Water baptism is a core belief of every Christian denomination. Southern Baptists believe in baptism by immersion. Jesus set the example of water baptism by being baptized Himself, and he later commanded the Church to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is an essential part of our faith.
The Baptist Faith and Message states: Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
So, what do we do with baptism in these days of social distancing and precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Let’s first look at any potential dangers incurred in the act of baptism. First of all, I have seen recommendations that you should completely change the water between each person you baptize. There is no medical evidence to support this that I have been able to find; in fact, the CDC states that There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. Apparently the danger of viral spread in the act of baptism is merely in the inability to practice social distancing. Additionally, indoor baptistries are often in poorly ventilated areas which is conducive to viral spread.
Here are some precautions we can take to mitigate the dangers:
- When possible, have the baptism take place outdoors where safety is greatly improved. Use a lake, river, pond, horse trough, etc. to hold baptisms. Outdoor baptisms greatly reduce the risk of viral spread.
- The one baptizing could wear a mask for additional safety.
- If your church guidelines support it (a local church decision), consider using a family member to perform the baptism rather than clergy, keeping it “all in the family.” Clergy could still attend the service and make comments, pray, etc., but would not be required to be in close contact with the person.
- If you do have multiple baptisms indoors, have people enter and leave on opposite sides, if possible, and provide some time between candidates–this is especially needed in poorly ventilated, somewhat enclosed baptistry areas.
- Limit the numbers of those attending the baptism as you have been advised for small gatherings with social distancing, face masks, etc.
In addition, consider:
- You can hold baptisms in different locations and at different times with small family groups. Video the service and use in your online service, gathered service, or both.
- Share baptisms you recorded on social media to enhance the celebration.
- Be creative in making these times of great celebration. Rather than making excuses for not being able to be “normal,” find ways to make it more impacting than doing it the same way you have always done baptism.