On Sunday morning 17 November 1957, along with eleven others, at the relatively young age of thirteen, I was baptised in the ‘Church of Jerusalem’ (Salemskapelle), the large Baptist church in the centre of Zurich. Why Zurich? Because at that time my father was the professor of New Testament at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in the village of Rüschlikon, on the shores of Lake Zurich.
To be baptised I had to attend a series of baptismal classes. in Zurich. I also received instruction from my father: he talked to me about the significance of Romans 6, but I confess that at the time I did not really follow him.
One Wednesday evening I had to stand up before a well-attended church meeting and give my testimony, whereupon the church agreed (by a show of hands) to allow me to be baptised and become a member of the church. Alas, I have not got a copy of that testimony I gave to the members of Salemskapelle. I have, however, got a later copy of my testimony – from the hand-writing it can only have been written a year or so after my baptism. I wonder whether I wrote it as part of my application to become a member of a Baptist church in England? It reads as follows:
I have been fortunate enough to have been placed in a Christian home. There never was a time when I had not heard of Jesus Christ. Perhaps if I had not the blessings of a Christian home and Christian parents I would most likely have a more exciting testimony to tell.
One Sunday evening, I had just heard my father preach a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. But the bit I was intrigued about was the beginning of the prayer, ‘Our Father’. I asked my father what it meant exactly and so my father explained all about it to me, and at the age of eight years I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Lord and Saviour.
Then it was only a faith of a child. Had an atheist come and spoken to me, I would not have known how to answer him. But as I have grown older I have been able to understand our Christian faith better, and I have become a convinced believer in Christ. I realise that Christianity is built on the solid rock of Christ, and no clever argument of men can shake that rock.
I had been thinking of being baptised for a long time, but we went abroad and I was only eleven years old. No one in Switzerland is ever baptised as early as that. There it is very unusual for anybody to be baptized under the age of sixteen. Even so I felt I ought not to wait until I was sixteen. I talked about it with my father several times. It was very clear that as a Christian I ought to be baptized. My father did not want me to be baptized just to copy him thoughtlessly, he wanted me to be sure in my own mind, and I did not want to be baptized simply because my father was a minister. I wanted to be baptized because it was right…. So on 17 November 1957 I was baptized and received into membership at Zurich Baptist Church….
I still feel convinced that I have done the right thing by joining the Baptist church. As I think on my friends at school, the more I realise how much they need Christ; in fact, how much the world needs Christ and what a lot of good he would do if they accepted him. It is my sincere desire to serve him, and I am constantly looking for guidance from him for any kind of service he points out to me.
On the day of my baptism. I wore a long white gown, which to my consternation was not properly weighted with the result that it began to float in the water! Another surprise was that nobody had told me that immediately after the baptisms there would be a ceremony in which along with the laying on of hands I and the other baptismal candidates would be prayed for. We were each given a baptismal card on which was a text specially chosen for us (my text was from Romans 14.8: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s”) and welcomed into church membership. Then, within the same service, there was a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Although I had sat through many communion services in the past, this was the first time I had been allowed to eat bread and drink wine – I found my first communion service a very daunting experience.
Unlike many baptismal services in England, where the sermon is an opportunity for the minister to preach a Gospel message and invite people to give their lives to Christ, baptismal services in Zurich were focussed on the baptismal candidates, with the result that the preaching was about Christian discipleship. Although I may not have understood fully the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6, my baptism was nonetheless deeply meaningful for me. For Salemskapelle is not far from the River Limmat, where in the 16th century Ulrich Zwingli, the great Swiss reformer, had drowned hundreds of Anabaptists. I was very conscious of the call of Christ to take up my cross and follow him (see Mark 8.34). I was conscious too that in being baptised I was joining a company of Christians where down through the centuries many had suffered for their faith (in this respect the choice of baptismal text seemed very apposite). Through being baptised in Zurich ‘Nonconformity’ was etched on my heart and mind.
Here I am today, 60 years later, still seeking to follow Jesus. Today I joyfully reaffirm my faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself form. As this Sunday I receive bread and wine, I will yet again renew my baptismal vows – resolving in the years that are left to die to self and to live for Christ.