusted. It was a Saturday night instead of a Sunday morning. Baptism clothing changed from the Sunday morning white robes to an assortment of T-shirts and shorts. Another big first was that most participants didn’t give their testimony publically—although each prepared his or her own faith story during the preparation class.
When another “big” baptism celebration was scheduled for September, people began to sign up, and classes were held as usual, but some who were planning the service had an idea: What if we simply invited those in attendance to join in—that very night? After all, Jesus didn’t tell people to “believe and take a class and be baptized.”
On that evening, those in attendance would sing and worship. There would be teaching about baptism. Those who had participated in the classes would be baptized. But others would also be invited to come forward to indicate their desire to be baptized. Pastoral staff and Elders would talk with each of those individuals to be sure they understood, and then they would be baptized, right then and there.
These Saturday-night services themselves were different. But for Wheaton Bible Church, the idea of a spur-of-the-moment baptism was revolutionary! And there was an even bigger issue: Would anyone actually do it?
Pastor Chris McElwee shared the idea at the baptism classes. “Here’s what we’re thinking of doing,” he said. “What do you think?”
The class members were enthusiastic!
Fast-forward to Saturday evening, September 10, 2011— Baptism Celebration night.
We sang and worshipped and witnessed the baptism of forty people. Several shared powerful testimonies of God’s grace. Pastor Rob taught about baptism, and then he invited anyone who would like to be baptized—right then and there—to come forward, talk and pray with someone, and be baptized that night.
Behind the scenes, clothing was available. Shorts, T-shirts, and towels were ready. More important, elders and staff were available to talk and pray with those who came forward—to verify that they understood baptism and had already made a commitment as a follower of Jesus.
Seven people—Josiah and Edward among them—made that decision that night to publicly proclaim Jesus as their Savior by being baptized. It was an exciting evening, one that became a spiritual milestone that will be remembered for a long, long time.
Caroljoy (Cj) Spensley is the Worship & Creative Arts Ministry Assistant, and serves as part of our worship-planning team.