As a Christian Science chaplain in the United States Army, I was in the country of Jordan, ministering to soldiers in my unit. Several asked if I would baptize them in the Jordan River, where the Bible says Jesus was baptized. I didn’t have long, since I was visiting the country only for a few days before returning to Kuwait, where I was officially deployed.
These soldiers were deeply committed to their Christian faith. For them, the Jordan River was a holy place. One of them had never been baptized and yearned for the experience. The rest desired what many Christians would call a “believer’s baptism”—getting baptized as an adult. As their chaplain, I felt honored to be asked to perform this sacrament. However, pandemic lockdowns prevented us from proceeding. I promised the soldiers that when the restrictions were lifted, I would try to return to Jordan and baptize them. (The US Department of Defense expects Christian Science chaplains to perform Protestant Christian ministry in the military, as well as providing for the spiritual needs of soldiers from diverse religious backgrounds. This requirement affirms the Christianity of Christian Science. In my training to become a chaplain, I had prepared to baptize soldiers, but I never imagined I would do so in the Jordan River.)
In the six weeks that followed, I thought and prayed about baptism more deeply than I ever had before. As I pondered the meaning of baptism, I recognized that for many Christians baptism is a holy rite of passage signifying spiritual rebirth, a purification and transformation of one’s life by God’s saving grace, as revealed through Christ Jesus. I treasured the spiritual significance of baptism in much the same way as my fellow Christians. While Christian Scientists don’t typically carry out the ritual of immersion in water, they do believe wholeheartedly in the importance of baptism as a spiritual experience. I thought about John the Baptist’s teaching in Scripture, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11).