This year’s theme is “The Body.” Today we dive in to that theme with…..
The Body and Baptism
Ryan Wilson currently serves as a Pastoral Resident at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. He started at Wilshire in August of 2018 coming from Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA where he served as Minister of Missions and Students. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Furman University in Greenville, SC and a Master of Divinity degree from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, GA. Ryan was ordained in 2014 at Parkway Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, where he served as Minister to Youth and Young Adults. He has also worked in ministry in New York City and Cape Town, South Africa. Ryan previously served as President of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Youth Ministry Network. Ryan is married to Mia and they have an awesome little boy named Bates. In addition to being a minister, a husband, and a dad, Ryan is a dog-owner, a musician, a lover of food, and a Duke basketball fan.
Since childhood, baptism has been one of my favorite elements of worship and is in my mind one of the most meaningful expressions of Christian faith. It is a powerful moment to observe someone making their public confession of faith and then have their body dipped beneath the water to be “raised to walk in newness of life.” While the physical body of the one being baptized goes through only a slight transformation in that moment, the transformation that occurs within that person is quite profound, and deeply meaningful. My own baptism, and the particular tradition of baptism that I grew up, with was especially meaningful for me.
I remember quite a bit about my own baptism day, but in particular I remember the end of the service, standing before the congregation after the final hymn. My dad, who was the pastor, stood before me, then only 8-years-old, and the others who had been baptized and approached each of us with a small dish of salt. “You are the salt of the earth,” he said, as he sprinkled a bit of salt onto our tongues. Next, he handed each of us a candle and as it was lit he said, “You are the light of the world.” He said a few words about the meaning of those symbols and offered a blessing over us. I can still remember the taste of salt on my tongue that morning and the warmth of the candle in my hand.
I was thrilled to discover that this salt and light ritual is a part of my new church’s tradition of baptism as well. It looks a bit different, but the meaning and intent are the same: committing to this new way of life in Christ also means accepting the call to be like salt and light. Being the “salt of the earth” means giving all we are for the well-being of others. To be salt is to be that which improves the world around us by putting our God-given gifts to use for the glory of God and the betterment of humanity. To be salt is to preserve that which is good and right in the world. Likewise, to be the light of the world is to acknowledge the Spirit of God that shines brightly within ourselves and to ignite a flame in the dark corners of our soul and carry that light into the world’s dark places. To be salt and light is to be the body of Christ.
While baptism is certainly focused on the individual, it is also representative of the larger body of Christ at work. Congregational bodies help nurture and encourage their members, young and old, as they form and develop their personal professions of faith, which then leads them to baptism. This is particularly true ministry to children and youth, as we minister alongside young people who are often still exploring and learning about God’s place in their lives. The body of Christ grows and strengthens with each profession and then confession of faith and baptism. Newly-baptized individuals join the larger body of faith to embody those symbols of salt and light in the world, not alone or in a vacuum, but alongside Christian brothers and sisters committed to sharing God’s light and goodness in the world, collectively.
In baptism, we accept a calling to leave behind certain things about ourselves and take on a new commitment to be the Church, God’s body of faith in the world. Living into this calling does not happen easily or overnight. A little bit of salt and a little bit of light can go a long way toward making the world better and brighter, but when we join our light to those alongside us and put our good gifts to use in the name of Christ, the world gets that much brighter and the body of Christ is that much more powerful.
What does baptism mean to you? What are the traditions of your church body? Maybe, like me, your own baptism was a long time ago. Or maybe the decision to be baptized is not one that you have yet made. Consider today what your own understanding of baptism means for you individually and for the larger body of faith. Think about how that might have changed over time. As youth workers, how might you help your students think about and answer these questions for themselves? As you do, consider how you are embodying salt and light, living into Christ’s call to shine your light brightly and share your unique gifts, enhancing the world around you as you go.