Sunday, November 12, 2006

Baptism and the family of God

Tonight 2 people got baptised at my church. One was, in her own words, a "mouthy feminist", who had come from a nomimally Catholic background but who abandoned God in her teens before her "annoying friends" (said affectionately of course!) kept telling her about Jesus and showing her what Christian love is really like. She saw the truth, but ran away from it for a while, before eventually turning and declaring her faith in Christ.

Another was a Jew, who had been told, and believed all his life that Jesus was a blasphemer who had rightfully been crucified, and was primarily a "God for the Gentiles", a false Messiah. In addition, this seem to be justified by the atrocities that was committed in the name of Christ, such as the Crusades. But against his will, going through a Christianity Explored course (similar to Alpha, but more rigorous and with a particular emphasis on looking at Mark's gospel) he found himself having to ask the hard questions, and after looking through more than 430 Old Testament prophecies which was fulfilled by Jesus, he knew that he could no longer afford to reject Jesus.

2 rather different stories, but I tell them because at the baptism pool, we are reminded that their old selves have been hidden with Christ in God, and "raised with him through your faith in the power of God." (Col 2:12) They're joyful events! I think they're one of the highlights of church life.

But I also tell them to remind myself, and others, of its significance, not just for the individual, but for the Christian community; indeed, baptism is one of its most visible signs. I've been trying to think through Christianly the implications of our captivity to consumer culture in recent weeks (prompted by some of the alarming trends I've been hearing about in publishing). I haven't gotten very far, hitting many dead ends, but the practice of baptism, I believe, helps lay some of the foundations for a response. For baptism reminds us firstly, that we do not have to live on the world's terms, but instead, we should be bound up in the Christian metanarrative - one where, knowing that our selves are hidden, can now "set our minds on things above" for "when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Col. 3:1-4). It is fundamentally, a narrative infused with hope, a reminder of what really matters. It sets us all on a level playing field, where we are "no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." (Ephesians 2:20), and reminds us to proritise people ahead of commodities.

I also very much appreciated how during the baptism, we all, rather than just the minister, participated in the liturgy - the asking of questions. It really felt like we as a family were welcoming them. And so I'll end this post with some insights from Andy Crouch, who says them better than I possibly can.
" ...Baptism [is primarily about] Christ's commitment to us. And yet baptism could be the church's most powerful response - perhaps its only response - to individualism. We who are baptized are no longer our own, we belong to God...
Baptism is our birth into a new order, a new community, something different from the world in which our prebaptized bodies eked out an existence. It is also an ongoing testimony to the evangelistic work of the church, which is not content with self-replication (something that is so easily presumed in communities that baptize infants) but is always seeking the lost and offering them the opportunity to truly lose themselves and then be found, by dying and rising with Christ. The only postindividualistic community is the fellowship of the baptized."

- p.81, Andy Crouch, The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives; see also his comments along the same lines on the Lord's Supper in pp.82-83.

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