Christians of all sorts proffer all manner of opinion about the nature of Baptism and the particulars thereof, but there is one thing that remains a constant. By whatever route may have been taken, a person comes moment in which he or she has made a decision to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. That decision to follow Jesus is signified outwardly by a profession of faith and coming to be baptized by water in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Generally a person is baptized only but once, although some various groups of Christians seem to be into not recognizing a previous baptism as valid, since it was not done in the context of a particular tradition.
In the Episcopal Church we recognize all previous baptisms so long as they were done in the name of the trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not generally rebaptize people. If a person is not certain that he or she may not have been baptized, there is a provision for what is called provisional baptism. As one grows more fully into the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, there are various ways in which that may be acknowledged, particularly in the rites of confirmation, reception, reaffirmation, and the dedication to a particular form of ministry. Additionally there is the practice of the frequent renewal of our Baptismal Vows, so that we may be able to keep in mind what we have promised to do in Jesus’ Name, and that we might be able to examine how we are living into the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, in some ways, the renewal of Baptismal Vows is an occasion of self-examination and a reminder of how we are living out what we have promised and how we are living into the promises we have made.
Some groups of Christians place great emphasis on the importance of the initial conversion, often citing the passage in Saint John’s Gospel, chapter 3 in which the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. There he is told that he must become “genethe anothen” which are the actual words in the Greek, which may be translated in three different ways: the usual, most popular translation is that Jesus says, “you must be born again.” However, although Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament) is a fairly specific language, those words “genethe anothen” can be translated as: You must be born anew, or you must be born from above in order to enter the kingdom of God.
I am rather glad for the ambiguity of scripture here because there is a way in which it is much more enriching to think of the imperative of baptism as being born anew or born from above, both of which suggest that a fundamental shift is necessary in a person’s world view in order to enter the kingdom of God. In some ways these other translations seem more accessible. “You got to change your attitude to enter the kingdom of God,” seems fairly practical and much less mystical than the usual translation. “Are you born again?” is the way in which the question is generally asked. How much more impact might there be if it were asked like this: “is your world view oriented towards the kingdom of God, are you renewed in the life of the Spirit, are motivated from above?” certainly changes the conversation.
All Christians celebrate that one is saved through the gift of the forgiveness of sins and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. But sometimes people tend to forget that the gift of salvation is not a static gift, for we are called to be converted and we are called in pilgrimage to the process of conversion. We celebrate that pilgrimage as we come to the renewal of our baptismal vows. When we come to the renewal of our Baptismal vows, as we customarily do on the First Sunday in Epiphany, we do well to celebrate that we have been baptized, but it is well for us to also reflect how we are growing in the grace and the presence of Jesus in our lives? How have we grown in His love since the last time we celebrated our renewal of these vows?