Over the years, a few people have asked me for a private baptism experience. I have always declined. A private ceremony undermines key purposes of baptism – a public witness of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and public identification with a community of believers. People have usually asked for a private baptism for these reasons – their pride, concerns about embarrassment, or claims their “faith is a private matter.” All of these reasons strike at the core of why public baptism is important. None of them have convinced me that private baptism is a good option.
But a recent experience in a worship service showed me sometimes it might be the best option. A pastor – who is well-known for his conservative convictions – told this story. He had met a woman and invited her to church. She later introduced the pastor to her husband who has severe PTSD. This wounded warrior is crippled emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually – so much so he seldom leaves his home or interfaces with anyone outside his immediate family.
The pastor spent several months slowly building a relationship, creating a trusting friendship, and sharing the gospel. Finally, the man received Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He wanted to be baptized, but the thought of being in a crowded building or being surrounded by so many people – even well-meaning people – was more than he could endure. So, after some consideration, they arranged a private baptism.
The man was baptized with his wife and two adult daughters as witnesses. The pastor performed the baptism and an associate videoed the event. Then, on the following Sunday, the pastor told the church the story, the reason for the unusual circumstances, and then showed the video. When this broken man who has given his mental health for our country said, “Yes, Jesus is my Lord and Savior” and then sobbed with joy in the baptistery – my heart leaped and tears flowed. When he emerged from the water, the audience clapped and cheered the video as if it was happening live.
Pastoral wisdom means finding creative ways to hold to convictions while facilitating obedience and growth among believers. It was a privilege to see a thoughtful pastor leading in such a profound moment. This so-called “private” baptism turned out to be a very public and moving witness for the gospel.