In my last blog I wrote about revival bringing change in society, suggesting that the hard evidence for that – other than stories of changed lives – would be seeing the reversal of many social trends. Having that kind of measurement will be really helpful. But society will only change through the changed lives of people – changed by the gospel of Christ. So how will be able to measure that? What will be the hard evidence showing that people really are coming to faith in Jesus?
For us at The Belfrey this question is timely as we’ve just had a great Refresh weekend away with fantastic input from Richard Jones who’s been helping us consider how we can effectively reach out to more and more people with the good news of Jesus Christ.
So, how can we measure effective evangelism? Well, no doubt one piece of evidence will be churches filling up. The number of worshippers will rise. But there’s another crucial measure that I’m looking for, and that’s this: an increase in baptisms.
As more folk come to faith in Jesus Christ, and want to publically commit their lives to him, we’ll see more baptisms. A boost in baptisms. A bountiful number of baptisms.
Let me paint a picture of what that might look like, gaining some inspiration from the very first church baptisms ever recorded, in Acts 2:37-47.
In a revived North there’ll be occasions when we baptise in large numbers. The most people I’ve presently baptised in one go is twelve. My father was doing twenty at a time with the Iranians in Doncaster seven years ago. Ian Birkinshaw from Huntington, who’s just back from leading a Global Alpha Training team in India was telling me the other day that he spoke to someone in India who had recently baptised 1,400 in one day! In Acts 2:41 we’re told they baptised 3000 on the Day of Pentecost!!
In a revived North baptisms will take place regularly. And there’ll be some churches – and I hope St Michael le Belfrey will be one of them where they’ll need to baptise every week. They’ll have to, to keep up with the number of people coming to faith. These baptism services will take place mainly in the context of worship services where people will invite family and friends to witness the event, and they will share their story of what the Lord has done in their life. However there’ll also be a place for spontaneous baptisms too, like we read of in Acts 9, where Philip baptised an Ethiopian in a pond. I’ve been involved in a few spontaneous baptisms in the past, and sometimes it’s right to do them like that.
In a revived North baptisms will take place where-ever possible in public. They won’t be hidden. That’s what would have happened in Acts 2. Public baptisms put faith in the public domain with the candidates openly confessing faith in Christ. I believe we’ll see much more of that in the future. At St Michael le Belfrey we regularly baptise on our forecourt if we can and when we soon re-order the church building we’re planning to install a permanent outside baptistery. If I have it my way I’ll make sure it’s plumbed to warm!
In a revived North baptisms will happen early in people’s faith journey. You will not need to have done an Alpha course. (It might help, but it’s not crucial) You will not need to have been around church for very long. You will not need to understand everything about God and faith and church. What you willneed, is to know that Jesus died for you and that you want to follow him for the rest of your life. That will be enough. Because that was enough in New Testament times. People will be able to learn more about the faith later. That’s what happened in Acts 2. They were baptised on the very day they came to Jesus Christ.
In a revived North baptisms will be transformative. As people identify with the death and resurrection of Jesus – going down into the water and coming up again, so they will mark an end to their old life and the beginning of their new life. Baptism will place a marker in time for them. It will be like a sign saying: ‘This is a New Life!’ We get a picture in Ac 2:42-47 of what that new life looks like for the transformed people of God, as people shared faith, love, time, possessions and all sorts together.
In the future I suspect we’ll see more deliverance from evil spirits taking place during baptisms – as happens today in revival contexts in parts of Africa and Asia. As people are cleansed in the water and filled with the Holy Spirit, demons will manifest and be cast out, with some fleeing spontaneously in the very act of baptism. This will not be weird. Just normal, as people are transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.
In a revived North baptisms will include story-telling as people speak of how Jesus has saved them, loved them and forgiven them. Many of these will be recorded on video and will posted online – as we do now. These baptism stories will play a big part in helping others come to faith in Christ as the testimonies release faith.
In a revived North baptisms will result in more baptisms. Some people will come to baptism services to support a family member or friend, and will end up there and then giving their life to Jesus Christ, and maybe getting baptised in the same water on the same day! That will happen because of the power of the Spirit’s presence, the power of the testimonies and the power of the anointed preaching. I find it easy to preach at a baptism service because the atmosphere is always positive and celebratory and people are excited, full of anticipation and faith. I love it! Baptising people is one of my favourite things in life. Seriously!
I’m praying that in York we’ll see at least 365 baptisms each year. That represents one person coming to faith each day. That’s what they saw happening in Ac 2:47 – ‘the Lord added daily to their number.’ In a small city like York that is easily achievable, though I don’t think we’re quite there yet. In fact we should be able to see that in St Michael le Belfrey Church alone – so that’s a small goal we’re working and praying for. And when we get there, we’ll ask for more.
So in a revived North baptisms will be the main measure of conversion. Do pray with me for more and more baptisms. In the future. But starting now. In our day. In our time.