I was a teenager when a church in my hometown decided to have an adult baptism outdoors in the river that passed through our city.
Can a church perform a sacrament outside the church building in totalitarianism?
It would be like saying today that a church would held a prayer summit in a public school during the week, and teachers and students would attend the event.
During that time in Romania churches needed some kind of government authorization for each adult person being baptized, and the sacrament had to be performed within the walls of the church. Faith was private. It was a very personal issue. It was something to be kept to one’s private life. The state had jurisdiction over the public area of life. Therefore, the river belonged to the state and using it for religious purposes, such as testifying one’s faith in baptism, was a huge threat to the state.
In Jesus‘ time it seems that religious practices and spiritual disciplines such as prayer or charity, especially if prayer was performed on the streets, was something done to acquire a good public name, cultural approval and popular esteem.
In the Communist Romania it was different – such a manifestation of religious life outside the church walls was strictly supervised and controlled.
In this case, having no approval from the government, the church decided to change the place of the sacrament. In this instance the baptism was not performed in the river but in a baptistry installed in the church sanctuary. In other instances churched baptized people in lakes or rivers, despite government disapproval.
It’s a fine line the church and the disciples have to walk
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven,” Matthew 6:1.