aving written in my first post on here about why CofE clergy in similar churches to ours can feel so jumpy about preaching on baptism – or really engaging with it in church life – I want to explain some of the reasons why I’m so passionate about restoring baptism to the very heart of Christian discipleship and church life.
[An aside – I’m not trying to ‘prove’ anything here and this blog is primarily a place for me keep track of my thinking, so there’s no claim being made for completeness… I reserve the right to change my mind on any of this stuff.]
What makes baptism – its practice and theology – so rich, powerful and dynamic if it’s taught and practiced biblically?
- Grace – Baptism is radically God-centred. Whatever stream of baptismal theology you dive into, no-one baptises themselves: it’s done to us. God makes the first move and we (and/or our parents and faith community) respond. Baptism gets the order right and does so visually.
In a culture sure that religion demands, baptism proclaims the radical alternative of a God that gives.
- Visual Preaching – Every baptism preaches with symbol and action. We see the helplessness of a baby – speaking of grace and that which is done to and for us… We see a body lowered into ‘death’ and raised to ‘life’… We see a child gathered into the community of faith and surrounded by those who will accompany it on its journey of faith… We see the sign of the cross made, anointing with oil and prayer of blessing.
In a visual culture this is a vital way to connect.
- Belonging, Believing, Behaving – Baptism speaks of all three, but in a healthy and Bible-shaped way. Belief is not simply a private personal matter that I work out on my own – it happens in the context of belonging to God’s people (and often comes after I feel I belong, not as the ‘way in’) – nor should behaviour be the prerequisite for belonging to the community of being-redeemed… we’re all sinners who need the People of God to help us grow.
In a culture longing for connection and authentic relationship, this is genuinely Good News!
- Children Belong – Baptism proclaims that the children of the People of God get to belong – we bring them up as part of God’s people, not on the outside looking in. We expect and call forth faith and life in the midst of the affirmation that they are already loved by God, that in Jesus, God already offers them forgiveness and acceptance. Children are not ’empty vessels to be filled with adult knowledge’, but created, loved and already known by God. Baptism marks them out as belonging and calls on them to trust in and follow the one who has included them in his people.
In a culture beginning to realise just how vulnerable children are, this puts them in a family.
- Mentally Handicapped Included – Baptism scoops up all who are being brought up in a family of faith. It says that, no matter the limitations of birth and DNA, no matter if someone will never have a mental age of more than a child, they still get to belong. They may never be able to articulate their faith in words that an adult can recognise as doctrinally sound, but are we saying that their Father God who lovingly made them has a more distant and excluding relationship with them?
In a culture that prizes achievement, this needs to be heard and seen
- Connects the Theological Dots – Baptism is like a Weeping Willow tree, sending down roots into all available water sources. When you talk a biblical theology of baptism, you have to talk not just water, but discipleship, ecclesiology (the church), sin, grace, redemption, witness, the Old Testament narrative & covenant, the gift of the Holy Spirit, family life, maturity, resurrection, forgiveness, sacrament and symbol… This isn’t a niche subject for enthusiasts!
In a culture that lacks even the most basic knowledge of faith, baptism is a tremendous way in.
There’s plenty more that could be written, no doubt, but this is a taste of some of what motivates me to be so committed to the subject and the practice.
What have I missed?