21 May, 2024

Baptism: The Healing Plunge into Jesus’ Plea for Unity


by | 1 May, 2024 | 3 comments

By John Hampton 

Imagine this scenario. It’s November 10, 2024, the Sunday following the nastiest, messiest, costliest presidential election in American history. After all the divisive social media posts, the outpouring of outrage from politically partisan members of our churches, and the awkward mixture of glee and gloom in the room, depending on which candidate one supported, what in the world is a preacher supposed to say or do on that Sunday?  

How about having an All-In Baptism Sunday?  

That’s precisely what we did at Journey Christian Church in Apopka, Florida, after the 2020 election. The emotional weight and physical exhaustion, not to mention the spiritual dynamics of congregations divided on almost everything at that time in history, cannot be overstated. Like every other church leader at the time, I was worn down from dealing with a constant stream of COVID-contentious congregants. Then, to top the year off, a presidential election, which is always a tense season, but in 2020, it bordered on lunacy that went from bad to worse to atrocious in the days that followed. 

What could I do as a local church pastor to exalt Christ, proclaim gospel truths, and heal hardened and hurting hearts? I decided to invite people to go all-in for Jesus by going all-under in Christian baptism.  


I used two primary texts as the basis of my sermon that day. The first was John 17, Jesus’ powerful and prayerful plea for unity among his followers just before going to the cross. Verse 11 says: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” 

At the very end, when Jesus’ hour to be glorified had come, the Lord was most concerned about his followers’ unity and their oneness. We know this because of what he knew and said in the coming verses. He knew the world would change as long as his followers were bound together in his name and mission. But if they ever became divided and splintered, things would get uglier and more chaotic than they could imagine. History has repeatedly proved him right.  

In a few verses, Jesus looked beyond his original followers and extended the parameters of his plea for the rest of us. Jesus said, 

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (vv. 20-21). 

The phrase “all of them” in the first-century world meant the Jew and Gentile, the rich and poor, the slaves and free, male and female, military leaders and soldiers, tax-gatherers and those from whom the taxes were gathered, the educated and the uneducated. . . all of them. 

“All of them” in the 21st century means Republicans and Democrats, Independents and the indecisive, Libertarians and librarians, the Black and Brown and White and Beige, married, single, privileged and not so privileged, white collar, blue collar or no collar—in other words, all of us. And what did Jesus pray for all of us? 

“I pray . . . that all of them may be one.”  

Which sounds impossible in our dangerously divided world. And yet Jesus was convinced, as unbelievable as it sounds, that this was absolutely imperative. This was not an add-on for Jesus. This was not, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they all just got along?” No, this was mission-critical for Jesus.  

But unity doesn’t come naturally to us. That’s because we know only what we know, and we were raised by who we were raised by and around, and we all have different life experiences. And we tend to run to our little corners politically, relationally, culturally, and in every way, right?  

Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner challenged us with this profound statement:  

When we are born into the world, there is simultaneously a world born into us. We are immersed into cultural contexts that affect our innermost beings, shaping what we know, how we think, what we take for granted, and what we struggle to accept. We naturally assume that “what is” is what was meant to be.  

In other words, unless we understand the power the past exerts on who we are in the present, we will inevitably replicate those patterns in relationships within and beyond the church. 

But the gospel tells us that Jesus’ church is bigger than the family you were raised in. Jesus’ church is bigger than the territorial thinking and regional mindsets of where we were raised at. Jesus’ church is bigger than the national parties and nationalistic priorities we are so quick to rally around. Jesus’ church is way bigger than what you and I think it is!  

Jesus envisions a church that will be so diverse and international, and have so many continents, cultures, and colors represented in it that the most important thing they can do is to remain one in him.  

In John 17, Jesus told us why unity in him is so important to him:  

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (vv. 22-23). 

The purpose of Jesus’ prayer for unity will shock insider-focused church members who demand that their agendas be respected and their ways be protected. The reason he prayed for oneness doesn’t have anything to do with us. He prayed for oneness because of what he wanted to do through us. 

Essentially, he said, “The reason I want them to be one is so that the world”—not the people inside the church, but that the people outside the church . . . the ones who drive by our buildings and roll their eyes or maybe say something not so nice about us under their breath—“so that the world may believe that you sent me. So that when they see the overwhelming unity despite the obvious diversity within the church, they may actually conclude and be convinced that you have sent me.” 

Jesus said our unity isn’t a let’s-all-play-nice add-on to the gospel. It is mission critical. Jesus prayed that we will practice such unity in the body of Christ that people will believe in the identity of Christ. Jesus prayed that people will believe that God actually loves them because they see our love for each other. People will be won to Christ when they see that his disciples are one in Christ.  

Bottom line: Our unity preaches! And not only that. Our unity preaches louder than our doctrines, louder than our slogans, louder than our mission or vision statements or our programs, louder than our bumper stickers, wristbands, and our social media hashtags. And nothing preaches unity quite like baptism.  


The second text I used on that post-election Sunday in 2020 was written by Paul, who knew a thing or two about protecting unity among diverse and divisive people. 

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28, emphasis mine). 

I love how Rick Atchley summed up Paul’s monumental statement: 

Baptism is the church’s public rebuke of racism—no longer Jew nor Gentile; it’s our public repudiation of classism—there’s no longer slave nor free; it’s our public rejection of sexism—there’s no male or female; and it’s our public renunciation of any form of sectarianism—for you are all one in Christ.  

Baptism into Christ changes our primary identity and ultimate allegiance, and every time a follower of Jesus sees a baptism, it should also remind us of that. One of Paul’s anchoring analogies for contrasting the deadening life under law and the liberating life under grace in his masterpiece letter to the Romans is what took place at our baptism. “Don’t you know what happened then?” he repeatedly asked.  

Likewise, we should remember that when we are baptized, we are called out of our old identities, away from embedded cultural categories, and invited to embrace something radically new. Something so new that it cannot be conflated, confused, or co-opted by any agenda other than the intended agenda of its founder. And his agenda is not to save America but to save Americans . . . and Mexicans, Australians, Ecuadorians, and Ethiopians . . . 

I concluded the message that Sunday in November 2020 by saying something like this:  

“The future of the universal, eternal, triumphant church of Jesus Christ does not depend on the outcome of an election in a country that’s only been around for 244 years! The hope of the world is not based on who we put in the White House but on who we put on the cross. The future of the church was determined 2,000 years ago when the King of kings and Lord of lords rose triumphantly over the grave and declared, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty!’ (Revelation 1:8).   

“Why in the world would we ever opt for anything less than that? Why would we, as followers of an eternal King, allow ourselves to be divided by temporary political systems, political leaders, and political platforms? Why would we ever let lesser kings and lesser things divide us?”  

And then, on that post-election Sunday four years ago, 35 people were baptized into Christ. Not much was said about the outcome of the election. More was said about the outlook of the elect. May that be true for 2024 and every year until our King returns.  

John Hampton is pastor emeritus of Journey Christian Church in Apopka, Florida, senior advisor at D Vaughan Consulting, and program director for the Christian Church Leadership Network


  1. Al Forthman

    Amen and amen!

  2. Steve

    “All-In Baptism” so does that mean you think someone can be partway in?
    I think using this term for baptism is implying you don’t believe Acts 2:38 and that baptism is the time of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit!
    “When we examine this data we find that a sin­ner is saved by grace, through faith, in baptism.” – Jack Cottrell

  3. Kyle Saravia

    Baptism is very important no doubt about that but let’s not forget though that before someone is baptized first they have to believe in Jesus and understand the Gospel we see that in Acts ‭ 8:29-39 [29] Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. [30] And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? [31] And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. [32] The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And like a lamb dumb before his shearer, So opened he not his mouth: [33] In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: And who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth. [34] And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? [35] Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. [36] And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? [37] And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. [38] And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. [39] And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. ‭Romans 10:16-17 KJV‬
    [16] But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? [17] So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. We should not be baptized before we are born again it is like this if we are baptized before we get born again all we did was take a bath without soap encourage them to get baptized once they have heard and believed the Gospel message amen.

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