Counting Baptisms and Praying for more

"Calling Disciples" by He Qi

ESV Acts 2:41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Whenever I hear pastors and other Christians discuss this verse, often around Pentecost Sunday, someone wonders out loud “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Holy Spirit still worked so emphatically in our world today?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see 3000 converts in one week?”

The Holy Spirit is living and active, working “when and where it pleases God”. Current estimates are that there are about 2.2 billion Christians around the world. Demographics listed at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary website estimate that there are 79,000 new Christians baptized or converted everyday. If that estimate is accurate, that means there are 533,000 new Christians every week, or 26,645,000 every year. We do not personally get to see 3000 or 533,000 baptisms every week because they are spread across millions of congregations around the world.  But they are happening. We can and should pray that the Holy Spirit will increase the number of baptisms, both adult and infant, in our own local congregations. We can and should share our salutary Lutheran teachings with other Christians so that their consciences will be less burdened by their heterodoxy.  But may we never doubt that the Holy Spirit is working less energetically now than he was that first week in Jerusalem.

Rick Marrs

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4 Comments

  1. Seth Davidson March 26, 2010
    Reply

    Dr. Marrs,

    While I agree with your “bigger picture” view of how we can conceive the work of the Holy Spirit through the bigger lens of God working in His creation across denominational lines, I am interested to see the number you offered (533,000/week) in comparison to the weekly mass exodus from Christianity. If I remember correctly, I believe ABlaze cited that within our own denomination, we have lost 125,000 members over the last 10 years and 85% of our churches are either stagnant or dying. While looking at our own statistics may not be (and hopefully so!) a microcosm of what is going on in the greater realm of Christianity on a whole, our numbers may very well be a smaller scale of a much larger exodus from the faith. Either way, it is an interesting post in which I would love to see the counter research and a constant reminder to keep preaching the Word faithfully to a dying sinful world!

    Blessings!

  2. Mark April 10, 2010
    Reply

    Two thoughts. Absolute numbers are interesting and important, but the full picture comes from the relative comparisons to size. The ARIS survery that caused such a stir last year is a great point. The headline was that Christians in the US dropped 10 points to 76% of the population. Underneath that the absolute numbers from 1990 to 2008 grew from 153 million to 173 million. An absolute growth of 20 million Christians! The problem is the total population grew faster. At the margin the church is not as attractive which corresponds to the age breakdowns and the qualitative feel.

    The second thought is how often in worship are we praying for the Spirit’s activity. In the LSB prayer of the church (especially DS5, 215) the second prayer is for expansion of the kingdom. How often do we pray that line? Basic catechism, 2nd petition – we pray also that it comes to us.

  3. Mark Winkelman April 11, 2010
    Reply

    Another point to ponder when we discuss new baptisms or converts is one which I have recently experienced. On Easter Sunday, a new church in my small town reportedly baptized in excess of 50 people. Normally this may seem like great news, but I know for a fact that 3 of them were already baptized (as shown in our church records having been done in our church) and I’m willing to bet that nearly all of them have similar backgrounds due to the way in which this church began (an unhappy Christian group breaking away from their church). It is Pentecostal too.

    So, numbers are nice for us to see, but stats can be deceiving. Trust in God to prepare the harvest and know that His Spirit is working through us. I, for one, would love to see 3000 new baptized Christians in church but will not preach that from the pulpit as it seems to focus on the negative (us not having those kinds of numbers and thus seemingly not doing God’s work) and rather focus on the good that the Spirit is doing through us.

  4. Erik Herrmann April 17, 2010
    Reply

    Nice piece, Rick–an encouragement to pray, praise and give thanks. Given the comments, here’s another thought about numbers: What about tracking the number of Christian funerals? I’m being a bit facetious here (I really don’t want to see that kind of ticker!). The point is that the work of the Spirit extends beyond conversion and baptism to baptism’s goal: the blessed death and resurrection of the faithful. At the end of the “Day,” what are we counting?–does our math correspond to the guest list at the eschatological banquet hall? With the last being first and the first being last, I suspect we will be surprised that our statistics will have relatively little in common with the statistics of the Spirit and the calculations of the Kingdom of God.

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