Robert & Roberta Adair

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On Wednesday, my friend and I finished the last chapter of Mark.  Yippee!  We’ve read and talked about a chapter a week for 16 weeks (okay, we took a little longer than that).  It’s been so fun to see Jesus through her eyes.  As I’ve said before, her wonder and amazement tickle me.  Yet, although I don’t doubt her salvation or love for Jesus, her ambivalence toward the church has been a bit of a concern…as has her hesitancy to be baptized.

I have a lot to learn about Christians in Japan, but there seems to be something pretty significant about baptism that is different here than in the US.  It’s like a person might be saved, but he or she is not identifying as a Christian until the time of baptism.  Perhaps pre-baptism is viewed as an engagement of sorts (committed, but you can still back out if it gets too hard) and post-baptism is viewed as the marriage (for better, for worse…).  I’ve heard stories of families who weren’t opposed to their daughter or son “becoming a Christian” (perhaps the behavioral aspect) but were totally against baptism (the identity aspect).

Just as my friend occasionally opens up to visiting the church, she is sometimes open to baptism.  The symbolism of being dirty and coming up clean is appealing.  She also finds the idea of identifying with Christ dying and coming up “resurrected” with new life beautiful.  When she read Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned, she said, “Roberta, I need to be baptized!  I’m already a Christian, but I want to do this!”

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And then she thought about it again.  For her, baptism isn’t just a joyful response to Jesus’ love and salvation.  It’s not a “free” expression or symbol for her.  She associates baptism with identifying with a specific church, with behaving a certain way (that she views as impossible/unattainable for her), with where she will be buried (a decision she doesn’t want to make independent from her family), and with feeling obligated to start giving money to the church.

We talked again.  We’ve had so many conversations about baptism and the church…so many.  I listen.  I try to respond from different angles.  I’ve gotten a couple of Japanese believers have shared their stories with her.  But I can’t nor do I want to be the one to convince or manipulate her into either church or baptism.  I want both a commitment to believers and imitating Jesus through baptism to be acts of obedience and worship for her.

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Slightly different, but this got me thinking again about communicating the gospel with Japanese friends.  I wonder if posing the questions, “What do you have to lose?” and “What do you have to gain?” would be helpful.  Frankly, they have a lot more to lose than I did (fo sho).  But, wow, we gain so much in Christ!

To lose (a totally incomplete list – I hope to learn more about this!):

  • Respect, being understood (from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, society at large)
  • Fitting in (going from the majority to a small – 1% – minority)
  • Possible advancement at work, marriage prospects, honor
  • Being viewed as upsetting social and familial harmony; being cut off from ancestors (and family responsibility)
  • Appearance of safety – doing what has been done for generations versus stepping out into the unknown
  • Control and other hard stuff that comes with discipleship

To gain:

  • Christ.  Period.
  • Oh yeah, and hope, purpose, freedom, deliverance, forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, assurance of salvation, fruit of the Spirit, community with the local church and global Church,…and too much more to name.

Please pray for my friend – that she would analyze less and step out in faith more.  Please pray for me – that I would analyze (understand) more and step out in love and patience more, too.

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