A Chemistry Refresher

Go back in time with me for a minute, will you? It’s your sophomore year of high school. You’re sitting in your chemistry class zoning out. Did your chemistry teacher hate you too? Remember that giant, wall-sized periodic table? You probably remember elements H & O; but do you remember which element is W?
W = Tungsten
H = Hydrogen
O = Oxygen
What on earth does the combination of elements W, H, & O have to do with Jesus?

If you get enough Tungsten and heat you can fashion it into a ring, like my wedding ring. If you get the right combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms you get water.

Now, what do a wedding ring and water have to do with Jesus?

Yesterday, maybe a lot.
Today, not as much as yesterday.
Tomorrow, maybe nothing at all.

Since I have mentioned the word “wedding” I feel like I should also mention two things:
First, this is not a commentary on the latest United States Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or California’s Constitutional Amendment Proposition 8 (Prop 8).

And secondly, “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…and wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…so tweasure your wuv. Have you the wing?”

For millennia the Church has celebrated believer’s baptism or baptism by immersion as one of the central ordinances of the Church. It followed the new convert’s vocal confession of “Jesus is Lord” and signified membership and alignment with a local congregation. Not much has changed. And I am not suggesting that it should.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a new believer come up out of the baptismal waters. A few weeks ago I was asked to assist my pastor in helping him baptize people (a first for me); I’ll never forget those moments.

In fact, one of the best parts of my “job” is seeing and being a part of the light bulb moments in the lives of students. The other day I was having a conversation with a student who went to camp. While we were at camp she experienced the most pivotal lightbulb moment of her life: she put her life in Jesus’ hands. She’s a new believer! Our conversation on this particular day was about next steps, specifically about baptism.

Typically when I speak with students about baptism I use my wedding ring to help explain the significance, symbolism, and meaning of believer’s baptism. Well, after speaking with this student I realized that this illustration may no longer mean what it used to.

My spiel usually goes something like this:
Me: Do you see my wedding ring?
Student: Yes.
Me: What does my ring mean?
Student: It means that your married.
Me: You’re right. My wedding ring tells the world a few things: (1) that I am married, (2) that I love my wife, and (3) that I am committed to my wife forever. Make sense?
Student: Yes.
Me: Baptism is a lot like a wedding ring. It shows the world and the church that (1) you’re a Christ follower, (2) that you love Jesus, and (3) that you’re serious about this relationship and committed to him forever.
Me: Now, there’s nothing special about the water. It’s literally the same water you take a shower with at home. We don’t sprinkle anything into it. It really is just tap water. The reason we call it believer’s baptism is because getting baptized doesn’t save you, Jesus does. Since, you have put your faith in Jesus and given him control of your life, the next step for you will be baptism. What other questions do you have for me?

Again, this is not a commentary on DOMA or Prop 8. On this particular day, after the student and I were done talking I remembered that their parents live together, they are not divorced, have had 4 kids together, but have never been married. They are committed to each other, but not married. So what did my illustration mean to my student?

My ring as an illustration may not mean as much to a student like this one or to a student from a broken/blended family. However, it means and signifies a great deal to me. You see, my ring is a symbol of my love and commitment to my wife and my wife to me.

Even though a wedding ring might not mean what it once did, and even though it feels like nearly half of my students come from broken or blended families I will continue to use my wedding ring to explain baptism. Because, like baptism my ring signifies:

Eternal, unconditional love
Unwavering commitment
Complete trust
Covenant relationship

Also, my ring, like baptism, is a symbol of life change. I went from being single to being married–for the record I enjoy married life much more than bachelor life. I went from being an outsider to being an insider with Jesus; from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus personally; from having a relationship with the church (religion) to having a personal relationship with Jesus.

Our government will probably continue to redefine things; it may even redefine marriage yet again. In spite of all this, a wedding ring will continue to symbolize a covenant relationship between fallible humans; baptism will continue to symbolize a covenant relationship between an infallible God and redeemed believers.

Student pastors: keep using the wedding ring to help explain baptism and above all else, keep pointing students to Jesus.

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