A Tale of Two Baptisms


The news greeted me last evening: today, Russell Brand is being baptized in the Thames River.

This reminded me of my short trip last weekend to Ball Ground, GA, for the occasion of the baptism of my best buddy from junior high school, Wayde Trent.

The stories of these two men are remarkably different…and remarkably similar.

I know Russell Brand exactly well enough to pick his face out of a lineup; I understand that he has been a fairly raucous comedian, and apparently currently faces some charges related to sexual assault (not being hip on things pop-culture-related–praise be–that’s about all I know of the man).

I know Wayde Trent pretty well. We hung out daily, essentially, for several years; we played baseball and basketball together, but our passion was street hockey and following the exploits of our hometown minor-league hockey team, the Roanoke Valley Rebels. When Dad and I would go to games, he would ask if Trent wanted to go and, more often than not, he did. When I left public school (10th grade) to go to Roanoke Valley Christian, Trent decided to stay at William Fleming–a decision he has often told me he has long rued–and we, predictably, drifted apart.

For over two decades.

Trent found me when I was pastoring in PA, about 25 years ago, through the auspices of a friend who was savvy with this new interwebs thing. Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, I get a call and it’s Wayde Trent on the phone. Made my week, as we caught each other up on our lives.

And thus began the discipleship of my buddy Trent…or better put, in some sense, I guess it resumed. Not long thereafter, Wayde’s dad passed away, and it wasn’t long after that his little brother was killed in an automobile accident. I tried to be the friend I had always tried to be, this time as a pastor-friend.

Fast-forward to the day, a few years later, when I told Trent we were moving to Atlanta; he lived in Cumming at the time (now in Canton, both northern suburbs). We stayed in better touch, got together (not as often as we should have, I confess), and pretty much picked up where we had left off. But early on (2007?), we met a few times at Perimeter Mall, where we studied the topic of justification by faith and where Trent, for the first time, began to understand grace. And at some point, he told me that he had crossed the bridge of faith.

And though it took a few years of discipleship in local churches (sadly, as he told me last Sunday, some of which were not places where he really could grow), Wayde got connected into a good church with a faithful pastor, culminating in his decision to publicly profess his faith through baptism.

Which returns us to the subject: two baptisms, radically different, yet remarkably similar. One, that of a celebrity, which raises all sorts of…things…and the other, that of an ordinary guy whose name isn’t well-known outside of his circle of friends and small family.

There are Christians who will take different positions toward the baptism of Russell Brand. Some will be skeptical, even scoffing, having seen the very public missteps of previous celebrities who professed Christ and then, well, “as a dog returning to his vomit”… And as such, they will unfairly demand of Russell Brand things too heavy for a new follower of Jesus to bear; instead of lifting him up in prayer, they will tear him down in their cynicism.

Others will be tempted to jump to the opposite response, ready to give him a microphone and a platform next week to serve as some kind of spiritual authority. We’ve seen this response as well; out of perhaps the best of motives, wanting to show the world that Jesus is great (and He is), or wanting to show that He is “cool” (uhhh…), or wanting to win more converts, they will want Russell giving testimony at the next four-day Jesus gala organized by some promoter. Maybe not…

Rather, let’s do for Russell exactly as we should do for Wayde: let’s welcome them both into the family. Let’s pray for their continued spiritual development. Let’s challenge them to let the Holy Spirit perfect His good work in them; give them a place of support as they walk the journey of faith; link arms and hearts with them to serve Jesus together. Let’s not rush either of them into anything approaching spiritual leadership at any level…nor let us be cynical, not really believing by our actions what we say when we say we believe that “the arm of the Lord is not shortened, that He cannot save.”

I rejoiced that my buddy from 50 years ago said publicly that Jesus is his Lord, as he followed His Lord in baptism. And I rejoice that Russell Brand did the same today. May I encourage you to do the same, because there is rejoicing in Heaven every time an ordinary person–or a worldwide superstar–repents.

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