Believers’ baptism has been a fundamental and defining aspect of Baptist identity since the beginning of the Baptist movement in early 17th century Europe. For Baptists, water baptism represents entrance into a “community of believers who can testify to an experience of grace through Jesus Christ.” It is a rite of passage that (usually) occurs only once in a Baptist’s lifetime, as an expression of their faith and their commitment to follow Christ. This ritual, of course, echoes the baptism of Jesus as described in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 1:9-11, Matt. 3:13-17, Luke 3:21-22).
Ecological theologian Ched Meyers coined the term “watershed discipleship,” an interpretation of following Christ that:
Recognizes that we are in a watershed historical moment of crisis… It acknowledges the bioregional locus of an incarnational following of Jesus [which inescapably takes place] in a watershed context… And it implies that we need to be disciples of our watersheds.
In his ecological interpretation of Mark’s baptism narrative, Myers notes that in the Greek text, those going before Jesus to be baptized by John “are baptized in the Jordan (Greek en); Jesus, however, is baptized into it (eis), a distinction with real theological and social significance.” He goes on to suggest:
While theologians usually understand Jesus’ baptism as divine empowerment “from above,” we could just as well argue he was being en-spirited from “below” through a deep submersion into his beloved homeland, grounding him in the storied Jordan watershed of his ancestors, through which the God of Israel was still speaking.
The chorus of the song “River of God” draws on this interpretation of baptism, which necessarily implies that baptism is both particular and universal in nature. When we are baptized into our watersheds, we are also baptized into the River of God, which flows from one end of scripture to the other – from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the vision of a new creation in Revelation. And as the hydrological cycle shows us, we are baptized with the very same waters of creation that brought life to the void Earth – the River of God that continues to move, nourish, shape, and cleanse us throughout all our lives.
The lyrics to the verses and bridge of the song make reference to specific stories of this River of God throughout scripture (noted in the provided lyrics below), and they consider how these stories continue to be incredibly relevant to our own times. Let us remember that our baptism in into the unifying waters of creation – the River of God – calls us to rise and be thankful, faithful caretakers of all of creation. And we start by acting as transformative agents of the loving justice of Christ in our own watersheds.
Minister of Worship, Music and the Arts
“River of God” by Christian McIvor (click link to listen) The choruses of this song (text displayed in bold font in the video) are intended to be sung congregationally, so please feel free to sing along once you’ve learned the melody. Verse 1 (Gen. 1:1-2; Gen. 1:20; Gen. 2:10a) In the beginning, with the heavens and the earth, The waters spinning, forming life and giving birth To the garden from which our story grows, and the Current flows, oh, Chorus Into the river we go, Cleansed by the waters that know All places and times, through all of creation; Rising, the spirit will lead us on the River of God. Verse 2 (Gen. 7:11-23) The seas are surging, once again we’ve lost our way, The coasts submerging, with more and more lives lost each day; A hard rain’s falling, and we won’t make it through unless We turn back to You, oh, Chorus Back to the river we go, Cleansed by the waters that know All places and times, through all of creation; Rising, the spirit will lead us on the River of God. Verse 3 (Ex. 14:21-22, 30a) Through parted waters, your pathways open up to lead Our sons and daughters to the place where we are freed From the empire, holding your strong hand, we’ll Reach the promised land, oh, Chorus Back to the river we go, Cleansed by the waters that know All places and times, through all of creation; Rising, the spirit will lead us on the River of God. Bridge (Amos 5:24) Let your justice roll on down, down; Streams of righteousness and love will shape us. Verse 4 (4:6-14; 7:37-38) When we were thirsty, your living water cooled our tongue And in your mercy, you quenched our hearts and made us one In these waters where we can be reborn, and All will be transformed, oh, Chorus Back to the river we go, Cleansed by the waters that know All places and times, through all of creation; Rising, the Spirit will lead us on the River of God. ©Christian McIvor, 2018
Resources Used for this Article:
Leonard, Bill J. The Challenge of Being Baptist: Owning a Scandalous Past and an Uncertain Future. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010.
Meyers, Ched. “Prophetic Visions of Redemption as Rehydration: A Call to Watershed Discipleship.” The Anglican Theological Review 100.1 (Winter 2018): 61-77.
Meyers, Ched. “Water Is Life: Re-Placing the Sacrament of Baptism. AllCreation.org. http://www.allcreation.org/home/re-placing-baptism. (accessed January 6, 2021).