Written by Jon T. Spence
Springfield, MO – The last recorded words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel were a command to His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and instructing them to follow Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 28:18-20). In obedience to this instruction, 69 students at Evangel University have been baptized in water on EU’s campus this semester.
The groundswell of water baptism began in October at, of all places, the Valor Football practice field. Every Monday, the team holds a chapel service, and if there is no speaker, the players break into their position groups and participate in a devotional. The idea to hold on-field baptisms arose from one of these meetings.
“One of our players came to my office and gave me a heads-up that several team members were asking about being baptized,” said Chuck Hepola, head football coach at EU. “He said, ‘What do you think about doing a baptism?’ I thought it was a great idea, but I knew we had to do it in a way that was respectful and honoring to the Lord.”
After some discussion, the coaches determined that the best option was to hold the baptismal service on the field after a practice. Those wanting to be baptized lined up in front of a tub used to cool down overheated players during fall camp.
“I discussed the importance of baptism with the team, that it was about obeying Christ and that it followed salvation, and we made sure they knew what they were committing to,” said Hepola.
As the service commenced, several team members who had not initially signed up to be baptized decided they needed to participate as well. Ultimately, 40 players and three staff members were baptized in water that day. As a result, Hepola says, Valor Football’s spiritual dynamic has strengthened.
“We’ve always worked to integrate faith into what we’re doing, and we tell the team that being out on the field is a form of worship. After the baptisms, though, I’ve seen changes in the lives of several team members. The way they approach going to class, practicing, being coached, and experiencing everyday life shows a drastic difference,” said Hepola. “God has honored their obedience.”
In the Christian faith, Jesus calls His followers to proclaim the gospel and baptize them as a sign of their entrance into His kingdom. Biblically, baptism is seen as both a sign of profession of faith in Jesus Christ and an identifying mark for believers. On the Day of Pentecost, following Christ’s ascension, Peter emphasizes this command, calling a crowd of 3,000 to “repent and be baptized” for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38).
The baptism of a Christian is a testimony to the reality that God has brought spiritual renewal to that individual’s life. It is a declaration to the world that believers have died with Christ and that they also have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life.
As a Pentecostal fellowship rooted in the call to proclaim the gospel, the Assemblies of God holds water baptism of believers as a core tenet of its mission. Following the baptisms of several football team members, administrators at EU, the AG’s flagship university, saw an opportunity to continue the evangelistic work of the fellowship. A call was put out for students to be baptized during a chapel service.
“We wanted to make sure that all students would have the opportunity to take the next step of faith and be water baptized,” said Mark Entzminger, EU’s vice president for student development.
Twenty-six students were baptized at the special service held on November 29. Of those 26, 14 joined the queue spontaneously in response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
While water baptism is traditionally practiced in a local church setting, Entzminger emphasized that Evangel is not trying to take the place of the church for its students.
“Evangel is a spiritual incubator. We don’t see ourselves as a replacement for the church,” he said. “We’re trying to produce in our students some very specific spiritual qualities and traits, and as an incubator, we understand there are times where we can model what the local church is meant to be. As a result, students leave the university and know what a church should look like.”
Ultimately, Entzminger sees this opportunity as a continuation of spiritual growth and an opportunity for a deepening of Christian life on campus.
“God has been moving at Evangel in a powerful way this year, and I think this is evidence of that. I believe it will inspire other moves of the Holy Spirit as well,” he said. “By celebrating baptisms, we can show students that this is a spiritual community and encourage them to continue proclaiming and living out their faith.”