It’s kind of interesting to see how much, or how little, various Protestant megachurches have to say about baptism. They’re all huge, but it seems that almost none of them are hugely interested in the sacraments. Some of them don’t mention baptism (or the sacraments) at all on their websites, but the ones that do seem to agree that it’s just a symbol. Same for Communion (“Eucharist” doesn’t seem to be a popular term with megachurches. No Greek terms, thankee—well, except for “baptism”—got to keep it understandable for normal folk.)
My response to that is borrowed from Flannery O’Connor:
Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the “most portable” person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest is expendable.*
In what follows, I think I see two closely related trends: historical ignorance and disinterest in theology. Perhaps they don’t want to sound theological because they think of this as “churchy” and unappealing to the unwashed heathen they’re trying to get to come in, but perhaps it’s due in some cases to the simple fact that they don’t think theology is important: church for them is primarily (if not entirely) about community and emotions, not about the truth or falsehood of propositional statements.
Here is what various megachurch websites had to say about baptism.
Water baptism by immersion soon after accepting Christ as personal Savior, is a testimony of death to sin and resurrection to a new life and the Lord’s Supper is a memorial service setting forth in sacred and symbolic manner the death of the Lord Jesus Christ; all true believers and only believers should share in it.
We have two sacraments, instituted by Christ in the new covenant, or testament. They are baptism and the holy supper, or communion.
If you “still have questions” you can contact them. The website contact for promises that they’ll get back to you in 48 hours.
Actually, they do say a little more, but not much, on baptism elsewhere:
Children of church members are called “children of the covenant.” Their baptism is a sign and seal of this covenant relationship and of their membership in the Christian church.
Baptism is a public expression of the fact that your child belongs to God. It is their first step in growing a relationship with the God who loves them.
[We believe] in water baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Side note: World Changers Church says nothing about Communion on their site. They do, however, devote 36 words to their belief in tithing—I wonder where Creflo DOLLAR’s priorities lie?
Given at Pentecost, the baptism in the Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father. It was sent by Jesus after His Ascension to empower the Church to preach the gospel throughout the whole earth (see Joel 2:28,29; Matt. 3:11; Mark 16:17; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4,17,38,39; 8:14-17; 10:38,44-47; 11:15-17; 19:1-6).
New Life Church is positively verbose when it comes to their beliefs: about 1,618 words for the whole thing. That’s 8 times longer than Joel Osteen’s (see below). And even though they don’t say much about baptism here, their use of the word “empower” comes as close as I’ve seen to a view of baptism that moves beyond the merely symbolic.
WE BELIEVE…water baptism is a symbol of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ and a testimony to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Willow Creek Community Church offers the option of believers’ baptism in the modes of sprinkling and immersion on the basis of a sacramentarian view of the ordinances whereby their value lies in the symbolism they convey and in the faith of the participants rather than the nature or amount of the elements used, as bread and wine for communion, and water for baptism.
Willow Creek devotes 331 words to Baptism alone, whereas Osteen’s “What We Believe” page weighs in at a total of 206 words, with Baptism getting 26 words.
But don’t despair yet—Saddleback Church has a sort of constellation of websites, and they do mention baptism over at SaddlebackFamily.com:
We do celebrate communion and believe it is one of the two ordinances Christ gave the church. Water baptism would be the other.
[. . .]
Jesus . . . gave the church two visible symbols (called “ordinances”) as reminders of his death. These two ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is an object lesson that represents a great spiritual truth for believers.
Well, still nothing about baptism. But given what they say about the Lord’s Supper, it’s pretty safe to assume that baptism is purely a symbol for Rick Warren’s Saddleback Family. This is kind of sad . . . I saw him on Meet The Press and thought he was one of the more reflective of the megachurch pastors.
Eddie Long, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church (Lithonia, GA):
Nothing on this “Baptist” church’s site about baptism, but it mentions in passing that “Long was consecrated as the third presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.” Here’s what the Full Gospel website says about baptism:
We believe in water baptism and Holy Communion – The Lord’s Supper as the ordinances of the church to be observed as public declaration of salvation through Jesus Christ and the commemoration of His death, burial and resurrection in victory over satan, death, hell and the grave.
. . .
We believe in Jesus Christ as the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, who brings men and women at salvation into relationship with Himself and His Body, the Church. We further believe that it is the baptism of the Holy Ghost that places one into the Body of Christ. All believers have been baptized by Christ with the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11 ; John 1:33 ; 1 Corinthians 12:13 ).
. . .
The baptism of the Holy Ghost occurs once and for all at salvation.
Whether Eddie Long’s church believes this is another question, but it sounds like the Full Gospel baptism has some power in it—not just a symbol. But I’m unclear on the exact meaning of their distinction between “water baptism” and baptism by the Holy Spirit. I would have to read up on their beliefs before commenting on this one.
And here are a few statements from people not affiliated with a church.
We believe in water baptism, as taught and demonstrated by Jesus, as the way for believers to identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
No statement of beliefs on this site, but they do mention baptism a handful of times. I really want to see the biblical support for this view—I’m not saying none exists; just that it sounds kind of “made up.” Maybe it’s the CAPS?
The Lord honors our obedience to be baptized and He also commands us to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit that we may receive POWER and BOLDNESS to be HIS WITNESSES.
I wonder if the “megachurched” have any idea how little of real Christianity they are getting. The basic tenets are indeed simple enough for a child to understand, but there is so much more. For part of that “more,” check out the Roman Catholic Catechism’s article on Baptism. (About 4,729 words long, not counting about 83 footnotes.)
* Quoted from Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, selected and edited by Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979), 124-25.