The ‘apostle’ who owns and controls the Ndeeba-based Victory Church, Mr Joseph Serwadda, is more educated than most of the street preachers who scream in your ears as you crawl in Kampala’s endless traffic jams.
For more than two hours every Sunday, from around 6:30am, Mr Serwadda is on Impact FM and Dream Television, which are owned by his Victory Church.
In the studio he normally sits with Mr Mukiibi, a ‘bishop’ at the same church, and another ‘apostle’, Mr Charles Tumwine from Lugazi.
Last Sunday, instead of Mr Tumwine, there was an ‘ambassador’, one Semakula, a broadcaster at Impact and Dream.
Also, although the reasons for such a title and the legitimacy of whoever holds the position are fiercely contested by several Pentecostal and evangelical groups, there are groups that recognise Serwadda as their ‘presiding apostle’, whatever that means.
So you had three fairly responsible people in the studio, and their audience out there. It was in those circumstances that Serwadda declared that those who had not got a full immersion baptism were not baptised.
I shook my ears, just to confirm that I had heard him correctly.
Fortunately, Serwadda repeated his position: The Bible prescribed immersion. The sprinkling of water used in some Christian sects was, therefore, just a naming ceremony. So, if they had received only a sprinkling in their previous churches, he gave his followers a proper baptism.
Now, clearly, Mr Serwadda must find a decent Bible college to sort out his difficulties.
For me, a complete layman, an ordinary English dictionary will do, which describes baptism as a Christian religious rite consisting of immersion in (or sprinkling with) water as a sign that the subject is cleansed from sin and constituted as a member of the Church.
Among the Middle Eastern people where Judaism, Christianity and Islam arose, sand, dust, domestic animal filth, long journeys and limited availability of water must have made the feeling of a washed body an almost sacred occasion.
The then recently invented God, also identified as Yahweh, Jehovah, and, later, Allah, or Katonda, had, among other attributes, an image of absolute cleanliness; or purity, precisely because he did not have a body. You did not go into His presence dirty.
The early practices and rituals related to cleansing included male circumcision and selective exclusion of (bleeding, ‘unclean’) women.
That Abrahamic association of a clean body with a clean soul persists to the present day.
An ordained person ritually washes the body (and, by implication, the soul) of a newcomer in the Christian community.
In Islam, apart from initiation circumcision, ritual washing precedes all prayers.
The nature of ritual is to identify or extract an essential meaning and represent it in symbolic form.
Repeat, in symbolic form. Religion is not scientific rationality. Anybody in possession of their wits understands that even a scrubbing of the body with disinfectant and immersion in distilled water will not remove one’s sins or cleanse one’s soul.
That is why, once prescribed and accepted by a given sect, a sprinkling of water and drawing of the cross on an initiate’s forehead is as valid as an immersion. Both forms equally indicate the official beginning of one’s Christian identity.
Pentecostals are free to perform their immersions. But to dismiss the sprinkling used in other churches as merely a ‘naming ceremony’ is not only misleading to the less critical listener; it is an insult to the leaders and more erudite followers of those faiths, making it harder for Pentecostals to earn their respect.