C’mon In Boys, The Water Is Fine–Part 1

“Well that’s it, boys. I’ve been redeemed. The preacher’s done warshed away all my sins and transgressions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out, and heaven everlasting’s my reward…Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now. C’mon in boys, the water is fine.”

–Delmar O’Donnell in O Brother Where Art Thou

The phone rang in the middle of the night, shattering my blissful slumber like a Louisville Slugger against a plate-glass window.

Okay, whoa—better nix the miserable metaphor and start over. It was really only 10:30pm. But after the kind of day I had Sunday, I needed the extra rest. Go ahead, call me a geezer, but kindly pass the Geritol while you’re doing it.

Even through the thick, sleep-spun cobwebs which enveloped my rational upper brain, I had an intuition about the identity of the caller. I heard the door crack, and Eyegal entered our bedroom, cordless phone in hand. My intuition was correct.

“Mike, you’ve got to wake up and talk to Number Three (she didn’t actually say “Number Three” but used his real name instead)—he wants to be baptized!”

“Huh?” I grunted groggily.

Baptism…baptism. I turned the word over a few times until it gained a little traction. Then I remembered. Oh, right, baptism!

Number Three Son was finishing up his last night at Impact, located on the campus of Lipscomb University in Nashville. Impact is a Christian youth camp fueled with a high-octane mix of contemporary Christian music, comedic but soul-piercing preachers, teenage hijinks and shenanigans, a steady diet of pizza and raw sugar and late night soul talks topped off with a good measure of sleep deprivation. Mix it all together for three days straight, shake vigorously, and come the end, you’ve got a long line of kids swearing their allegiance to God and queuing up by the nearest swimming pool for a body-soaking, soul-cleansing full immersion.

Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. In fact, we knew that Number Three, who will soon be fourteen, had been thinking for some time about making his own commitment to the Christian faith in which he has been raised and that this trip might push him along toward that point. We had already told him if he decided to be baptized while attending Impact, that we would appreciate it very much if he would come back to Huntsville instead of making us travel to Nashville in the middle of the night to witness the big event.

That, of course, was what I thought he was calling to ask us to do. But no, he was simply calling to tell us that they would be arriving back in Huntsville at 10:00 AM on Monday and that he would like for me to be at church to baptize him just like I had his older brothers. I assured him that I would like very much to do that, but that I couldn’t simply nuke my morning schedule and inconvenience my patients on such short notice, especially those traveling from many miles away, all for a—and it sounds terrible to say—mere baptism.

But after talking with our youth minister, we learned that they would actually be arriving around 11:30 in the morning, not earlier—crisis averted. A chorus of “goodbyes” and “I love yous” followed, and later, a very restless, toss-and-turn night.

Perhaps a few words of explanation are in order for any non-Christians or Christians from other tribes who made be reading this. The Church of Christ has traditionally practiced “believer’s baptism” of those old enough to confess their faith publicly and undergo full immersion. This is in part due to our bloodline (Anabaptist), and in large measure due to a rationalistic, post-Enlightenment method of scripture interpretation which views the snapshots of lightning-fast conversions of conscience-stricken adults via full-immersion baptism in the book of Acts as a norm or “pattern” to be followed under all circumstances and for all time.

A fair reading of history shows, however, that the church very quickly (long before the New Testament was formed) adopted other modes and methods of baptism in response to an increasingly complex set of circumstances, among which were whole households desiring conversion. These included large Jewish families expecting the same covenantal treatment of all family members as they had experienced in their old faith. Infant baptism, baptism by pouring or sprinkling, confirmation, longer periods of instruction (catechesis) of older children and adult converts followed by baptism are all examples of the evolution of baptism in response to the changing needs of the church.

I respect these alternative modes, their place in history, even their quite-possibly apostolic origins. I have many good Christian friends and favorite Christian authors who started their walk of faith via infant baptism and a pledge by their parents and continued later with their own ceremony of commitment via confirmation.

In fact, if anything, those traditions seem to make for a more natural (and reasonable) progression of faith for those raised in Christian homes, as opposed to the whiplash induced by the “children-singing-‘Jesus Loves Me’ one moment to sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God in the next” approach. As Robert Duval’s character said in The Apostle:

“You do it your way, and we do it mine. But we get it done, don’t we.”

But we are where we are. And when you’re in the Church of Christ, you basically bundle baptism and confirmation together by mixing an ever-elusive “age of accountability,” plus a volatile but effective cocktail of faith, fear and love combined with a quick “I do,” topped off with a thorough dunking from head to toe—or you do nothing.

It’s the way we roll.

The next morning as I ploughed through my schedule of patients, I received a series of cell phone updates documenting the group’s travel progress. My 11:30 AM follow-up slot was open when I got to work, and I had my clerk block it out, so things were looking good. I was finishing up my last patient around 11:30, and my cell phone starting buzzing with a text message from Number Three: We r here. WHERE R U?

After finishing up, I walked briskly toward the parking lot and fired up the trusty German sports sedan. Driving maybe just a little faster than the posted limit, I took a right on Garth Road and headed down the homestretch toward the church building. I was making good progress—that is, until I came upon the sweet little old lady in the mammoth 1980s Mercury Marquis with 52,000 miles doing 15 mph in a 35 mph zone–bless her little blue-haired heart.

Meanwhile, my cell phone was nearly buzzing off my belt.

In Part 2: Will I be forced to pass on the double yellow in order to make it to church on time? Will Number Three look at me when I get there and say, “Uh, never mind?” Will I get my waders on and make it to the baptistery before the 55th verse of “Above All?” Once I have my waders on, will I be able to stand in the baptistery without falling down and baptizing myself too?

Stay tuned.

  1. Donna

    hanging on the edge of my seat….

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    Baptismal cliffhangers. The start of a new genre of literature?

  3. Terri


    Our church building didn’t have a baptistry so I was afraid I’d die before we got to the building that had all the right stuff… you’ve got me worried for you!!!

  4. ses

    “A fair reading of history shows, however, that the church very quickly (long before the New Testament was formed) adopted other modes and methods of baptism”

    Would be interested in your sources for this information?

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    Neither the time nor the place, ses. Maybe later.

  6. Brady

    If YOU die on the way to your son’s baptism without doing the baptism, do YOU make it into heaven?

    Just wondering.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    Heh. You don’t think I’m going to give away the ending, do you?

  8. JRB

    I share some of your hestitance in applying our traditional idea of immediate, repentant, watershed baptism for kids who never really have not been Christians. Even though No.3 may certainly be influenced by the teen-rock-Jesus cocktail at Impact this week, I have a sneaking suspicion that he has enjoyed about 14 years of quiet catechism himself in the EyeFam. Maybe this is a true confirmation indeed.

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks JRB, we appreciate that and would like to think so too.

    Yes, our insistence that our children be stricken in the same way that the 3000 were in Acts 2 has left us at times in, what the great philosopher Ulysses Everett McGill would call, “a tight spot.”

  10. Carolinagirl

    So, have Churches of Christ ventured away from the entire baptism concept? Just confused a bit by your posting.

  11. Mike the Eyeguy

    Cg–please don’t be confused and take my views and opinions as representative of the views of the leadership at my church or CsoC in general.

    I think it’s safe to say that the majority of members of CsoC view baptism now the same way that they did in the 50s or 60s, but that belief is much less monolithic now than in times past.

  12. Ed

    Yes, some of us in the audience were wondering where you were too. I’ll hold other comments for later posts.

  13. David U

    Mike, you are WRONG to keep us hanging!!!!!!!! I am on the road and can’t check my blogs every 15 minutes! 🙂


  14. Carolinagirl

    ME – I’m looking for a Church home in Clarksville and I’ve visited one that I’m sure is a bit on the non-traditional side and another that is on the more traditional side. Your blog comment just got me wondering.

    Anyway…we wait the rest of the story. SOON!!!

  15. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks to all for stopping by and for your comments. I hope you enjoy Part 2.

  16. Joseph P. Mathews

    At your suggestion, I’ve read this far and haven’t clicked over to Part 2 yet.  Being from another tradition, so much that this post makes me feel (especially since I haven’t always been Episcopalian)!  It’s so nice to experience grace from another tradition rather than be told that we’re doing it wrong…and it’s nice to give some credence to that we might actually be doing it a right way.  (paragraph)  I really appreciate the way you are able to objectively speak to your tradition in a way that isn’t disparaging but isn’t biased in favor of it.  You are where you are, and you are good there.  Now on to Part 2!

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