And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism -- All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.
I haven't memorized scripture verses since I was a teenager in seminary. But the Spirit impressed upon me that this one was important for me to write down in my heart, so to speak, to let it be the pattern for my life.
This is a hard one for me. It stands right at the crux of the greatest contradiction in my life. I have a desire to be baptized all right. My heart has been broken over this again and again.
By way of commandment. The Church does not merely have the prerogative to set the standards by which it determines that candidates for baptism have "truly" manifested "by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins." It is commanded to do so. The church does not belong to those called to administer it. It is "his church." His whose name we take upon ourselves in being received into it.
Their sins. All the theology packed into those two words boils down to one word: "heart." It is the heart that is broken, that desires to be whole. It is in the heart where conscience and will reside; where resides everything that makes both sin and repentance possible. And in the heart where we feel and receive "of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of sins." It is in the heart where resides love, the absence of which is the greatest sin. The crux of everything is the invisible heart that only God knows, even when the sinner does not truly know his own.
The test, I realize, as I reflect on the words of this verse, is to condemn neither myself nor the church. Yet, to dwell on the words arouses in me a deep hunger, a hunger I can't fill. This is not my fault. It is not the church's fault. I remind myself of this by counting my blessings. But God needs me to feel what I feel when I wrestle with this, to cry out to him, to ask for help.
And that's what I ask of you... To please pray with me and for me.