Washed in the blood: a closer look at the cult ritual of baptism

baptism4

I was baptized at age 7 in my underwear by my father in a bathtub at a neighbor’s house in front of a small audience of onlookers. To put it mildly, baptism has always been a little weird to me.

Of the many questions I have about baptism, this is the biggest: What was a 7 year old doing getting baptized in the first place?I love that question. Thanks for asking. You might be a little disturbed by the answer.

My earliest memories start at about 3 years of age. I cannot remember a time when I was not in church on a regular basis. In my case, that would be some form of church assembly at least 3 times a week, and sometimes more. For most of those early memories, my father was a preacher. I was born a preacher’s kid.

My story was never going to progress any other way. It was not enough that we went to church. My father taught weekly bible classes at home to me, my 2 older brothers, and my mother. I knew the doctrine of my denomination more thoroughly than the vast majority of adults sitting in the pews. And I knew exactly why I needed to be baptized.

It hit me all at once. Everyone in my family had been baptized except for me. Their sins were forgiven. Obviously, mine were not. They would not go to hell when they died. I would. I was lost in my sins. I was not a member of the church. I was just an attendee.

I became overwhelmed with the heavy burden of my sinfulness. Yes, a 7 year old can be weighed down with sin. Don’t ask me exactly what sins I was burdened with. I was a good kid. My mother will attest to that. But it didn’t matter. I knew I was guilty of the greatest sin of all. I was not baptized. And that means that I had not obeyed god. I was living my life in defiance of god. And something had to be done about it right away.

I went to my dad that very day of my awakening and begged to be baptized. It was a Wednesday bible class night. So he made me wait until the alter call. We called it the time of invitation. All that day, I was frightened that something was going to happen to me, and I was going to die, unsaved. At that point, I would lift up my eyes in hell just like the rich man in that bible story.

You have no idea what terrors a 7 year old can conjure, especially one who was raised on all those bible stories. I had a vivid imagination. And it was no problem for me to smell my burning flesh as the flames that would never die, cooked me for all eternity.

Sure, my father asked me a few questions. Did I love Jesus? Oh yes! You bet I did. Of course I would have loved anyone who stepped forward to get me out of my predicament. Did I understand that baptism was to wash away my sins? You bet I did. I couldn’t imagine a heavier burden then my sins.

Did I understand the sacrifice Jesus made for me on the cross? Did I understand that taking on baptism meant dying to myself, and allowing the Holy Spirit to take control of my body and my life? Did I ever!

So there I was with my clothes off and the gawkers waiting expectantly. My father put one hand on my back, another on my face, and backward I surrendered to the watery grave of baptism.

I came up wet.

I didn’t feel like I had been inhabited by a spirit, holy or otherwise. I just felt wet, cold, and embarrassed. I suppose I did feel a brief sense of my sins being lifted. But that would only last until I had piled up more. My life would always be debt service for that pile of sin that never seemed to diminish.

I directed the closing hymn for that night’s bible class. And thus began my career as a churchman. I would go on to preach my first sermon 4 years later. And I didn’t stop preaching until I left the church entirely.

I thought it important to provide some of this biographical information so that you could understand what baptism meant to me. It was the gateway to my inevitable life as a preacher. My oldest brother started preaching at 12. Hell was a clear and present danger all the time. And others in my church community had been baptized around my age. I really had no choice, nor did I want one.

Baptism was the most natural thing in the world to me. From the perspective of my denomination, baptism was a requirement for salvation. There were no exceptions. There was no other way to receive remission of sins.

Before going further, I want you to stop and think about this from a different perspective: Take Christianity out of it. If a child came up to a school teacher and told her that he had just been washed in a pool of blood to remove his taint of evil, and he had also died so that a spirit from another realm could inhabit his body, what would you make of it? Would you not insist on an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services?

Say all that in the context of Christianity, and it is just baptism. Does that make baptism any less of a cult ritual? I don’t think so. Here’s why:

Necessary

Back in the days of yore, the Jews were required to be circumcised. It was neither an option nor a debate. It was not a matter of misunderstanding. There was no choice. Failure to comply with the order carried lethal consequences.

So necessary was this ritual, god almost killed Moses for his lack of compliance. See Exodus 4, starting with verse 18. Baptism in the New Testament is spoken of in the same way. While we do not get an official introduction to baptism. We do get the direct message that baptism does save us. See 1 Peter 3:21:

And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The image is clear. Only 8 people were saved by water. The rest were drowned by the terrible flood. Today, we can either be saved by the water, or drowned in the lake of fire. I know many Christians read it differently. But I personally believe they’re wrong. The Bible does not make baptism any more optional than was circumcision. And the consequences of noncompliance are the same.

All cult rituals are necessary, not optional. Failure to comply is to be rejected by the group. Once you know the rituals, they take a dim view of you backing out. Baptism is a lot like that. If you happen to be in the baptism part of Christianity, it is compliance or hell.

Blood

Dark cults are obsessed with blood. That is one of the ways we used to identify a particularly scary cult. It would have some kind of blood ritual associated with it. It hardly got more cultish than Judaism. If it was worth doing, it was worth slaughtering an animal and using its blood for some ritual.

Christianity picked up where Judaism left off. If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing with blood. And if real blood runs afoul of cultural mores, invisible blood will do.

Christianity has two blood-soaked rituals that partially define the religion. One requires members to drink the blood. Don’t worry. It is just either grape juice or wine. But in their minds, it is the real blood of Jesus, at least for Catholics. For everyone else, it is a symbol of the blood of Jesus.

The other ritual is washing in the blood. Some Christians sprinkle it. Some pour it. And others are immersed in it. Though the medium of the blood is mere water. They believe they are coming in contact with the literal blood of Jesus. It is not merely a pantomime. It is the real thing.

Death

It is not just a matter of wallowing and bathing in blood to cleanse you of your sins. Baptism is a full-on death ritual. I come from a group that believes immersion is the only acceptable form of baptism. Part of the reason is that immersion mimics being buried in a grave. We even used the language of being buried in the watery grave of baptism.

The burial represented the fact that one was dying. We embraced death as a form of spiritual suicide. We had to die both to sin and to ourselves. Being lifted up from the water was rising into the newness of life. The old person was dead. An new person was born.

We would talk of being dead in the flesh and alive in the spirit. Baptism is the culmination of that death and rebirth. One could not be born again just by imagining they were born again. They couldn’t just change their perspective on life and decide they were born again. They had to be baptized into the lord’s death in order to be born again.

Rejection

Baptism is the gateway into the kingdom of god. To be baptized is to voluntarily walk through that narrow gate. But to do that you have to simultaneously leave everything from your old life behind. Baptism is a symbolic rejection of the old life you used to live.

This is another one of those behaviors that are strongly associated with cults. You don’t just join the cult. You reject everything and everyone you left behind. Jesus says that if you do not hate your father and mother, you are not worthy of him. You cannot use excuses tied to your old life such as having married a wife, or that you have to burry a parent. Let the dead burry the dead.

Once baptized, your concerns are no longer of this world. It doesn’t matter what you will eat or drink. Saving money and building bigger storehouses for the future is for those still in love with this world. Sell all your possessions and get rid of the money. That’s your new life. You must utterly reject everything about the old one, even despise it.

Conclusion: Wet

At the end of the day, baptism makes you wet, typically, cold and wet. What it does not make you is preternaturally peaceful. It does not make you wiser, luckier, more financially stable, more attuned to what is right or true, more moral, or better in any way. It mostly just gets you wet.

It does offer at least one social benefit: it makes you more accepted within your in-group. It provides entry into the cult. It is an initiation offered both to children and babies, depending on which branch of the cult you are entering.

However, it is telling that the cult ritual of baptism is administered to children and infants. As a bloody requirement for sin removal, one wonders how that can possibly apply to those so young. What sins do a 7 year old have that need to be washed away.

The god of this cult is so exacting in his standards, that even children and infants need to be covered in blood for the murderous death angel to pass. This tells you everything you need to know about this ritual, and the god of this ritual.

What I wish for is an un-baptism ceremony and certificate. People can be Re-baptized. We can even be baptized for the dead. But there is no ceremonial way to be un-baptized. Well I declare myself un-baptized. And I further declare un-baptism for the dead on behalf of all those who died unbelievers, but who had experienced baptism at some point in their lives.

Finally, I invite all those who have entered the church via this cult ritual to un-baptize themselves. Stop wallowing in the blood, death, burial, and rejection of a long-dead sage. Follow good teaching wherever you find it. But leave the cult rituals behind. And leave behind any group that requires them for entrance.

David Johnson

Advertisements

One thought on “Washed in the blood: a closer look at the cult ritual of baptism

  1. Wow, what burden’s you carried as a child. 😦 I’m sure this type of brainwashing abuse is still very prevalent today.
    Dreadful business.

    I guess I should count myself lucky that, though I was very much part of the church from day one and converted around 8/9 years old, no one ever put pressure on me to get baptized. We only did adult baptisms at our church and frowned upon infant ones: They were reserved for secular people who just needed an excuse for a baby naming ceremony and party. No, REAL Christians got baptized only when they could make a grown up decision for themselves. I put mine off for a good while but finally took the plunge in my late 20’s.

    It was less about the symbolic rituals that you speak of as you could absolutely be saved without being baptized. I never thought I had unconfessed sins that would send me to hell. For this small thing, I’m grateful. Mercifully, I had heard loud and clear that I was saved and loved by Jesus. I never feared hell for myself, only for unbelievers. (The critical thing to avoid hell was to have had a conversion experienced and I’d covered that base. As a say, for that small thing, I am grateful as I can’t imagine growing up as terrified as you describe that I’d missed the mark).

    Baptism in our evangelical sect, it seemed, was a formality and all about the outward acknowledgement to the community. It was a BIG declaration to all that you were a Christian. The sin in not getting baptized wasn’t that you weren’t washed clean, but rather you were shy about your faith, or worse, you were out and out denying your saviour. As I kept my faith pretty under wraps outside the church, this played perfectly into my fears. Why was I hesitating? Surely I should be brave enough to get baptized and not deny my faith to the world! I finally saw it as something to get done, rather like a tax return.

    The event itself had just enough toe curling cringe-worthiness to be legitimate in my mind. I’d plucked up the courage to ask a work colleague over for the event and there was the brief awkward talk to the congregation about my christian walk followed by the inevitable humiliation of getting out as quickly as you could with your clothes clinging wet to hide your figure and splattered down hair behind a towel.

    I had heard of a Hell’s angel being baptized whose nasty, evil, tattoos had been miraculously removed as they came up out of the water, but like you, I experienced nothing much. At the time I was quite ill and if I’m honest, part of doing the challenge was in some way linked to the hope that god might just take enough pity on me, to heal me. Mostly I just felt relief that I’d finally ticked this formality off the list.

    Anyway, thanks for your post and look forward to talking with you on Sunday!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s