‘They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people’ (Acts 2:46b-47a)
‘Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ… Also the church that meets at their house’ (Rom. 16:3a, 5)
‘Greetings to the Church, local and global! From the church that meets at the house of Marthinus and Heidi in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.’ (see pics below)
A few weekends ago, on a sunny Spring Sunday morning, some believers in our city met in the large and hospitable Hattingh’s home in Summerstrand for worship and fellowship. It turned out to be inspiring beyond our expectation.
Some of our folk are better-off, many are poor, and so the shared eats and drinks around the large table, with lots of chatter and banter, set the tone for the morning. Someone had provided two huge platters of attractively laid out savouries – together with sandwiches and biscuits brought by others, I thought there would be some waste. I need not have worried!
A few of us had sensed, because we were due to baptise one of our group, we should use Acts 2 as our general theme. Young and old, from diverse culture groups, focussed on the person central to the passage, viz. Jesus Christ. Grasping something of Luke’s intention in his gospel and his story of the early church recorded in Acts, we began to worship Christ in song and prayer. What made it special was that it commenced with a Xhosa song about the the love of Christ, powerfully sung by our youth worker from Motherwell township. She had just been released from hospital after being diagnosed with acute high blood pressure and low blood iron requiring 4 units of blood. During hospitalisation she suffered a minor stroke leaving her with a weak arm and leg. Providentially, because she has almost no means herself, we managed to get her to a private doctor who was beyond kind to her, getting her into one of the better state hospitals and following her up by phone on a daily basis (rare in our country). In fact I only learned yesterday that the hospital doctor had declared her ‘walking dead’ on admission!
During the song God’s Spirit seemed to saturate the lounge, leading to spontaneous prayers of worship and ‘laying on of hands’ for Siphokazi’s full recovery. Most in the group went on to participate with insightful comments on Acts 2, getting to grips with some aspects of ‘the apostles’ teaching’ (v.42) regarding Christ’s person and work. The call to ‘repentance’ (lit. ‘mind change’) and confession of Christ featured prominently, particularly the believers’ exchanging the enforced ‘Caesar is Lord’ for a treasonous ‘Jesus is Lord!’
Because baptism features so strongly in the NT (Mt. 3:13ff; Mt. 28:16ff; Acts 2 and 8:26ff; Rom. 6; etc), it is something often talked about in our house gatherings. It was therefore no surprise when Pam from Zimbabwe (originally Malawi) asked to be baptised [a humble reminder to some of my Western readers: Africa is not a single country but consists of some 54 nations, of which the Republic of South Africa is one]. Marthinus and I had instructed her as to what baptism entailed, viz. our union with Christ in his death and resurrection through faith, and the consequences for our daily discipleship, i.e. death to the old and risen-ness to the new.
After another quick coffee and snack, we made our way to the nearby Summerstrand beachfront to proceed with the baptism. We found a suitable little tidal pool at Pollock Beach and Marthinus and I, in quickly-borrowed shorts, had the privilege of immersing Pam in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pam came out un-drowned and full of joy, her face glowing from ear to ear, being welcomed by her brothers and sisters at the water’s edge.
Now how about this? On the opposite side of the pool some folk were watching the proceedings. They included an interested young mom, her dad, and her 2-year-old daughter. When Pam came out of the water, the little toddler came running toward her as fast as her little legs could carry her. From a distance she held out her arms for Pam to pick her up, avoiding all the other on-lookers. The mother came across and related how she just couldn’t stop her little girl from running to Pam, and that they too were believers. We had a great time chatting to mom and grandpa while the toddler clung tenaciously to Pam. My wife Melanie and another in our group immediately had the same impression: just as the Father witnessed with pleasure to his Son’s baptism by sending the Spirit in the form of a dove (Mt. 3), it seemed God had sealed Pam’s baptism through a little girl’s attraction and warm embrace. ‘A little child will lead them.’ (Is. 11:6)
The morning concluded with warm goodbyes and a sense of having encountered ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Mt. 16:16). On this Rock Christ ‘will build his church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it!’ (Mt. 16:18)
- I have good friends who stand in the Protestant paedo-baptist (infant baptism) tradition. It’s interesting that probably the greatest Reformed theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth, argued in favour of a more NT position (see his revolutionary lecture delivered to Swiss theological students in 1943, entitled ‘The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism‘). So does the contemporary Anglican NT scholar, N.T. Wright.
- One of the best sermons I have read on the significance of baptism (as a Baptist pastor of 38 years and a non-denominationalist follower of Jesus of 10 years) I recently re-discovered in Watchman Nee’s little volume, ‘Love not the World.’ The sermon is entitled ‘A World Under Water.’ If you can find it somewhere, it’s well worth a read.
- According to Wayne Jacobsen and others, 32 million Americans currently follow Jesus outside of formal, traditional congregations. Of 110 million Christians in America, 33 million have left the church and become ‘atheists.’ 45 million still ‘go to church.’ I am sure that, proportionally speaking, the situation in my own country is not any better!
- Anthony de Mello (1931-1987), Indian priest and psychotherapist specialising in spirituality, wrote: “Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity and culture of society. Why don’t we experience it? Because we have to drop something.”