Sunday, December 19, 2004

Baptising people - some musings

How does it work? Well, being a member of a non-conformist church, what I have always assumed is that people become Christians, and then at some stage either then or thereafter they will become convinced that they ought to be baptised, and so get baptised. If the context is that of a baptist church, they will then become church members.

But maybe in leaving everything to the individual to respond, we have become affected by consumerism and a lack of confidence in what Christianity ought to be. The Bible doesn't seem to approach it like that. What it says is
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt 28:19-20 NIV)

The instruction here is not that the individual should seek baptism, but that the apostles (and conventionally by extension, the church following their example) should go and make disciples - and to achieve this should baptise them and teach them. In other words, it doesn't wait for the new Christian to make the first move, it makes it on their behalf.

Oddly enough, the established churches (theologically) come closer to this, in baptising infants and then expecting that they will be brought up in the faith of the church. In practical terms, it doesn't work within them, because christening has in many cases become more of a tradition than anything that is meaningful in Christian terms.

How might it be different? Well, at the moment, somebody says "I want to follow Jesus". What follows is an indeterminate length of time during which the person exists in a kind of uncertain state as to what they ought to do next, whilst the church mentions baptism in sermons from time to time, hoping that new Christians take the hint. How about ... as soon as somebody says, "I want to follow Jesus", the church were to say to them directly, "Well, you need to get baptised then" - with probably an explanation of the significance of baptism - but the emphasis on the fact that this is the first step of obedience to Jesus. Of course, it means that there will potentially be new Christians in the church who know little beyond what it means to become a Christian (which is in any case 'What you need to know'!) and what baptism means.

Baptism is important for the church - but so is the "teaching" that the church should be doing, following the apostles. Of course, some people having been baptised end up turning away from Christianity - in some cases, there has been reservation about baptising too quickly, in case this happens. However, could the antidote to this be better teaching? a more biblical church life? greater spiritual accountability to other Christians? - rather than simply putting off the time at which somebody is publically accepted as a Christian - which in some cases simply puts people off Christianity altogether.

Sorry, there's probably all sorts of untestable assertions and things here - these are only musings. What do you think?

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