The lights dimmed in the purple quarter-circle church, and Pastor Hitchcock appeared behind the baptismal pool situated high in the back of the Sanctuary. New congregant Catherine, clad in a white robe, stepped down into the pool up to her shoulders. “As we know,” explained Hitchcock, “baptism isn’t what saves us. The blood of Jesus is what saves us. Baptism is a very spiritual act, a following of Christ in obedience, a physical representation of what has happened to us spiritually. And it’s part of our membership requirement.” Catherine was baptized as an infant, but “now that she has come to the point in her life where she has accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, she wants to follow Him in obedience to baptism.”
He spoke to Catherine. “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
“Yes,” she replied, sounding a little nervous.
“Then I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As he spoke, he dipped Catherine to the side so that she was entirely submerged, and then raised her back up. “The word baptizo is actually a dyer’s term,” he said, addressing the congregation. “It means, ‘to be dyed.’ That’s an interesting thought when you think about how we give up our life for Christ — we’ve been crucified with Him completely. That’s why we do full-immersion baptism; to show that our whole body, our whole being, is dedicated to Christ.”
The lights rose and Hitchcock prayed and a congregant got up and prayed as well, begging Jesus for the strength to “perform this week in a way that’s pleasing to You” and “not to do anything to grieve You.” Then music director Bruce Gearhart led the choir and band (two saxophones, two flutes, guitar, drums, and piano) in a medley devoted to the name of Jesus. “I’ve been reading a lot of Scripture, especially Revelation,” said Gearhart. “There’s going to be a shout of praise unto Jesus like you’ve never heard before! I want you to do it two ways. I want you to shout the name of Jesus!”
“Jesus!” boomed the congregation.
“Then, softly, like you’re in a quiet place, just worshipping His name, calmed by His Holy Spirit.”
“Jesus, Jesus,” they murmured.
“One more time, for He is the sweetest name.”
The soft sound felt intimate, as did the song that followed, sung by Hitchcock’s wife Dina. “Like oil upon Your feet/ Like wine for You to drink/ Like water from my heart/ I’ll pour my love on You.” As she sang, an image flashed on the screen behind her: the woman anointing Christ’s feet with her hair.
Hitchcock took the stage to announce an upcoming ministry to Mexico, as well as another to the homeless of Escondido. “I’m calling it Project 1:8, from Acts 1:8. We’re to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, which is our local community; Judea, which is a regional level; Samaria, which is a cross-cultural idea, since the Jews hated the Samaritans; and then the outermost parts of the earth.” He talked about providing kits of necessities and about partnering with local businesses. “In doing that, we connect with others, and share Christ with them.”
Sunday was part six of Hitchcock’s series “A Fruitful Life Is a Spirit-Filled Life.” Next week would touch on “the impact that the Spirit has within our lives,” but this week took on the uncomfortable subject of sins against the Holy Spirit. Why uncomfortable? Because Jesus says in Mark 3 that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” Scary stuff. But Hitchcock, addressing his congregation of believers, said, “Fear not. We cannot sin so often that God cannot forgive, and we cannot sin so badly that God cannot forgive.”
What can we do that’s unpardonable? “The unpardonable sin is fully conscious and stubborn hatred against God. There is nothing that can be more unpardonable than rejecting God’s redemptive plan for you. But if we still believe that Jesus is who He says He is, then we have no fear that our standing before God has been rejected.... The simple truth comes down to this: you did nothing to earn your salvation, and you can do nothing to lose it.” And as for those who leave the fold: “If someone gets to the point in their life where they honestly say that they want nothing to do with God, then the truth is they probably never really had Him in the first place.” Still, Hitchcock warned against grieving or quenching the Spirit — stifling “the fullness of the Spirit’s blessing.”
He closed with prayer and a challenge to grow spiritually.
What happens when we die?
“We’re face to face with God in final judgment,” said Hitchcock.
855 Brotherton Road, Escondido
Denomination: Southern Baptist
Founded locally: 1949
Senior pastor: Todd Hitchcock
Congregation size: 400
Staff size: 7
Sunday school enrollment: n/a
Annual budget: around $600,000
Weekly giving: around $11,000
Singles program: yes
Dress: mostly semi-formal
Diversity: mostly but not entirely Caucasian and African-American
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour 30 minutes