My Early Baptism and Spiritual Development

When does God’s saving grace begin working in a person’s life? Is it at the moment the person decides to believe in Christ? Or can God’s saving grace be operative prior to a person believing? Could that saving grace even begin at a young child’s baptism?

Church traditions within Christendom differ over the practice of baptism. Those differences extend to its meaning, spiritual significance, rightful candidates, and how baptism is to be performed. I will not address those questions here but I highly recommend the source below for understanding where Christians agree and disagree over baptism.1

The focus of this article is more autobiographical. I hope you’ll benefit as I share my reflections on how I have understood God to have worked in my life when it comes to baptism and my ongoing spiritual development and vocation.

God’s Early Hand on My Life

My life is inextricably linked to my parents. Both my dad and mom grew up with an evangelical Christian faith in the rural state of West Virginia. They moved to Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1950s and converted to Roman Catholicism in the early 1960s. At age four, I was baptized as a Roman Catholic at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Long Beach, California. I distinctly remember as a young boy staring intently at the crucified Christ statue that hung above the church’s altar. Being very young, I knew little about who Jesus was, but the crucifix told me he had suffered greatly and that he was central to our church.

Catholicism honors its saints and our parish was dedicated to the early church father St. Athanasius (c. 296–373) who had defended Nicene orthodoxy. This meant that he affirmed the Trinity by defending the deity of both the Son and the Holy Spirit against arguably the church’s greatest heresy—Arianism (a categorical denial of Christ’s deity). I recalled later reading on the church door Athanasius’s famous words uttered during the height of the Arian controversy: Athanasius Contra Mundum (“Athanasius against the world”).

God’s Ongoing Guiding Hand

Many years later I would come to learn about Athanasius’s heroic life as a Christian theologian and apologist. I went on to read his classic work On the Incarnation, which inspired me to write and speak about the person of Christ and the triune God, especially to those contemporary religious groups that deny these doctrines (Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Iglesia Ni Cristo). Many years after my baptism I came to view my own modest apologetics ministry as being carried out in the spirit of Athanasius. I would even write a chapter about Athanasius in my book Classic Christian Thinkers.2

God’s special grace in my life seemed to begin at my baptism all those years ago where I first heard of Jesus Christ and made the sign of the cross and uttered those sacred words: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” While theologians debate the concept of baptismal regeneration, I am convinced that God had his providential hand upon me even as a small boy. And while I would not remain a Roman Catholic my whole life, I am indeed grateful for and respectful of what I received and learned as a Catholic and for distinguished Catholic thinkers like St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Blaise Pascal, who would continue to teach and inspire me even as an evangelical Protestant Christian.

Reflecting on a Heritage

Several years ago I visited St. Athanasius parish and showed my children the place where my Christian spiritual pilgrimage in life began. I looked again at the statue of the crucified Christ as well as the front door of the church, which still contained Athanasius’s famous words. I reflected anew on how God’s saving grace had worked in my life both then and now.

Reflections: Your Turn

Have you reflected on how God’s saving grace has worked in your life? 

Endnotes

  1. For different views of baptism within Protestantism, see the book Baptism: Three Views, edited by David Wright.
  2. For an introduction to St. Athanasius and his key ideas as well his battle against Arianism, see chapter two of my book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.

  One thought on “My Early Baptism and Spiritual Development

  1. Dave Seng
    September 1, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    Excellent post, Ken. One of the greatest things we can do is teach our children that salvation is completely outside of us and given to us as a free gift and, upon reflection, teaches us the rich and full view of the sacraments, especially baptism in the role of justification. I recently had this conversation with my son the other day.

    • September 1, 2020 at 12:59 pm

      Thanks, Dave.

      Ken Samples

  2. September 1, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks, that was interesting and thought provoking. I grew up an atheist, and yet looking back in hindsight there were some very improbable life events that steered me towards my eventual conversion to Christianity. Personally I try to avoid saying “God did this and that” because I think it is a bit presumptuous to claim that I know the mind of God. But it is hard to reflect on those events now and not believe that they were either orchestrated by God, or that God used the opportunity they presented to influence me. And yet I was his enemy! Because my adult baptism is such a clear and precious memory I wanted my children to have the same, and discouraged them from getting baptised too young. But by the time they were around 10 and were amazing adults at church with their understanding of theology and apologetics I felt I could no longer discourage their requests for baptism, and agreed to let them be baptised. I don’t know if that was the best time to be baptised or not. But if God can use events in my atheist life to guide me, then I certainly believe He could use a young child’s baptism!

    • September 1, 2020 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks for sharing about your spiritual journey, Darren.

      Best regards in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  3. Carol Snow
    September 2, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    Ken, my testimony is probably quite different from the testimonies of those who mainly come to God through their intellects. But please either use all of it of none of it.

    My father died in WWII when I was 4. I had a g-grandfather who was a Free Will Baptist minister and was brought up in that church—went to the altar to accept Jesus when I was six and was baptized when I was twelve. When you are baptized in a cold, muddy Oklahoma river, you know you’ve been baptized. I’ve never felt the need to be baptized again even though I didn’t really accept Jesus when I was six. I couldn’t understand why, if He was God’s son, God had allowed Him to die on the cross.

    I was very close to God the Father though. In the meantime my mother married a man who attended the Assembly of God church. She hadn’t believed in speaking in tongues, but once when Kenneth Hagin was visiting their church, he pointed at my mother and said, “Tonight that little Baptist lady is going to receive the Holy Ghost.” She had a vision of an angel touching her lips with a hot coal, and she began to speak in tongues.

    I had separated from my husband and was seeking God when the realization came to me that Jesus had died on the cross, had allowed us to kill Him, in order be able to tell us that He forgave us.

    I’d been having strange dreams—that is, I’d realize when dreaming that it was a dream and do stupid things—like jumping up on a house and walking on the roof. But after accepting Jesus as Christ when I had one of those dreams, I decided to go to God.

    I started off the earth at a very rapid speed with images rushing past me. First I was headed for a light. That light became 3 lights—not suns. They were like lighted planets. Then I found myself in a room with a throne that was intricately carved. I thought,” If this is God, I won’t see anything.” Then realized that if I hadn’t had that thought I might have seen something. But a dark cloud fell over me, and I lost my sight.

    I poured out my heart about my marriage. God told me, “Have faith. Don’t act according to what anybody tells you. Act according to what you feel.” I felt myself going back. Then I was in a school of some kind. That turned into an ordinary dream.

    The next time I realized I was dreaming, I wanted to go back to God but saw myself as a white form and saw that form settle into my body and someone said, “This one needs rest.” I never had another of those dream experiences.

    As you might imagine, my growth as a Christian has continued to be a filled with supernatural experiences.

    • September 2, 2020 at 7:33 pm

      Carol:

      Thanks for sharing about your spiritual journey.

      I’d like invite you to read my book Without a Doubt.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

  4. Robert Weil
    September 2, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    For it is by grace we are saved – Eph 2:8. This seems to imply that grace precedes salvation. For me, that was certainly true. I had many doubts and questions, but it felt as if a current of grace was carrying me to believe in Him.

    • September 2, 2020 at 7:34 pm

      Thanks, Robert.

      Ken Samples

  5. Bryan Wendt
    September 21, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    Loved it Ken.
    The reason I think for your experience is cuz the Bible teaches that baptism is a neans of grace thru which we receive the forgiveness of sin(s). As a child you were part of the “all nations” the church was commanded to baptize. Like Luther you may recall your baptism when under attack or have doubts.
    I could say more but u get the point.
    Ya’ll keep up the good work!

    • September 21, 2020 at 6:06 pm

      Thanks, Bryan.

      Ken Samples

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