Electrocution in the baptistry: Why risk it?

During the morning service on Sunday, October 30, 2005, 33-year-old Kyle Lake, pastor of the University Baptist Church (Waco, Texas), was accidentally electrocuted when he touched a microphone while standing chest-deep in the water of the church's baptistry. The person he was about to immerse escaped unharmed. Despite 40 minutes of CPR, Kyle was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 11:30 a.m. Here is more information about the victim of this tragedy, as well as an interview with Kyle in happier times.

Some might react to news of this tragedy by asking why someone would be in the baptistry in the first place. Why baptize anyone these days? And if you have to baptize, why not resort to sprinkling? Baptism by immersion is too messy and time-consuming. Why bother, when a few drops on the forehead will do the trick just as well? One wipe with a towel and voilĂ ! The deed is done, and no cleanup necessary.

Immersion the original mode
Almost no one denies that immersion--not sprinkling or pouring--was the original mode of baptism. The Bible makes this clear in two passages: John 3:23 and Acts 8:38-39. Aenon was a good spot for baptizing because there was plenty of water there. Philip and the Ethiopian official both "went down into the water" and "came up out of the water." (See also Mark 1:10 and parallels.)

Original symbolism confirms immersion
This biblical mode fits the spiritual significane of the act. When you are immersed, it is obvious to everyone that you are taking a bath. You don't bother to take a full bath unless you are really, really dirty. Again and again the Bible speaks of sin as pollution (Numbers 35:33; Ezra 9:11; Acts 15:20; James 1:27; Jude 8). It is moral filth (Proverbs 30:12; Isaiah 4:4; 64:6; Zechariah 3:3-4; Col. 3:8; James 1:21; Rev. 17:4). It contaminates both body and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1). It is a stain that must be washed away (Jeremiah 2:22; Jude 23). It affects the total person, and only a cleansing involving the total person will do.

Beyond this image of a bath, baptism also pictures a burial. It is a re-enactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12-13). When someone dies, how do you bury them? Do you sprinkle a little dirt on their forehead, or do you cover them up completely?

Symbolic "before" and "after"
This symbolism carries with it "before" and "after" connotations. Just as people have forgotten the original symbolism of the mode of baptism, so they have also lost sight of the place of baptism as the transition point between moral filth and purity, and between spiritual death and life. Before, I am polluted; after, I am washed clean by the blood of Christ.

This is confirmed by Paul's own experience of having his sins washed away in baptism, having called on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). He calls it "the washing with water through the word" (Ephesians 5:26) and "the washing of rebirth" (Titus 3:5). (Note that both the first and second of these three passages feature the believer's confession of Christ, the Savior empowering the symbol.)

Before, I am dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13); after, I am made alive in Christ (Colossians 2:12). Of course, there's nothing magical in the water. It's power is faith in the cross of Christ and in His resurrection (Romans 6:4-7). As Colossians 2:12 says, "...having been buried with Him in baptism and raise with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead." My eyes are on Him, not on me. My faith is in the cross, not in the ritual.

Affirming baptism's purpose as well as its mode
Everyone committed to the ongoing validity of the Scriptures will also be committed to immersion as the only proper mode of baptism. They will also reaffirm the biblical teaching, not only about its mode, but about its purpose. We should teach and practice the immersing of penitent believers in water for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:39) because of Christ's death and resurrection.

We can reduce the risk of electrocution by using cordless microphones, but we must neither reduce nor distort the biblical significance of this God-ordained rite. If you want to "go deeper" in your study of this subject, see my article in the series, "It's all Greek to me," entitled, "Together with Christ." Pray for Kyle's family--his wife Jennifer, his five-year-old daughter, and two three-year-old sons--and for all who knew him and are devastated by this loss.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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